Carl and Tristryne Brindle had their hearts set on a move to Vietnam before the pandemic hit.
But as has happened to many this year, the COVID-19 pandemic created a very real disruption to their big plans.
They listed their Milton-Freewater home in March, before the pandemic reached the Walla Walla Valley’s rural communities in earnest, and Tristyne planned to teach fourth grade at an international school.
The couple wanted their two kids to experience a different culture and planned on traveling in Central Asia.
The flight overseas was planned for early July, but because Americans were restricted from crossing the Vietnam borders, as in many countries during the pandemic, the Brindle had to wait on a business visa.
Vietnam officials decided against issuing business visas, which forced the couple to find work elsewhere.
Three weeks into Tristyne Brindle’s search, she found a teaching job working for a school committed to online learning in North Carolina. After going through a lengthy hiring process, the school decided not to employ out-of-state residents.
In mid-August, while still without a teaching job, she posted a request on Facebook and was swooped up by one of her husband’s connections to the local wine industry.
That’s when the family’s employment situation improved, even if it wasn’t their original dream.
Carl Brindle had worked as a tasting room manager for Armstrong Winery before they closed because of the pandemic.
Walla Walla Wine Limo decided to employ both Brindles, and almost instantly, another winery, Tertulia Cellars, contacted them to say they needed help as well.
Now the couple works for both companies.
Their story is not uncommon. Many people in the Walla Walla Valley have had plans postponed, were either forced to make job transitions or become unemployed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Impact surveyA Washington State Health, Economic, and Care Work Impacts of COVID-19 online survey gives insight into some of what Washingtonians have been experiencing during this difficult time.
Michelle Janning, Whitman College professor and chair of sociology and Alissa Cordner, Whitman associate professor of sociology, conducted the survey and are still analyzing results.
Their sample of 2,000 people over ages 18, primarily from Walla Walla and King counties, skews toward affluent, educated and liberal participants surveyed in late July and early August.
Out of those who responded, 10% have had complete employment loss, 16% had a temporary employment loss and 19% have had their pay and benefits reduced.
Additionally, 24% have had their hours reduced, and 22% had their hours increased.
“What I take from that is this unevenness of workload on people,” Janning said. “Some people have felt a tremendous amount of loss of connection with work because of being laid off or furloughed or because their hours are reduced. And some people have had to work a lot.
She said this unevenness is something that “we’re going to be needing to watch because that causes tension with people.”
Anna Taylor, a mother of four boys, currently teaches nutrition online at Walla Walla Community College and physical education at Assumption, a local Catholic elementary school.
She said she experienced more stress working at the college than she did during normal circumstances because it takes more time to talk to students using email or trying to schedule phone calls, even though the college is very flexible.
“I think it was a lot easier to lose students in the classroom and their engagement when it was just online, and I wasn’t seeing them three times a week,” Taylor said.
“It felt like I lost a lot of that personal connection, which helps engage and helps keep people motivated to do things. So it was a lot harder, and I spent more time trying to keep my college students going then I normally would have.”
But her family has experienced a positive side to the coronavirus pandemic — more sleep. Her kids don’t have to get up early to get ready to leave for school, for example, and working from home gives her younger ones more consistent naps, instead of having errands interrupt.
The additional sleep means her kids are often in a happier mood and following directions better.
She said the children did regress in some social skills, like with in-person eye contact and not solving as many problems on their own.
In the survey, 70% of the 800 people who had children said their childcare responsibilities increased. Fifty-five percent of 800 or so people said responsibilities for elder or family member care increased.
Also Taylor said that being at home all day with the kids, not having as much social interaction with other families, has impacted her mental health.
Health impactsFour in five people in the survey reported a negative impact on their mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.
Cynthia Wallace, social worker with a private practice in town, recommends limiting contact on social media because the climate is divisive, leading to more depression and anxiety in people.
The mental health professional recommended turning off notifications on apps.
Wallace said one of the most significant impacts for her during the pandemic has been not touching or seeing her mother face-to-face since March. Instead, she goes to the woman’s window at a senior center in Walla Walla and calls her on the phone to talk through the glass.
She said she is very supportive of the governor’s orders and follows all of the health and safety protocols, as she knows she’s in the vulnerable age range.
She is one of many.
In a question on the impacts survey asking how important it is for Washington state to prioritize public health support, 85% said it was “extremely important,” Janning said.
Prioritizing the economy’s support was a little bit more varied, with 36% saying “extremely important” and 49% saying “moderately important.”
Another question asked survey-takers to imagine they were invited to a party with 25 people and comment on how they would feel if some of the party was being held indoors. Most responded, “very uncomfortable,” at 72%.
Wallace mentioned she would not dine indoors or go indoors until researchers created a “gold-star vaccine.”
Patty Sams, a Walla Walla resident, said she has mostly stayed in her home, though she and her husband normally spend a lot of time there because of retirement. She has a big yard for her dog to play in, but she was on her first walk with the dog in Pioneer Park last week.
Carl and Tristyne Brindle had also stayed inside for a lot of the pandemic because they had a family member at a vulnerable age living with them and did not want him to get sick.
In the impacts survey, 3.5% of people reported someone in their household had COVID-19, and 45% of people said that a close friend or family member, who doesn’t live with them, has had the disease.
People also reported 16% had coworkers who had COVID-19 and worked in a physical location close to them.
Those who knew of a close friend or family member who had died from COVID-19 consisted of 7.5%.
Economic impactsFinancial impacts during the coronavirus pandemic have spread widely, according to the survey.
Sixty-two percent of people know someone close to them who has had trouble paying bills.
“One in five people know somebody who lives with them who lost a job temporarily or permanently,” Janning said.
Out of a sample of people who generally own homes and have more income than the average Washington resident, about one in 10 people have had trouble paying rent or mortgage, and 7% said they needed financial assistance for food.
Janning said the numbers are probably under-reported for the general population.