Pandemic: Reporter Angelia Roberts covers local changes

The reporter in me felt some of you might like to read what local medical Dr. Adam Gray and Gary Paxson with White River Health System have to say about the current situation.

By Angelia Roberts

Contributor’s note: The reporter in me felt some of you might like to read what local medical Dr. Adam Gray and Gary Paxson with White River Health System have to say about the current situation. I came away from the meeting feeling better informed.

“We’ve got something at our doorstep that we are going to deal with one way or another.”

Dr. Adam Gray

When Dr. Adam Gray, who serves as the Izard County Health Officer, and Gary Paxson, CEO of White River Health System, spoke to a small group of medical personnel, first responders, business owners, law enforcement and others Monday night at Ozarka College in Melbourne, seating was limited and everyone was screened before being admitted.

Paxson gave an overview of the Corona Virus saying there is a lot of noise on social media.

“The goal is to give you some facts, some reality of what is going on.”

“People are saying we are overreacting and it’s not real. I’m here to tell you it is real. It is a very real, very contagious virus.”

He explained it usually obtained through person to person contact which is why social distancing is so important.

Studies show the people most affected are over 65 years of age, but that doesn’t mean a 20-year-old can’t contact it.

“The CDC (Center for Disease Control) is telling us it is very likely it will hit all our communities.”

Paxson talked about safety measures the Batesville facility have already put into place as a precautionary measure.

He said 20 percent have the potential to be hospitalized, five percent could become critically ill, the importance of having the required staff and supplies are dwindling and very much needed.

In order to flatten the curve, a term that is being used to slow down the infection time-frame, schools are being closed, businesses are changing guidelines and social distancing is being urged. People are being told they should avoid large gatherings and with the latest number being no more than 10.

Paxson said the virus is extremely contagious and there is a limit to what the health industry can handle.

By shutting things down and asking people to self quarantine it can help spread that out over a greater amount of time.

“It is recoverable, but there is no vaccine for it. We are prepared and we have been talking about this like Dr. Gray said, for weeks. We have a plan that is set in place. We started screening before there was ever a case in the state of Arkansas.”

Paxson said he could not express enough the need for people to get correct information from reputable sources, such as the CDC, Arkansas Department of Health, the Surgeon General and others.

“We will probably have a patient at some point and at that point we will lock that unit down. We will most likely go to no visitors in our hospital. Our nursing homes are already there.”

—Gary Paxson

He also addressed people who are hoarding supplies saying, “It’s a terrible idea for our society.”

“We’ve had people who are business owners call and ask if one of their employees has been tested. If someone is tested and that test comes back positive we are mandated to report that to the Department of Health. He said that agency will do extensive questioning of who that person has come in contact with and track those people down to let them know they have been at risk.”

Those results are not immediate and can take as long as four days to get results.

In the meantime, people are being told to continually wash their hands and avoid as much contact with others, as possible.

Paxson said people should sing the Happy Birthday song twice while washing their hands and those who use hand sanitizer should make sure their hands are dry, because it doesn’t work if they are still wet.

He also addressed people who are wearing masks in public saying it’s a horrible idea and is not the required mask to give them protection from the virus, plus it’s causing a shortage in hospitals, nursing homes and first responders who need them.

“If you do contract this virus, research is showing the wearing of that (particular) mask is ineffective.”

While there is a growing concern of people wondering if they might have symptoms, Paxson said they need to understand they cannot randomly just test people at this time. “If you don’t have the symptoms, it’s not appropriate to do so. We have to preserve the resources we have.”

He said physicians are going to screen and rule out other sources before the OK is given to test for this particular virus.

“We feel like we are prepared. We’re treating this as if it is going to come. And, when it comes our staff is prepared and ready.”


“We are evidence based, and numbers driven,” Gray said.

The average person will give the flu to one and a half to 5 people.

The problem with this virus is that it affects an even high number with studies showing how one person can give it to anywhere from 6 to 8 people in about 6 days.

Gray talked about the math curve and how it doubles over a certain period of time.

Doubling time, in this instance, has been measured at about 6 days.

“Sixty days into this, at the rate it is going and with the known cases we have right now, we could potentially have 150,000 to 200,000 cases in the state of Arkansas within about a 30 day period.”

He gave an example of having 100,000 cases in 60 days and if 15 percent needed to be hospitalized they would need 15,000 beds. Arkansas has approximately 8,000 beds at this time.

“We can’t let it get there. We are not trying to scare anyone, we are just trying to stay ahead of it,” Gray said.

Looking at the statistics from China and Italy, Gray said we have an opportunity to learn from them.

He said China handled it very poorly and took a communist approach by quarantining 60 million people with guns pointed at them, “Which you can’t do here.”

Gray pointed out that Italy didn’t get behind the curve fast enough which caused it to spin out of control.

“Their health system got inundated and they are having to make choices that no doctor or family wants to ever have to make.”

Dr. Gray

“We are not freaking out. We know that probably 60 to 70 percent in the next four months is going to contract this and I would rather spread that out over 12 months instead of the next 60 days. This is a preparatory response, not a reactionary one,” Gray said.

Living in Arkansas does have its rewards, Gray said.

“I think Izard County Arkansas is the one place I want to be if something like this happens, because we are at the end of the world. They (Italy and China) are telling us, ‘Get people away from each other. Slow it down.'”

“Most of the people in this county, think alike really. We look alike. We think alike. We pray alike. Half think the government is out to get us and have been prepping for a long time. We have canned goods in our basements. We are prepared for this. We are gong to be fine.”

In closing Gray reminded everyone that we are all in this together.

“We have to lock arms and come together as a community and find out how to mitigate this. If we do the right thing – bend, don’t break – we will come out on the other side.”

Angelia Roberts served the Independence, Sharp, and Izard County areas as a seasoned reporter and the managing editor of the Batesville Daily Guard for decades. She is one of the most well-known, experienced, and APA-awarded news journalists in the state. She currently publishes Next Door magazine.

The team training the next generation of musicians at BHS

Fine arts education has some unexpected benefits for students, according to the four directors at Batesville High School.

The programs – band, theatre, choir, and orchestra – teach problem solving, communication skills, and how to work as part of a team, in addition to technical skills for future musicianship and performing arts opportunities.

These are useful skills for securing future employment.

According to a survey recently released by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 86 percent of those responsible for hiring want a candidate to demonstrate his “ability to work as part of a team.”

Imagine being a part of a team where there is no bench/backup and no do-over. That’s choir, according to Choir Director Alicia Davidson. “Everyone has to be on the same page” – and ready to go.

Hannah Cummings, the theater director agrees.  “It is not about the individuals, it is about the group, all the time.”

Learning how to be part of a cohesive team – it takes time. Which is why the fine arts programs are structured so that the directors and the students are able to spend four to six years together.

“When I was student teaching, a colleague told me I would have to get to know all the kids before I would make any progress,” said Band Director Josh Poff. “He was absolutely right. I remember spending my first year getting to know the kids, what makes them tick, what makes them happy, and what brings them joy.”

Spending time with them is a big part of the process because it develops trust.

“It’s more than:  ‘You come here, do what you are supposed to do and get an A,’” Alicia said.

“You have that relationship where you can step outside [of the typical] and say:   ‘Okay, well she’s asking me to do this. Seems a little weird, but I trust this person and I trust what we are doing here,’ and they try.”

This level of trust leads to better communication. And communication is necessary for a group when they perform. During a performance, the group is collectively telling a story to the audience members.

Therefore, in these programs, “the Chromebooks are shut,” Alicia said. “We create a safe space for them to feel, experience, and be uncomfortable.”

Especially valuable in an era of distraction and avoidance. Which brings us to another aspect of the arts: empathy

“One of the first few weeks of Theater II this semester, we read this play called ‘The Yellow Boat’, which is about the AIDS epidemic and the impact it had… There was this little boy who got AIDS and ultimately died from it. By the end, half the class was just in tears,” Hannah said. “That’s the kind of effect the arts can have.”

Josh said vulnerability is key.  “We have to push the boundaries ourselves to show that is part of it (the success of the arts). We have to take steps to do what others might see as embarrassing.”

Instead of avoiding trying new things that might be embarrassing, the fine arts programs teach students to identify the discomfort, and effectively push through it. The students then apply this discipline to other areas of life.

“In a culture where it is just easy to pick up your phone and avoid things that make you feel uncomfortable  —  avoid circumstances  —  we have to think through them and have our students process through them so they can perform it accurately,” Alicia said.

Here is an example.

“At Christmas one of my choirs did a song, a carol based off when Herod committed mass genocide against the babies in Jerusalem. For students to sing it accurately   —  with the right mood  —  and to understand the significance of how the carol came to be, we had to talk about what that would have been like,” she said. “It was very uncomfortable.”

Doing something to stretch someone to the point of discomfort is necessary for growth, and prompts problem solving.

“One thing we do is we celebrate mistakes, and follow it up by asking: ‘How can you fix it? Do you know what you did wrong? Do you know how to fix it?’” Alicia said.  

“We make it a good thing, like ‘Cool, you were so confident in yourself that you were not embarrassed to have everyone know you were human.’ But then immediately after:  ‘What exactly didn’t work? How can you fix it in the future?’”

She said this type of teaching is especially valuable in junior high because the kids get picked on. They trip, and people laugh at them. So instead of ridicule, it’s:  “I am giving you a sticker AND asking you what you can do differently in the future,” she said. Examples: “My voice cracked, but I was going for it” or “I sang it for two beats instead of one beat, but now I know what I’ve done.”

It prompts the students to strive for selfawareness, and teaches them how to problem solve in those moments.

Alicia said she does not teach the students to learn music by memorization. They learn how to do the work themselves, rather than relying on someone to do it for them.

“I don’t sing for them. They have to figure it out. Starting in sixth grade, we begin to learn intervals by using the steps of scale, the same ‘Do Re Mi’ stuff from the Sound of Music,” she said. “Then we start skipping over notes and introducing intervals of greater distances.”

This process enables students to eventually look at a piece of music and generate the pitches in their head without ever needing to hear someone else play it.

“This is how we develop independent musicianship,” she said. “We (the four fine arts directors) equip the students with a lot of independent skills so they can do music forever.”

Are there social benefits for participants in these programs?

All the while the group is problem solving, they are becoming friends.  In a time when loneliness is a growing problem, and teen suicide is on the rise (to read more, click here), students find friendship within these programs.

“The way fine arts works, you are there for several years,” said Orchestra Director Noah Davidson.  “In the beginning class, I already see students become friends, and I can tell they will stay together for a long time.”

Josh agrees.  “Going through those experiences together is one of the privileges of the fine arts.”

Speaking of going through experiences together…

These four directors would love to be able to do more integrated joint performances.

Josh mentioned an example being having a pit orchestra for musicals.

“There are several plays that call for music accompaniment,” Hannah said.  “Unfortunately it just isn’t an option right now.”  She said it would require a facility with a live pit.

“I’d also love to collaborate on smaller events  –  like fine arts showcases to give more performance opportunities for all of our students,” she said. “I think it’d also be great to combine our end-of-year activities  –  to have a big fine arts banquet to unify us as a department.”

Josh said he would also like to see band and choir be able to provide integrated performances.

What goes into each performance?

Hannah says first and foremost, the students think about the audience.

“When we’re making Theatre, the audience is at the core of everything we do. We make choices and rehearse based on how we want the audience to interpret a story,  and react to these stories.

When the performers and audience members both dig down and feel this empathy, pretty amazing things can happen. There are scientific studies that suggest that audience members’ heartbeats sync up when they’re watching a theatrical performance. That’s a pretty powerful idea.

We spend weeks and months at a time to prepare for a performance,” she said. “We get just a few chances to perform and hopefully receive the reaction we’ve been working towards…We get a solitary moment. We perform. Then we move on.”

Why choose to spend time teaching fine arts to kids?

For Hannah, it’s a legacy.

“I grew up with a teacher for a mom. Her dedication to her students definitely inspired me from a young age to pursue a teaching career.

I joined band and choir in sixth grade after playing piano for several years. I’d always loved music but in 10th grade, my oral communications teacher convinced me to audition for the musical (not that it was a hard sell). From that moment I was hooked.”

She said cast members form strong bonds. She has also seen it build confidence in kids, and inspire their personal growth. 

Hannah has been personally affected as well. “My theatre friends in high school created a safe haven for me to be myself and forget about all of the awful high school things we all go through,” she said. “Teaching theatre allows me to do the same for today’s students.”

Speaking of today’s students…

Alicia’s choir has an officer’s panel. The students are nominated and are voted in by their peers.  These officers run some of the rehearsals, take attendance, and teach lessons to sixth-grade choir members. They also organize Christmas caroling for different groups in town.

Giving students opportunities to grow leadership skills is an important benefit of these programs.

Some of the choir’s leaders this year are Emma and Caroline Russell, Nate McDonald, and Aristyn Glasgow.

For orchestra, Noah said the leaders are Erin Seymore, Brandon Grant, and Nate McDonald.

“Erin is always prepared for class, and leads the others by example,” he said. “When she is willing to play out loud in class, it helps the others to be confident also.”

He said despite Nate being new last year, he is the primary leader in the cello section. He is also willing to help younger students.

“Brandon is a super hard worker,” he said. “He practices more than any student I have ever known.” Also…willing to help others.

For the theatre department, it’s Kenly Long, Jose Hernandez, Jazmine Edwardson, and Cristal Martinez.

“Kenly has shown dedication to making sure the program is strong after she graduates,” Hannah said. “She builds relationships with some of the younger members, helping them learn lines, as well as helps with sets and costumes.”

She said Jose brings an appreciated does of enthusiasm to the group. “He always shows up with a smile.”

Growing more musicians and performers in Arkansas is a worthwhile endeavor, according to a new study commissioned by the Northwest Arkansas (NWA) Council and cultural planning firm Sound Diplomacy.

Nelson Peacock, president of the NWA Council, said in a March 9 news release: “A vibrant music economy contributes to economic growth, workforce development, artistic education and tourism.”

Which is why Sound Diplomacy made several recommendations to be addressed throughout the next three years, one of which is “building partnerships with K-12 schools, arts education organizations, Northwest Arkansas Community College and the University of Arkansas to create intentional pipelines of local skills and creativity.” Another is “activating cities, through cultural planning, to strategically support music with municipal resources and new and existing venues.”

Not a bad time to invest in the fine arts in Arkansas.


Local couple to restore building’s history

The building in question is actually two storefronts, which at some point in history were combined into one, and no photos can be located of the righthand storefront.

At 250 E. Main Street, the historic building that most recently housed Babb’s Upholstery and at one time was Harris’s, is going through another rebirth in its approximately 100-year life.

Stella’s Brick Oven Pizzeria and Bistro will soon take its place at the location as the newest addition to the ever-growing downtown district.

But first, owners Doug and Laurie Gottschalk are restoring the building to its original design — which, interestingly enough, is a mystery.

The building in question is actually two storefronts, and at some point in history were combined into one. Despite working with state preservation specialists, the local Main Street Batesville organization, and the Old Independence Regional Museum, no photos can be located of the right-hand storefront. Photos are usually readily available of most all downtown properties, but in the few that were located, the right-hand building is obstructed by parade floats, etc., or just out of view of the camera.

An old photo shows the building but is too blurry and obstructed by the parade to inform the construction. Courtesy of OIRM.
A photo of historic Main Street shows the lefthand storefront (circled) but not the righthand storefront. Courtesy OIRM.

The building(s) is currently covered over in aluminum, by means of a ‘slipcover’, a method used mid-century to try to make old buildings look more modern.

The building is suspected to be stucco or brick underneath the slipcover, although stone is a possibility as well, “so removal of the metal slipcover will be imperative to determine what materials exist and what restoration will need to be done,” the Gottschalks informed the city’s Historic District Commission (HDC), the approval authority on any changes to downtown commercial buildings.

The HDC approved the removal of the current metal slipcover to further investigate the situation, and commended the Gottchalks on their thorough research of restoration standards to ensure the building is properly restored to its original state.

“We love Main Street and we want to honor these two separate facades as they are intended to be,” the owner explained of the project, which on the exterior will once again be two separate storefronts, but on the interior, will function as one large space for the pizzeria.

They have also found a supplier of original “vitro lit glass” — a type of decorative tile found on several downtown buildings, including this one. They have ordered replacement glass that will perfectly match the originals, now broken.

The project is being completed by M&A Jones Construction Company.

Once open, the Gottschalks plan to serve Neapolitan style pizza — arguably the first type of pizza made in Italy. Neapolitan style pizza eventually gave rise to American adaptations of the pizza made by Italian immigrants to the United States in the early 20th century.

Also offered will be classic Italian desserts such as pizzelles and a gelato bar.

Work is currently in progress on the building. We will post updates as they unravel!