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'I feel like a failure': Dayton reopens and surveys coronavirus lockdown's toll
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DAYTON, Ohio–Each morning, Nan Whaley walks her dog, takes an online yoga class and then, in her role as mayor of this city of 140,000, girds herself for a steady stream of calls from constituents asking for help navigating life during the pandemic.
There is the senior citizen who is afraid to leave her home because she is worried she will get sick and die. The restaurant owner, terrified he will go out of business. The pastor, racked with anxiety that the church he stewards won't survive this crisis.
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In between, there are meetings via Zoom to track municipal revenues in free fall and decisions about how to trim the city's already frayed social safety net.
"I do what I can," Ms. Whaley says of her responses to the constituent calls. "This is going to leave some scars."
As people across the country re-emerge from shutdowns, they are discovering the thousands of wounds left by the pandemic and the scramble to hold it at bay. This is true even in Dayton, which hasn't suffered widespread illness or death.
The potential increase in the number of suicides, fatal drug overdoses and instances of domestic abuse could be broad, deep and long-lasting, said Elinore McCance-Katz, the U.S. assistant secretary for mental health and substance use. Spikes in calls to crisis lines and predictions from the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute in Texas of tens of thousands of suicides and drug overdoses are raising alarms and have prompted lawmakers to call for more money for mental-health screening and response.
At a recent meeting of mayors from around the world hosted by Bloomberg Philanthropies, scores of city leaders including Ms. Whaley discussed their concerns about being ill-equipped to handle increased crime, school dropouts, domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse in the months ahead.
In Dayton, a crisis-care line that opened on April 22 to handle queries directly related to Covid-19 had received more than 1,200 calls by May 13, according to the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction. Chief complaints include stress and mental health, with other callers voicing worries about drinking too much, physical health or other issues.
The city, which had been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, has seen an 85% uptick in accidental overdoses. In March of this year, 37 people fatally overdosed in Montgomery County, up from 20 in March of 2019 and 14 in 2018, according to county records.
With no accountability to sponsors, support groups or probation officers, some recovering addicts lose their footing and relapse, said Lori Erion, a recovering alcoholic who founded Families of Addicts seven years ago.