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Christine Van Dusen


21st Century Plague

“Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world, yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.” — Albert Camus, The Plague

Time is cruelly elastic. When March began, Joe Biden was celebrating the resurgence of his presidential campaign after a win in the South Carolina primary. When March began, downtown Atlanta was packed with marathon runners, while the Hawks were, reliably, scraping the bottom of the Eastern conference. When March began, we were going to restaurants, and to school, and to soccer games and concerts and plays and funerals and weddings. When March began, we were going to work. When March began, dozens of Georgians were walking around with absolutely no idea that within a matter of days they would be dead from a virus that had traveled across the world only to alight on them. How many more of us will step into its crosshairs?

Each day feels like a month. So much news is compressed into 24 hours—thousands more infected, ICUs at capacity, unemployment rates reaching heights not seen since the Great Depression, our 401ks decimated—that our brains seize up. Grocery store visits are planned with the precision of a wartime raid. Kids’ days are ostensibly scheduled—Reading! Enrichment! FaceTime with the teacher!—but how do you homeschool and telework at the same time? You don’t. The screens you once cursed are now free childcare.

That’s, of course, if we even can work from home. Some of us can’t. Many of us have been laid off or furloughed as restaurants close their doors, as nonprofits’ funding dries up, as fitness studios go dark. Others of us who have been deemed “essential”—nurses, doctors, first responders, grocery-store workers, mail carriers, truck drivers, delivery people—come home late at night and shed our clothes outside so as not to bring the virus near our loved ones.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. This was guaranteed to happen. But to us? Now? We spoke with our neighbors about the world we’ve left behind, and the one that awaits. Interviews edited for length and clarity. Tap on each person’s name to read their full interview.

• • •

Dr. Michelle Au | anesthesiologist at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital
I first started hearing about the virus after Christmas. But the news still felt like something distant. It was in China, so you’re watching with this detached interest. I am in the unusual position of being a Chinese American physician with a public-health degree who also happens to be running for office [Au is a Democratic candidate for the 48th state Senate district, which incorporates parts of Fulton and Gwinnett counties]. I was talking with voters in the Chinese community who said that I should be speaking out on the issue more. I probably should have paid more attention. I should have taken it more seriously.

Dr. Meria Carstarphen | superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools
Right after Valentine’s Day, one of my friends was going to Venice, Italy. While my friend was there, they shut down Carnival [due to coronavirus]. That was my reality check. I said to our team, “We need to prepare for the day when we have to shut down the district.” There were moments where I felt I was pushing a wet noodle up a mountain. As things started escalating, we had to make decisions. I said, “We have to prepare a contingency plan that starts with the worst-case scenario.”

Devon Clinkscales | senior at Booker T. Washington High School
This year was my senior season of high school baseball, my last year. I was really excited about going out strong and getting ready for travel ball. It was my best opportunity to get some scouting.

Hugh Acheson | owner of Empire State South in Midtown and 5 & 10 in Athens and operator of By George in the Candler Hotel
The real canary in the coal mine was [in early March], reading about restaurants in Shanghai. Shanghai to Wuhan [where the virus is said to have originated] is an immense amount of distance. [Restaurants in Shanghai] were saying that they didn’t know how long they could stay open. Their sales were down 80 to 90 percent, and it was just a ghost town. We’re not an industry with deep pockets. Everybody’s like, “Oh, Hugh, you’ve been on TV. You must be rich.” I’m like, “You have no idea how this works, do you?”

Kathy Weeks Lowery | self-employed travel agent in Marietta
[A client] was supposed to leave on March 28 out of Tokyo for a 12-day cruise. That was her son’s college graduation gift. Holland America held tight. They said if she cancels now, she’s losing 50 percent of her money. That was January 24. Travel insurance doesn’t cover a pandemic. Since then, they canceled the cruise and gave her the rest of the money. Cruise lines are offering as much as 225 percent of your refund toward a future booking. For me, it’s been everything. I had 117 kids going to D.C. for a field trip, 10 people going to the Grove Park Inn, a busload going to Mary Mac’s and Hamilton. All canceled. I only get paid after clients travel. I figure this year’s income will be 20 percent of last year’s.

Amy Phuong | vice president of government relations for the Atlanta Hawks
My wedding was set for March 28. We had everything planned. I even had a final walkthrough at the venue on March 4. We’d invited 200 people.

Mike Gallagher | co-owner of Brick Store Pub and Leon’s Full Service in Decatur, Good Word Brewing in Duluth, and partial owner of Kimball House. Together, the four restaurants employ approximately 200 people.
2019 was a tough year. We had opened [Good Word Brewing]. The contractor had gone belly up when we opened. We lost our chef and sous-chef. We had a lot of money invested in Duluth. But 2020 was starting great. We’d put down a sizeable amount of money on a redo of Brick Store.

On February 26, after seven years running the pop-up restaurant Eat Me Speak Me, Jarrett Stieber opened his first permanent restaurant. The build-out took months.

Jarrett Stieber | chef-owner of Little Bear in Summerhill
We had inspectors tell us we had to change things, and we covered the cost. So, like every restaurant, we ran way over budget. We opened with $285 in our checking account after buying products for the first week and just prayed that we were busy. We, thankfully, were.

On March 2, five days after Little Bear opened, Governor Brian Kemp announced the first two confirmed cases of coronavirus in Georgia—two members of the same household in Fulton County. Nationwide, only 90 cases had been confirmed, six of whom were fatalities. “Georgians should remain calm,” Kemp said.

Stieber We had one customer who said that she couldn’t believe that a place like Little Bear was here, that it reminded her of restaurants in San Francisco. That’s exactly what I had in my head when I planned this restaurant, that small-capacity hole-in-the-wall that basically is a neighborhood restaurant in terms of how it feels but has food as good as any high-end restaurant. We were hitting our stride.

21st Century Plague: Coronavirus in Atlanta
Jarrett Stieber: “My focus is keeping the business open any way I can.”

Photograph by Audra Melton

Clinkscales On March 2, we were evicted from our apartment, but they didn’t change the locks. If they’d changed the locks, we’d have nowhere to go. Our stuff would be out on the street. My dad and my mother had a couple of disagreements on how to maintain. I have an older sister who has an apartment in a project, so my mother, my other sister, and my niece all moved in with her. But I stayed with my dad. He didn’t finish high school. He needs someone. He doesn’t understand how things work. I love my dad, and I have to be with him.

Belisa Urbina | founder/executive director of Ser Familia, a nonprofit that provides services to Latino families
My husband’s family is from Spain, so we knew what was going on there. We knew what was going on in other places. I knew that if this was happening in all these other countries, it was going to happen to us because we are connected. Flights are coming in and out. People are moving around.

Shawn Ware | owner of Vibe Ride cycle studios
When the news about the coronavirus first came out, I was taking a break at home, between working at the Westside studio in the morning and Grant Park in the afternoon. I thought, Okay, well, this is just a flu. I’ve always been a gym rat, and I’ve always joked that I’ve been a germophobe since I was in the womb. I’m always washing my hands, using hand sanitizer. I thought, So, now you all are jumping on board for what I’ve been doing my whole life? But then, as the hours and days went on, I realized this was serious.

On Friday, March 6, President Trump, wearing khakis, a windbreaker, and a Keep America Great baseball cap, visited the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for a photo op and press conference, where he referenced his “natural ability” at understanding the complexities of virology and addressed the sluggish pace of testing for the virus. What he said wasn’t even a complete sentence: “As of right now, and yesterday, anybody who needs a test—and that’s the important thing.” While other countries were ramping up their tests to include even those who were asymptomatic—results which indicate who is contagious and who is not—the United States was (and as of late March remained) unequipped to test any but those suffering the most extreme symptoms. By Monday, March 9, the number of Georgians who’d tested positive for the virus had climbed to six, with 11 more presumed positive. Kemp announced that space at Hard Labor Creek State Park in east Georgia would be outfitted to accept COVID-19 patients who needed to be isolated.

Phuong Even that week [of March 9], I started out feeling like, Okay, our wedding is so soon there’s no way it’s going to be impacted. Even though Italy at that time had made a turn for the worse, [my fiance] Kerry’s family is from Spain, and we felt good because they weren’t impacted the way Italy was. Then, we got to Wednesday, and that’s when it dramatically switched. That’s when the Hawks had their final game. That was the same evening that Trump instituted the travel ban from Europe. Kerry’s family would not be able to make it.

Carstarphen The day when I said to my fellow superintendents that I’m considering closing the district even though we don’t have any cases—that was a bit of a shock. Even to myself. I work with children. So, the idea that I would even put on the table this notion that they might not have a prom, they might not be able to play for the state championship, they might not be able to get closure after 12 years of public school, that their moment gets snatched away from them? It’s sobering how your decision can change the direction of people’s lives.

Dock Hollingsworth | senior pastor at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church
Wednesday, March 11, was a turning point. We were here for the Wednesday night services. There was still a lot of levity. A 94-year-old man came up to me and said, “Boy, I was relieved that this is targeting people 60 to 80 since it’s been so long since I was 80.” By Thursday morning we were in a whole different mode. I was in a peer group with other Atlanta pastors. Everyone was asking, “What measures are you taking?”

Keisha Lance Bottoms | mayor of Atlanta
I went to Sam’s Club on Thursday. A woman asked me what I was doing there. “The same thing you’re doing.” I have four kids at home. My husband makes grocery runs on his way home from work. But I knew we needed to stock up with a family of six. I’m now cooking three meals a day. But my personal adjustment pales in comparison to what’s happening. People are dying.

Urbina We provide services to about 4,500 people. The services that we provide are very difficult to find. To give you an idea, there are 700,000 Latinos in metro Atlanta but there are less than 70 counselors who are fully licensed that can speak Spanish. There are four psychologists in the state of Georgia who can speak Spanish, and there are five psychiatrists who can speak Spanish. Latino children have twice the chance of having anxiety and depression compared to other teens. Our Latina girls, almost 20 percent of them attempt suicide.

Joey Camp | cook at Waffle House in Canton who also drives a party bus part-time
I started getting pneumonia [in early March]. I felt like I was drowning. The chills had gotten so bad that I could not keep my teeth from chattering. If my teeth weren’t chattering, I was coughing. [On March 12,] I went to the emergency room. They did all these tests—a CT scan with contrast, x-rays, everything. They were like, You got really bad pneumonia. We’re going to put you in a room and monitor you for a few days. Well, I was in there for probably nine hours when they hung the isolation box on my door. Which is where they keep all these gloves, smocks, and masks that everybody has to put on before they’re allowed into the room. I got a little nervous.

21st Century Plague: Coronavirus in Atlanta

Phuong It hit me Friday night. We’d been planning so long, and now, our wedding is not going to happen. It was emotional.

Dr. Laurence Busse | medical director, critical care, Emory Johns Creek Hospital
On March 13, it was profound the amount of people coming into the ER. That was a scary day, and we all finished that day thinking, What are we in for?

Dr. Jessica Nave | hospital medicine, Emory University Hospital
I was hoping that, by early April, we’d peak. But now, my projection is we’ll peak at the end of April. And that’s still optimistic. It’s just the numbers. If you look at Seattle and New York, they’re still going. We didn’t start getting cases until the second week of March. We have to have a solid month of getting hit really hard before we peak.

Marshall Rancifer | homeless advocate and relief worker
There are 4,000 homeless people out there on the streets. Youth and adults. Homeless people share everything: food, clothes, hygiene products, blunts, crack pipes, needles sometimes. I brought a bunch of crack pipes to them so they wouldn’t share pipes. Some don’t know there is a virus outbreak in the city. They don’t have access to social media or the news. If you’re not in a shelter, you’re walking around in suspended animation all day. I saw people starting to light cigarettes and pass them around. I knocked the cigarettes out of their hands. I said, “You can’t share cigarettes, can’t share food, don’t touch nobody, don’t shake nobody’s hand. Don’t hug nobody.” Had to explain to the mothers in a park on Proctor Street what they can and can’t do. We’re not just educating the homeless; we are educating poor people and marginalized folks. They just don’t know.

The weekend of March 14-15 was surreal. Social media and television were talking about nothing else, and school districts across the state, including Atlanta Public Schools, were announcing or had just begun indefinite closures. But for many Atlantans, life went on as normal. Bars were full. Restaurants were open. The BeltLine was packed. At Brick Store in Decatur, the owners decided to go ahead with a planned St. Patrick’s Day celebration, which included a short parade to the bar, scheduled for Saturday. Their decision, announced on the bar’s Facebook page the day before, brought out the knives. “You are encouraging people to make a very selfish decision,” wrote one of the more restrained commenters. “Public health providers are telling us to behave AS IF WE HAVE THE VIRUS, because many of us likely do.”

Gallagher Calling it a “parade” is a stretch, because there were about 15 to 25 people. There were more people congregated in front of retail stores than there were in the parade. But we did it, and we had our event. We removed some tables. We put some tables spread out outside. We removed some barstools. I think people were clustering with whom they felt safe, their own household member or a family member, and then they spread out otherwise. It wasn’t six feet apart in the whole place, for sure. But our staff was militant about sanitizing bartops, tabletops, stools, chairs, menus in between their reuse, faucets. I got a lot of feedback from staff and guests about how meaningful it was to them and how they viewed it as a beacon of hope in an otherwise bleak moment in time. So we certainly got a lot of great feedback. But the bashing on social media was unfortunate and unnecessary, quite frankly.

Carstarphen I always believed we would be here at mitigation—not prevention, not containment. Mitigation was probably the only way we’d go given the spirit of our country, given we’re a democracy, given that people love their personal freedoms and their individual decision-making.

Stieber This is the first time that social media and the general public have been able to kind of force people’s hands in a business sense, beyond just what is recommended from a health standpoint. We live in an era where people are so polarized and proselytizing of everything from behind their screens that whether you want to stay open right now, to fight for your business, you don’t really have much of a choice because of the stigma associated with doing so.

As new restrictions kept restaurants from opening to guests, they pivoted to takeout operations. They started GoFundMe accounts for furloughed staff. At Brick Store, owners reduced their menu to soups and sandwiches. Donations to the “soup kitchen”—meant to compensate workers—were encouraged, but if you couldn’t pay, you could still grab a bag.

Acheson My real worry is for all the people that I promised to provide for and can’t. That’s very hard, because I want on my tombstone to be remembered as a good employer, and a good human, and a good dad. The people who are going to get hit worst by this are undocumented. It’s not like we have a huge number of them on the payroll, but across the country, there are. They can’t get unemployment. They pay taxes through payrolls, but they don’t get taxes back. They are screwed. But we’re all screwed. Everybody’s like, Well, we’ll recover. No. Fifty percent of the restaurants that just shut down across this country will never reopen.

Gallagher Most restaurants are lucky to have two full weeks’ worth of financial runway, and employees, probably even less. A lot of these guys are paycheck-to-paycheck. We are taking the money from the GoFundMe, the money from the gift cards, and any additional monies that have been given, and we’re divvying them up among staff on this upcoming payroll. We’re going to try to find an hourly threshold. For instance, if you worked 24 hours or less, you’ll get this pay rate. If you’re 25 or more, you’ll get that pay rate. We felt that was the most equitable, least cumbersome way to do it. I’ll be honest, it was tough. Do you pay more because they make more? Do you pay more because they need more? Do you pay more because they worked with you longer?

Acheson I’m really happy that people are buying gift certificates. If we sell $2,000 of to-go food today, I’ll be impressed. That does not equate to being able to pay $16,000 in rent next month that Empire State owes and payroll costs of $44,000 every two weeks.

Urbina Our community works in hospitality, restaurants, construction. Those are the first industries that are affected. We have already had clients who have lost their jobs. They know that they’re probably not going to be able to pay rent at the beginning of April.

While most coronavirus infections don’t require hospitalization, roughly 15 percent do. Usually, though not always, the person needing hospitalization is elderly or immunocompromised. The infection ravages the lungs, leading often to pneumonia. Patients can’t get enough oxygen on their own. Some require a ventilator, a machine that augments the patient’s respiration through forced exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Busse I’m critical care. So, when patients get to me, they’re in dire straits. The typical thing that’s seen down in the emergency room is fever, some increased work of breathing, some hypoxia [low levels of oxygen in tissue], and some malaise or body aches. Those folks who have, let’s say, a little bit of increased work of breathing or need some oxygen would be admitted to have supportive care while they get through their illness. But if they have a higher degree of oxygen needs or they’re in septic shock or they’re in kidney failure, then they come to me. And those folks can be exquisitely ill, anywhere from just needing a few extra liters of oxygen to having multiorgan failure and needing a full bevy of life support.

21st Century Plague: Coronavirus in Atlanta
Dr. Laurence Busse: “When patients get to me, they’re in dire straits.”

Photograph by Audra Melton

Nave Sometimes illness is difficult to define by objective measures. We’ll get a call from the ER physician saying, “I think this patient needs to get admitted.” I’m looking at their chart and saying, “Well, they’re not hypoxic, they’re fine.” They’ll say, “Just come and lay your eyes on them.” So, I do, and it’s, “Oh yeah, this person is not going to do well.” They have a look about them. Their breathing pattern is abnormal. They’re using more accessory muscles.

Au The act of intubating a COVID-19 patient is essentially the highest-risk procedure you can do. As you’re putting in that tube and they’re breathing out through this channel you’re putting in, it gives an opportunity for the virus to be in the air. Usually, it’s in droplets. Aerosolized virus can float around. It’s one of the most infectious potential procedures you can do on a COVID patient. The person who is best and most senior and experienced at doing intubations should do it. They take the least amount of time possible. Put in the tube, quick, hook up the ventilator, and minimize exposure to everyone.

Nave Some of our sickest patients have been in their late 20s to late 30s and otherwise healthy. We don’t know why.

Camp On Saturday [March 13], they tested me for COVID-19, and I got positive affirmation on Monday. How in the world did I get this? I have not been to Italy, I haven’t been to China, I haven’t been around people, to my knowledge, that have been to those places. I live a very boring life. When they finally told me on Monday, they also released me from the hospital to self-quarantine. The house I was living in had an infant in it. I didn’t want to take the chance of getting that infant sick. So, I was like, “I need options.”

Camp was brought to Hard Labor Creek State Park and put in a camper to recuperate until he was no longer contagious. He was there for six days.

Camp It had a nice bed in it. There were cookies. The state health officials were super helpful. I asked them to go on a grocery run because a diabetic cannot live on chips and cookies. And they went and got me some bananas, some apples, some cucumbers—all this stuff for me to snack on. I offered to pay for some of the stuff, and they wouldn’t have it. They paid for my medicine. They got me a new blood-sugar meter. The first few days were rough. The coughing was the worst part at that point. I had stopped having chills, I had stopped having a fever, but I was still coughing my brains out. It was like starting a car. Just whoop, whoop, whoop, just constant. And it just slowly went away. One day, I was coughing every three or four minutes; the next day, it was every half hour; the next day, it was every hour. And by the time I was done, I was only coughing very, very rarely, when I got a tickle in the back of my throat. It wasn’t even in my lungs anymore.

Au We know that some of the sick are going to be our colleagues. We know that the more we are going to engage, the more people are going to be sick. Over the weekend, I started sleeping in the guest room in the basement because it’s separate from the rest of the house. I have my own bathroom because I don’t want to share a bathroom with anyone. I’m very meticulous about hygiene now—I mean, I always was because I work in the hospital—but now it’s like, shower and change into clean clothes before I leave the hospital. And then, I shower and change clothes again [once I’m home].

Rancifer I wasn’t scared before, but I’m scared now. My father and mother always taught me not to run away from trouble—run toward it, because you can be the person who can change something or save someone’s life. But once this gets out of hand, I’m not going to run toward someone that can kill me. I’m 63. I fall under the category of major at-risk. After I meet with big groups of folks, I skim down to my skivvies. I wear two pairs of gloves. When I get in the car I take my clothes off and throw them on the ground. I take the top pair of gloves off and put them in a disposable Ziploc bag. Then, I take the sanitized clothes out, get dressed, and then move on back home.

Au Yesterday I cried talking to a high-school friend. When you’re at home, because the kids are there, you want to be like, Everything’s cool. It is so disruptive for them, so you put on the cheerful face. And at work, since I’m an attending physician, you want to put forth that “everything’s under control.” You get accustomed to trying to keep other people calm. But talking to someone that I’ve known before this, it was just an unguarded moment. What if I get sick? [My husband and I are] rewriting our wills right now. He’s a doctor, too. One of us has to stay well.

Clinkscales My mom is worrying about what we’re going to do. She is part of a housecleaning business, but people haven’t been allowing them into their homes because of precautions. My dad works in building services for a hotel, and his income has been dropping. Because of the pandemic, baseball has been canceled, five games in. Colleges aren’t recruiting. Some schools aren’t even accepting students.

Ware I spent most of the day today on the phone with our creditors and sending emails to landlords and to the people we lease bikes from, and they’re like, We get it. They’ve been extremely understanding, but it is a very, very scary time. One of our creditors said, We can defer for three months but we’ll still collect interest. Our largest creditor, Wells Fargo, is deferring payments with no late fees and no interest and no reporting to our credit bureau. But a community bank is going to charge us interest. They said, That’s just what we have to do. When we sent the email that we were going to suspend everyone’s membership, we had 35 to 40 people call and say, Don’t cancel. Don’t suspend our accounts. We want to continue to pay because we know you are hit hard, and this is our gym. We want to help and support you as much as we can. Some of these people have been members since the beginning. They’re not clients or strangers; they opened the doors with us. That has been so amazing.

21st Century Plague: Coronavirus in Atlanta
Shawn Ware: “I spent most of the day today on the phone with our creditors.”

Photograph by Audra Melton

Acheson I had $26 in my checking account last week, last week, before this all happened. I’m borrowing personal funds from people I know to pay payroll. Small business is being abandoned. It’s been abandoned for a long time in this country. Nobody has any inkling about how much hurt this is going to do. Lobbyists are on the Hill right now getting every meeting that they want to bail out Delta Air Lines yet again, and the auto industry is going to get bailed out. One in 10 people in the States work for the hospitality industry. Nobody’s bailing us out. We bail out all the wrong people in this country, consistently, over and over again. These are the same people who don’t want Medicare for All, yet they want a socialist handout when they make bad decisions in business, and they go broke.

When the coronavirus closed Atlanta Public Schools, the district implemented a massive effort to continue offering free meals to its 52,416 students. Working with the Atlanta Community Food Bank, APS offers a bag of free groceries every Monday at four locations around town. The district hosts an additional giveaway on Tuesdays and is offering meal service at 10 sites around town, including delivery of meals via the school bus system.

Carstarphen Our goal as of yesterday was to be at 40,000 meals on any given day in a school district. We let everyone eat. As food supplies diminish or are late, and as staff continue to self-quarantine and find other challenges trying to come to work every day, we’ll have staffing shortages.

Bottoms I drove to my mother’s house, and she stood outside my car. I hadn’t seen my mother in a few weeks. Which isn’t normal. My grandmother would quote the Bible: “Be anxious for nothing.” You hear from people all the time, “This, too, shall pass.” I had to write that on the wall in the mayor’s office to remind myself. We’re going to be alright. When I need to take a breath and clear my mind, I’ll go and sort some shoes. This too shall pass.

Camp I work in the service industry. Half of my income has been wiped out by this. The party bus industry is on hiatus because all the bars are shut down, proms were shut down, all of that. That’s killing my income. I still have bills. Part of me feels like the government shouldn’t be telling businesses to close their doors. I feel like that should be a case-by-case basis.

Busse The preparation [by the federal government] has been poor, but I didn’t really expect it not to be. Do you plan for the worst-case scenario? Or do you put resources elsewhere? So, the response in general has not been great. And I think that’s sort of what I expected. And frankly, if I was in that position, I’m not sure I would’ve done it differently. I mean, it’s really hard to plan for something like this. I’ve never had this in my lifetime. And I’ve been here for Ebola, for H1N1 influenza, and I was here for the first SARS illness back in 2003. We’ve seen these things erupt on a regional level but never really become a global pandemic. This is new in our generation.

Urbina My nightmare is that one of my employees gets sick, and I have to close my office, and our families have nowhere to go. At the moment, what we need most are donations or gift cards. One donor asked if she could bring baby formula, and I said yes, that would be fantastic. We have another person who asked if they could bring baskets of food. Yes, whatever you think you can do. We are very grateful.

Busse When we run out of ventilators, that’s not something that we can just pull out of the closet. So, we’re relying on and hoping for support from the government to get more ventilators. We’re relying on and hoping for support from industry to get us more resources. We’re using what we have now, and once that’s it, once we’re out, we’re going to have to get creative. We don’t have enough N95 masks. We don’t have enough personal protective equipment. We’re using what we have, and we are hoping that we don’t get the virus.

Nave We’ve started rationing our personal protective equipment. We’re trying to be very, very smart about when to use it and on which patients. It’s kept under lock and key because there’s panic even in the healthcare system when something like this hits. People start hoarding.

Ware My husband is 60 and has heart disease, so we want to make sure he is extra-protected. I’m a breast-cancer survivor. We live in a condo downtown. We are in and out of the parking garage, touching that door all the time. Those are the things we have to be conscious about. We’re here, and we’re in the house more now, obviously. But it’s fine, it’s family time. We’ve got a puzzle. I got me some wine.

Brad Levenberg | rabbi at Temple Sinai
So many of us have relied on physical gatherings to provide comfort when we’re going through difficult times. When it’s joyous, we gather to celebrate. In the days after 9/11, we gathered in homes and apartments to watch the news. Now, this kind of support is all being challenged. We need to find other ways.

Busse Right now we’re not seeing the normal volume of patients that show up needing care at the hospital. And is that because patients are being more careful and taking their medicine and having telehealth visits with their primary-care doctors? Are they no longer using the emergency room as a sort of a primary-care outlet? And it makes me think: Is this what healthcare could be if we were sort of using the system appropriately? Now, of course, the pessimist in me worries that when this is all said and done, we’re going to look at mortality and morbidity of people that were not infected with COVID-19 and we’re going to see that go up.

Nave Italy had so many cases that all presented at once that it overwhelmed their entire system, and they’re having to choose who’s going to live and who’s going to die. They’re looking at two patients who are actively dying and there’s one ventilator, and they’re saying “You get it.” That’s probably the most horrific experience for a physician. I can’t even imagine. That’s what we don’t want.

Hollingsworth We are in the holy season of Lent right now. It’s already designed to be a season of introspection and asking the big questions. So, in many ways, this makes the Lenten questions more real and more pressing because the ground is shaky under people. But personally the ground doesn’t feel that shaky to me. Because I have a different kind of existential hope. We may see people turning to the church to ask, Are there answers there that perhaps I’ve been making fun of for a long time? This is an opportunity to live inside a hope that is not built on markets or how many widgets you can sell.

Carstarphen This is going to have a huge and disproportionate impact on black and brown and poor children. When you’re in a city that has the label of being the most unequal city in America when it comes to income disparity, and you’re working with people who are already fragile and incredibly strained in the healthiest of economies, this is crushing. If you’re wealthy, you can still get the access to the things you need for your family. Our kids weren’t getting that at the outset. It took a pandemic to wake up some people to know that we have to support our marginalized brothers and sisters.

Clinkscales I don’t have money to pay for college on my own. Scholarships have been taken away. I’ve been thinking about starting a business. I have always wanted to own a sports bar. Now, I’m scared about what I’m going to do after I graduate. I was working hard, doing extracurricular activities, filling out scholarship applications, playing sports, trying to do something better for my family. And it all got taken away because of the virus.

21st Century Plague: Coronavirus in Atlanta
Devon Clinkscales: “I’m scared about what I’m going to do after I graduate.”

Photograph by Audra Melton

Urbina This pandemic has proved how connected we are. Nobody can say that they have not been touched by this. I am Latina, but if something is happening to my friends in the black community, it’s my problem. I have to do something about it because they’re my people. With everything that’s happening to the Asian community, I feel so sad that people have made them feel they are to blame for the situation, which, they’re not. We need everybody’s help so we can survive. There will be repercussions from this that we can’t even imagine right now. Do whatever you can, but just do something.

Stieber My main focus is keeping the business open any way I possibly can, which right now means switching to a to-go–only format this week. But we have to do what we have to do, and I’m doing whatever I can to make sure I pay my staff and keep their jobs. If you have the ability to stay home and still get paid and you’re willing to share with the people who need it, then do so. Just stop posting the same memes—pony up and do something legitimate to help.

Nave I don’t leave my house a lot [when I’m not at the hospital]. We have gone to the grocery store. We do not bring our children. I keep hand sanitizer in my purse. The second I get in my car, I sanitize my hands again. We bring all the groceries in, unload then, and immediately wipe every single food item down: boxes, milk jugs, whatever. Then, we take a wipe and retrace our entire steps from the time we entered the house—every doorknob, every baby gate, every counter.

Levenberg This is a time when you don’t have to put your life on the line to be a hero. You’re a hero when you pay your yard people to not show up. When you pay your cleaning people to stay home. When you send a gift card to teachers who are learning new tools to teach your children. These are all heroic measures.

Bottoms I’ve been thinking a lot about the Holocaust and the diary of Anne Frank, how people’s lives changed and they had to go in hiding. When I think about that, this is a minor inconvenience. There are people who live across the globe with disease and war. I’m in a house with AC and a backyard and two dogs who get to run around and play. It’s made me grateful just about the little things—going to a restaurant, getting your nails done, going to the store. These conveniences we take for granted our entire lives. It’s given me a perspective, another layer of empathy.

Nave This is a different infectious agent than we have ever seen in most of our lifetimes. This truly is unprecedented. I was at Emory when we dealt with Ebola. Ebola’s mortality is way worse than this, and it’s very infectious—but not as infectious as this. This is crazy: You start with one city in China, and now, the whole world has it because we’re so interconnected. This is such an unprecedented infectious agent that we have to be more diligent and cautious, even at the cost of some of the economics of this country. Because how do you put value on a life?

Hollingsworth If we have a death in our community, it’s our practice to come together as a community and tell stories. We can’t do that now. But an interment can’t wait. The staff here will do small graveside services, and we’ll encourage families to push a memorial service into the future.

Gallagher [My wife and I have] had some difficult talks about the greater good. Is it being available as a soup kitchen, or selling food to raise money for our staff, or closing down and keeping the highest level of social distancing? This morning, she shared a dream she had where she was in the grocery store and there was too many people and she could see the hand sanitizer and she couldn’t get to it.

Levenberg I hope we have a renewed understanding of those who are more marginalized than we are and of the privileges we claim by default. Maybe that sense will be awakened in people who are seeing that there are a lot of people who are worse off, who are seeing that they’ve milked the existing system for their families at the expense of others.

21st Century Plague: Coronavirus in Atlanta
Amy Phuong and Kerry O’Brate

Photograph by Audra Melton

Phuong We thought, What’s preventing us from still getting married? So, we went to the courthouse to get our marriage license the last day the court was open. We pulled up the weather app to look for a date when it wasn’t going to rain. Bill Bolling [the founder of Atlanta Community Food Bank, who was officiating] said, “Pick a pretty spot.” I thought, let’s just pick our neighborhood park, Cabbagetown Park. When Kerry and I first started dating, it was midway between our houses. My parents came, my sister. We had to keep it under 10. We had hand sanitizer. I picked up pastries from Alon’s that morning. We used Kerry’s Zoom account to do some livestreaming. We wanted to make sure family and friends got to be a part of it. On the virtual stream, somebody wore pearls, somebody put on a dress and makeup, someone wore a tuxedo T-shirt, one of the bridesmaids who couldn’t be there even wore her dress. There was a beautiful moment in the ceremony where Bill was addressing the virtual crowd. His remarks almost made the park feel like it was full. He did an affirmation: “Will you guys support this couple?” That was a beautiful moment, looking over at an iPhone on a tripod and hearing everyone say, “We will.”

Expanded interviews: These Georgians had so much more to say than we had space to print. To read their full stories, click on the names below.

Dr. Michelle Au | Dr. Meria Carstarphen | Devon Clinkscales | Hugh Acheson | Amy Phuong | Mike Gallagher | Jarrett Stieber | Belisa Urbina | Shawn Ware |Dock Hollingsworth | Keisha Lance Bottoms | Joey Camp | Dr. Laurence Busse | Dr. Jessica Nave | Marshall Rancifer | Brad Levenberg

This article appears in our May 2020 issue.

Vibe Ride owner Shawn Ware: “I spent most of the day on the phone with our creditors and sending emails to landlords.”

21st Century Plague: Coronavirus in Atlanta
Shawn Ware: “I spent most of the day today on the phone with our creditors.”

Photograph by Audra Melton

For our 21st Century Plague project, we spoke with 17 Georgians about the toll of COVID-19. Below, Shawn Ware—owner of Vibe Ride Grant Park and Westside—describes the outbreak’s impact on her business and her family. (Ware was interviewed on March 20.)

When the news about the coronavirus first came out, I was taking a break at home, between working at the Westside studio in the morning and Grant Park in the afternoon. I thought, Okay, well, this is just a flu. I’ve always been a gym rat, and I’ve always joked that I’ve been a germophobe since I was in the womb. I’m always washing my hands, using hand sanitizer. I thought, So, now you all are jumping on board for what I’ve been doing my whole life? But then, as the hours and days went on, I realized this was serious.

We were still not really in full panic, but we started taking precautions at the studios. We knew they could be a breeding ground for germs, so we tightened that up. And then when they came out with the word pandemic, we were like, Oh, crap.

We made sure to clean even more diligently, assuring the members that we had it under control—”You’re not going to get it from here. This is a safe place.”

We have staff and instructors who also work at the CDC or work closely with it, and we were communicating with them, and we decided to hang in there. But then came the news restricting gatherings to under 50 people. So we took precautions: cutting class sizes, social distancing, moving bikes. We figured we were okay. Then it went to 10 [people], and we were like, We can’t do it.

I spent most of the day today on the phone with our creditors and sending emails to landlords and to the people we lease bikes from, and they’re like, We get it. They’ve been extremely understanding, but it is a very, very scary time. One of our creditors said, We can defer for three months but we’ll still collect interest. Our largest creditor, Wells Fargo, is deferring payments with no late fees and no interest and no reporting to our credit bureau. But a community bank is going to charge us interest. They said, That’s just what we have to do. When we sent the email that we were going to suspend everyone’s membership, we had 35 to 40 people call and say, Don’t cancel. Don’t suspend our accounts. We want to continue to pay because we know you are hit hard, and this is our gym. We want to help and support you as much as we can. Some of these people have been members since the beginning. They’re not clients or strangers; they opened the doors with us. That has been so amazing.

I tell people all the time that, before my husband and I laid the foundation for the Grant Park studio, when there was mud and dirt, that’s what we wanted—that’s what we wanted people to feel. We wanted them to feel good.

My husband still works for the government, but we’ve always been a two-income household, so it is definitely a pinch. We have two kids, ages 20 and 26. The 20-year-old stays at home with us and goes to Georgia State, but he can’t now. Our daughter lives in Buckhead with a roommate. They’re taking it seriously. They’re adults.

My husband is 60 and has heart disease, so we want to make sure he is extra-protected. I’m a breast-cancer survivor. So we’re doing everything we can to be healthy. He had quadruple bypass surgery five years ago. We live in a condo downtown. We are in and out of the parking garage, touching that door all the time. Those are the things we have to be conscious about. We’re here, and we’re in the house more now, obviously. But it’s fine, it’s family time. We’ve got a puzzle. I got me some wine.

I hate saying, “I don’t know,” but I’m not in control of this thing.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

CranioSacral Therapy promises to help ease stress. Here’s what happened when I tried it.

CranioSacral Therapy AtlantaSometimes I feel like I’ve swallowed a hummingbird, its wings beating 80 times per second, its nickel-weight body rebounding inside my ribcage. Meditation, talking it out, and yoga help calm this anxiety, which I experience most when I think I’ve been wronged, made a mistake, or am misunderstood. But still it takes flight in my body. I tense up, and I sweat. It’s uncomfortable.

So I was intrigued when a friend told me about CranioSacral Therapy (CST), one of the ancient “subtle therapies”—think Reiki, hypnotherapy, and gemstone therapy—that seem to be gaining more attention and traction in these overstressed times.

Clinical researcher, biomechanics professor, and osteopathic physician John E. Upledger pioneered and developed CST from 1975 to 1983. It is a “gentle, hands-on method of evaluating and enhancing the functioning of a physiological body system called the craniosacral system—comprised of the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord,” according to the Upledger Institute International.

Using a soft touch no greater than five grams—coincidentally the same weight as a hummingbird—the therapist places a palm or fingers on certain points on the body, reportedly helping to unlock the flow of energy and release trauma that is stored at a cellular level. Maybe that sounds ridiculous. It could be. Some researchers say the studies thus far have been too small and too low-quality to be definitive. Other doctors go so far as to call CST downright quackery.

But even the venerable Mayo Clinic says “stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.” So who am I to reject the claims of CST without trying it?

This is how I ended up on the soft and heated massage table of Maureen “Molly” Grady, an Advanced III CranioSacral Therapist who studied with Upledger and now offers her treatments at Atlanta CranioSacral Therapy in Buckhead. She is also a licensed counselor.

She started by softly placing a palm on my hip and another under my back, then asked me some gently prodding questions: Where do you feel tension the most? Where do you think you store stress in your body? Can you remember when you first felt that tension, how old you were, what you looked like?

Inexplicably, my head began to spin, almost like I’d had too much to drink. I found myself digging into a long-ago memory: It’s me as a third-grader, all skinned knees and bad 1980s haircut, at the local park on my own, hitting a tennis ball against the backboard and being watched by a man chewing on the end of a deflated balloon. When I won’t respond to his hellos, he lunges at me. I drop my racket, abandon my banana-seat bike, and run all the way home. The police pick him up shortly after, and they bring him to my house. I am asked to identify him in the driveway. He smiles and waves at me from the cruiser’s backseat.

On Grady’s table, I found myself scrunching my eyes and shrugging my shoulders to my ears. My brain was saying: This is not a big deal, other people have had it worse, get over it. But my body said otherwise; I was bracing against the fear of that moment. Grady moved her hands to other points on my face and neck, urging me to feel the emotion and then let it slip away. And, very slowly, it did.

Can I scientifically prove that her hands and energy made this happen, or that the session will have long-lasting effects? No. But I can say that the hummingbird has slowed its wing-beat, at least a little bit, at least for now.

Atlanta now has plenty of stretch studios, but fitness pros are divided on stretching’s benefits

KIKA Stretch Studios
KIKA Stretch Studios

Photograph courtesy of KIKA Stretch Studios

“You’re in your late 20s,” the therapist says.

I nearly blush. Turning 46 has hit me like a ton of bricks, with weaker eyesight, gray hair encroaching on blonde, and unexplainable aches and pains that I talk about too much and that may or may not be tied to the weather. But he says I’m in my late 20s—maybe my expensive, multi-step skincare routine is paying off?

No, he isn’t talking about my complexion or youthful exuberance. He’s talking about my Stretch Age, a measure that KIKA Stretch Studios in Atlanta uses to determine how flexible you are, and how to make you more lithe and less tense, sore, and stiff.

KIKA is just one of numerous stretch-focused studios now in Atlanta, along with Motion Stretch, Stretch ATL, and STRETCH Kinetics. They’re capitalizing on a nationwide trend; in 2017, stretch, recovery, and meditation studios were the most popular on ClassPass.

But stretching, as it turns out, is a topic so divisive, it threatens to tear apart the fitness community like it’s an overworked hamstring.

Harvard Medical School says stretching is important. Painscience.com says stretching has no measurable benefits. The New York Times has offered “Reasons Not to Stretch.” Shape magazine offers six reasons why you should.

Fitness pros also find themselves divided, sometimes in the same paragraph: “The foundation of any good exercise [program] should be mobility and flexibility, and most of us would benefit from more time spent stretching,” writes Jean-Claude Vacassin, a fitness blogger and health club founder, in a newspaper column. “In some cases, stretching might be best avoided.”

David Roche, a coach and the author of “Happy Runner,” is equally non-committal in Trail Runner Magazine: “Should you do yoga? Should you stretch at all? How about athletes over 40 that are losing flexibility each year? Those are questions without certain answers, though you can probably find a study that supports every proposition imaginable.”

One study even debunked the most widely held assumption: that stretching, whether conducted before or after exercise, can reduce muscle soreness later.

KIKA Stretch Studios
KIKA Stretch Studios

Photograph courtesy of KIKA Stretch Studios

The controversy didn’t keep me from visiting KIKA, and sitting on the mat for the Stretch Age test. It’s a lot like that sit-and-reach that many of us did during the now-canceled Presidential Fitness Tests in gym class. The farther you can reach on KIKA’s mat—the whole session takes place there, not on a table—the younger your Stretch Age.

After the test, a KIKA Method therapist moved me through stretches to loosen tight muscles and reduce pain and stress. Rotating my shoulders slowly, turning my head side to side, figure-four stretching my legs, gently pulling my arms overhead as I leaned back over an exercise ball—the process promised to release muscle tension and improve flexibility.

At the end of the appointment, I took the Stretch Test again, and I could reach farther. I was, as the therapist said, suddenly another three years younger. I didn’t blush, but I did feel more relaxed, limber, and firmly on the side of stretching.

Okay, boomer: You can—and, maybe, should—run a marathon

Running a marathon olderSome may say that marathon running is a younger person’s pursuit, that age brings not only wisdom, but also run-hindering pain, fatigue, and decreases in bone density, VO2 max, and lactic acid clearance. But should that automatically stop you from training for your first marathon in your 50s, 60s, or later? The answer, from a trio of Atlanta-area running coaches? Nope.

Not only is it entirely doable to complete your first 26.2-mile race, it may actually be advisable, according to a recent study of 21- to 69-year-olds.

The study found that older, first-time marathon runners can actually experience more benefits from completing the 26.2-mile race—including “reversing” the aging of major blood vessels—than their younger counterparts.

“After completing the marathon, aortic stiffness had reduced and the aorta was four years younger than before training,” according to the study from Dr. Anish Bhuva, a British Heart Foundation Fellow at University College London.

Perhaps the results were so striking because the younger runners already had biologically younger aortic vessels and had experienced less stiffening. But never mind that.

“A mature mind often performs better in a marathon. The distance requires patience and discipline, which life experience teaches us,” says Betsy Magato, a certified running coach who also runs live classes for the Charge Running app. “I see major improvements in older athletes’ resting heart rate, body-fat percentage, sleep quality, mental heath, and overall vitality. One of the best things I’ve ever heard as a coach are these words from one of my [over-40] runners: ‘I feel like an athlete, and I’ve never felt this way in my entire life.’”

We spoke with Magato and two other Atlanta-area running coaches, for tips on how more mature runners can best prepare and train for their first full marathons.

Take your time. “You’re less likely to get injured because you won’t be pushing your body to adapt too quickly. Focus primarily on easy effort.” says Janet Hamilton, who has coached since the early 1990s and whose oldest client was in her mid-80s. Hamilton recommends building to 24 miles per week, with a long run of about eight, before beginning a 26-week marathon-training program. “Canned training plans are 16 to 20 weeks in duration; an extra six to 10 weeks gives you wiggle room for the inevitable training interruption.”

Patience is a virtue, says Carl Leivers, who began his career in 2006 at Emory University and now has a private coaching business that typically attracts runners aged 35 to 55. “As you age you require more time to recover from exercises and from training.”

Build good habits. That includes stretching, strength training, core work, good sleep, foam-rolling, maintaining a strong range of motion, and getting your system accustomed to taking in water and fuel during runs. “[Older] runners can absolutely work hard, but they may not be able to hammer out hard workouts with just one day of rest in between,” Magato says. “This may mean extending the regular training week from seven days to 10 days.”

Be flexible. We’re not just talking about stretching. “Go into your first marathon without a specific time goal in mind,” Leivers says. “The marathon is a unique event and how you react to it is a bit unpredictable, no matter how well your training has gone. So on race day, it’s much better to go in with the expectation of enjoying the experience.”

Find a buddy. “Many masters runners train in a group and benefit from the connection with other runners,” Magato says. “There’s the efficiency of filling two needs at once: social interaction and exercising.”

Don’t ignore the signs. “Always listen to your body,” Hamilton says. “If something isn’t feeling right, deal with it right away.”

Magato has seen positive benefits for her 50-and-up clients, and not just in running. “One of my athletes decided to tackle a graduate degree, another has lost a significant amount of weight, and another has just received a big promotion at work,” Magato says. “As adults we don’t often get to do things for the first time, and the excitement surrounding this achievement is quite special and empowering.”

Atlanta fitness studios amp up their workouts with live DJ sets

A DJ performs inside a gym as people exercise with kettlebells

I have a confession to make: I think I’m a DJ. Not because I stare intently at two turntables while propping a headphone in the crook of my neck, ignoring requests and maybe randomly firing off an air horn. No, I think I’m a DJ because I put great time and care into the song selections I make for the fitness classes I teach. I know I’m not alone; many coaches these days pore over their playlists, considering things like RPM and clients’ energy as it ebbs and flows. Some fitness companies train their coaches not just in how to do the class workout, but how to create its soundtrack. And record companies have taken notice—Universal Music Group not long ago partnered with Zumba to release remixes designed and inspired specifically by the dance-fitness class.

Some workout chains are going for the real thing, hiring professional DJs to spin during class. At-home cycling company Peloton frequently uses DJs for its video-based rides. Solidcore in Decatur tried it once, for a Megaformer Pilates bootcamp class. Buckhead-based Chaos Conditioning has hired a DJ to make its interval workouts feel more like a party. I’ve taught while DJ Dollae was on the decks at Vibe Ride indoor-cycling studio in Midtown. But very few show as strong a dedication to the power of DJ-curated and -spun music as F45.

DJ fitness classWith Mark Wahlberg as an investor, the national chain—with locations in Alpharetta, Buckhead, Decatur, Sandy Springs, and Smyrna—focuses on functional, full-body, high-intensity interval training. There are 36 different workouts. Each falls into one of three categories: cardio on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; resistance on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday; and a hybrid class on Saturday. The workouts are said to burn up to 750 calories in 45 minutes.

It’s during the 60-minute Saturday class that F45 brings out the DJ. Spinning everything from trap to hip-hop and pop, DJs like Grace Lamour—who has served as resident DJ at places like the W Hotel and Aloft Hotel—amp up the energy in the room, even during an early-morning session.

f45 Atlanta DJ workouts
F45 has locations across metro Atlanta.

Photograph courtesy of F45

“The human brain and nervous system are hard-wired to distinguish music from noise and to respond to rhythm and repetition, tones and tunes,” according to Harvard University research. “A varied group of studies suggests that music may enhance human health and performance.”

I can’t say that I burn twice as many calories when a live DJ is in the room. But I can say that I smile twice as much—and, as a “DJ” myself, I appreciate the boost that music gives my energy and my workout.

Where to Stay, Jekyll Style

Jekyll Island’s history as an exclusive, nearly inaccessible club for only the most well-heeled of American families is a fascinating footnote to what is now an inclusive and well-preserved resort for visitors of all walks of life. Though some of the mansion-sized “cottages” from that bygone era still stand, and first-class accommodations are still readily available, the island boasts numerous alternative places to kick back and relax while visiting. Family- and pet-friendly hotels, rentals of differing sizes and shapes, and a popular 18-acre campsite all can be found on this pristine, seven-mile-long, 5,700-acre barrier island.

Here’s just some of what these places have to offer to today’s traveler:

Beachfront Hideaway: Beachview Club Hotel

Photograph by Brian Austin Lee

For easy access to the beach and set at the north end of the island near Driftwood Beach, try the Beachview Club Hotel. Set among century-old live oaks, this 38-room boutique hotel overlooks a courtyard and heated pool and is adjacent to the Beach House restaurant.

721 N. Beachview Drive
(912) 635-2256

Extended Stay: Home2 Suites by Hilton, Jekyll Island

Photograph by Brian Austin Lee

Home2 Suites by Hilton, Jekyll Island is the island’s newest hotel offering. This extended- stay hotel is located across the street from the new Corsair Beach Park and walking distance to Beach Village. The property features an outdoor saline swimming pool and a combination fitness/laundry facility where guests can wash Saturday’s workout clothes while working out on Sunday.

101 Ocean Way
(912) 319-6019

Back to Nature: Jekyll Island Campground

Photograph by Brian Austin Lee

If roughing it (in an easy kind of way) is more your thing, either in an RV or a tent, the Jekyll Island Campground, walking distance to Clam Creek and Driftwood Beach, is for you. There’s a store on site, a laundry, bathhouses, a pickleball court, and free wi-fi. (After all, roughing it goes only so far.) The campground books up months in advance, though, so it’s wise to plan early.

1197 Riverview Drive
(912) 635-3021

Timeless Elegance: Jekyll Island Club Resort

Photograph by Brian Austin Lee

You don’t have to be a Rockefeller or a Pulitzer to visit the Jekyll Island Club Resort, but you may feel like a member of one of those high-falutin’ families when you check into this Victorian property with old-world charm (think croquet on the lawn) and modern conveniences (like a fitness center). Visitors describe the service as impeccable.

371 Riverview Drive
(844) 201-6871

Honeymooners Welcome: Jekyll Ocean Club

Photograph by Brian Austin Lee

The Jekyll Ocean Club has 40 suites that include living rooms and balconies, but visitors rave most about the adults-only rooftop terrace and open-air dining at Eighty Ocean Kitchen and Bar. It makes for a great romantic beach getaway.

80 Ocean Way
(844) 201-6871

Kids’ Pick: Days Inn & Suites

Photograph by Brian Austin Lee

Budget-conscious travelers may want to consider the Days Inn & Suites which offers some of the island’s best deals on suites. The hotel—in the old days, this was where the Corsair Motel stood—is also a good bet for families, with two pools (one is for children, so you won’t get sideways glances from singles.)

60 S. Beachview Drive
(912) 635-9800

Group Getaway: Villas by the Sea Resort and Conference Center

Photograph by Brian Austin Lee

Villas by the Sea Resort and Conference Center features a renovated, 9,000-square-foot event space. It’s the largest oceanside resort on the island, accommodations that feel like a cross between a hotel room and a condo. The popular Driftwood Bistro is located next to the check-in and 24-hour mini store.

1175 N. Beachview Drive
(912) 635-2521

Eat, Shop, Relax: Westin Jekyll Island

Photograph by Brian Austin Lee

The location of the Westin Jekyll Island right next to the Jekyll Island Convention Center and Beach Village shops and restaurants, makes this a popular choice for first-time visitors. In addition to three on-site restaurants, there’s an upper-deck lounge overlooking the beach, which is just steps away.

110 Ocean Way
(912) 635-4545

The Heart of Jekyll: Seafarer Inn & Suites

Photograph by Brian Austin Lee

For families who want to stay together but not too together, Seafarer Inn & Suites has spacious two-bedroom suites with kitchenettes. The property—its name is a nod to the original Seafarer Inn that stood there decades ago—is also close to the island’s golf and tennis facilities.

700 N. Beachview Drive
(912) 635-2202

Tranquil Escape: Hampton Inn & Suites

Photograph by Brian Austin Lee

If quiet is what you seek, consider the Hampton Inn & Suites. This hotel is located on the more tranquil, south side of the island. Follow the oak-lined boardwalk from the pool to the beach. In the evening, enjoy complimentary cookies and time to kick back around the fire pit.

200 S. Beachview Drive
(912) 635-3733

Fur-Baby Friendly: Holiday Inn Resort at Jekyll Island

Photograph by Brian Austin Lee

Pet-lovers will appreciate the welcoming policy at the Holiday Inn Resort at Jekyll Island. Close to Driftwood Beach, this hotel—long-time visitors may remember this place as the site of the former Wanderer Motel—boasts lovely views of the ocean, and dining at the Anchor or NorthShore. And to make things easy on you and your pet, many rooms on the ground floor have back doors that open directly to beach access.

701 N. Beachview Drive
(912) 635-2211

Stay Like a Local: Cottages & Condos

Photograph by Brian Austin Lee

Those who want to stick around a little longer than a week or so may want to look into a longer-term house, cottage, apartment, condo, or villa rental. Local realtors regularly list places for rent—most you can book online—and vendors like VRBO and Airbnb can help point you to ways that you can stay like a local.


Meet the Megaformer, a Pilates workout that slays even the fittest

Six people doing sideways planks at Stellar Bodies
Sideways planks at Stellar Bodies

Photograph by Heidi Geldhauser

It looks like a device intended for torture, and those who have spent time on the contraption will probably tell you that description is right on the money. Meghan Markle does it. So do Khloe Kardashian and Chrissy Tiegen. Victoria’s Secret models swear by it. It’s apparently Michelle Obama’s favorite workout. It’s the Megaformer, and it seems like it’s everywhere in Atlanta these days.

Originally created by trainer and Chief Executive Officer of Lagree Fitness Sebastien Lagree, Megaformer Pilates takes the original Pilates reformer machine—sliding beds that use springs for resistance—and soups it up.

The Megaformer features two stable platforms on the front and back, with a carriage that moves in between. The springs underneath the carriage are used to control the resistance and difficulty of the class. Handlebars on each end help with balance, and also for some elevated moves. Some machines also feature bungee cords and various other straps to amp up the workout, which tends to focus on very slow and deliberate lunges, crunches, core extensions, squats, and upper-body strength-training.

When I was approached about three years ago to teach a version of this workout at Solidcore in Midtown and Decatur (don’t call it Megaformer Pilates, though—Solidcore was in a legal battle with Lagree about that), my first reaction was: I’m not really a Pilates girl. I don’t go for graceful workouts. I prefer exercise that brings me to exhaustion, and maybe near throwing up (yup, I’m a nut). Try it out, they told me. So they flew me to their headquarters in Washington, DC, to take a class. And it absolutely crushed me—my core was on fire, my legs were shaking, and I broke form several times while working my arms. I was sold.

The goal of Megaformer Pilates classes, in general, is to dig into your slow-twitch muscle fibers by moving very slowly, holding and pulsing. This allows the fibers to break down, creating muscle fatigue and failure. The muscles heal after class, and come back stronger.

Solidcore certainly isn’t alone on the scene here. Megaformer Pilates and related studios are popping up at a rate like we once saw with spin studios (which are now shuttering almost as quickly, due to fierce competition from at-home indoor-cycling company Peloton). On the growing list: Sculpthouse, with Buckhead and Sandy Springs locations that offer a workout that alternates Megaformer and Woodway Curve Treadmill drills; Stellar Bodies, the first Megaformer studio in town, which has studios in Buckhead and Midtown; Reformed by Lagree, in Dacula; Pace, on Northside Parkway; and Third Eye Tribe in Buckhead. (Others, like the Daily and Club Pilates, use more traditional Reformer Pilates machines.)

Third Eye Tribe Megaformer Atlanta
Third Eye Tribe

Photograph courtesy of Third Eye Tribe

Megaformer classes are, understandably, intimidating—they’re challenging for even the most fit. But many of the studios in Atlanta have patient coaches who offer modifications that allow beginners to complete the workouts and not get discouraged. Third Eye Tribe, in particular, is a good option for newbies—the music is typically quieter and the lights stay on, allowing for better mimicking and comprehension of moves and transitions.

I don’t coach at Solidcore anymore, but I still sweat there every week (for full price now; yup, I’m a nut). Because even after three years of Megaformer workouts, the classes still slay me. That’s the beauty of this fitness concept—you can always amplify it with more springs or advanced moves, it’s almost impossible to plateau, and it never gets easy. Call it torture or call it a revelation—Megaformer Pilates is a huge hit here.

The pros and cons of ClassPass

Classpass Atlanta
Fitness studios have a love/hate relationship with apps like ClassPass.

Photograph by yellowdog/Cultura/Getty Images

Ours is a world of hyper-personalized consumerism: facial lotions that consider your genetic predisposition, vitamin supplements based on your DNA, meal plans made for your particular combination of lactose-intolerance and beet allergy. With our simultaneous embrace of technology and rejection of anything one-size-fits-all, it’s no wonder we seek and expect tailor-made, just-for-me gym memberships, too.

Enter the apps. Though the companies’ head honchos are loathe to release data on market penetration and growth, it’s clear from local gym owners, operators, managers, and clients that more and more consumers in Atlanta are forgoing traditional gym memberships in favor of plans that allow them to sample everything from Megaformer Pilates to martial arts.

In Atlanta, the biggest multi-studio fitness membership app is ClassPass, with more than 275 studios on its roster. Peerfit, which began primarily as a multi-studio app for employers to offer their employees, offers access to about 37 studios in the Atlanta area. Another competitor, called FitReserve, is said to be coming to this market soon.

Feelings about these apps in general, and ClassPass in particular, are mixed. Studio owners like that ClassPass helps them overcome the significant challenge of client acquisition, filling spots that might otherwise have been empty. This allows the studios to generate at least some revenue (the amount depends on the business and its negotiations with ClassPass) where there would likely have been none. (Studios can limit how many seats, machines, or spots go to ClassPassers.)

But some studio owners complain that ClassPassers are purely price-driven, unlikely to become repeat customers, and see less impressive physical results because they don’t consistently practice any particular fitness discipline.

ClassPassers hail the app for the variety and the access to expensive classes without the membership commitment. But they say they’re sometimes treated as less important than full-paying members. ClassPassers have also been known to complain about the credit system. (A fee of $15 a month gets you seven credits, which translates to two classes per month; $49 gets you 27 credits, or up to nine classes; $79 a month gets you 45 credits, or up to 15 classes; $139 a month gets you 85 credits, or up to 28 classes; and $199 a month gets you 130 credits, or up to 43 classes a month. Popular classes require more credits than less popular classes.)

All four of Vibe Ride’s locations—three in its home city of Atlanta, and one in Detroit—are on the app, and the relationship has been “more positive than negative,” says owner Courtney Anderson. “We have a great conversion rate. Many clients who find us on ClassPass become members and join our community.”

But when ClassPass clients are unhappy, as they were with the company’s three-visit studio limit (lifted last year) or when monthly dues rose a startling 90 percent in 2016, these concerns are sometimes passed on to the studio. This “can be frustrating,” she says. “Studios do not have control, so there is not much we can do to address these issues.”

ClassPass has acknowledged the frustrations and now promises “a drastically improved service,” says Mandy Menaker, who does public relations for the company. “We now offer more choice in where you work out, no studio limitations on the number of classes you can attend at any particular place, and lots of flexibility in our plans, including 10 credits that rollover every month.”

Love it or hate it, ClassPass seems to be here to stay—with more competitors on the way, ready to capitalize on our desire to have our cake and eat it too, and burn that cake off with as many different workouts as we damn well please.

ClassPass in a nutshell:
Pricing: $0 for first month; $15 to $199 a month thereafter, depending on how many credits you want
Number of studios in the Atlanta area: About 275
Limits: Different classes are assigned different credit requirements (“gym time shouldn’t cost as much as megaformer Pilates. Credits consider a class’ popularity, equipment, and more”); up to 10 credits can roll over every month.
Does membership travel?: Yes
Some of the Atlanta studios available on this app: Solidcore, Stellar Bodies, exhale, 9round, Vesta Movement

Test drive: Will a Gua Sha facial actually make you look younger?

Do Gua Sha facials work?Gua Sha is a traditional Chinese technique for reducing pain and inflammation brought on by blood stasis or stagnation. Practitioners move pooled or stagnated blood by scraping a spoon, coin, or smooth-edged bottle cap across the skin. And when I say scraping, I mean scraping—look up photos of Gua Sha and you’ll see raised red blotches, lines, and scratches. People say it doesn’t hurt, but it sure looks like it does.

There aren’t a lot of studies out there on Gua Sha, though one did find that the practice has “beneficial short-term effects on pain and functional status in patients with chronic neck pain.” Another said that elderly patients with low-back pain could experience a more long-lasting anti-inflammatory effect from Gua Sha than a hot pack.

But to get any benefit for your back or your neck, you gotta go for the welts. The idea is to increase blood flow to the areas that need it most, creating cell turnover and, apparently, breaking up stagnation and congestion.

Thankfully a Gua Sha facial is not nearly as aggressive. It’s more like a comforting, soothing facial massage performed with smooth and ridged discs, spoons, and other tools made from gemstones like jade and quartz. The treatment is said to lift the muscles, smooth the skin, bring fresh oxygen to the cells, and encourage production of good stuff like collagen.

I made an appointment for a Gua Sha facial with Marlene Webb, a licensed aesthetician and certified Nefeli Jade Stone Facial Therapist who operates her business, Vibrant-Glow Holistic Facial Spa, out of Decatur Healing Arts (an introductory hour costs $60; a four-week program costs $279).

With a kind and calming voice, she explained the history, science, and approach of Gua Sha. Then Webb showed me some before-and-after pictures. They’re pretty convincing; many of these clients look like they’ve had a facelift.

Do Gua Sha facials work?
One of Vibrant-Glow’s clients: Before Gua Sha (left), after one treatment (center), and after eight treatments (right)

Photograph courtesy of Vibrant-Glow Holistic Facial Spa

During my treatment, Webb performed a skin analysis, a deep-clean foaming face wash, a once-over with microcurrent wand, and finished with a facial massage with Gua Sha stones and a copper tool.

It was glorious, and not at all violent; I actually fell asleep several times during the session. And the immediate results were pretty impressive. The “11” lines between my eyebrows were gone, the horizontal wrinkles on my forehead were softer, and my jaw, cheeks, and brow bone were lifted. And I was actually able to express my surprise at these results.

“A lot of people are using Botox now, but that paralyzes the skin. Gua Sha strengthens the muscles of the face and relaxes wrinkles,” Webb says.

As with any muscles, for real strength and results you need real dedication and consistency, which means going to see a specialist on a regular basis or performing some Gua Sha at home. Though I’d prefer to lie on her comfy, cushy table and have her knead and lift and gently pull my face into a better state every week, I can’t afford it quite so often, so I bought some “jade” Gua Sha stones at Marshalls for about $8. (Note: some experts warn against using cheap knock-offs, and say they can irritate the skin.)

Mimicking her moves as best I can, I gently press the stones—shaped like puzzle pieces—into my clean and well-moisturized skin and then run them up my cheeks, along my jawline, across my forehead, and very gently under my eyes (“I see too many people who pull on that skin too much,” Webb tsks. “That can cause bruising.”).

After about a week of DIY facial massages in front of Netflix, my wrinkles aren’t gone, but they’ve softened. My complexion is a bit clearer, there’s less tension in my face, and there’s a nice little flush to my cheeks. No pain, all gain. Do I look younger? Don’t answer that. Do I feel good? Absolutely. So I’m adding Gua Sha stones to my skin care arsenal.

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