Georgians hit the road for ‘sense of normalcy’ during pandemic

Coronavirus safety measures to take in a hotel

Chandler and DeAndre Banks' mothers have birthdays just four days apart, and they wanted to celebrate both matriarchs.

That’s no easy feat during a pandemic, when travel is discouraged and “stay 6 feet apart” is the nation’s new motto. But with family in Ellenwood, Decatur, Macon and Warner Robins, travel would be a necessity for at least some. In this case, however, everyone traveled — to a house in Destin, Florida.

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“The primary purpose of the trip was to enjoy each other’s company, offer a celebration for our mothers' birthdays, and to allow the children a somewhat sense of normalcy and change of pace,” Chandler Banks said.

(Clockwise from top right): Chandler Banks planned a getaway to celebrate the birthday of her mother, Lori Robinson. Also pictured are Banks' son Camden; her father, Eddie Robinson; and her brother, Cameron Robinson. photo courtesy of Chandler Banks

Credit: photo courtesy of Chandler Banks

Credit: photo courtesy of Chandler Banks

Banks said she was definitely aware of the pandemic and, although not really worried, took precautions for the stay.

“We spent well over $250 in cleaning supplies prior to going on the trip, and conversed with the owner of the home we rented in detail about their cleaning policies and plans,” she said. “A part of the cleaning plan was to have Lysol and Clorox wipes available in each common space of the house and that put me at ease since I had such a hard time finding the Lysol in Georgia. We wore masks anytime we were all in the same area (living room or game room) and not eating a meal.”

To limit their exposure — and to make the birthday celebration even more special — the family hired a chef who came to the house with his own crew to prepare dinner and clean up. The family ate out only once, while they were waiting for their hosts to finish cleaning the house.

Chandler Banks and family hired a chef to come to their rental house and prepare dinner for the birthday matriarchs Lori Robinson and Deborah Banks. photo courtesy of Chandler Banks

Credit: photo courtesy of Chandler Banks

Credit: photo courtesy of Chandler Banks

The Banks family isn’t the only one in Georgia to feel a need for normalcy during the pandemic. They also aren’t the only ones who sought that feeling at the beach.

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The Wymans also wanted to take a trip to celebrate a couple of milestone birthdays — their twins Kenzie and Kate turning 13. Mom Karen and dad Zack, being essential workers, also need a reprieve, Karen Wyman said.

The family set out from Marietta with a couple of the girls' friends and drove to Santa Rosa Beach in Florida. Like the Banks family, the Wymans opted to rent a house.

“I did so much research before ultimately booking a private residence,” Karen Wyman said. “I knew I didn’t want high-rise hotels, elevators or large, unavoidable common areas. I spoke with the owner and was assured that all linens were thoroughly sanitized and exchanged in between each guest and that all other surfaces were appropriately disinfected. There was also a 24-hour buffer in between guests, which I liked, and they weren’t renting to people from high-case areas, which at the time was NY and NJ.”

Karen and Zack Wyman and twin daughters Kenzie (center left) and Kate went to Santa Rosa Beach in Florida to celebrate the twins' 13th birthday. Photo courtesy of Karen Wyman

Credit: Photo courtesy of Karen Wyman

Credit: Photo courtesy of Karen Wyman

The group hit the beach every day, setting up their chairs and umbrellas to maintain a social distance from others. Masks were worn whenever they were around other people, like taking a boat to Shell Island to go snorkeling.

“I was totally apprehensive about snorkeling equipment, so I asked them to wash the equipment in the bleach solution an extra time in front of us!” Karen Wyman said. “Surprisingly, I never even got a single eye roll from the four teenagers regarding my precautions — they were totally on board.”

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Not all families were celebrating birthdays on their trips, but they were still seeking that sense of normalcy.

When Dianne Wisner’s family began planning a getaway before granddaughter Grace Noble headed to Georgia Southern, Grace’s brother had an idea.

“Sam, surprisingly, was insistent we go where we would go for many of our summer vacations, also to participate in the same activities that had become a tradition,” Wisner said, like dressing for breakfast and dinner each day.

Although Wisner said they were concerned about COVID-19, the staff at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club in Florida, where they traditionally stayed, “assured me they were mandating protocols to keep us safe: reserved pool times, social distancing and masks required inside,” she said. “Even the beach chairs were spaced apart. No housecleaning staff entered our rooms; clean towels were left outside the door, and all items that could have retained germs were removed from the room, such as tissue, shampoo, shower caps, pens, notepads, and robes.”

Although they were looking for “ways to safely and thoughtfully spend time as a family,” Wisner said, they had no intention of tempting fate.

“We were concerned about using bathrooms on the drive, but rest stops were open and gas stations required face masks to enter," she said. "At the rest stops, we all wore masks, but most other travelers there did not.”

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The DeSimone family also wanted to give their kids a beach trip before school started. Thomas and Ashley DeSimone of Decatur usually take son Colin, 11, and daughter Laney Belle, 10, on a couple of vacations each summer. This year they waited until the week before school started and drove to St. Simons Island, taking precautions along the way.

“We tried to avoid going into enclosed spaces as much as possible, but when we did need to get gas or stop at a convenience store, we would wear our masks and use hand sanitizer before entering and after leaving the building,” Thomas DeSimone said.

Colin, 11, and Laney Belle, 10, DeSimone play at the beach on St. Simons Island. Photo courtesy of Thomas DeSimone

Credit: Photo courtesy of Thomas DeSimone

Credit: Photo courtesy of Thomas DeSimone

The DeSimones also rented a house for their trip, and entertained themselves with mostly outdoor activities.

“We mostly went to the beach, which was not crowded at all, and we drove around the islands,” Thomas DeSimone said. “We stopped at Driftwood Beach and took some pictures. We also stopped into the Sea Turtle Museum. It was mostly outdoors, so we didn’t think it would be a problem, and we still wore our masks regardless.”

St. Simons isn’t just for the kids, though.

Donna Lancaster, 73, of Lawrenceville, her sister Sara McNamara, 69, and their friend Marilyn Montgomery, also 69, stayed in a condo that Montgomery bid on and won during a Pilot Club meeting.

“We just relaxed, watched some TV, caught up on life, cooked or ate leftovers, and drank lots of coffee, a few Bloody Marys,” Lancaster said.

Although they’d been isolated for months and weren’t worried about contaminating one another — McNamara and Montgomery live near Athens — the trio wore face masks when in a store or picking up food.

They also went for walks on the beach, but only two or three times because it was “way too hot for old ladies,” Lancaster said.

Jerry J.K. Tillery and husband Neil Hirsch took their dog Marty to Cape San Blas in Florida because it was more remote and isolated. Photo courtesy of Jerry J.K. Tillery

Credit: Photo courtesy of Jerry J.K. Tillery

Credit: Photo courtesy of Jerry J.K. Tillery

Jerry J.K. Tillery and his husband, Neil Hirsch, also enjoyed the beach with a friend — their dog Marty. The trio headed to Cape San Blas in Florida because of how remote and isolated it is.

“We had such an amazing time,” Tillery said. “It was not crowded, so social distancing was not an issue.”

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Florida was the original plan for Antonio McCloud’s family, but the state’s COVID rate “was extremely high so we started looking for alternative places,” he said.

That place was Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

“South Beach Resort practiced social distancing, and we had to reserve times for the pools and activities,” McCloud said.

McCloud said the beach in South Carolina also wasn’t crowded. The family didn’t limit their fun to sand and surf, however.

“The water park sanitized its equipment and had more handwashing stations,” McCloud said. In addition, the “go-karts were sprayed as each person got off.”

Although it might seem our idea of “normal” has been thrown out the window during the pandemic, these Atlanta-area families show that preparation and proper precautions might help you reclaim a bit of your life.

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