Mother’s Day 2021 in Atlanta: An improvement but still not normal

Christine Lomax Diaz and her mother, Irene Lomax, enjoy gardening together at The Phoenix at James Creek, an assisted living and memory care community, in Cumming. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

caption arrowCaption
Christine Lomax Diaz and her mother, Irene Lomax, enjoy gardening together at The Phoenix at James Creek, an assisted living and memory care community, in Cumming. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

The menu is already set.

Christine Lomax Diaz will grill chicken for her mother on Sunday and make potato salad. But not just any potato salad — potato salad made the way her mother, 86-year-old Irene Lomax, does it, splashing in the brine from a jar of dill pickles, little by little, until she gets the tartness “just right.”

No doubt her mother, who lives in an assisted living community, will disagree with whether the flavors have come together correctly. But even the thought of that brings a smile to Diaz’s face.

After a year of fear, heartache and separation caused by the coronavirus, Diaz is determined to make sure that this Mother’s Day looks, feels and even tastes more normal. At the same time, she and others across metro Atlanta realize that life has not returned to the way it was before the pandemic.

ExploreGifts that have made Mother's Day memorable

Georgia, along with much of the country, is teetering on the cusp of normalcy. Just in time for Mother’s Day, visits with loved ones in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are resuming. But facilities may require advance scheduling, set time limits on stays and perform temperature checks on outsiders. Restaurants are once again serving indoors. Yet, many are anticipating diners’ hesitancy and have ramped up outdoor seating, elevated takeout to the next level and are preparing carryout special brunch kits for Mother’s Day. Entertainment venues are returning to full capacity while encouraging the use of face masks and offering cashless concessions.

Some Georgians will resume their holiday traditions, as though the pandemic is over; others will carefully follow public health advice to mask up around strangers and avoid crowds.

“I’ve been so looking forward to Mother’s Day, and I am like, is this for real?” said Diaz, who lives in Dahlonega. “How long is this going to last?”

Public health officials are warning that the coronavirus continues to spread and mutate. New coronavirus infections have remained relatively low in recent weeks, and vaccinations are on the rise, but Georgia has not yet gotten the pandemic under control, experts say.

Still, this year is not like last year, when so much was unknown. Many in metro Atlanta are adapting.

caption arrowCaption
In this pre-pandemic photo, Aaron Stoddard, his wife, Diandra Stoddard, and his mother, Anne Stoddard, are together taking a pottery class. Aaron says that the three of them are planning a Sunday road trip to a winery, and they'll take their masks. (Courtesy of Aaron Stoddard)

In this pre-pandemic photo, Aaron Stoddard, his wife, Diandra Stoddard, and his mother, Anne Stoddard, are together taking a pottery class. Aaron says that the three of them are planning a Sunday road trip to a winery, and they'll take their masks. (Courtesy of Aaron Stoddard)

caption arrowCaption
In this pre-pandemic photo, Aaron Stoddard, his wife, Diandra Stoddard, and his mother, Anne Stoddard, are together taking a pottery class. Aaron says that the three of them are planning a Sunday road trip to a winery, and they'll take their masks. (Courtesy of Aaron Stoddard)

What felt weird a year ago for Aaron Stoddard and his wife, Diandra, is now no big deal.

They are planning a Sunday road trip for his mother, Anne Stoddard, who lives in a house not far away from them in Mableton. This trip to Yonah Mountain Vineyards in Cleveland, Ga., will be different from their other visits. Because of the pandemic, the winery’s walking tours through barrels of aging wine have been suspended. Visitors are required to wear masks when ordering and keep their distance from other wine enthusiasts.

None of that matters to the Stoddards.

“We are used to wearing masks now,” said Aaron Stoddard. “The seating will be spread out. But those changes do not impact the overall experience — at least for us. We go for the wine and the views, which haven’t changed during the pandemic.”

Nursing homes safer, but not safe

Mother’s Day arrives only about a month after state and federal agencies eased restrictions at nursing homes and other long-term care communities.

Some 24% of the roughly 17,600 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Georgia occurred at those locations. Now, 98% of residents in long-term care communities are vaccinated, said Ginny Helms, president, and CEO of LeadingAge Georgia, which represents nonprofit and mission-driven senior care organizations. The number of new infections at long-term care facilities has plummeted.

“It is wonderful,” said Helms. “It is like people coming out of their cocoons.”

But strict safety measures and vigilance are needed, she said.

The number of confirmed cases in the communities remains low, but there was a slight uptick in April, according to the latest state data.

“I've been so looking forward to Mother's Day, and I am like, is this for real?"

- Christine Lomax Diaz, of Dahlonega, who plans to cook for her 86-year-old mother on Sunday

And a new study underscores why emerging variants continue to pose a threat to the public, especially vulnerable populations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an unvaccinated health worker set off a COVID-19 outbreak at a nursing home in Kentucky. Dozens were infected, including 22 residents and employees who were already fully vaccinated.

Fewer of those vaccinated were infected than those who had not been vaccinated, and they were far less likely to develop symptoms or require hospitalization. But one vaccinated individual died, according to the CDC.

The outbreak involved a variant of the virus that had multiple mutations in the spike protein, the kind that can make the vaccines less effective.

Many of Georgia’s long-term care communities have measures in place to protect residents during Sunday’s increase in visitors.

caption arrowCaption
Deborah Malone can see her daughter only once a week. Before the pandemic, mom and daughter would spend time together almost every day. (Courtesy of Deborah Malone)

Deborah Malone can see her daughter only once a week. Before the pandemic, mom and daughter would spend time together almost every day. (Courtesy of Deborah Malone)

caption arrowCaption
Deborah Malone can see her daughter only once a week. Before the pandemic, mom and daughter would spend time together almost every day. (Courtesy of Deborah Malone)

A spokesperson for A.G. Rhodes’ three nursing homes in metro Atlanta said most indoor visits will take place in common areas instead of residents’ rooms to limit foot traffic throughout the building and, therefore, decrease the risks for potential exposure to COVID-19.

Deborah Malone saw her adult daughter, Niki Malone, only twice briefly over a year-long ban on visits at Niki’s group home for medically fragile adults in Rome in northwest Georgia. Visits have resumed, but they are still extremely limited. Malone is currently allowed to see her daughter only once a week and only outdoors.

As for Mother’s Day, it will likely all come down to the weather.

“If the weather is good, I will probably be able to see her,” said Deborah Malone. “But it should not be like this.”

Keep it simple

Of course, modified Mother’s Day celebrations will take place at venues throughout the state, not just in assisted-living centers and nursing homes.

At a lot of churches, Mother’s Day has been among the highest-attended services of the year, after Easter and Christmas.

While many churches switched to online services during the pandemic, a growing number now offer both in-person and virtual worship options. Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta will hold its Mother’s Day services virtually. Members have been invited to share photos of their mothers, which will be shown during the service. North Point Community Church in Alpharetta returned to in-person services about a month ago but requires people to register in advance to limit capacity. Social distancing is encouraged, and masks are required. The church continues to offer services virtually as well.

ExploreFrom March: Nursing home residents finally get to see their loved ones face to face

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Botanical Garden — with its 30-plus acres of colorful blossoms, sculptures, water features and exhibits — has been especially popular during the pandemic and has sold out practically every weekend for nearly a year. Mother’s Day typically is one of the most popular days to visit the garden, but capacity has been more restricted during the pandemic. Visitors must reserve time slots when purchasing tickets online. Masks are required for everyone older than 4, including the vaccinated.

The Midtown restaurant 5Church Atlanta is utilizing time slots as well. Owner Ayman Kamel said the restaurant has always offered multiple time slots for the Mother’s Day buffet and plans to take extra safety measures, which include requiring that diners have their temperatures checked and wear masks unless seated.

Kamel said the restaurant has seen its numbers pick up in recent weeks, and he expects 5Church to host about 75% the number of guests it normally would on Mother’s Day.

ExploreFrom 2020: How metro Atlantans are dealing with Mother’s Day as pandemic splits families

But, for those who just can’t wrap their heads around eating at a restaurant, he’s also offering elaborate family takeout packages.

In many ways, the pandemic has forced people to a back-to-basics mentality, with an emphasis on family, said Alyza Berman, an Atlanta psychotherapist.

What’s important still hasn’t changed, Berman said. She urged people to not feel pressure to come up with lavish plans or gifts. Keep it simple, she said.

Atlanta Mocha Moms, a support group for mothers of color, will continue to gather virtually for safety reasons. In previous years, the group of women dressed up and gathered for high tea at St. Regis or The Ritz-Carlton. This year, they planned a Saturday Google Meet affair, still with big hats and fancy dresses.

caption arrowCaption
Tia Smith and her 3-year-old daughter, Breanna, on Easter. Smith, the chapter president of Atlanta Mocha Moms, a support group for mothers of color, says that the group will continue to gather virtually this year for safety reasons. (Courtesy of Tia Smith)

Tia Smith and her 3-year-old daughter, Breanna, on Easter. Smith, the chapter president of Atlanta Mocha Moms, a support group for mothers of color, says that the group will continue to gather virtually this year for safety reasons. (Courtesy of Tia Smith)

caption arrowCaption
Tia Smith and her 3-year-old daughter, Breanna, on Easter. Smith, the chapter president of Atlanta Mocha Moms, a support group for mothers of color, says that the group will continue to gather virtually this year for safety reasons. (Courtesy of Tia Smith)

The pandemic has been challenging but has led to positive changes that will be long-lasting, said Atlanta chapter president Tia Smith. Over the past year, she and her husband have juggled child care responsibilities and her mother moved in with them.

Even a virtual tea has benefits — it’s easier for family members to celebrate Mother’s Day, especially for those who live in other states. And, for many, a home event is more affordable than a restaurant outing. Eventually, when the pandemic ends, she could see the group doing a hybrid of online and in-person events.

Making plans

Diaz will drive from Dahlonega and pick up her mother, Lomax, early Sunday from her Cummings assisted living community. Both of them want there to be plenty of time for talking and seeing other family members before their grilled chicken and potato salad lunch. Even though she sees her mother twice a week, now that they’re both fully vaccinated, Diaz loves the outings.

Not long ago, they went to have their nails done. Diaz called the salon ahead of time to make sure the staff all wore masks and were following COVID safety protocols.

On a recent afternoon, both mother and daughter were all smiles as they planted petunias and spearmint in the memory care unit’s community garden. Lomax watered the additions and sprinkled plant food on top. They sipped Diet Coke on the outdoor patio. And they talked about making Mojitos once the newly planted spearmint grows into full leaves.

“I’m so glad for this,” Lomax said of the visits. “I felt so lost.”

On Mother’s Day, she’ll feel at home on Diaz’s deck with other family members. They will drink sweet tea, enjoy the meal, perhaps debate the potato salad’s level of perfection. Most importantly, they will be together.

“This will be so wonderful to share this time with my mom, a blessing for all of us,” said Diaz.

caption arrowCaption
Christine Lomax Diaz and her mother, Irene Lomax, enjoy time together. “I’m so glad for this,” Lomax said of the visits with her daughter. “I felt so lost.” (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com).

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Christine Lomax Diaz and her mother, Irene Lomax, enjoy time together. “I’m so glad for this,” Lomax said of the visits with her daughter. “I felt so lost.” (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com).

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

caption arrowCaption
Christine Lomax Diaz and her mother, Irene Lomax, enjoy time together. “I’m so glad for this,” Lomax said of the visits with her daughter. “I felt so lost.” (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com).

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC