Empty streets and full hearts: Videos document pandemic life

With so many people hunkered down, working from home, avoiding travel and abstaining from public places, it’s hard to gain a sense of what’s really going on in the suddenly distant world around us.  

Three short videos — from the Wind River Indian Reservation, Jackson and Laramie — offer windows into other Wyomingites’ experiences of social distancing and how they’re coping with a pandemic.  

James Hernandez, who is a drummer and singer with the group Big Wind Singers, offers a song of healing from his bedroom on the Wind River Indian Reservation, where efforts are underway to protect the population — many of whom have underlying health conditions that make them particularly susceptible to COVID-19 infection — from being badly hit.

Hernandez says he misses getting together with his drumming group, but understands the need for social distancing.

“I miss being able to go practice somewhere, getting together with them and singing with them at different events,” Hernandez said.

There were 10 confirmed cases on the reservation as of April 2, according to Fremont County’s Incident Management Team. The Wind River Inter-Tribal Council, which represents the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes, issued a temporary stay-at-home order for tribal members on the reservation. “Our message is simple: Help us save lives,” Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Lee Spoonhunter said. “Please stay home.”

Jackson and Teton County have had Wyoming’s other stay-at-home ordinances and orders. The latest, which replaces some earlier versions, limits in-home gatherings to residents of a household and lists six activities, from food shopping to securing medical supplies to exercise, as activities that residents may do. 

Photographer Angus Thuermer took a video in the middle of the intersection of Broadway and Cache Drive in downtown Jackson on the evening of March 28. 

The crossroads at Jackson’s famous Town Square would normally be jammed with traffic from skiers, commuting workers and a surge of late-season visitors on spring break.

Performing artists whose work halted immediately were among the first economic casualties of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

With no options for live shows or the income they would bring, a group of artists in Laramie mobilized to create a series of virtual concerts. Cabin Fever Sessions were born. 

The first session, filmed in Laramie’s empty Griffin Theater and streamed online, featured members of Country Skillet including Shawn Hess, who talks about how his livelihood has been affected and performs a ditty in this short clip. 

Along with offering musicians a chance to perform, Cabin Fever Sessions afford fans some sonic distraction and a way to tip their favorite musicians. 

“We wanted to create an area where artists can perform and be able to make some money during these hard economic times,” said photographer and filmmaker Mike Vanata, one of the creators. 

The concerts will be aired every Friday at 5 p.m. on the YouTube channels Western AF and GemsOnVHS. 

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