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An invention born in the late 1880s continues to serve a vital role in society today as communities grapple with the restrictions imposed by COVID-19.

It started life as the telephone and over the years have evolved in the cell phone and smart phone of today. With social isolation and isolated-in-place orders, it may simply be known as a life line.


Long-time Ellensburg resident Mike Johnston reached back in time with an idea on how to re-connect his neighbors during these times of isolation while governments figure out how to overcome the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“I remember when phone numbers were part alphabet and part numbers,” Johnson said. “The first phone my family had was on a party line and you never really knew who was listening in. But I got to know the operator pretty good.”

It sounds like a scene right out "The Andy Griffith Show," but Johnston thought it might be time to get back to calling friends and family instead of a text message, something like “How RU?” The human connection has a way of raising the human spirit, he said. So he went door-to-door through his neighborhood on Second Avenue on both sides between Chestnut to Walnut Streets asking folks if they’d like to contribute their telephone number to a list he was compiling and that he would later bring back so they would have contact information in case they wanted to talk or see how someone was doing.


The List is nothing new, really.

Twelve-Step Programs have been doing it for decades. When a new person joins the group, a list is passed around the room so people with more recovery time can put their name and number down with the idea that, “If you have any questions or need to talk, give us a call.” It goes beyond making someone feel welcome. It's a lifeline. Other organizations have done the same thing, only now days the connection are made via email or text message.

Now of course it is cast upon that individual to pick up phone and reach out — breaking through the fear or arrogance factors — to call somebody out of the blue, just to talk. But there really is something to that voice-to-voice, human connection that is unexplainable. Like when you finally realize that you really do need to talk, and it all comes tumbling out like water down the drain. Or finally getting through to your brother who’s in a war zone halfway around the globe and find out he is OK, scared but OK.


Just a voice on the other end can make a difference between hanging on and giving up, so Johnston collected around a dozen numbers, typed up a list and redistributed it to his neighbors so they can stay in touch.

Maybe it is something as simple as a neighborhood watch, asking if they need something from the market or pharmacy? Now that businesses and governments are conducting business online or over the telephone, the only time people might see someone else is at the grocery story, so human contact is even more necessary than before.

Local churches are complying with Gov. Jay Inslee’s order and CDC recommendations and holding off church services or social gatherings. Fitness centers, community activities, athletic organizations, anybody and everybody is distancing themselves from larger groups with the hope that somehow, someway the COVID-19 virus runs its course … whenever that might be.

“I haven’t been able to visit people in hospitals or nursing homes like I’d like to,” First Christian Church Pastor Don Green said. “We’re a small congregation and we all know each other very well. (Telephone contact) is certainly a way we can stay in touch.”


Where America was built on eye contact and a handshake, it’s not a good idea for the time being. The List, however, is a way to stay safe and stay connected. Sometimes it helps that you’re connected with your bowling or softball team.

Sometimes contact from your church or sewing circle or board of directors. Maybe it’s good to be able to complain to someone else that understands, like someone on your high school baseball team that’s getting shutout of their senior season too.

Maybe it doesn’t matter who’s on the other end, a total stranger maybe. All that does matter is that the human connection goes farther than some scratched out words coming across the screen saying “How RU?”

We owe each other that much, Johnston said.

“That’s why I’m doing what I can,” he said. “I know I feel better when someone calls to find how I’m doing.”


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