Last year, right about this time as a matter of fact, the Coast published my interview with Shelli Gates. Gates is a wonderful, talented musician. That’s the upshot. But she’s not only a performer; she’s engaged in so many aspects of the music industry here on the beach, it makes my head swim.

However, like many local musicians, Gates has had to put down her guitar. The multitude of musical hats she wears: performer, composer, co-founder of a music nonprofit organization, working in various capacities at venues, festivals and concerts – all on hold.

But her full time job, her bread and butter, is being one of those essential workers on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gates is a respiratory therapist.

Now she heads out daily to a local hospital, dons personal protective equipment and directly confronts one of the deadliest and daunting foes in the world: COVID-19.

She hails from Vienna, Virginia. She honed her skills as a respiratory care practitioner at various medical institutions in Northern Virginia, as well as George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. She moved to the Outer Banks in the early 1990s and in her words, “Never looked back.”

She’s put her very busy existence as a musical production guru on the back burner, for now. And every day she puts her life on the line, for us.

I would imagine that if she loves her “day job” as much as she loves her musical endeavors, we are in good hands should we require her services.

I asked her what she thought about our current situation — from a distance, of course.

What has been the hardest part of dealing with the pandemic?

Being in healthcare, it has been scary and sad all at the same time. I worry for my friends and family.

What have you been doing during the shutdown?

I actually work as a respiratory therapist, so I haven’t stopped working. Just missing gigs and festival work.

Have you started or completed any projects?

Songwriting. There are a few of us (who) have been doing Zoom meetings for songwriting. And setting up my new Airbnb.

What have you missed the most?

Not being able to see friends and play music in person. And hugs, I miss hugs.

What concerns you going ahead?

I’m afraid that folks are tired of dealing with the lifestyle changes associated with COVID-19 and they will become more lax.

Is there any music that has helped you get through this?

After John Prine passed away, I binged on his music. I love roots rock, too. But when I am down and need a lift, I have been watching Andy Frasco’s dance parties, which are hilarious, upbeat and fun. All old-school dance music.

What makes you smile or laugh?

Honestly, people have been so creative it makes me happy to see what they have come up with.

Who or what keeps you centered?

Walking the beach with Piper (my dog), the ocean and my job reminds me that I am very lucky.

What has encouraged you during the pandemic?

Seeing folks help each other out. Checking on neighbors, supporting each other.

What has discouraged you during the pandemic?

The anger of folks (who) don’t want to wear a mask or be socially distant. I worry about them and the people they put at risk.

What has surprised you the most?

How divided the country is during a time of great crisis. Usually we come together.

How will you keep yourself safe when work resumes? Is that solely your responsibility?

My work never stopped, and we are very safe. And it’s everyone’s responsibility.

Are there any new insights you’ve gained or new activities that you’ve engaged in that you’d like to maintain going forward?

I think that my situation is a little different because I have my day job. I have simple pleasures that keep me connected – surfing, music, painting. But in life we get busy and put things to the side much of the time. I think keeping my creative space as a priority is necessary.

Are you gigging at all?

Not too many gigs during COVID-19. I’m lucky to have been working through all this so we (I play with Bob Sanders as Tempest Revival) did give some gigs to some other musicians who were hit pretty hard. We have played at Rundown (Café) and we have a live stream on July 28 for the Dare County Arts Council. All of the other traditional gigs were cancelled.

At the gigs you have done, what are you seeing with respect to the three Ws — wear, wait, wash?

I have been fortunate to play where people were very respectful, wearing masks and remaining socially distant. They were very generous as well.

How do you feel about the way some folks argue that this is political or a hoax?

I don’t care about people’s political views or what they believe. I want them to be safe and well.

What do people need to know and/or do to protect themselves when they are out and about?

Obviously, people need to follow the three Ws. When you shop, be sure to use hand sanitizer after you pay for your goods, if you use the card reader, and then again when you get in your car. We all need to stay vigilant.

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