How the Coronavirus Has Changed Life As We Know It
By Laura Greaver
We’ve all seen the coronavirus maps…
The red circles spread like pools of blood on butcher’s paper.
COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise. Bodies overflow morgues. And funeral homes are using refrigerated trucks and ice rinks as temporary storage.
But these are statistics, numbers, and images in the news articles I read on my iPhone as I sit safely at home on my couch. Experiencing the reality on the frontlines is much, much worse.
Colleen Farrell, an internal medicine resident at NYU Langone and Bellevue Hospital, said last week in the New York Times…
Most people in today’s America don’t know what death looks like. What’s the difference between 10, 100, 1,000 deaths? Numbers are so sterile and removed. Death itself is hidden in hospitals and nursing homes.
The coronavirus has affected countless facets of our life – from the delayed 2020 Olympics and professional sports, to canceled graduations, shut-down schools, and furloughed workers. Families cannot mourn the dead because the living can’t see each other. The stock market crashed and thrust us into one of the fastest bear markets in U.S. history. History books are being rewritten as I type.
But again, these are broad, faceless numbers. We each have our own personal story of how this global pandemic has changed our life.
I can share with you my own “new normal”…
My husband and I are both juggling full-time jobs at home while our two sons (try to) engage in online learning.
My dining room table is cluttered with school papers, toys, laptops, and dirty dishes. I miss my neat, quiet desk at the office and chatting with coworkers.
I miss my friends and family but settle for virtual get-togethers, where I hole up in my bedroom with a glass of wine and my computer – laughing with familiar faces in blocks on the screen like The Brady Bunch.
We watch a lot of movies. If it’s compelling enough, I forget about COVID-19 for 90 minutes.
But we are safe and healthy… I know I’m privileged and lucky that these are my small complaints.
I wanted to explore how the virus has changed so many people’s lives.
Here are just a few of their stories, in their own words…
Patti Butler has been an independent travel agent for InteleTravel for the past four years.
COVID-19 has drastically reduced my sales since the second week in March. In addition to not having any new bookings, many of my clients’ trips have been canceled by the airlines and resorts. A few of them have rescheduled their trips for later in the summer and early fall, but we really don’t know if travel will be open at that time. My commissions, which are paid by the suppliers, are based on completed trips… So I lose all potential commissions when my clients cancel.
The virus has already radically changed the travel industry around the world. It’s a $15 billion industry… Everyone travels or they want to in the future, so this is devastating on both sides – the suppliers and the travelers. With economic insecurity, people are less likely to book trips for the near future, and the suppliers are losing billions of dollars as well. Many countries, such as Aruba, for example, are totally supported by the travel industry. They have no exports for revenue. It’s a tragic situation for so many of the tourist spots that count on tourism to survive.
My commissions, which are paid by the suppliers, are based on completed trips… So I lose all potential commissions when my clients cancel.
Airlines and the cruise industry have also been decimated by the virus. Most cruise lines have canceled all cruises through June, so far, and some have canceled into September. Airlines are canceling flights all over the world due to no-fly orders. Billions of dollars are lost, but they will receive some help from the government to get back on their feet again.
For the traveler, if they are in a position to plan and deposit for a trip in the distant future, there are some fabulous deals out there right now. All suppliers are offering great perks to book travel, and the prices are as low as they have ever been in years. Fortunately, these suppliers are offering the travelers a refund in most cases and in some situations a credit.
I am unable to file for unemployment because I am an independent, so to speak. For me, I’m a retired teacher and my business is not my sole means of income and I’m not supporting a family, so I will financially be OK. I’m very sad for those in the travel industry who are losing their only income.
Once this is over, I want to encourage all of you to get back into travel again as soon as possible. It’s not only good for our economy, but also for our mental health! Additionally, I hope that you continue to support small businesses like mine.
Morgen Bernius is an attending physician in the Adult and Pediatric Emergency Departments at the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center.
How has your daily life changed since the coronavirus hit the U.S.?
Right now at work, things are somewhat the same on a day-to-day basis, other than many more e-mails discussing surge planning and updating us as we figure more and more out about this disease. We now have a call plan for extra doctors to come in when volumes get high. We have all gotten set up for telemedicine to see people from home through the computer when that’s needed. And we’ve reviewed special items, like how to intubate when you’re wearing a PAPR, which procedures are “aerosolizing” procedures that are part of our normal care but have to be avoided, getting re-fit tested for N95s and now having one assigned mask to keep at work in a paper bag. (This is WAY out of the norm and a reason many are freaking out. N95s are something you wear for certain patients and throw in the garbage as soon as you walk out of a room. That’s obviously not feasible with the volumes we’re expecting and the level of contagion of this virus, so the whole idea of your reusable N95 is kind of crazy to us, but I think it’s the only option we have?)
But it’s nice to feel appreciated, and it does give you a boost when inside you’re worried about getting your family sick, or for me, dying and leaving my kids without a mom.
One really cool thing is all the “hero” talk. I don’t think we feel like heroes, and it’s our job to do this, so it’s not really like we have much of a choice but to show up and do what we do… But it’s nice to feel appreciated, and it does give you a boost when inside you’re worried about getting your family sick, or for me, dying and leaving my kids without a mom. It makes you feel empowered to go tackle this nightmare. It’s amazing how far a little appreciation goes! Although with all the doughnut donations we’ve been getting at work, I’m pretty sure my successful New Year’s diet is out the window!
I expect when the surge of patients reaches us, my work life will become VERY different. I have colleagues in NYC I’m in touch with, and they are living a true nightmare right now.
Did you ever expect something like this to happen?
Yes and no. In Emergency Medicine, preparing for worst-case and low-likelihood scenarios is kind of what we do. For example, even with the mundane, daily complaints like chest pain – which most often in most people is nothing – we attack it from the perspective of “what will kill the patient first?” So we are looking for heart attacks, tearing of major arteries, blood clots in the lung… And only when we’ve crossed those off the list will we move to muscle strains or reflux as possible causes to consider.
On a much bigger scale, obscure viruses and pandemics are on the list of things we consider and prepare for. Just last fall we had a meeting reviewing Ebola and practicing donning and doffing the full PPE with such attention to detail, it would blow people’s minds… like hand sanitizer on the second glove set before pulling the gown from the front, rolling it off the shoulders and arms while keeping exposed surfaces in, then removing it with the outer layer of gloves and placing it in the specific bin in the room designed for doffing, while being observed for error by a colleague whose one and only job it is to observe this process… Now we are actually doing it, but there will be multiple patients in multiple rooms with a highly contagious disease. There will not be a specific room for each patient in which to don and doff. And if you are going through the appropriate measures with full PPE for each one of these patients, you will quickly run out… So all the drilling on how to do it right is being thrown out the window, and we’re making up alternatives as we go.
So to actually answer the question, I’m not surprised by it, but the scale is more than we’d ever imagined. After SARS and MERS, we certainly have discussed such scenarios, though typically in hypotheticals [because] it was not spreading to this degree, and we would do testing to know where it is and limit exposure… Then those few patients we would have would be much easier to care for.
Do you think the U.S. will mirror Italy’s situation? China’s?
I think we have the benefit of seeing what happened in Italy and China to guide our response. Our attempts to do social distancing early will hopefully help slow it down here, though there will be questions after the fact about whether we did it early enough. The reports out of Italy have been truly horrifying. I don’t think we know how to minimize the number of medical providers who are getting sick and even dying. I think we will likely have enough resources that we are not making the nightmarish decisions about who can have a ventilator and who is just left to die. But really, verdict is still out on that. Italy has something like a 52% fatality rate in patients over 80, which is because they just don’t have the ventilators for them, so they are put on comfort measures instead of trying to save them. Let’s hope we don’t get to that point.
Are there any silver linings to this outbreak and lockdown?
To the outbreak? Hell no. This is a nightmare and many people will die. To the lockdown? Maybe some life perspective for people. I think we all get a taste of what real worries are. You can already see it in how people are barely complaining about being stuck at home (other than in the form of funny memes) and major life events being canceled or postponed – graduations, proms, weddings – it’s a good check on us when our lives are so wrapped up in the minutia. And this gives us a chance to really appreciate what’s important, be thankful for our families, and even reach out to help people who need it.
And this gives us a chance to really appreciate what’s important, be thankful for our families, and even reach out to help people who need it.
New York is being hit particularly hard right now. Is your hospital prepared if those kinds of numbers hit here?
I think my hospital is prepared to handle that kind of peak in our community, not necessarily NYC numbers because we don’t serve that dense of a population… but a relative surge in cases for our community. Again, we have the advantage of not being one of the first cities hit in this country. The amount of sharing of information through listserves, publications, even social media (like the EM Physicians group) has been incredible. The medical community has understood what’s coming, I think, long before it became general knowledge with full media coverage… So we are ready.
This doesn’t mean the hospital itself can fit everyone. We have surge plans for other facilities for overflow, tents are already up in the parking lots, and you’ve probably heard that the convention center downtown is an option for overflow. We are planning, planning, planning. Hopefully our social changes and different population density mean we don’t ever get there… But if you’re not prepared for it, it’s definitely going to happen!
Realize everything you have touched between the store and home (your car door handle, your steering wheel) is potentially contaminated.
What should people do to keep themselves safe?
Stay home. When you have to go to the store to stock up, try to minimize those visits, touch only what you’re buying, assume everything you touch is coated in virus, and wash your hands immediately when you get home. And realize everything you have touched between the store and home (your car door handle, your steering wheel) is potentially contaminated. We watched the movie Outbreak a couple weeks ago, and there is a scene in a movie theater where the sick guy coughs and it shows all the particles aerosolized and traveling through the theater and into the mouth of someone laughing nearby, onto the armrest where someone else lays their hand… It’s disgusting but a REALLY good illustration of what is happening… Picture that whenever you go out!
Realistically, how long do you think this will last?
I think COVID-19 is with us for good. It will become a virus most have been exposed to so immunity will exist in the population, and we’ll hopefully have a vaccine for it, maybe even antivirals. It won’t continue to have the kind of impact it does now as a novel virus, but it won’t disappear. How long will this need to societal shut-down last? Depends on so many things…
You can see how slowly things are happening. The outbreak in Washington, NYC is getting hit hard now, slowly spreading to NJ, other major cities like New Orleans are getting their uptick, so it’s a kind of slow roll through the country. We have cases here, the curve is flatter, which is a success, but you see how that flat curve extends further…
I’m guessing through May… and then hopefully we have had our peak and are heading back down the other side! But that’s for the data crunchers to figure out, and I think it’s hard to predict until we get a little more into the thick of it.
What’s your routine of sanitizing when you get home to your family after a hospital shift?
I use special wipes for all my equipment before I leave work and wash my hands and arms. When I get home, I leave my bag and jacket in my car (which now just goes to work). I strip to my skivvies on the porch and go immediately to the laundry machine and throw everything in. I wipe off the door handle I used with a Clorox wipe. My shoes stay outside. Then head straight to the shower and into bed! (I work night shift…)
Because hospitalized coronavirus patients are isolated from family and friends, their only daily contact is with nurses and doctors. Can you comment on this?
It’s horrifying. And when it becomes terminal, we are the last faces they see, and they are seeing us through masks and caps and goggles and gowns. Although honestly, those who die are usually sedated on a ventilator, so they are not aware of much that is going on around them… But in principle, it’s awful. I have been the one holding the hands of many people who have died alone because there are many scenarios in medicine where it’s not an expected outcome, and family just isn’t there. We are comfortable in that role as providers, but it’s still just another thing to add to the suckiness of all of this!
Katlynn Amenta has been a hairstylist at La Clinica Salon and Day Spa in Baltimore, MD for 14 years.
On March 17, we temporarily closed our doors due to COVID-19. This has thrown me directly into a stay-at-home mom lifestyle which I am not use to… at all. I went from having a lucrative paycheck to nothing… It’s depressing. I feel very blessed to have my husband. I also feel a HUGE loss of my identity. I LOVE doing hair. I do it because I love it, not because I have to do it. However, I had to give it up to better my community.
Although my husband and I did not see this coming, we luckily have a cushion to fall back on. We sacrificed doing cosmetic things to our home in order to make mortgage payments. Also, I have filed for unemployment.
After this pandemic, we as a family have a greater appreciation of life…
If this pandemic extends and I am out of work longer and longer, I plan to live a very “minimalist” lifestyle. I will try to prioritize what my family needs and temporarily say goodbye to our wants. It’s hard to do hair at home when you don’t have access to your supply store. Also, I don’t think it’s safe to bring people in and out of my home and expose my family.
After this pandemic, we as a family have a greater appreciation of life… Love nature, love life, love your family and friends… and judge no one. Because you never know where you will be next week… Just find your happy. Find your content. And just love it!
Roxann Rogers is third-generation owner of Baltimore-based Wells Liquors.
Since the day Maryland closed schools, business has been insane and overwhelming on multiple levels. We have been extremely busy and unable to keep up with the demand. We’ve had a surge in boxed-wine sales, large-format liquor (1.75-liter size), and honestly people are less specific on what actual wine they want, they just want a lot of it. Hard seltzers (like White Claw) are also huge sellers right now, even more so prior to this pandemic.
We have always offered delivery, but we are doing way more than ever before and have had a ton of new customers.
Every time Maryland Governor Larry Hogan holds a press conference, we see a huge surge in business. We minimized the number of customers in our store to two at a time, and then shut it down completely to just call-ahead curbside orders only and city delivery. We have always offered delivery, but we are doing way more than ever before and have had a ton of new customers.
The call-ahead curbside service has been great as well. We have six phone lines, and they have been ringing off the hook with orders and credit cards being placed over the phone. The customer then calls when he’s in the parking lot with ID, and we bring it out and load up their trunk.
A huge factor in doing this was to keep my employees and our customers safe. I’ve had a fair amount of employees unwilling or unable to work due to the uncertainty and fear this virus brings along with it. So we’ve limited our hours to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and everyone has been busting their tails to provide the best customer service during this extremely stressful time. Times like this bring out the worst in some, yet the best in others.
Wells is truly like family, from our employees to our customers. The support we’ve had has been absolutely amazing!
I feel blessed that we can still remain open despite others having to close and be out of work. We’ve even hired some friends/customers to help work as they have been laid off due to this pandemic.
We have been cleaning like crazy, sanitizing everything… I’m exhausted every day along with my amazing team. We’re doing our best to not burn out which is another reason why we cut back our hours.
Business has been great! I just hope we can keep it up… It seems every day gets more hectic and people are more stressed and on edge. Luckily some spirits help!
Kim Hernandez is the creator and owner of Tasteful Occasions, a top-rated custom catering company in Pennsylvania
Tasteful Occasions was a vision my husband and I had for many years. We were both fed up with working for other people’s bars and restaurants and wanted to open our own…
We got our start as the premier caterer for the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals baseball teams. From there, we expanded into weddings and larger events. We stand out as a creative caterer who uses fresh, delicious ingredients – no dried-out chicken in chafing pans at our events!
Tasteful Occasions’ annual sales in 2019 were just over $1 million. We cater weddings, corporate events, and also offer delivery service. We catered about 175 events in 2019. While Tasteful Occasions is open year-round, 90% of our business is conducted from mid-April through December 31. Most of our business comes from outdoor events such as backyard weddings, barn weddings, tent weddings, and large corporate events.
We had almost $200,000 on the books for the month of May, but COVID-19 has postponed or canceled all events through the end of May – and we have a feeling that more will postpone after that.
We had almost $200,000 on the books for the month of May, but COVID-19 has postponed or canceled all events through the end of May – and we have a feeling that more will postpone after that. At the moment, we have had one event cancel completely, and another 10 have postponed to a date in 2020 or moved their wedding a year out to 2021. We are allowing all clients that have a booked event through June to put a hold on a backup date… And then the clients have to let us know which date they are going with at least three weeks prior to their contracted date.
It’s very challenging for our brides and grooms to pick a new wedding date… especially when they have to find a date that works for all vendors – venue, photographer, DJ/band, videographer, etc… Overall, things have been going pretty smoothly for most of our clients and we are doing everything we can to provide them with their desired backup date.
We have two salary kitchen staff members at the moment and a salaried operating manager… And we have two hourly office assistants. We are lucky that we were in the midst of hiring hourly kitchen staff for the season, so we have put that on hold for now. At this time we are still paying our salaried employees and the two office admins are working minimal hours from home.
We are using this time wisely and revamping our back-of-the-house operating system, so my two kitchen managers are working from home daily to update the operating system. This should take them a month or so to finish. We do feel blessed to have this time to complete this project we have been wanting to do for years, but it is challenging financially of course.
We also have about 50 on-call servers, bartenders, and day-of coordinators and event managers for our weekend events. We can’t pay these employees until the events take place, but since most events are postponing, we all just have to hold out until the new dates.
It’s tough and we are very upset that these employees won’t have the opportunity to make this money in April and May (and possibly future months). I have an amazing staff and they know that if they need anything, they can call us and we will do what we can to help them. In most cases this is a second part-time job to make some extra cash and unfortunately that opportunity won’t be there for a couple of months.
Despite not working actual events, we are still very busy updating our business operating system, doing the hundreds of housekeeping items we always want to do (but never have time for), and we are also busy booking weddings for 2021 and even a couple for 2022.
We are also starting to get calls for delivery and pick-up style individual catering for nurses, aids, factory workers, and those on the front line… So we are finding ways to be able to serve these clients.
We are also starting to get calls for delivery/pick-up style individual catering for nurses, aids, factory workers, and those on the front line… So we are finding ways to be able to serve these clients. Safety and health come first as always in our kitchen… We will handle all orders with the utmost care. At this time we are still busy working, improving, and adapting… just not catering large events. We are also enjoying more quality family time while we can.
We hold deposits for our events, so we know the business will come back, and as long as we can start catering events again by June or July, we are hoping not to take out any loans or grants, but that could change any day. We discuss this daily and we have been researching our options at this time.
I hope this won’t stop people from holding big parties, gatherings, and weddings in the future. People will always get married, so I am hopeful that business will get back to normal quickly.
We are also very adaptable… If we need to adjust to a new way of catering, then that is what we will do. Only time will tell, but we are very hopeful and looking forward to the other side of this!