It’s been over four months since the first person in the United States died from Covid-19. Since then, there have been more than 117,000 deaths and over two million confirmed cases of the coronavirus. As the virus has ravaged the country, the unemployment rate has skyrocketed to record highs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a staggering 44.2 million Americans have filed for unemployment since February.
But, there are still Americans working through the crisis, whether on the front lines or from the comfort of their homes.
Meet “The New Covid-19”: A profile of 19 women facing the pandemic across the country.
They wear scrubs, overcoats and uniforms. Some carry cameras, others carry the U.S. mail. They’re funeral directors, grocery store workers, volunteer firefighters, licensed clinical psychiatrists and CEOs of nonprofits. Many are working longer hours than ever before and they’re from all over, residing in cities as big as New York City and Los Angeles, to towns like Groton, Connecticut, with a population of less than 40,000. And they range from their mid-20s to their late-70s.
All are facing the crisis in different ways, while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy – during a time when it can be difficult to know exactly what normal means.
Yasmen Srour, 33—Family Medicine Physician—Tinton Falls, New Jersey
“I just remember walking through the ICU, and it felt like a morgue.”
Dr. Yasmen Srour has lost count of how many patients she’s lost to Covid-19.
A family doctor at an outpatient clinic in Brick, NJ, Dr. Srour’s practice is unique – she and her fellow physicians follow their patients and treat them when they are admitted into the hospital. In March, Srour was able to switch to telemedicine at the office, but each day, she continued going to the hospital to care for her sick patients.
“I just remember walking through the ICU, and it felt like a morgue,” said Srour, who has been a physician for six years.
The hardest part was watching her patients die alone. She lost her mother less than two years ago, and even though her mom was comatose, Srour knew that being there with her made a big difference.
“These families couldn’t do that,” Srour said emotionally. “I saw a lot of patients pass away, and they passed away alone. Their families couldn’t see them or touch them or pray for them up close, and that hurt.”
Though technology provided by the hospital allowed some families to say goodbye through apps like FaceTime, her days were still filled with loss.
“People were dropping like it’s nobody’s business, and it was terrifying, but you can’t quit,” Srour said.
“As long as my patients are showing up, I’m showing up.”
Jenna Tuttle, 35—EMS Training Supervisor/Paramedic—Greensboro, North Carolina
“It didn’t matter if I was scared or not. I had to do my job.”
As Jenna Tuttle’s EMS agency watched Covid-19 spread through the United States, they immediately took precautions, changing their operations. Tuttle, who has been in EMS for 12 years, was taken off the desk as a training supervisor and thrust back into the field as a field supervisor, responding to calls and overseeing about 30 paramedics. Her hours and shifts increased, and she was responding to only patients with Covid-19 or those who were suspected of having the virus. In the very beginning, there was little information, and guidelines were changing daily.
“That was pretty nerve-wracking when, each day, you’re coming in, and learning what you did yesterday wasn’t good enough,” Tuttle said.
Tuttle and her fellow paramedics took immediate action to protect themselves as best they could. If she was going to ventilate a patient or provide a breathing treatment, Tuttle wore a gown, eye protection, an N95 mask, and a face shield. Although protected, the PPE decreased Tuttle’s mobility. It also took time to put on, increasing the time to get to the patient.
There were also new rules when it came to the 20 trucks in their fleet. Each day, every ambulance went through an exhaustive cleaning procedure that took around 45 minutes and involved removing everything from inside and cleaning it with a chemical, virocycle cleaner. The paramedics also had to clean the truck after every call. If a patient had Covid-19, the ambulance exhaust fan was run for a half an hour after they exited the vehicle.
After a 12 hour shift, all Tuttle wanted to do was be with her wife and foster son. Because of the situation and to keep them safe, Tuttle lived in their basement for weeks.
“I was scared. Every night when I went to bed, I felt nervous,” Tuttle said. “I felt tight in my chest when I went to bed; I hoped I wouldn’t get it.”
“It didn’t matter if I was scared or not. I had to do my job.”
Tuttle has since moved back upstairs with her family. When she gets home, she comes through the basement, leaves her clothes and shoes downstairs, and showers immediately before seeing them.
“We come to work every day and have no idea what’s going to happen or if we’ll come back tomorrow. But we keep doing it because someone has to.”
Alison Platt, 56—Licensed Funeral Director—Cherry Hill, New Jersey
“They have to go through the funeral process without seeing their loved one.”
Within one weekend in March, Alison Platt was called to bury 17 people with Covid-19 related deaths. Since then, it’s only gotten worse.
Platt has worked as a funeral director at Platt Memorial Chapels in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, for her entire adult life. The funeral home was built in 1977 by her father. She says navigating this new reality has been the single most challenging professional obstacle in her career. From the time she receives a call from grieving loved ones to the moment a person is buried, Platt’s process has changed.
She immediately asks families whether their loved one’s death was related to Covid-19. Then, when her employees pick up the body from the place of death, they are covered from head-to-toe with PPE, including hair coverings, foot coverings, gloves, gowns, and masks.
With Covid-19 patients, even in death, the risk of exposure is too high, and there are no preparations. Their bodies are transferred directly from the hearse into the casket.
“It’s so tragic and heartbreaking because the way it is in the hospitals and nursing homes, where people are dying of Covid-19, families weren’t allowed to visit, and now they have to go through the funeral process without seeing their loved one,” Platt said.
Platt’s intake process is now mostly virtual or over-the-phone, too. They’ve had to restrict the number of people who can attend funerals, both for Covid and non-Covid cases. During funerals, family members have to stand six feet apart and social distance, though they are now offering clients the possibility of live streaming if they can’t attend. Platt has struggled with the changes caused by the virus because she is unable to provide a personal touch and physical comfort— like a hug— after a loved one’s death.
“I’ve been printing out a giant X-O-X-O and holding it up to the families I’m working with,” Platt said. “It’s my way of showing I wish I could give them a hug and kiss.”
Catherine Mills, 40—Licensed Clinical Psychologist—Portsmouth, Virginia
“There is a lot in hearing how a person says things.”
When Covid-19 emerged, Dr. Catherine Mills noticed something alarming in many of her 50 or so weekly patients: their depression, anxiety, and paranoia was getting worse.
As a licensed clinical psychologist at a naval medical center, Mills works with people in the military, mostly Marines and Navy men and women, suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression.
And then the medical center closed.
“Some of my patients were stressed, because the military took swift action to prevent the spread of coronavirus among active-duty members by putting in a travel ban,” Mills said.
Mills had to cancel all in-person group therapy sessions and began working from home. She also had to create a risk management plan if a patient ever found themselves having suicidal ideations, and had to find new ways to help her patients cope with the changes in their routines. She started holding her sessions over the phone, which she said isn’t ideal, because you lose non-verbal communication.
“But there is a lot in hearing how a person says things, so it’s helped us to become acutely attuned to a person’s voice and the tone and intonation of what they’re saying and not saying… it’s getting the job done.”
To keep her own mental health in check, Mills is practicing what she preaches: following a routine, getting enough rest, exercising, eating healthy, and leaning on her support system.
Lindsay Smith, 32—Stroke Coordinator/ Registered Nurse—Toms River, New Jersey
“It’s been like going to war.”
Though she typically works with stroke patients, Lindsay Smith was reassigned to help combat Covid-19, and she found herself on the literal frontline of the pandemic.
“What upsets me the most is seeing my coworkers feel and look so defeated,” Smith said. “It’s been like going to war.”
As more and more people fell ill from the mysterious disease, it came for Smith’s fellow nurses and coworkers: at one point, she says, 16 employees from one unit alone contracted Covid.
Smith and a team of medical professionals began using a technique called proning to help some of their patients breathe merely by changing their body position. Usually, a ventilated patient lays in bed on their back; with proning, patients are turned onto their stomachs for 16 to 18 hours.
“There has been evidence it helps expand the lungs and take the pressure off the bottom of the lung base and breaks up all that extra fluid,” Smith said.
As of late May, the hospital had 55 successful extubations or patients who were able to come off a ventilator and breathe independently. Like most, Smith’s hospital is limiting exposure by managing infected patients’ medication and IV lines from outside the room. People who enter the hospital are screened, and visitors are limited. Though Smith fears for the continued spread of Covid, she also has concerns for another public health crisis: people who become disabled for not getting the help they need after experiencing a stroke.
“Part of why I was reassigned to the ICU in the beginning of the pandemic is because stroke numbers dropped in half,” she said.
“Everyone was petrified to come into the hospital, so people were having heart attacks and strokes and not coming in when we could potentially help then. We will be dealing with a whole bunch of new disabilities the federal government has to pay for,” she said.
Nydia Han— Journalist/ Television Reporter—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
“In some ways…this has given me renewed purpose as a journalist.”
Nydia Han is many things – Emmy award-winning journalist, social justice advocate, TEDx speaker – but when the pandemic began, she found herself trying to manage something else.
“Along with the coronavirus, I also detected this virus of hate,” Han said. “Specifically impacting the Asian American community.”
Experts believe Covid-19 originated in Wuhan, China, and then eventually landed in the United States. As the virus spread through America, so did profound racism against the Asian American community. According to Stop AAPI Hate, an organization that’s been tracking self-reported incidents, there have been about 1,900 physical and verbal attacks against Asian Americans since March.
Han felt her anxiety growing as an Asian American woman raising two biracial children of Korean heritage. She posted on social media, she wrote an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer and eventually a Reporter’s Notebook for ABCnews.com.
Han began speaking out against racism several years ago after a driver yelled “This is America!” at her on a Philadelphia street, inspiring her to produce a digital documentary series about race and the American experience.
Once Covid-19 started to spread, Han started conducting her interviews via Zoom and Skype and doing her live shots for the evening news in the studio. For many weeks, all staff who remained in the building had temperature checks. Many started working from home.
The pandemic has underscored how important Han’s work is to her. She said, “It’s not just about Asian Americans. The coronavirus has also exposed how systemic, institutionalized racism in this country affects the health and safety of African Americans and Latinos and Latinas. That desperately needs to be addressed, too.”
“In some ways for me, this has given me renewed purpose as a journalist and as a human being, and for that I’m grateful,” she said.
Ebonee Ausberry, 44—Direct Support Professional (DSP)—Richmond, Virginia
“If they want to give you a hug or high five, they are going to do it – even if you tell them not to.”
For many Americans, life came to a halt as Covid-19 spread throughout the country. Not so for Ebonee Ausberry, who, as a DSP, has committed her life to provide for America’s most vulnerable community: people with disabilities.
When the virus spread, the day program where Ausberry works shut down, so she was transferred to care for six men and women with disabilities who live in a group home in Richmond, Virginia.
“Our clients don’t understand social distancing,” Ausberry said. “They don’t understand why they can’t go to their programs or see their friends. And if they want to give you a hug or high five, they are going to do it – even if you tell them not to.”
Like Ausberry and her own daughter, her clients are immunocompromised, so the staff at the group home put measures in place to ensure their health and wellness. Their temperatures get checked twice a day, and Ausberry and her coworkers wear masks and gloves. She is also careful about what she does in her personal life, outside of the group home.
“There is a lot of anxiety. We have to watch where we go and limit our activities to make sure we don’t bring anything into the home,” Ausberry said.
Ausberry has been a direct support professional for 12 years. It’s a profession that often goes unnoticed. She hopes the pandemic has finally shown the public the importance of being a DSP.
“We aren’t nurses or healthcare workers, but we come into group homes, and we’re there for people with disabilities, supporting them with all of their needs,” Ausberry said.
“I hope that after this moment, people will still remember the little guys, like the DSPs, the janitors, the grocery store workers. They are often the lowest-paid jobs, but we do some of the hardest work.”
Victoria Heifet, 25—Drug and Alcohol Counselor/ Licensed Social Worker—Mt. Holly, New Jersey
“People aren’t progressing. People are surviving.”
As a licensed social worker and drug and alcohol counselor, Victoria Heifet frequently works with the mentally ill and recovering addicts. As a licensed social worker and drug and alcohol counselor, she meets dozens of people weekly for group and individual sessions to provide coping skills and accountability while helping each person work through their demons. Never could she have imagined that a pandemic would derail the progress she’d been making with the people who rely on her the most.
“It’s been challenging,” Heifet said.
Heifet’s outpatient location closed in early March, leaving her to pick up the pieces for the more than 30 people she sees during any given week. She switched to holding therapy sessions online and even created a Google voice number to provide her clients with personal access. It hasn’t always helped; most of her clients are from lower-income households and don’t have access to the technology needed. She’s had to improvise and work twice as hard to do her job. Sometimes, she sees the same clients five times a week.
“I have clients who have severe paranoia, who don’t have a support system outside of group therapy sessions,” Heifet said. “I have clients whose home environments are triggers.”
Although virtual sessions have worked for the most part, Heifet says, it’s not ideal in her line of work. For one, all of Heifet’s clients have substance abuse disorder, and part of their therapy routine is getting drug-tested weekly to hold them accountable. This, too, had to stop, leading many of her clients to relapse. She sees it on their faces during Zoom sessions: she notices their bloodshot and glossy eyes and the slurring of their words. Virtual sessions also take away the safe space that her clients experience when they come to her office for therapy.
There is no word on when her in-person sessions will start up again, so Heifet said she is continuing to take one day at a time while trying to keep her clients on track.
Jaclyn Ingrassio, 31—Volunteer Firefighter/EMT— Webster, New York
“I remember…telling them they couldn’t go to the hospital, and tears were rolling down their face. Their loved one ended up dying.”
Whether she’s putting out a fire or saving a life, Jaclyn Ingrassio is risking her health and safety. When New York emerged as the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak here in the U.S., that risk only increased.
Ingrassio has been a volunteer firefighter for nine years and an EMT for three. Since the pandemic began, she and her coworkers have made adjustments to their routines to protect themselves and the community. They weren’t allowed at the fire station unless there was a fire call. On top of their usual heavy gear and equipment, they had to wear N95 masks while out fighting fires. Once the call was over, they had to wipe down and clean areas of the truck and the fire station. Only four people were allowed in a fire truck at a time, instead of the usual seven, and their weekly fire drills were postponed or made virtual.
“If we went to the firehouse and the call got canceled, we still had to wash everything down,” Ingrassio said.
While working as a paramedic, their rules and protocols swiftly changed, too. Every four hours, she and her coworkers had their temperatures taken. They had to wear gowns, gloves, safety glasses, and N95 masks every time they responded to an emergency. After an ambulance was used, it would be taken out of the fleet to be scrubbed and sanitized.
“The hardest part of this whole pandemic was telling the loved ones they couldn’t go to the hospital with their family member when this could be the last time they see them,” Ingrassio said.
“I remember looking at this one person in the face and telling them they couldn’t go to the hospital, and tears were rolling down their face. Their loved one ended up dying.”
Lisamarie Suriano, 56—Restaurant/Bakery/Garden Center Owner — Montclair/Totowa, New Jersey
“This could be the reason we shut our door.”
Covid-19 has been particularly hard on Lisamarie Suriano: it gravely affected her businesses and her family. As she worked to keep her restaurant, bakery, and garden center afloat, she was horrifyingly worried about her mother, mother-in-law, brother, and sister-in-law, who all contracted the disease.
“You walk the line between having faith that everything is going to be ok and we’ll make it to being pissed off at the world,” Suriano said.
The pandemic left Suriano no choice but to close the restaurant and bakery doors in March; though they remained open for pick up and delivery.
“Our workers have families and babies, and we didn’t want them to be out of a job,” Suriano said. “And we have customers who are older who don’t cook and rely on us.”
Even with the business continuing, after 20 years, they still might have to close their doors for good. When restaurants are allowed to open up again, it’ll be at a specific capacity, which Suriano says will continue to be detrimental to her small business. Although there has been immense hardship, there has been some light from the garden center Suriano bought around one year ago. The greenhouse has become a place of refuge for Suriano, her family, and the community. It’s a place of peace full of plants, herbs, produce, and beauty.
“When my mom was in the hospital, and I was having trouble ringing up this customer, I said to her, ‘I’m so sorry, my mom is in the hospital on oxygen, and I can’t think.’ I was having trouble adding five plus five and tax,” she said.
“And she reached out and said ‘I just lost my boyfriend last night, I understand. She put $20 on the counter for the plants that totaled $10 and left.”
Despite the pandemic, the garden center is thriving with people coming in consistently to purchase produce and plants. It’s what’s helping Suriano get through this time.
“I’m obsessed with creating this beauty so everyone can heal a little when they come.”
Shatara Donald, 31—Police Officer/ Detective— Richmond, Virginia
“It all depends on what we have going on in that particular case.”
Shatara Donald typically spends her workdays on the scenes of shootings, stabbings, and homicides as a detective in the major crimes division of the Richmond Virginia Police Department. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it was no different. But this time, she was also pregnant with her second baby girl.
“I decided to stay at work through my pregnancy,” Donald said. “I don’t know what I was thinking!”
As a detective, it’s nearly impossible to social distance, especially when each day is unpredictable. Donald found herself at crime scenes on the street and inside homes, often meeting suspects and victims at the hospital. She couldn’t work from home because if a call came in, it would take her too long to get on location as she lives outside of the city. But, she says, her fellow officers and coworkers were always looking out for her well being. She would often be used to “show the ropes” to new detectives while on scenes.
“If I responded to a shooting inside a house, sometimes the other officers would tell me not to go inside and just stay outside and type the search warrants,” Donald said. “It all depends on what we have going on in that particular case.”
Donald was also vigilant about her health and safety and took many necessary precautions, including wearing a mask and gloves and continuously washing her hands. She also wiped down her work vehicle daily and the spaces around the police station. Lysol became her new best friend. She refused to be on ‘light duty’ like most of her family and friends had hoped she’d do.
“I said, ‘I’m going to work up until I give birth and go out to the crime scenes and do my job,’” Donald said.
She recently gave birth to a beautiful, healthy little girl.
“I’m happy I’m home now,” she said. “I want to be with my coworkers, but now, the most important thing to do is to love on my family.”
Lisa Chung, 29—Grocery Store Employee— Mt. Laurel, New Jersey
“We’re all in this together.”
Many of the employees where Lisa Chung works stopped coming in as infections rose across the country. It didn’t stop her from showing up every day, regularly racking up double her normal hours to provide an essential service.
“My coworkers and I were exhausted from everything,” Chung said.
Masks and gloves were required as Chung stocked shelves, confirmed inventory, and checked people out at the cashier line for hours. The store made adjustments to ensure safety, too, including installing plexiglass partitions between the cashiers and customers and only allowing a certain number of customers inside at a time. The hot bar and salad section were removed, and eventually, all employees had their temperatures taken before entering the store.
“I was scared at first,” Chung said.
“I think the part that makes it worthwhile is we’re all in this together, and I’m doing it with coworkers I like. I see regulars come in weekly, and they check up on me and ask how I’m doing.”
Before the pandemic, Chung says she felt like grocery store employees were often taken for granted or looked down upon, but now, she says, there has been a shift.
“Customers thank us for working through this and being open, and it’s a good feeling inside.”
Elizabeth Murray, 45—Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine/ Child Abuse Pediatrician— Rochester, New York
“The calls for severe physical abuse – and different types of abuse involving children – started to grow.”
For Dr. Elizabeth Murray, it was a tale of two jobs: as the pandemic worsened, the number of patients she was seeing in the pediatric wing of the emergency room was dropping precipitously. With schools shut down, and kids inside, visits were becoming rare that her shifts were frequently cut. At her second job – as a child abuse pediatrician – a disconcerting trend was emerging.
“Once the pandemic started, the calls for severe physical abuse – and different types of abuse involving children – started to grow.”
Murray calls it an awful perfect storm of families experiencing extreme isolation and kids being in homes that aren’t safe, with zero access to the safety nets their schools were providing.
“We would get calls from doctors and pediatricians taking care of kids, and there were clear statements made to children from their parents like, ‘I can’t stand being stuck in this house with you,’” Murray said.
In Murray’s line of work, there is no social distancing. When a child needs help, she needs to be there at the hospital or advocacy center. New protocols were implemented at the medical clinic to keep everyone safe. The center, which has a waiting area with toys for the kids, had to remove all toys, and the children can only come inside with one family member. Though children have been mostly spared by COVID-19, Murray is keeping her eye out in the ER for a new potential side effect: a mysterious inflammatory syndrome, making children very ill.
“Whatever comes our way, I know we are ready for it in the emergency department because EDs have always been prepared to care for whatever comes through the door,” Murray said.
Marcela Navarrete, 59—Video Journalist— Los Angeles, California
“We need to help each other.”
With three decades in the business, Marcela Navarrete has seen a little of everything. Nothing could have prepared her for how her life changed while covering Covid-19. In March, Navarrete borrowed a friend’s trailer so she didn’t have to go inside her home, fearing that she could be asymptomatic and might infect her family. For three months, she lived this way.
“I love my profession,” she said.
“But I was scared and fighting each day.”
Her day-to-day process changed to stay as safe as possible. With a mask, gloves, and plenty of sanitizer, Navarrete braved the outside each day, while telling others to stay indoors through her reporting. She continued to conduct in-person interviews with doctors, nurses, and people in the community, but because of the pandemic, she found herself without a public bathroom or eating for hours.
Nowadays, she’s moved back into her house with her family. She leaves her clothes in the garage as a precaution, and tries not to touch anything until she’s showered. She makes sure to put all her clothes in the laundry before anyone can interact with them. When she isn’t working, Navarrete is giving back to her neighbors and community who are struggling through the pandemic. Although it’s scary, she feels fortunate to still be working and feels it’s necessary to help others in need.
“We have to help,” she said. “We need to help each other.”
Miriam Seidenfeld, 55—Executive Director/CEO Jewish Family Services— St. Louis, Missouri
“It takes a lot of people to take care of a community.”
As the pandemic spread throughout Missouri, Jewish Family Services CEO Miriam Seidenfeld had to find ways to continue serving their thousands of clients quickly.
The nonprofit provides clinical services, counseling, senior services, and food provisions, and in order to adapt to their new situation, they switched their clinical services online and adopted telehealth. They continued servicing their elder patients over the phone and even started a new volunteer program delivering items like groceries and medications to peoples’ homes. Eventually, their food pantry was converted to a drive-thru model.
Seidenfeld said the food pantry almost immediately saw a spike in people shopping: it typically serves around 6,000 people a month, but during a ten-day period in April, that number skyrocketed to 7,800.
“During the second week, by that Monday, we had 11 new families,” Seidenfeld said. “By the next week, it was in the 30s, then 40s and 50s of new families coming. That’s on top of the current families who come daily.”
Seidenfeld says what’s gotten her through this pandemic is her staff and caring clients.
“It takes a lot of people to take care of a community,” she said. “People have been calling us to see how we are doing, and that motivates me.”
Meredith Callahan, 40—Seventh Grade Math Teacher— Cherry Hill, New Jersey
“I’m the busiest I’ve ever been in all my years of teaching.”
On Friday, March 13, Meredith Callahan left the middle school where she teaches seventh-grade math, thinking if the school were to shut down, it would only be for two weeks. Within days, she learned it could be closed down indefinitely. Schools were shuttered across the country as Covid-19 spread, and Callahan had to figure out how to navigate through uncharted waters.
“In the beginning, I was struggling,” Callahan said. “I wasn’t sleeping, and I had a lot of anxiety. It was hard.”
Callahan, who has been teaching for 17 years, had to figure out how to teach algebra, pre-algebra, geometry, and probability to 100 seventh grade students virtually. She and the other seventh-grade math teachers teamed up to figure out a plan. First, they had to ensure that all their students had Chromebooks that were being provided by the district. Then, they started making videos and posting them for their students to see.
“I’ve been super proud of my seventh graders,” Callahan said. “I didn’t know what kind of response I’d get or the type of work I’d get from the students, but they all rose to the occasion.”
The district also changed its grading system. Instead of typical letter grades, they’re giving a C for ‘Complete,’ I for ‘In Progress,’ and an M for ‘Missing.’
“I’m the busiest I’ve ever been in all my years of teaching,” Callahan said.
“On Friday night, I find myself commenting on every student’s work telling them ‘good job’ or emailing parents to tell them that they are missing an assignment or just seeing if they are ok.”
Loretta Cockeram, 73—Restaurant Owner— Los Angeles, California
“We have such good people working here.”
In the 24 years that Loretta Cockeram has owned Beverly Glen Deli in Los Angeles, she’s never experienced the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. As the pandemic progressed, Cockeram and her husband were forced to close their doors to customers but decided to remain open for pickup and delivery.
“In the restaurant business, you do everything day-to-day and weekly,” Cockeram said. “There is ordering all the time, and you always owe money.”
“And that’s the first thing I thought of: What would we do with the money we owed from last week if there is no money coming in this week? I mean, we had a backup, but we didn’t know how long it would go on for.”
Without dine-in service, her servers couldn’t work and went on unemployment. For the rest of her staff, Cockeram gave them a choice about continuing to work. Most of them chose not to.
However, a handful of employees, including herself, reported to the restaurant every day to work through the pandemic with accommodations made to ensure safety. They wore masks and gloves, only one customer was allowed into the restaurant at any given time and plexiglass partitions separated the cashiers from customers.
Beverly Glen Deli received a small business loan from the federal government that helped them stay afloat during this time. Thanks to the community and their loyal customers, they’ve consistently stayed busy.
“We have such good people working here,” Cockram said. “I think that’s what got us through.”
“I thank God every day for my kids and grandkids, but I should also thank him for the people who work for us.”
Lehti Laas Ramos, 45—Public Health Analyst with the CDC— Huntington Station/Manhattan, New York
“I know I’m helping others.”
When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a dire need for more healthcare workers to enlist in the workforce in March, Lehti Laas Ramos jumped at the chance to help. With decades of medical experience working as an EMT and in nonprofit healthcare administration, Laas Ramos knew her skills could be useful.
She ultimately landed an independent contractor position at Caduceus Healthcare, which was hired by the CDC to create a quarantine station at JFK Airport in New York City.
“My medical team screens passengers who are coming off flights from high-risk areas,” Laas Ramos said.
Laas Ramos said travelers coming from specific areas considered high risk are asked to fill out a sheet about whether they have any Covid-19 symptoms. At first, they were screening people from China, Iran, and Italy. Eventually, the UK was added to the list. Once passengers arrive, they each have their temperature taken, at which point, Laas Ramos begins her duties of deciding whether each person can continue onto their destination or needs to be quarantined.
“If their temperature is normal and they have no symptoms, we let them proceed as normal,” she said.
“If they have a temperature or do have symptoms, they get pulled and go into the CDC quarantine station.”
It varies for how long each person will remain quarantined, or when the medical team will decide whether they can go home or if they have to go to the hospital. Laas Ramos wears all the proper PPE, a mask and gloves, and sometimes a gown when she is in contact with travelers. When asked why she decided to go back into the workforce during one of the most tumultuous times in world history, her response was simple.
“Because I know I’m helping others,” she said.
Kimberly Steele, 49—United States Postal Service Employee— Groton, Connecticut
“The mail has to go through.”
Kimberly Steele just wants your mail to be delivered safely and on time. Since the pandemic began, she’s been taking every possible precaution as a postal support employee to prevent herself from getting sick.
Before Groton opens the post office at 5 a.m., a custodian comes to clean and sanitize. The employees arrive in shifts and, when inside, stand six feet apart as frequently as they can. When sorting mail, Steele and her co-workers wear gloves and masks. There are only a certain number of customers inside at a time, and when they are interacting with Steele, it’s through a plexiglass wall.
“It’s been difficult when we’re sorting the mail because we’re usually close together, and now we’re six feet apart, and it creates more work,” Steele said. “But if we get sick, our whole office has to close, and we can’t do that because the mail has to go through.”
The mail carriers are following new guidelines, too. They wear masks and gloves on their routes and wipe down their vehicles. They knock on areas of the door that are “less-used” instead of ringing a homeowner’s doorbell.
“When it first got bad, the mail carriers didn’t leave packages that needed to be signed for,” Steele said. “They would leave a note saying ‘CO-19,’ telling the customer to pick up the parcel at the post office.”
One bright spot of Steele’s experience? Seeing how many children were using USPS.
“They have pen-pals, or they’re mailing it to their friends,” Steele said. “They even know how to address an envelope properly!”
This article first appeared in Forbes on June 18, 2020.