We are all living in limbo now, trying to adjust, day by day, to the realities of life in the era of Covid-19. Some of us are battling the virus itself, or trying to cope as it attacks people in our lives. Others are grappling with campus and workplace closures, job losses, risky working conditions, moves back home, relationship strains, and uncertainty. Lots of uncertainty.
We offer you here notes on the pandemic, featuring the voices of young adults who are navigating this unsettling moment — and our voices, too, since we’re all in this together. Please check back here for updates and new stories as our chorus of voices continues to grow. —Deborah Acosta, Tyler Blint-Welsh, Alvin Chang, Nico Gendron, Alex Janin, J. J. McCorvey and Allison Pohle
Chronicling foiled plans
Guilherme Flores dos Santos, 30, software engineer, Galway, Ireland
For Guilherme Flores dos Santos, living in Europe had always been a dream. So when he got a job offer from a tech company in Ireland, he jumped at the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” In February, Flores dos Santos left behind his family and his well-paying job in Sao Paolo, selling most of his belongings, to move to Galway. His plan, he said, was to live in Europe for the rest of his life. He hadn’t counted on a pandemic:Three weeks into his new life, he got laid off because his work as a software engineer involved developing new ways for tourists to claim value-added tax refunds. With global tourism at a virtual standstill, his project had become pointless. “It was like a heartbreak,” he said. He’ll get paid for the next four weeks. But since his visa was tied to his employment, he’ll have only six months to find a new job before he has to leave Ireland. His savings won’t last that long. And getting a company to sponsor him as a foreign worker right now might be next to impossible. Still, Flores dos Santos has been spending more than 12 hours a day on Linkedin, chatting with recruiters and sending out job applications. He is trying to stay positive: “I was accomplishing one of my biggest dreams. Now I’m laughing, but just to make the situation seem not so bad.” — Tyler Blint-Welsh
Kayla Dio Robinson, 23, college senior, Norfolk State University (Va.)
Kayla Dio Robinson, a senior majoring in computer science, was beyond ecstatic when, on the last day of her internship last summer, NASA invited her to return this summer. But after getting an email from the agency that her summer internship was being “reassessed” because of the pandemic, she couldn’t help but stress over her finances and future career prospects. Dio Robinson typically receives a stipend each semester that covers her living expenses during the school year. During the summer, she relies on her earnings from internships like the computer programming one she was set to start in May at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. “If they take away that summer income, I don’t know what the future holds for me and my finances,” she said. And they well might; Virginia’s stay-at-home order extends through June 10 for now. Dio Robinson is trying to stay positive, but she had hoped her job at NASA could turn into a career there. “When I heard about the coronavirus, I didn’t imagine that it’d get this big and impact our daily lives in the way that it has,” she said. — Tyler Blint-Welsh
Olivia Eaton, 25, amateur athlete, San Francisco
Olivia Eaton, an engineer by profession, is an outdoor athlete by passion. She spends almost all her free time rock climbing, surfing, skiing, and biking. So when she tore her right ACL on her last ski run of the season at Lake Tahoe in early March, she was hoping to schedule surgery quickly in order to begin the arduous six-to-nine month rehab process. In San Francisco, non-essential surgeries like ACL repairs had already been put on hold citywide because of coronavirus concerns, so she found a surgeon in Truckee, Ca., near the ski mountain. But days after her accident, Truckee announced its first confirmed coronavirus case and soon after, the potential surgeon canceled her consultation. Barely able to walk, and sometimes waking up in immense pain, Eaton is dispirited at the prospect of living for an unfixed time ahead with limited mobility, and without her passions. “I can hypothetically live a year without an ACL. I’m not gonna die,” she said. “But that just sucks.” — Tyler Blint-Welsh
Nara Kasbergen, 31, software engineer, Washington, D.C.
Nara Kasbergen and Louis Kwon had planned to get married on March 23, the seventh anniversary of their first date. They were going to have a party a few days later with their friends in D.C., then embark on a wedding tour to celebrate with their families in the Netherlands and South Korea. Their honeymoon was to have been in Australia, followed by trips to New Mexico and Maine (to see puffins). Then, the pandemic foiled their plan. They were still able to get married, by a friend who is a pastor. But for now, everything else is on hold, including their timetable for starting a family, which was to have begun after a year of enjoying newlywed life. “But I don’t really think we’ll really get to have that chance in the next year,” she said. “So instead of starting to try to get pregnant a year from now, it might end up being two years from now, which is just a little bit concerning to me.” — Tyler Blint-Welsh
Andrew Andreotti, 25, bank teller, Auburn, Wa.
Andrew Andreotti, a trans man, had long been waiting for the right time to undergo gender-affirming surgery. When he realized he was quickly approaching the age for getting kicked off his parents’ health insurance plan, he decided to schedule top surgery for March 24. He’d always been self-conscious about his chest, he said, relying on a chest binder to shift his body to a more traditionally masculine shape. But wearing it every day, for long stretches of time, hurt his ribs and back. “I was really excited to get it done,” he said of the procedure. Then Washington state, an early epicenter of the novel coronavirus, canceled what it considered non-essential surgeries, and his fell into that category. “I cried,’’ he said, “and I had my time where I was really upset about it.’’ But he regained perspective. “I’d rather the resources go to people who are in trouble right now,’’ he said. “Technically, I can wait. Even though I don’t want to.” — Tyler Blint-Welsh
Tyler Blint-Welsh, 23, reporter, The Wall Street Journal
This May, I was supposed to move out of my mom’s place in Brooklyn, and into my own apartment with some childhood friends. We were going to build a recording studio there, because one of them makes music, and a photo studio with a darkroom, since I do a ton of photography. It was going to be sick. But the pandemic shot a hole through my bachelor pad plans, and has thoroughly upended my life and my family’s. My parents are out of work due to the shutdown of nonessential businesses. Thankfully, my dad has been able to get unemployment insurance. My mom owns a small business though, meaning she’s not eligible and creating a huge sense of financial uncertainty for us. I’m really grateful to have a career that allows me to support her however she needs for the time being — especially given that I moved back home from college almost a year ago with, like, $500 in graduation money to my name and no job offers. 2020 was going to be the year I got my own apartment, leveled up my photography skills, and paid down a sizable chunk of my student loans. Now, I can’t help but feel that those goals were frivolous in light of what my family, and millions of others, are going through.
I want to hear your story, too. Get in touch: [email protected]
Chronicling the move home
Caroline Vassiliades, 27, UX designer, Pensacola, Fla.
In March, on the first day of a new job, Caroline Vassiliades logged on early for her first remote meeting with her new co-workers at AnswerRocket in Atlanta. She had expected to meet them in person, after she relocated from San Francisco. But the pandemic interrupted her move, and she found herself in her childhood bedroom in Pensacola. So: how should she frame herself for the introductory shot? she wondered. Should she show the two shelves above her bed, overflowing with beanie babies? The pottery she painted as a kid? The cheetah-print computer chair? She settled on a backdrop of chintz curtains printed with clouds and pink roses, and it worked as “a perfect icebreaker” during “a weird, confusing time.’’ Her younger sister, a high school student, and younger brother, a copywriter who normally lives in Nashville, are also working from their bedrooms, and they text each other about whose turn it is to walk the dog. Most nights, recreating an earlier era in their lives, they eat dinner as a family, and then bake or watch movies together afterward. “It’s been an overall uplifting experience,” she said.—Allison Pohle
Holly Lynn, 26, evacuated Peace Corps volunteer, Orland, Indiana
In early March, for the first time in its history, the Peace Corps evacuated all 7,000-plus of its volunteers, including Holly Lynn, who was not at all ready to leave her work in Ukraine. The evacuation was so abrupt that Lynn couldn’t wrap up her service projects or notify the students she taught in three weekly English clubs: “I didn’t get to say goodbye to them at all.” European countries had started closing their borders, so it took her about a week to get back to her parents’ house in Indiana. Now, per the Peace Corps’s recommendation, she’s self-quarantining. But because she’s worried about infecting her family members, that means she’s holed up in a camper trailer in her parents’ Indiana backyard. “Usually when you’re re-integrating, I find it best to just jump in and do all the things that make life normal,’’ she said. “I don’t have that ability. I can’t hug my mom hello, I can’t pet my dog. I can’t go into my house.’’ She has applied for 38 jobs so far in an effort to regroup. But, she said, “I don’t know that I have moved forward, even though I’m trying to check things off the list and be a real American person again.” —Allison Pohle
Kunal Gupta, 34, entrepreneur, Toronto, Canada
Kunal Gupta runs a global technology company, Polar, which he founded a decade ago. He’s based in New York, but once the city declared a state of emergency, Gupta, a native Canadian, thought, “This is clearly going to get a lot worse. So let me get out of here now.” Gupta practices meditation, and said meditation teachers often quote the spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, who said, “If you think you are so enlightened, go and spend a week with your parents.” After two weeks with his parents at their home in Toronto, Gupta said, “I’ve realized I’m not enlightened, or not as enlightened as I thought I was.” During the first week, Gupta’s mom told him, “It doesn’t feel like you’re here. It feels like you’re still in New York.” Now, he and his parents are meditating and doing yoga together. They’re going on walks. They have video dinners with his sister and brother-in-law in Ottawa. He’s keeping the bigger picture in mind, as he approaches work and family life. “This is not a crisis about learning how to live from home or work from home. The world is in need, and this is a moment to step into that with whatever skills and resources we have.”—Allison Pohle
Kaitlin Mitchell, 25, talent manager, Parsippany, N.J.
About two weeks ago, Katie Mitchell realized that the Manhattan apartment she shares with two roommates meant “very close quarters if you’re going to be hunkering down for a while.” A talent manager for Comic Relief USA, she decided to return to her parents’ home in Parsippany. Her younger brother, Kevin, also went home, and both are working remotely. Mitchell said she appreciates this unexpected family reunion: “I do think it’s nice to spend quality time at home and just for the four of us to be together.” This is particularly poignant for her family because they’re still grappling with the loss of her older brother, Brian, who died by suicide about two years ago. “While we grieved, I still think two years is pretty early on in the process for it, especially now to be going through something like a global pandemic,” which “stirs up a lot of feelings and fear of loss of other family members.”—Allison Pohle
Briana Martinez, 27, basketball coach, San Diego
Briana Martinez and her dad love to watch sports. They cheer on the Lakers. And the Padres. And the Chargers. But there are no sports right now. So Martinez’s dad, Miko, has swiveled his focus to his daughter’s work. Martinez is an assistant coach for the California State University San Bernardino women’s basketball team. Her team, too, has been sidelined since the National Collegiate Athletic Association canceled all sports through September. But Martinez is building for next season, and she is doing so from her parents’ home in San Diego, where she has been riding out the pandemic. “I would be up in San Bernardino alone. So it was just a good opportunity to stay with my family and just, you know, take it day by day,” she said. Now, as she finalizes her team’s new recruiting class, her father participates enthusiastically at the end of his own work day: “Who are we going to recruit now?’’ he asks. “Whose film do we have to watch?” —Allison Pohle
Alex Janin, 25, reporter, Wall Street Journal, Indianapolis
As I enter the third week of quarantine in my childhood home, I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege, and how it gets amplified in times of global crises. Socioeconomic privilege. White privilege. The privilege to be young, to be healthy, to buy canned foods in bulk, to work from home, to have a steady paycheck. The privilege to have a ‘home’ to return to, and to wake up every morning next to my partner, surrounded by the seafoam-blue walls spotted with silver circles that I requested in middle school (inspired by a magazine photo of Miley Cyrus’s childhood bedroom.) It feels so easy to forget how lucky we are — the seven of us cooped up here, simultaneously hunched over our laptops — when one of us forgets to wear our headphones during a Zoom meeting, or accidentally plays music out loud, disrupting everyone else’s concentration. In New York (which my partner and I fled) the death toll has climbed past 1,500. Here tensions run high when one of us, on our assigned dinner preparation night, declines to put in “sweat equity” (my mother’s words) equal to the person who made dinner the night before. So every night, when I’m lying in bed, staring at the same blue walls that lulled me to sleep before prom night and AP history exams, I remember to count my blessings.
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Will Monk, 30, comedian, Los Angeles
Will Monk, who lives in LA’s Koreatown, is no stranger to self-quarantine. Before the pandemic, Monk said, he was either performing, going to the gym, or home writing. Now he is just home writing. Monk suffers from severe social anxiety, and he used to drink a bottle of whiskey a day to combat that. “If I had to go to the supermarket, or if I had to go downstairs to get the mail, I would be taking a shot first,” he said. A couple of years ago, he was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis, and he has been trying to get sober ever since. On March 16, a few days after the U.S. declared the outbreak a national emergency, he achieved 90 days of sobriety. The mandated social isolation is actually helpful to him during this fragile period, he said. But he is not entirely disconnected. Monk is relying on Instagram to keep himself accountable. “I started posting because if I’m going to mess up, I tell myself, ‘Look, you can’t. These people liked your photo!’” – Nico Gendron
Ashley Kesner, 32, mother, Clearfield, Pa.
It’s difficult to be young and sober in a small town. Ashley Kesner, whose Central Pennsylvania town is home to about 6,200 people, knows this firsthand. That is why the fact that Covid-19 has pushed AA meetings online hasn’t challenged her sobriety, she said: “Around here, most of the people at meetings are in their sixties. It can be really hard to speak with someone about my experiences when they’re 72.” In contrast, “sober Twitter” has exposed her to a broader group of people in recovery: “This helps me to hear everybody else’s story instead of the same people’s story over and over.” What has been challenging for Kesner has been sheltering in place. She lives alone. “At my worst, I was drinking alone in my apartment,’’ she said. “So I associate being here with a lot of bad memories. The best thing for me is to be in public around people so that I don’t think about drinking. I can’t do that right now. So I’m forced to battle this anxiety sober, which can be really daunting.” – Nico Gendron
Mahum Khalid, 27, student/hotel employee, San Francisco
Mahum Khalid, a student and hotel employee from the Bay Area, holds one podcast episode close to her heart. Dopey covers the personal experiences of people who suffer or have recovered from substance abuse and addiction. In episode 136, a woman named Tina describes a “middle place.” She says, “I don’t want to be sober and I don’t want to be f*cked up and I’m somewhere in the middle… it’s misery, purgatory misery.” As of March 30, Khalid had been clean of heroin for 63 days. Being in isolation during this critical time in her recovery, however, has driven her to her own middle place. “I know that being stuck at home is not a good place for my recovery because it makes me want to use,’’ she said. “But then people tell me, ‘Imagine if you use again and then you start going through withdrawal because you can’t get more. Then you’re really stuck.’” – Nico Gendron
Isaiah Strange, 27, bartender, Seattle
Isaiah Strange, a bartender and bar consultant, has a family history of alcoholism, but he believes his own stems from the restaurant industry. “The Seattle industry community is really, really tight-knit,’’ he said. “Everyone knows everybody. It’s always like, we can go to this bar because a person I used to work for owns it. We’ll put down a $20 tab, drink for a few hours, tip $60 and then go to the next bar. It’s just what we do. We drink and drink.’’ Isolating himself from his coworkers and industry friends has been essential to Strange’s sobriety. It is far easier to do now that Seattle restaurants and bars are closed due to Covid-19. His sobriety has also provided him with a financial cushion: “I’ve saved $12,000 in six months removing alcohol from my life,” he said. This has allowed him to breathe more freely while Seattle’s bar and restaurant scene remains shuttered. – Nico Gendron
Nico Gendron, 27, Audience Interaction Producer, The Wall Street Journal
My sister and I shared a bedroom growing up. Now, after I decamped from New York City due to the pandemic, we are living together once again. We are sharing her two-bedroom apartment in Connecticut, along with her best friend and my boyfriend. Returning to my childhood home in Cape Cod has not been possible because my younger brother is immunocompromised. But my sister and I are our own island. I know I’m lucky. Not everyone has family or friends to bail them out when disaster strikes. I’ve been reminded of this over the last two weeks while capturing the stories of people white-knuckling it to stay clean and sober in isolation. It’s not easy at a time when social media and popular culture encourage us to drink the quarantine down.
Chronicling health workers
Herine Baron, 28, ER nurse, Miami
On March 11, Herine Baron was treating a patient who came into the emergency room at Jackson Memorial Hospital with a fever. She wore a surgical mask, as had been her practice since returning from maternity leave. Fifteen minutes before her shift ended, the patient was suddenly moved to isolation, and she was tasked with doing his bloodwork. This time she was given an N95 mask, a gown and gloves. “After I left, I knew I was exposed to him the most,” she said. During a nearly week-long break, when Baron was breastfeeding her seven-month-old son, she started feeling ill. She felt better when it was time to return to work. Then, on her first night shift back, she spiked a fever of 103. “I went home and I felt like my brain was cooking,’’ she said. Later that day, she checked into the hospital. A chest X-ray showed bilateral pneumonia. Separated from her baby, she pumped breast milk. “I’m pumping and I’m crying at the same time because I’m basically pumping and dumping,’’ she said. “I didn’t know if it was safe for my husband to take the milk home to my son.” The next day she tested positive for Covid-19. Soon her son tested positive, too. Despite a low-grade fever, he’s doing well, Baron said, and she has been discharged to isolation at home, with a remarkably positive attitude: “Even though I was horribly sick, I’m showing everyone that I’m getting better. As a health professional you shouldn’t be afraid. This is what you signed up for.” (Jackson Memorial said Baron’s “version of events about the day she became ill is simply different from what others said,’’ but would not elaborate.) – Deborah Acosta
Sila Bal, 28, ophthalmology resident, Boston
Every day when she arrives at Boston’s Veterans Affairs Hospital, Sila Bal is questioned even before she exits her car about whether she has any symptoms. She is screened again at the hospital entrance. After she gets home, she strips down and loads all of her clothing into the washing machine. She started worrying about the novel coronavirus in early February, when Dr. Li Wenliang, the 34-year-old whistleblower from Wuhan who warned the world about this new virus, died from Covid-19. He, too, was an ophthalmologist. “We spend a lot of time within a few inches of our patients,” she said. “We have direct, face-to-face contact.” Bal worries most about becoming an asymptomatic carrier of the disease, and then unknowingly passing the virus on to her patients, most of whom are elderly, she said. She belongs to a tight-knit group of residents who used to meet daily, leaning on each other during the grueling residency program, and studying together for their board exams. Now they’re banned from seeing each other at all. “It’s kind of like almost comparable to being in the military, where you’re at the frontlines all day, every day, and then suddenly you’re ripped away from the people that you’re with, and you’re alone. And so that isolation is difficult.” – Deborah Acosta
Lara Friedrich, 34, psychologist, New York City
As a psychologist, Lara Friedrich is better able than most health workers to shift her practice to remote consultations. She has devoted a section of her apartment to conducting virtual sessions with her patients, separate from where she virtually connects with friends. “I want there to be some distance,” she said. In normal times, many of her patients suffer from anxiety. In pandemic times, the context for addressing anxiety is totally different. “A lot of times when we think about anxiety we think of it as something that’s irrational. But what we’re seeing right now is these concerns are all extremely rational. They’re very reality-based.” One positive shift for some of her patients is the way they relate to their anxiety. They’re still anxious, but because everyone else is anxious too, it feels differently to them: “If you think of the anxiety as a heavy rock, and most of the time you’re the person that’s walking around with that rock by yourself, in a time like this, everybody’s holding a little piece of that rock, so you’re not alone holding that burden.” – Deborah Acosta
Daphne Papathomas, 29, obstetrics-gynecology resident, New York City
Earlier this week, when Daphne Papathomas arrived for her morning shift at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, she noticed a maternity patient wearing a respirator. The patient turned out to be Covid-19 positive. As the most senior resident on the floor, Papathomas volunteered to deliver her baby. While Montefiore’s original plan, Papathomas said, was that only senior attending obstetricians would interact with Covid-19 patients, that was impossible to sustain as greater numbers tested positive for the virus. Ultimately, Papathomas ended up performing a C-section on the patient. “In the surgery itself you’re just trying to work as quickly as possible so that you minimize the amount of time that anyone in that room has to be in that room,’’ she said. “It’s definitely stressful and anxiety provoking.” Now she’s on a four-day break, and mostly enjoying the time off, especially running in Central Park. “But then I do think it’s in the nature of most people who become physicians that we feel a little bit anxious that we’re not there. That we’re not helping.” – Deborah Acosta
Ludwig Koeneke-Hernandez, 30, emergency medicine resident, Miami
As an emergency medicine doctor, Ludwig Koeneke considers himself a teacher first and foremost. “On a daily basis patients come in scared, they don’t know what’s going on. And I pretty much heal people through teaching,” he said. As the first doctor a patient might encounter during an emergency, he considers it his priority to calm a patient’s nerves by explaining what might be ailing them, and how they can heal. If he leaves a patient feeling anxious and confused, he considers it a failure: “Medicine helps, but I think it’s the power of knowledge that makes people better.” Now, as scientists and doctors work to understand the nuances of the novel coronavirus, he thinks this approach is more important than ever. “There’s this uncertainty around Covid-19 that’s really scary,” he said. As his colleagues start becoming ill from the virus themselves, he also feels it. “It’s scary, but it’s the moment I’ve been training for.” – Deborah Acosta
Deborah Acosta, 34, reporter, The Wall Street Journal
Two weeks ago my family and I were at an interactive children’s museum for a birthday party. We touched everything. And after touching everything, my one-year-old twin daughters licked frosting from their fingers, scratched their eyes and wiped their hair from their brows. My husband and I held and kissed them, and we hugged our friends. The invisible reality of what was beginning to sprout around the country, the deadly coronavirus, was on my mind, but faintly, in the background. Now, just two weeks later, so much has changed. The children’s museum has closed. We touch nothing outside our home except for groceries and supplies, and we feel anxiety about that. We are staying with my parents, who are huggers and kissers, but I haven’t touched them in over a week, just in case. Instead, I’m touching nature. Digging dirt, planting trees, and sowing seeds to grow a vegetable garden in our backyard. The physical contact with the earth helps me feel grounded. The dirt beneath my fingernails is strangely a relief. It’s a bit of grime that’s benign, and that I can see.
I want to hear your story, too. Get in touch: [email protected]
Brian Whitton, 35, newsroom developer – Notes on the Pandemic, The Wall Street Journal
Today my wife Melissa is 39 weeks pregnant with our first child. Like many modern couples, we’ve done all the things: consumed the books/podcasts/docuseries, taken the childbirth classes, packed the hospital bag. We thought we were ready. Then we learned through a WhatsApp group that two big New York City hospitals, including ours, would no longer allow partners, doulas, or visitors of any kind to accompany the expectant mothers. When our obstetrician confirmed this over the phone, she was crying. We were all crying. “Bring an iPad,” she told us. When my wife goes into labor, I will take her to the hospital and say goodbye. She’ll be tested for coronavirus and fitted with an N95 mask to wear throughout her stay. In the delivery room, she’ll set up a cookbook stand for the iPad. But the fact remains that when my wife delivers our son, she’ll be surrounded by (professional) strangers, and I’ll be home alone on the couch, watching the birth of my first child remotely. This is truly devastating. For my wife first and foremost, who will be giving birth during a global pandemic without her partner by her side. And for me, who will miss a moment that will forever change my life. Still — we’re trying to focus on the ultimate goal. The point of getting pregnant wasn’t so that we could share a birth experience. We wanted to start a family, and after a strange, scary period of separation, that’s what we’ll be doing.
UPDATE: Late on Friday, March 27, the New York Department of Health advised hospitals that they must allow one support person to accompany a woman through labor and delivery if the patient so desires. The advisory came too late for Brian Whitton and his wife; their baby boy was born at 7:23 p.m. that night, weighing 6 pounds, 13 ounces.
Lindsey Hailes, 24, singer/dancer/writer, New York
Lindsey Hailes was sorely disappointed to learn that
was suspending its national tour of Aida, which she had been workshopping as an ensemble member for barely a week. “My first reaction was, ‘Are we still gon’ get paid?’” she said with a laugh. “My second was … I didn’t know if they were canceling it because a specific cast member was sick.” Soon, Hailes herself felt not quite right. Her body ached but she ascribed that to demanding rehearsals. She was congested, but wrote it off as allergies. Her eyes hurt, so she traded her contacts for glasses. But then there was the falafel. She knew from experience it was a good falafel. But she couldn’t taste it. Or smell it. Her roommate couldn’t taste or smell his, either. So, she said, they Googled. And when it turned out that loss of taste and smell was a symptom of Covid-19, her roommate got tested. His test came back positive. The clinic put them both under two-week quarantine. Upbeat by nature and feeling almost fine, she took the diagnosis in stride: “Honestly, I’m not worried. Maybe it’s because my symptoms weren’t life-threatening, or didn’t feel that way. I knew it would just be something that passed.” She had been on the verge of returning to her hometown, Overland Park, Kansas, and is thankful she didn’t go and risk transmitting the virus to her older relatives. She is also thankful that she can collect unemployment benefits through the Actors’ Equity union, that she’s still covered by her parents’ insurance, and that she has spent the past year steeling herself to withstand the adversity that’s often part of a performer’s life. “When all these things are happening, when everything shuts down, the test of the true artist is what can you do with that?’’ she said. “What can you do when you can’t be given a script.” She’s going to use her quarantine, she said, to ready an album and to teach herself piano on her new
keyboard. —J.J. McCorvey
Monica Magtoto, 33, visual artist, San Francisco
Monica Magtoto says she and her family — her sister, father and grandmother, with whom she lives — are “bracing for impact.” What she means is another impact. In early March, not quite two weeks before Bay Area officials issued a “shelter in place” mandate, Magtoto’s mother Celia succumbed to a three-year battle with cancer. “We were already kind of socially isolated,” Magtoto said, referring to precautions taken to protect her mom before her death. An illustrator, muralist, and “plant lady” whose work often features bright blossoms and towering trees, Magtoto usually depends on commissions from restaurants and cafés in Ghirardelli Square, and supplements her artist’s income by teaching yoga. Now Magtoto is facing weeks, maybe months, without pay and limited means to help support her 66-year-old father, whose employer recently shut down operations, too. “Literally everything I do has been stopped,” said Magtoto, who has no savings and owes $60,000 in student loans. “In some ways, my family may or may not have been a little more prepared.” —J.J. McCorvey
Parker McAllister, 29, musician, New York
As a touring bass guitarist, Parker McAllister’s life is usually spent in the skies, far from home. “One thing that freelancers are afforded is the ‘free’ part of that word,” he said. Suddenly, however, the Brooklyn native finds himself grounded. Soon after he wrapped a job performing backup for Ana Tijoux, a French-Chilean singer/songwriter, at a Bernie Sanders rally in Los Angeles, the Italian government sent a chill through the music-touring industry by halting flights to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. Gigs he’d booked through April across Europe (with the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, then Mos Def) and later in the Bahamas (with singer Kamilah Gibson) now represent more than $7,000 in lost fees. He hoped that he could recuperate somewhat by picking up jobs he had turned down in order to say “yes” to those tours. But that hope was soon dashed; Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan, for one, informed him that its services would be streamed online only — and without its well-regarded choir, and accompanying musicians like him. Once New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put “New York State on Pause,” McAllister started worrying about his thin financial cushion. Would he be able to stretch his $1,000 in savings until his next royalty check arrives? “I can hang tough for about a month, month and a half,” he said. “It’s not until May that the real panic-button hits.” —J.J. McCorvey
Xandra Nur Clark, 30, playwright/actor, New York
Hundreds of writers and performers move to New York City every year in search of the elusive big break. And Xandra Nur Clark, a Massachusetts native and self-described “queer, Indian-American playwright, actor, journalist, documentarian, performance-maker, musician and all-around storyteller,’’ was on the cusp of one. But the city’s shutdown meant the indefinite postponement of their solo show, “Polylogues,’’ which uses the words of real people to explore the topic of non-monogamy. Clark had spent the last year gearing up for their big moment, the play’s opening in April at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in Manhattan. “And now this moment is not happening,’’ they said. The Colt Coeur production would have qualified Clark to join the Actors’ Equity union, which would have represented both a career and financial milestone. They are disappointed, needless to say. “I imagined that I would start having a sustainable artist’s career at some point after ‘Polylogues,’” Clark said. To that end, they are looking at this period as a sort of enforced creative residency. “If this moment is teaching me anything so far, it’s that there’s no time to waste,” they said. —J.J. McCorvey
Felicita Devlin, 22, student designer, Providence
When the Rhode Island School of Design announced that it would shutter its campus and migrate classes online, Felicita Devlin, a textiles major, was left scrambling to decide her next move. Devlin, who deals with a chronic illness, considered shelling out money on storage and airfare in order to fly home to Cooper City, Fla.— money that seemed uncertain, since her four work-study jobs were suddenly halted. Then she learned that the school’s residence program would allow her to work as a resident assistant. “I had to stay with the best thing that’s for me,” she said. “But I’m also on a college campus, which is still very hard to be on, because it’s very easy to get sick.” Like many other RISD students, Devlin faces severely limited options to develop her craft, due to the school shutting down its studios. So she has channeled all of her creative energy towards organizing, joining together with several other students to launch a GoFundMe campaign to help peers in similar situations. Within a week, they raised $133,000 from donors including notable alumni like contemporary artist Kara Walker and fashion designer Nicole Miller, according to the group. “Organizing and helping students to fundraise… this is probably what’s keeping me going,” Devlin said. —J.J. McCorvey
J.J. McCorvey, 34, reporter, The Wall Street Journal
The other night I dreamt that I broke into a millionaire’s house for food. In the real world, I’m fine, I think. Since my roommate rented a car and bolted for his parents’ place in Michigan last week, my partner and I have stocked up and hunkered down in my Harlem apartment. This Friday, we will celebrate his birthday with a surprise Group FaceTime toast. I feel blessed that I am not processing this precarious time alone. Then I think about my loved ones who are, like my mother and grandmother back home in Mississippi, and I worry. Yet I tap dance around my feelings so they don’t worry. When I let slip to Mom that I was stressed, she responded in a snap, “What you stressed about?!?” I don’t have Covid-19, so relax, I told her. (The hard truth was, with the lack of testing available, how could I really know?) I’m stressed about a lot of things, though. My partner and I have resisted friends’ pleas for us to leave New York, but the news alerts are eating at our defense. I’m thankful for employment, but the anxiety brought on by a global pandemic does not mix well with having to work from home. I miss my colleagues, and God help me, even my commute. I’m grasping for some normalcy.
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Chronicling Gig Workers
Kristin Dotson, 30, Instacart shopper, Philadelphia
Kristin Dotson moved to Philadelphia in 2017 soon after Hurricane Harvey devastated her hometown of Houston. Now, though, when she walks the aisles of her local Aldi supermarket, it’s eerily reminiscent of Harvey’s aftermath: empty shelves and long lines: “A lot of people are kind of just eyeing your cart and trying to see if they can get anything.” Dotson is relying on her job as an in-store shopper for Instacart, the grocery delivery app, as her sole source of income while the future of her salaried position at a local special education program is up in the air. But competition at grocery stores is fierce. Professional shoppers are lining up an hour before the market opens to get the best chance of snagging in-demand items for their clients — often, things that are now perpetually out of stock, like toilet paper and disinfectant wipes. She knows services like Instacart are more essential now than ever, but competition from new shoppers signing up for the platform (having lost their jobs) and dwindling grocery store hours puts her paycheck at risk. Still, she says, she’s “doing OK for the time being.” She’s more concerned about low-income folks in her community who may be left without essentials after wealthier customers stockpile: “Maybe they’re on food stamps or what have you and they’re not able to retrieve those items just because somebody was greedy.” —Alex Janin
UPDATE: On Friday, Instacart sent an email to all in-store shoppers, offering them cash bonuses between $25 – $150 if they work more hours until April 12. Dotson called the email “appalling,” saying it looked like they were just trying to appease workers ahead of a planned strike.
Louie C. Ochoa, 23, Uber driver, Los Angeles
When Louie Ochoa lost his job as a mental healthcare worker in a psychiatric hospital a couple of months ago, he knew he needed to find a new source of income fast. Driving for Uber wasn’t his favorite option, but he already had a car, and it was “something to keep me alive.” Above all, it was reliable. Ochoa said he usually got “back-to-back requests for hours.” And beyond supporting himself, he needed to help out his mom, who is undergoing chemotherapy treatment. After the Covid-19 pandemic erupted, he faced a tough choice: to keep earning money or to see his mother. “I have less than $50 to my name,” he said, “I have bills due in a few days.” He reluctantly sacrificed the visits to his immunosuppressed mom, starting after he picked up a few passengers who were coughing and sneezing. As the infection rate in L.A. county rises and residents have been ordered to stay home, the back-to-back stream of rides Ochoa relied on has slowed to a trickle. He went from making $100 in four hours to $17.93 during a recent shift: “I spent more on gas that morning.” —Alex Janin
Renata Rudoy, 28, TaskRabbit cleaner, New York City
Renata Rudoy, born and raised in Brooklyn, discovered TaskRabbit through an ad on the New York City subway—the Q line, to be precise. She was immediately drawn to the flexibility of the platform, which connects users to freelance “taskers” who help with a variety of chores. Working flexible hours would allow her to finance her dream degree in aviation management, upgrade her apartment, and travel. Rudoy is mostly hired for cleaning tasks, and was eagerly gearing up for spring cleaning season after a slow winter. When Covid-19 started making headlines, she thought business might pick up even more. “I figured — there’s this virus going on so people would need to be more clean.” But that’s not what happened. As health officials started urging social distancing, she found fewer and fewer clients were hiring: “I just think that people don’t want other people in their homes.” One regular client kindly offered to pay Rudoy for a recurring cleaning — without actually having her clean (Rudoy cleaned anyway). “My phone does not go off at all,’’ she said last week. As people laid off from full-time work turned to TaskRabbit for quick gigs, Rudoy had to lower her rate from $41 to $37 an hour to stay competitive. Then New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered all non-essential businesses to close, and she grew concerned that “TaskRabbit will be completely dead.’’ She’s scared, she said, really scared: “I don’t know how long this is going to last.” —Alex Janin
Nick DeMarco, 25, Instacart delivery, Marlton, N.J.
Nick DeMarco signed up to deliver groceries on Instacart because he didn’t want to work for Uber or Lyft. “I’m very protective of my car,” he said. And he’s been making good use of it — he didn’t take a single day off from January through mid-March, including the day he got an emergency root canal. But when the coronavirus pandemic ramped up, he started rethinking things: “I’m not taking $12 to go to the grocery store, because now it’s risky. I’ve got to wait in line. You’ve got to sanitize everything. You’re touching everything.” He’s not ruling out working entirely. He just paid off that root canal, effectively depleting his bank account, and still has to cover a separate urgent care bill for $270 when he thought he had the flu. And his girlfriend just got laid off from her full-time job in the music industry. She, too, is going to sign up to work for Instacart, said DeMarco. But he’s being far more picky about what jobs he’s taking, waiting for those with upfront tips so that he’ll pull in at least $30 a trip.He believes it’s important to deliver food and supplies to people who can’t fend for themselves, like a recent customer with a heart condition who’s unable to drive: “It’s just such a weird time,’’ he said. “And I feel like I’ve become way more important than I ever bargained for.” —Alex Janin
UPDATE: On March 30, DeMarco joined other Instacart workers in a nationwide strike, refusing to accept any jobs on the platform until the company provides safety equipment and higher pay. “Today is my last day until they make some sort of change,” he said on Sunday.
Taylor Diebold, 24, Etsy seller, Paramus, N.J.
“I wake up every morning and I’m like, what do I do today?” Pre-pandemic, Taylor Diebold would get out of bed and be greeted by several new online orders for her Etsy shop, through which she sells, among other things, customized dog bandanas. Pawsitivity Designs, as her shop is called, is three years old, and she has been reliably getting 60 orders a month for some time now. In the first three weeks of March, though, she made only 13 sales. Last week, she turned to a Reddit community of Etsy sellers to see if she was the only one, posting: “This is the lowest my sales have ever been. I haven’t had a single order all week and I’m curious if it’s due to the panic with this virus.” Absolutely it is, sellers responded: “The stock market has tanked and people are freaking out about their savings and investments,’’ wrote Just BeKind1000. “They are buying supplies, not goodies.” Bryan930 added, “March 1 hit and it’s been crickets ever since.’’ An animal-lover, Diebold also walks dogs for extra cash, but a job got canceled recently because the dog’s owners were working from home. “In that moment, it clicked with me,” she said, “I was like, Oh, man, like, we’re all screwed.” She has a car payment coming up, and is worried about burning through her savings. Most of her Etsy sales rely on occasions when pet owners dress up their dogs: engagement photos, holiday parties, dog park gatherings — all events that people are cancelling. What’s the point of buying your pet a customized bandana that reads ‘Bad and Boozy’ with no bar crawls on the horizon? —Alex Janin
Alex Janin, 25, reporter, The Wall Street Journal
It’s an odd time to be a hypochondriac. The hand sanitizer and wet wipes I had pre-stocked months ago have long since run out. But it’s a very good time to be employed, and I am among an incredibly privileged group in the workforce who can work from home. Even luckier — I am writing this from the comfort of my childhood bedroom in Indiana, with my closest family nearby (and a poster from my high school production of ‘Grease’ adorning my new workspace). In contrast, many now face a choice: forgo a much-needed paycheck or put their own health on the line. Despite the risks, it’s increasingly apparent that folks working in the gig economy are the glue holding society together: picking up groceries for the immunosuppressed, providing transportation to the hospital, delivering meals from local restaurants that have been forced to shutter all but take-out service. This may be just the tip of the iceberg, so think of this page as a live document. Stay in touch, and stay safe.
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Chronicling Service Workers
Raquel Gomez, 28, server, New York
Raquel Gomez, a New Yorker by way of El Paso, first realized this moment would be big during her brunch shift last Sunday at La Flaca, a Mexican restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Even an offer of bottomless drinks was not enough to lure customers who had finally started social distancing. The next day, New York City shut down restaurants, which left Gomez with zero income on top of zero savings. Now she and her roommates, who are also out of work, have a decision to make: Rent or food. “I’ve never not paid rent on time,’’ Gomez said. “But if I pay it, how am I going to make it for groceries and things like that?” While she could return to Texas, that would be expensive and she might expose her older relatives to the virus. So, like many, she finds herself in a “weird limbo,” she said. “I just feel very lost at the moment about what to do.” —Alvin Chang
Gisele Greasley, 25, bartender, New York
On Monday morning, Gisele Greasley made a calculation, and figured out she could last a couple of months without her income from bartending at a restaurant in Brooklyn. “I think I’m one of the fortunate ones,” she said then, calmly considering the moment a hiatus after which everything would return to normal. Then a few hours later, she visited Sidecar, her restaurant. She sat slurping oysters (which would have gone bad without her, she noted) and listened to her boss think aloud about his business concerns. Apply for unemployment benefits immediately! he told her. “That scared me,’’ she said. “That made me feel like, okay, you’re right. Maybe this place will have to close. Maybe a lot of places will have to close.” She loves bartending, and is unsure what else she’d be qualified to do. For now, though, she has a handle of tequila at home. She recommends mixing it with lime juice and agave, and maybe dusting the rim with some Himalayan salt. —Alvin Chang
Gina Benson, 26, yoga instructor and holistic health practitioner, New York
On Tuesday, Gina Benson streamed a 30-minute yoga flow class on Instagram Live. “If you feel compelled to donate, because this is my bread-and-butter and I’m out of work, then it’d be really appreciated,” she told her viewers, before they OMed and down dogged. All of Benson’s income streams have vanished overnight — her public classes, her private clients — and the internet simply does not work as a replacement for the one-on-one, hands-on attention she specializes in: “I am my business,’’ she said. Normally devoted to relieving the stress of others, Benson is now super-stressed herself. She recently got engaged, and finances have been a sensitive subject for her and her fiancé. A few days ago, they got into an argument: “He’s like, ‘I’m over here trying to make money. What are you doing for us?’ ” Benson said. “And I’m like, ‘I’m trying!’ ” —Alvin Chang
Bryce Warner, 33, server, Chicago
Bryce Warner is HIV positive and anemic. After the Italian restaurant where he works was shut down last weekend, he figured he could pay for basic necessities and his medication for about a month. He also figured he was better equipped than most to confront what lay ahead. “I’ve just been through a lot in my life,’’ he said. “I moved out when I was like 18 years old from my parents’ house, with no money because they weren’t exactly like — my stepdad wasn’t exactly thrilled with me being gay, and whatnot. And so I’ve been near homeless many times. I’ve slept on friends’ couches, not knowing what’s going to happen … I think I’ve just been through so much that it takes a lot to break you down completely … So right now, I mean, day by day, I’m okay. Right now, I know I’m not going to starve and I have a roof over my head, my landlord’s not evicting me, and none of my utilities are getting shut off and I’m very thankful for that. … But if this thing goes for two or three months? … If it gets to that point and if the government is not able to do something for us, if I’m not able to get unemployment or get enough of it, then it could become a real problem because I don’t have, you know, mommy and daddy or rich aunt or uncle or boyfriend or anything like that to go to when it gets to that. So I kind of have to figure it out on my own, which is scary. It’s very scary.” —Alvin Chang
Alvin Chang, 33, reporter, The Wall Street Journal
Last Sunday was Day Six of my parents’ 14-day quarantine, which was taking place somewhere in rural Kazakhstan. I didn’t know the exact location; I probably should have. My parents were fine, though, no symptoms, no fevers. They had been sequestered in a hospital since they arrived from South Korea on a work trip for my father, a civil engineer. Anyway, on Day Six, I was thousands of miles away in my New York apartment, lucky to have a job still, lucky to have a supportive partner. I thought, Hell, I don’t even have to worry about my parents stubbornly going to Target in defiance of the pandemic! And then, they sent me a photo: It was Dad, dancing around in a hospital gown with a spoon stuck to his head. Apparently, Day Six is the tipping point for sixty-somethings stuck in a remote health care facility with no TV and limited internet. And it made me think about when I was 4. I was hanging out at my parents’ dry cleaning business in Southern California when an earthquake hit. Before I could even cry for help, my parents surrounded me. And for those brief seconds, the earth stood still.
UPDATE: Over the weekend, my parents were released from their 14-day quarantine. The last I heard, they were in a small town in the Aktobe region of Kazakhstan, celebrating with nothing other than a Corona beer. One beer, for the both of them.
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Chronicling College Students
Josee Matela, 21, Boston University
Josee Matela, a BU senior majoring in journalism and international relations, says she is grappling with “massive amounts of uncertainty.’’ A Cherry Hill, N.J., native, she was already operating under a sizable load of stress, juggling six jobs to afford school and life in Boston. Now that the university has moved classes online through semester’s end, three of her campus jobs have been suspended. As a self-described “first-generation, low-income student,’’ Matela has no financial cushion from her family and no savings. Planning ahead for a graduation ceremony that might not even happen, she is already asking on Twitter to borrow a gown; that would be one expense she could delete from her post-COVID19 budgetary spreadsheet, which she named “March Madness.” And then, the future? Will all her hustle and hard work pay off once she gets her diploma?: “I thought I was already worried about after graduation, and then a global pandemic hit.” —Allison Pohle
Gevaniah Gabeau, 20, Wellesley College
Before Gevaniah Gabeau flew to South Korea in February, her relatives asked if she was absolutely sure about moving forward with her semester abroad there. COVID-19 had already struck the country. But Gabeau, a Wellesley junior known as Gigi, is a Korean Studies major; she had long looked forward to the trip; and, besides, the outbreak seemed relatively contained. Nine days into her stay, however, her program was abruptly cancelled: “I was told that I had to get back home as soon as possible.” Back home in Boston, she was obliged to move into her family’s basement in order to self-quarantine. On top of that, it was too late in the semester for her to join regular classes, so she will likely graduate a semester late. And finally, frustratingly, coronavirus cases in Korea have sharply declined. “I feel like I was safer in Korea than I am here,’’ Gabeau said. —Allison Pohle
Kevwe Onome-Irikefe, 24, University of Rochester
Kevwe Onome-Irikefe, 24, has been holed up alone in her studio apartment in Rochester, N.Y., since her campus moved to remote classes. She’s a graduate student from Nigeria pursuing a master’s degree in business analytics, and she is worried that the new format will trip her up. “One of the reasons I decided to leave my country is that I can’t do well learning online; I’m not that disciplined,’’ she said. Many of her classmates have left Rochester, but she feels stuck there. If she leaves the United States, she worries, she might not be allowed to re-enter the country for a summer data-science internship, or to finish her degree. “I can’t go home because I am not sure if the American government would let me back in,’’ she said. “Then, what happens to my completing my education or pursuing my dream job?” —Allison Pohle
Coleman Schindler, 22, Albion College (Michigan)
After Coleman Schindler, an Albion senior, and a fraternity brother learned about nearby colleges cancelling their graduation ceremonies, they grew concerned that their big day might be called off too. Albion had moved classes online through semester’s end, and everybody was packing up to leave campus. So they asked each other: “What if we just did an impromptu graduation for seniors?” And then they planned one. For that day. Announcing it on their class’s Facebook page, they managed to gather some 50 people on the quad. The pep band played, Schindler and his buddy handed out mocked up diplomas, and everybody threw their caps in the air at the end. “What we said during the ceremony was: You get a countdown in your head of ‘We have 54 more days of the best four years of our lives,’ ” he said. “And to get an email from the school essentially saying, ‘You’re done!’ — it’s really surreal for us.’’—Allison Pohle
Nell McArdle, 18, Trinity University (Texas)
Nell McArdle, a freshman, was on a spring break volunteer trip when she found out Trinity would be closing its dorms just five days later. McArdle is from Connecticut. Trinity is in Texas. And she was volunteering in Louisiana. She stayed in New Orleans to honor her commitment, but the minute she finished, she drove more than 500 miles back to campus. With 48 hours until the campus closed, she cleared out her room, helped friends with theirs, and transported all their stuff to a storage locker. Then she faced her next dilemma: she would have to stay, briefly, with her grandparents in Dallas. “It’s stressful for me,’’ she said. “They’re my grandparents, and they’re old, and my grandpa already has dementia and my grandma has so much going on taking care of him, and I’m terrified that by staying with them, I’ll somehow increase their odds of getting it.” —Allison Pohle
Allison Pohle, 28, reporter, The Wall Street Journal
I’ve spent the past few weeks talking to people whose lives have been upended by COVID-19. Like Josee Matela, most are dealing with “massive amounts of uncertainty.’’ I am, too. It feels strange to share my own experience given that I’m fortunate to have stable employment at a time when so many do not. But I don’t deal well with uncertainty. I have an anxiety disorder, and even in calmer moments spend much of my time contemplating unsettling “what ifs.” In the past, I’ve managed my anxiety by taking medication and regularly going to therapy. But because I’m relatively new to New York City — I moved here for this job! — I haven’t yet found a therapist. So I’m worried. And I feel guilty for being worried. But I believe in the power of sharing our stories. I believe in reminding each other we’re not alone.
I want to hear your story, too. Get in touch: [email protected]
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