Life under COVID-19: 'We all need to adjust'
As a van driver transporting disabled people, Al Nadeau has been having trouble finding antiseptic wipes for his essential business, so he considered himself lucky to arrive at the Walgreens in Oregon City last Wednesday just when the store received a shipment.
With people hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer, shelves for these products are empty at stores and are occasionally restocked with a few items from overburdened suppliers. At the Walgreens, these supplies necessary for Nadeau to protect his disabled clients from COVID-19 were gone within an hour.
"You've got to be here when it gets here, and we all need to adjust," he said. "We've all got to do the best that we can under the new circumstances."
Luis Vega, the owner of nearby Luis' Tire Service, sees himself as an essential business by keeping drivers like Nadeau on the road with functional wheels and brakes, but Vega isn't sure how long he'll be able to stay afloat, even after asking his other four employees to stay home on alternate days.
"We'll stay open as long as we can," he said, "but business started getting slow a couple of weeks ago and just kept getting worse."
Roy Galvan, the owner of Mesa Fresca, was one of a few restaurants downtown still trying to stay open during the governor's take-out-only orders intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus. He said that his business income was cut by over 60% overnight, even with less competition from most other nearby restaurants that closed. Due to the new COVID-19 restrictions for restaurants, Galvan said he was forced to lay off nine of his employees, leaving only himself and the cook who has a baby on the way so is trying to get extra hours.
"We're power washing all of the sidewalks and windows, and deep cleaning the kitchen, so we'll be ready when all of this blows over," Galvan said. "If we can all stick together and help each other, we'll get through this."
Food on Demand owner Mandy Wells, who along with Galvan is a graduate of Rex Putnam High School, has been assuring customers that drivers are taking extra precautions to deliver from local restaurants like Mesa Fresca during the coronavirus outbreak.
"All our drivers are hand sanitizing before and after entering the restaurants," Wells said. "Our drivers will put your food at the porch, knock then take 10 steps back, see you grab it and wave."
Ranee Ceserani, the owner of Ranee's on Main, said she didn't want to risk her employees' health and determined that regular customers largely prefer the space for hanging out with friends. With a take-out menu not on the table, she was left with an estimated $20,000 worth of meat and produce in the restaurant that she mostly donated to her newly laid-off former employees. Food banks and senior centers wouldn't accept the donation.
"Financially it couldn't be at a worse time, because I had hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in construction of an addition on the restaurant," Ceserani said. "You watch everything you work for disappear because there's no money coming in, and I'd like to put my employees back to work."
David Le, an employee at Pho Thi on Main Street, said he's seen a drastic decrease in sales and tips since the governor's take-out-only order on March 16, but he considers himself lucky.
"I can't complain too much, because it's still something, and I'm still employed," Le said.
While he's suffering financially, Le said that the governor was correct on March 23 to order people to stay home, except on essential business, because he was also horrified that people crowded Oregon's beaches when the stay-at-home order was merely urged on citizens.
"It's true that we don't want to be out there spreading it, so the fines are a good way to make sure people stay inside as much as possible," he said.
Himself a resident of an apartment near Clackamas Town Center, Le also praised the governor for ordering a moratorium on evictions, thereby preventing homelessness for the thousands of food-service workers newly unemployed.
"I was hoping to save up to buy a house, but now I'm going to be living check to check," he said.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.