Coping with coronavirus, week 2

03/25/2020

With the coronavirus spreading and the public ordered to stay home, these are unusual times in West Marin. Nearly two weeks into a shutdown of all nonessential activities, people are adjusting to new routines. For some, that means an increased workload; for others, free time seems endless. Alongside our news coverage of the pandemic, the Light each week will offer windows into the lives of our readers. This week, we talked to a grocer, a student and a firefighter.

More connected

Rachel Nelson, an employee at Palace Market, feels more connected than ever to her coworkers as they keep the shelves full and the lines moving at the largest store in West Marin. While her roommates in Rohnert Park stay home all day, Rachel is taking on new responsibilities. She normally works in the wine and spirits or cheese sections, but with some employees opting to stay home, she is also stocking shelves alongside staff from the deli, the kitchen and the front of the store. “It’s actually really awesome to be here right now,” she said. “We’re able to really lean on each other and support each other. You know that if you can’t get to something, someone else will pick up your slack.” Rachel’s first day as a cashier was on Monday. She said it can be draining to have conversations about the coronavirus over and over, but employees have been vigilant in checking on each other’s mental health. Communication has been key. The chaos of new sanitary measures and taped checkout lines has subsided as staff has adjusted to the new normal. She said she’s more worried about giving the virus to a customer than contracting it herself. “It’s worrisome that I come to work every day, and I could be infected already, and I could be infecting everybody else,” she mused. After her shifts, she goes straight to the shower to protect her roommates. It’s not lost on her that she continues to make an income. “I feel very lucky and privileged to have a job,” she said.

Time to play

It’s been harder to do schoolwork but easier to have fun for Max Wessner, a junior at Tomales High School, where class has been out for almost two weeks. An overachiever, Max is taking three advanced placement courses this semester, in addition to leadership, physics and Spanish classes. Without seeing or talking to his six teachers, he’s found some of his schoolwork challenging—not that there is much of it, he said. Teachers gave a lot of homework on the last day before the shelter-in-place order, and since then have assigned some work through Google Classroom. Tests that are required before college, like the SAT and advanced placement tests, are in flux, either cancelled or moved online. With school consuming far less time these days, Max’s kill-death ratio in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is improving. All of his friends can play in one game and chat on their headsets. Max, who typically plays tennis for the high school team, just healed from a fractured left humerus and was starting to practice again. Although the likelihood that his season will end before it starts is a bummer, he said it is not his last chance. “Seniors are devastated,” he said. They will likely miss their final sports seasons, their prom, ditch day and a trip to Santa Cruz. “All of those things they’ve been working for since preschool aren’t happening,” Max said. 

Thinking in sync

When Ben Ghisletta was assigned to man the Point Reyes Fire Station four years ago, he didn’t know much about the area’s hazards—the bay, the fog and the hard-to-reach places. He relied on the experience of fellow first responders Jeff Riddleberger and John Richardson to bring him up to speed, and the three have worked the same two-day shift ever since. They play out different scenarios, train together and discuss what’s happening in Point Reyes. Their shared experience will serve them well as they adjust to new protocol around potential Covid-19 patients. “The nice thing about continuity is, you have these conversations over the period of months and years, so you’re all thinking in sync while you’re driving to a call,” Ben said. If and when they get a call for a patient that could have Covid-19, only one paramedic will go into the house in protective equipment, and the rest of the crew will wait outside while the evaluator decides whether to call for backup. Ben hasn’t responded to one of these calls yet, but when he does, he will have to suppress his natural instinct to go in and help. He has been practicing putting on and taking off a mask, goggles, gloves and gown, and has been decontaminating ambulances after each transport as if they are heavily soiled. Ben has also been studying up on pathogens and exposure. “I know I am exposed more, but I feel like I have a good amount of training and the right tools to approach the situation safely,” he said. At home in Petaluma, his appreciation for teachers has grown; his two kids, an eighth grader and a freshman, are distance learning, and he’s helping them transition.