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Life Across America During the Coronavirus Pandemic: Stories About How You Are Coping

NBC Owned Television Stations asked viewers how your lives had changed. Here are your answers.

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Diana Farrell is pregnant in her third trimester, home with a toddler who is healthy now but who has had multiple lung infections and other illnesses over the last five months. A classical soprano who herself is recovering from pneumonia unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic, her performances have all been canceled or postponed. 

“We are in total isolation to keep us both safe as possible, so my husband must report to work and make necessary runs for provisions,” said Farrell, who lives in Rancho Santa Margarita, in Orange County, California. 

Daniel Laabs, a 35-year-old curator for the Dallas International Film Festival and contributor to an independent screening series based at the Texas Theatre, relies on video editing as his main source of income. A millennial who finished college in 2009 during the Great Recession, he worked for six years to find financial security and now is living on his savings. 

“These industries require large gatherings and as a consequence have shut down indefinitely,” Laabs said. “I have no clue when the work will come back, if it does.”

Linda Birn said she has noticed an “eerie quiet” when shopping in her suburban community northwest of Chicago though the store might be filled with people. An Uber driver, she stopped working over fears of becoming sick or infecting others. 

“Economically I worry, yet logic tells me it was the right decision,” she said.

As the United States struggles to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, and local and state governments shut down nonessential businesses, people are grappling with how to survive during a pandemic unlike any in modern times. They are despairing over finances, fearful for themselves, their relatives and neighbors, uncertain about the future and watching a world come to a stop. 

“I pray for the health and safety for the world,” said Sarah Miller of Bedford, Texas, a self-employed pet sitter and dog walker who has watched her business evaporate. We are all in this together.”

Jocelyn Sanchez, a 34-year-old shuttle driver for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, began feeling ill early last week, with a low-grade fever, coughing, severe body aches, a loss of her sense of taste and smell and other symptoms of COVID-19. Despite her job driving cancer patients to the hospital’s different buildings, Sanchez, who lives in Maplewood, New Jersey, could not get a test until her illness was confirmed by one conducted by her own hospital.

“When I first got the results I was in shock,” she said. “I assumed I would get it, but not this fast.”

Five days after the first symptoms appeared, she was coughing and had started to feel a shortness of breath. Sanchez, whose Facebook page now says “#Stay Home, It could save lives,” is worried about her fiance, who is caring for her but who has asthma, and her mother, whom she visited before she knew she was ill.

“It’s just a complete nightmare,” she said.

NBC Owned Television Stations across the country asked our viewers and readers about your lives since coronavirus struck the country. How has it affected you and your family, your job and your community? What are your concerns and how is your community coping? 

More than 2,000 of you responded, describing how your lives have been upended in just weeks (view an interactive display of the response here). You are worried about your families, money and health, the economy overall and job repercussions. You are concerned about a lack of information or misinformation, and are anxious and feeling isolated. You sent in comments from 44 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. 

Birn, 64, stopped driving earlier this month when a passenger who appeared to be half her age asked her why she was taking a chance of contracting the virus.

“I thought to myself, ‘He’s absolutely right,’” she said. “To put your health at risk. He was my last passenger.”

She will return to work when she hears from health officials that the pandemic is on the wane and it is safe to go out, but is apprehensive that the country will try to return to work too quickly and lose any gains it has made even as she loses income. She also works as a building manager but her hours have been cut, the owners uncertain that tenants will be able to pay their rents and their mortgages. 

“There definitely needs to be more help for the people like myself,” she said.

Recovery from the recession of 2008-2009 took so long, she said. Now more money needs to be given to ordinary people who will spend it and keep business in their communities afloat, she said.

Worldwide, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 had surpassed 553,000 as of Friday, March 27, with more than 25,000 deaths and 127,000 recoveries, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center. The disease seems to be easing in the Chinese province of Hubei, where the pandemic began and where a lockdown is ending for most of its 60 million residents, though its capital, Wuhan, remains closed off until the beginning of April. 

But elsewhere the virus continues its relentless spread. The United States now reports the most confirmed cases with China and Italy close behind, and deaths in the U.S. top 1,300. Some hospitals in New York City are filled to capacity and are using refrigerated trucks to hold bodies. One, Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, reported 13 deaths in a 24-hour period. Others on the front lines across the country are debating not resuscitating coronavirus patients, as doctors, nurses and other medical personnel face a severe lack of masks and other protective gear, according to The Washington Post. Governors from hard-hit states, among them Andrew Cuomo of New York, are fighting with President Donald Trump over shortages of respirators and other life-saving equipment that they say only the federal government can get produced quickly and distributed fairly.

“I work as a 911 dispatcher,” wrote Lisa Smith of Centerton, Arkansas. We work with medics. I've resigned myself to knowing I'll probably get sick. Very worried about how my work would handle that. I'm also a single parent. Now adding teacher duties with my nightshift 911 and retail day job.”

The pandemic has left many parts of the global economy at a standstill with only estimates for when normal business will resume. Stocks plummeted and soared in recent days and a record number of Americans filed for unemployment benefits the week of March 15, at 3.3 million the highest number on record and a dramatic illustration of the devastation on the economy. But the Senate unanimously approved a $2 trillion relief plan that will send checks directly to most Americans and expand jobless aid with additional weeks and an extra $600 and include freelancers and gig workers for the first time. The House is expected to pass the bill.

Everyone is wondering how much they will get from the federal government when the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill is complete. Here's a basic guideline of what you can expect using items we found while stuck home with our kids.

Trump said at one point that he wanted the country to be open for business by Easter, but epidemiologists, local officials and others expect Americans to remain at home for much longer, as medical professionals search for effective treatment and eventually a vaccine.

Jerald Klukow is the owner of a company called Smooth Gator, which manufactures and distributes skin care and topical pain relief products that are demonstrated at trade shows. He created his product line in October 2011, says customers are ordering from his website, but he is having to use his savings for his mortgage, health insurance and other expenses.

“I am 51 years old and since I’ve been in the trade show industry for 22 years I currently have no other marketable skills. With having a severe spine injury and being a diabetic makes it even more difficult to pursue additional work that would pay enough to cover my financial commitments for my business and personal expenses.

His 26-year-old son works for him but likely will be laid off if the business cannot open in a a few more weeks. He is supporting his wife, Honeylene, who has a similar business, Little Gator, and a 16-month-old child.

“One of my concerns and issues with this pandemic and mandatory shut down is that a lot of these private, small family-run businesses like mine have paid a lot to our government over the years in taxes in order to keep us safe and to help the less fortunate but in a time of need for us it basically feels that we have been forgotten,” he wrote.

Miller, from Bedford, Texas, is a 28-year-old single mother who has been caring for pets for about eight years. She was typically overbooked during the holidays, turning away new clients because of a lack of space, her clients flight attendants and others who traveled. Ninety percent of her bookings have been canceled through April.

She lost $1,400 during the school year's spring break due to canceled bookings, and now cares for only one dog, twice a week. Her remaining clients barely cover food for herself and her child and the congressional stimulus bill would not pay even a month of her bills. She is at risk of being unemployed.

“With jobs scarce, I do not even have the opportunity to try to find temporary part-time work, and with schools closed, I would have to pay daycare costs if I were to be lucky enough to land a job at a local grocery store or other essential business that is hiring,” she wrote. 

A job at a local grocery store that she looked into would not cover the cost of childcare.

“I feel stuck and forgotten by the system,” she wrote.

Some people wrote about reaching out to friends and relatives to check how they were doing and the importance of not panicking.

"Prior to this busy with life, now it has forced me to reflect on what’s important," wrote Petra Z. Martinez of San Jose, California. "Community, it has brought out the good and bad. The ones that are out for themselves and the ones helping each other."

Another San Jose resident, Gisele Doan, who has already been working at home for two years, said that she had not panicked because she knew specialists were working hard to develop treatment and a vaccine. She had enough food and supplies at home for a week so did not have to wait on lines. People worry when they lack information, she said.

“Even with the shelter-in-home order, groceries and pharmacies are open so just relax,” she urged others.

Nazaf Showkat is a 21-year-old junior at Drexel University in Philadelphia working as a research assistant at Penn Medicine, the University of Pennsylvania Health System. The dedication of nurses and doctors caring for patients with COVID-19 has confirmed her decision to study medicine, she said.

“These people really are heroes,” Showkat, who lives in Princeton, New Jersey, said. 

The University of Pennsylvania’s response was extraordinary, but she was critical of the federal response.

“I expected a lot more from the federal government to be able to handle this better -- in terms of timing, providing resources to local/state governments, and realizing that overreacting is always much better than under-reacting,” she wrote.

Farrell, 35, is hoping too for the survival of a tiny opera company, Lyric Opera of Orange County, of which she is president and artistic director. It has drained its resources for costs of at least $10,000 for what would have been its most recent production, now postponed, and has canceled the rest of its season. A singing competition will now be held entirely online as the company applies for grants. 

Her husband is still able to work at a nature center, isolated and caring for the animals, and for her young son, there is time together as a family.

“He knows what the word virus is,” she said. “We don’t want to catch the virus.”

Check out the full interactive of viewer responses to our survey about how the coronavirus has affected your lives here

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