“The Invisible Fire”: Life during the coronavirus pandemic

Governor+Gavin+Newsom+announced+Sunday+afternoon+a+call+for+bars%2C+wineries%2C+and+brewpubs+to+close%2C+and+restaurants+to+cut+occupancy+in+half+in+response+to+the+coronavirus+outbreak%2C+as+Sonoma+County+Supervisor+David+Rabbitt+confirmed+the+county%27s+first+locally+spread+case.+

Edgar Soria Garcia

Governor Gavin Newsom announced Sunday afternoon a call for bars, wineries, and brewpubs to close, and restaurants to cut occupancy in half in response to the coronavirus outbreak, as Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt confirmed the county's first locally spread case.

The Oak Leaf Staff

The following musings from The Oak Leaf staff describe life in Sonoma County during the coronavirus outbreak. Check back for rolling updates.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

8:30 p.m.

Kayla Beaton: I didn’t think the Coronavirus was going to affect me until it ruined my travel plans. 

It’s spring break, plus a bonus week off, and I have nothing else going on, so I thought I’d go to one of my favorite places: Portland, Oregon. I wanted to get away for a few days, see my cousins, my aunts and my uncles, and have some fun in the snow. 

I love Portland; I take any chance I have to go up there. This time I wanted to go alone. Just me, myself and I. A solo trip. 

I texted my cousin Madison to see if I could come up there to visit for a few days. Of course she was thrilled when I asked her. We have the best time together, and that’s what I need right now.  

My dad was down for the trip because I’d be visiting his side of the family, so I started to look at flights. I was getting excited until my mom told me it probably won’t be the best idea to fly. So much for my trip. 

Part of me is like, “I should stay home. I don’t want to get sick”; while the other side is like, “I want to see my family, have fun and play in the snow.” I’m torn. 

I have plans to visit Portland at the end of June, so I guess I’ll have to wait three more months to hang out with Madison for fun cousin time.

Jonathan Bigall: It feels weird having this shelter-in-place in effect. The gym I usually go to is closed, and I haven’t done much besides work in my backyard. Otherwise I’ve watched Netflix and slept in every day. I usually hate isolating myself, but I don’t mind as much since everyone else is doing it now. Mentally, I feel as if nothing is real right now. It’s hard for me to feel a lot of emotion, and I haven’t heard from any of my friends which is making me feel kind of empty.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

7:30 p.m.

James Domizio: Two years ago, I started work on an ultra-low-budget feature film. 

For 95% of the production, the entire cast and crew has been me and my girlfriend. She’s in front of the camera, and I’m behind it. We’ve spent about $2,000, nearly half of which was crowdfunded.

Last year, we made plans for a trip to San Diego this month that would allow us to shoot some of the film’s key scenes with our friend who lives in that beautiful, picturesque city. After four days in San Diego, we would then make our way to Los Angeles, where we would shoot one final scene that pays tribute to several Hollywood classics. My girlfriend and I also made plans to see a friend in Burbank and celebrate our fourth anniversary in Disneyland. 

We were aware of the coronavirus in the weeks leading up to the trip, but we didn’t think it would affect our plans. However, before we even left Napa for San Diego, we learned that Disneyland was shut down.

We hopped on our flight anyway, and after we landed safely in San Diego and spent the night, we woke up Sunday morning and shot one of the four SoCal scenes. Later in the day, we had to cancel the six-day Los Angeles leg of the trip. 

“At least we’ll have the whole San Diego part,” we thought on Sunday night. But on Monday morning, just before we began voiceover work in our friend’s cozy bedroom, we learned of the impending shelter-in-place order that could force us to stay in San Diego for weeks.

So we had to cancel the two remaining scenes and grab tickets on the next flight home. We’ll be going back down to both San Diego and Los Angeles in the summer — we hope — but the financial strain this puts on us and the scheduling strain this puts on the movie are both immense. 

I’ve been planning on writing a book about the long process of making this film. I think, or rather hope, that I just experienced the roughest chapter.

Nick Vides: My place of employment has been deemed essential. I am extremely thankful to be one of the few people who still have a job and a paycheck, but my hours have been cut.

Sonoma’s usually booming plaza was a ghost town. For once you could actually find parking. I saw a few people jogging or walking their dogs. But not much else. Bread, eggs, chicken and toilet paper are still out at most stores here.

Governor Newsom has put the National Guard on alert. When they eventually arrive, it will not be the first time we have seen the Humvees with mounted machine guns roll though Broadway and the Plaza. 

Napa, Lake and Solano County have joined Sonoma County and many others in the shelter in place orders.

What am I doing today? I went to get my car serviced just before the shop shut down for the day so I could at least have a working car. Other than that, I’m watching the news and waiting to go to work. I would rather be working than sitting at home. #SonomaStrong

Edgar Soria Garcia: Goodness! Talk about being ungrateful for something until it’s in Jeopardy. I’m glad I still get to work and make money, but I’m making much less than usual now. 

Today was my first shift with new stricter rules and shorter hours. And I’ve got to say, the timing couldn’t be any worse because Sonoma County issued a shelter-in-place order, so there’s far less traffic than the already shrinking crowds.

My store’s bakers were laid off for the time being, so we’re getting shipments from the Vacaville bakery now. Our restaurant grows more and more dull everyday. 

There were only four of us working today when there are typically around eight to ten of us on a normal day. I would expect that to mean we’d have a heavier workload, but it’s been so slow — and being only carryout — the work is much less.

Yet instead of being sad and bitter, my coworker and I made the best of it by cracking jokes, making ridiculous videos on our phones and having great conversations with the few customers who came in. 

Of course we had issues with people not wanting to abide by the carryout-only rules. We had someone force themselves to dine where we had to ask him to leave to avoid trouble with the authorities. A male customer told me, “I’m tired of this shit. It’s stupid.” As if it’s my fault. 

Sorry, sir. I’ll think-through these laws better next time there’s a pandemic. 

I wish he understood that we’re doing the best we can. Being frustrated with us isn’t going to fix anything. And we’re worried human beings, just like him. 

But pretending to be Beyonce for a video at an empty dining area has its perks, so overall I’m getting used to this new normal. I would like to see new faces at some point, though, because I’m going mental seeing the same five people a day… with love, of course.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

1 p.m.

Edgar Soria Garcia: News broke that the restaurant where I work will only be doing take-out orders, and we’ll have condensed hours from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., meaning that many team members were cut entirely out of shifts. I was the only manager on duty and had to call everyone impacted while the general manager worked out a new schedule. 

My team had a lot of questions for management, meaning they had a lot of questions for me. 

“Will I get paid?” “What happened to my hours?” “I only want to work a full shift, not a half!”

As a manager, you’re supposed to figure out what to do on the spot, but we were never trained for a pandemic. I wish I could give my team members the golden answer, but that’s not how life works. 

It was very frustrating to know so little and be hit with multiple questions, but I lost my mind when I had to tell my team over and over again that “this is very sudden news, and I only know as much as you guys. Just know that hours have been cut,” and then still got bombarded with questions.

I only have a sentence’s-worth of information, but I still feel like I’m not doing my job correctly. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything correctly because I can’t sleep well anymore. 

But at least I can make mimosas — and the little jests and zingers I’m known for — so I guess I’m doing pretty damn good.

Nick Vides: Today is my first full day off in a week. My parents stocked up on food and essentials to last for a few weeks. I’m not one to stay at home often; I’m usually always out and about, so I volunteered to be my family’s errand runner or grocery shopper so I could at least get outside and do something.

So what did I buy when I was out? Being the Sonoman I am, I bought wine, local wine. Yes, I panic-bought wine. But I also bought allergy medicine and milk.

 I’m hearing reports that there will be a major announcement tonight whether to announce shelter-in-place in the county. It’s a waiting game now, but at least I have wine. #SonomaStrong

Marilyn Santos: I live in Marin County and I have been stuck at home for about three days. Needless to say, Netflix has become my best friend. My town feels so surreal as it is almost dead. There are only, like, five to six cars on the main intersection by my house; I’ve seen more cars parked on the side of the street instead of on the road driving. The number of cars on the road makes it look like it is 3 a.m. instead of 2 p.m. 

There are only a few businesses open: grocery stores, drug stores and some restaurants that are grab-and-go. This is all due to the fact that Marin was put under a shelter-in-place order that started at midnight on March 17. 

I am also currently without employment as the shelter-in-place closed my job until further notice. 

I know that this is making people anxious because you can see the abundance of people in different grocery stores, but what is making me the most anxious is not knowing how long this is going to last. 

When I went to the store, I saw people yelling at employees over the lack of personnel. It made me worry how the situation could just get worse, and it also made me worry about the way people treat one another. Even when speaking to my mother, she mentioned how she never thought in her life she’d see something like this. It almost feels like a movie.

Lauren Spates: My guests are all en route back to New York, and while I’m enjoying the peace and quiet, I’m also wondering how long it will take for this quiet to get old. As mom to a 1-year-old, I rely on our weekly schedule of music class, moms’ group and an early childhood playgroup to get me through the week. That’s to say nothing of my twice weekly class at The Oak Leaf, which challenges my mind in a different way than parenting, provides a bit of escapism and energizes me for the next day’s efforts as a mother.

At the moment, I’m sitting at my dining room table staring out into West County’s beautiful redwoods. My darling girl and my dog are napping, both recovering from eight days of constant stimulation (and what I’m sure are bellies full on plenty of behind-mama’s-back treats from both sets of grandparents). The only sounds are the clacking of my fingers on the keys and the whir of my washer, dryer and dishwasher working overtime to bring my home back to its usual state. 

Although I have a feeling there will be nothing usual about life in the near future, even when all the beds are remade, the towels folded and put away, and when my dining room table is collapsed to seat its usual four, not eight. 

A lingering sense of dread hangs over me. How will I manage my mental health over the next three weeks without the schedule and local community I’ve built for myself as both an adult and a mama?

Monday, March 16, 2020

5:08 p.m.

Edgar Soria Garcia: It’s freaky walking into an empty restaurant during what used to be rush hour. It’s gotten to the point that even after our deep cleaning, no one has walked in. My coworkers and I started running laps around the restaurant to pass the time. We’ve played a full game of hide ‘n’ seek.

Our corporate offices have been meeting to see what’s next, and it looks like we’re most likely going to close down. My coworkers are scared, what are we going to do for money?

I haven’t slept well for quite some time; I almost bought sleeping pills, but the stores right now are so packed that I’ve decided to snort lavender.

Nick Vides: My coworkers are asking each other: is our store essential? What will we do if we shut down? Should we have our coworkers that are 65 and up go home? The answer we get from our supervisors and managers: “We don’t know.”

Not to mention a lot of us are also angry about the bars being asked to close. One of my supervisors almost snapped. He said “the last thing you should do is mess with people’s alcohol.” Apparently his priorities are elsewhere.

Masks are in stock, at least. Disinfectant wipes were in too, but sold out within an hour of being taken out of the storage container and put onto the shelf. 

One of my supervisors also almost lost it today. Apparently with today’s stock market plunge, he lost over $100,000 of his retirement fund — in one day within three hours. He was not a happy man today.

Business is still as usual I suppose for now, but it’s getting harder to sleep. What will come next?

Lauren Spates: We’re keeping it positive at my house, but it’s getting harder and harder to stay upbeat and calm with the constant onslaught of notification from our phones. The alerts are relentless, and because my guests aren’t local, it’s worse. 

My phone features the Press-Democrat’s “woosh!” and San Francisco Chronicle’s “ding!” My mother’s phone offers a “bing bong” from Newsday, her hometown paper on Long Island, while mother-in-law gets a zippy “buzz!” from The Buffalo News. All three of us hear from The New York Times, and because I’m a total newshound, I’m also subscribed to USA Today, The Washington Post and the Associated Press. And the Baltimore Sun since I’m a former Marylander. 

My dad turned off his alerts because he can’t bear to witness the markets dive any further; instead, he asks my mom to check the Dow every so often, then exhales a sorry breath and says with his classic Queens, New York, sarcasm, “Jude! Why would you tell me that?!” 

My sister is still physically here in Sonoma County, but mentally she’s back in New York, trying to figure out how she’ll run her business matching in-home caregivers to her elderly clients — the most vulnerable of the vulnerable in this mess. 

The peace we’ve cultivated is deteriorating, as is the stash of beer in our garage fridge.

1:13 p.m.

Alex Fuller: I live in Napa County but my boyfriend and I made the silly decision not to cancel our anniversary vacation plans. We are in San Diego, staying with a friend, but have decided to fly home to Napa this evening. Now that I’m going home, I’m realizing I will not have income the next few weeks.

I work at a small hotel and many people have canceled their stays. Thankfully, most of the guests who cancel are choosing to keep a credit towards a future stay. We only have one scheduled upcoming stay and they are a Bay Area couple. I’m very lucky to still be living at home where it won’t be a huge issue if I’m not able to make rent.

Jonathan Bigall: Sooner or later people will want to stop buying cars in this climate, so my dealership may close. I am absolutely emotionally and mentally exhausted. I feel burnt out while at work and there’s such little business going on I’m just waiting for my shift to end. This weekend we sold four cars in total from Saturday to Sunday. I am burnt out not from being busy at all but from just the general news climate and the constant speculation on what is going to happen next.

Kayla Beaton: I just found out Rebounderz is temporarily closing. Last night it sounded like we were going to stay open, but if we were to stay open, we would be short staffed. I woke up this morning seeing a group text from my manager in all caps. He said, “URGENT.” As I started to read he said, “We’ve taken today to close until further notice. We will actively pursue opening as soon as possible.” I was shocked when I read it. 

It’s spring break for the JC, so I was looking to get more hours in. It feels weird that we are closing. I don’t think we’ve ever closed for anything besides holidays. When the fires in 2017 and in 2019 were happening we stayed opened. 

I don’t know what I will be doing during this time off. I will probably clean, watch TV, play some video games and maybe take my dog for a hike. I will write a couple stories for The Oak Leaf and possibly do some other school work. I’d like to be as productive as I can.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

6:00 p.m.

Nick Vides: I live in Sonoma, and I work for a hardware store in town. Being at work here in the valley seems eerie; it’s like we’re all just acting as if it’s a normal day, which is probably good, it’s just odd. I’m trying to enjoy the awkward normalcy of today, because I have a nagging feeling that a lot is about to change.

We had a lot of customers buy out all of our disinfectants, masks and gloves. Yet some of them who are talkative enough seem not to care at all about this virus, as if it’s no big deal. But it is a big deal now, because the virus here in this very valley, and I don’t think Sonoma is ready. All I seem to hear is the blame game: It’s the Republicans’ fault! It’s the Democrats’ fault! This virus is no one’s fault — how we prepare for it is more important now.

Yesterday was my brother’s 15th birthday, but he couldn’t go out to do anything that he normally would, and he couldn’t invite anyone over either, all out of fear of this invisible fire. I felt so bad for him, and I found it hard to sleep.

Yesterday I also found out that one of my high school friends who is studying in London was confirmed infected with the coronavirus.
I can’t seem to wrap my head around all of this, it’s like I’m in a movie that I can’t stop watching.

Edgar Soria Garcia: It’s been incredible how the guest traffic at the restaurant is day-and-night compared to our typical traffic. It’s idle now, so we cut hours and have sent team members home early everyday. Customers walk in and ask, “Is it slow because of the pandemic?” I shrug my shoulders and sheepishly say yes.

We haven’t heard anything from our corporate offices, but I have a feeling that it’s only a matter of time before we close down during the outbreak. I try my best to be optimistic and have fun with my coworkers during these grim times, just to get the mind off things.

Although I have many friends in Los Angeles, I am unable to go down and visit (shout out squad). My coworkers are my only human interactions right now, love those guys but holy crap I need a new scene stat.

I try to be bold, but as a friend of mine once said, “You can say f— you, and still be scared.”

Lauren Spates: I live in West County and am hosting five houseguests for my daughter’s now-cancelled first birthday party weekend. My parents, my sister and my in-laws all arrived Monday from the East Coast and are here through Tuesday. Since we live in the woods, we’re lucky to have access to the great outdoors while also practicing social distancing, but cabin fever is already setting in — and we’re not even in the throes of this crisis yet.

There’s a weird vibe in my house now, an unfamiliar energy punctuated with unspoken worry about whether they’ll even be able to fly home in a couple days. Will we be seven adults shacked up in a cabin on the Russian River for the foreseeable future? Will my father-in-law’s eye infection clear up soon? Will my FOMO-sensitive one-year-old ever nap again? Perhaps most chillingly, will we run out of booze?

Kayla Beaton: Softball season might be over for me as an umpire. I find out Tuesday if it’s canceled, and I don’t know what’s going on with my employer, Rebounderz, and what we’re going to do. 

For me, this loss of work means less money going into my savings account. I umpire four or five softball games a week. From March through June, the majority of my money comes from umpiring. I was promoted to umpire more varsity games this season and was really looking forward to it. Also I get paid more working varsity games. 

But it’s not only losing the money that sucks; the season just started. Being on the softball field makes me happy. Since I don’t play anymore, umpiring is a way for me to still be involved with the game I’ve loved since I was five years old. 

As for my job at Rebounderz, I don’t know what’s going on. Today I was sent home early, not because I was sick, but because of payroll. The gym is under renovation, and if we close, the whole company loses money. But if we stay open, our hours will be shortened. And this is without factoring in the coronavirus. Either way, we won’t be getting paid as much as we are used to.