Voices of the Northwest Corner: work during the COVID-19 crisis

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NORTHWEST CORNER — No matter what career you have or where you work, the crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everybody.
Whether it is someone who is deemed as an essential worker who is still going to work or someone who has had their hours cut back or has been laid off, one way or another, everyone’s employment has been impacted by this crisis.
The Winsted Phoenix talked to residents from our coverage area from all walks of life to see how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected them.
“It’s scary…and I feel that hazard pay should be considered.” – Jasmine Perrault, Winsted
Perrault is a single mother of two who works as an overnight baker at Panera Bread in Torrington.
Perrault said that the restaurant has cut her hours by 40 percent, but she is still baking as she is considered to be an essential worker under the state’s guidelines.
“I’ve taken a financial hit because there is nothing really in place right now except for stimulus money from the government,” Perrault said. “It is scary to work especially because I have a mother with a compromised immune system. I am terrified that I can bring something home now, especially because several people in Torrington have contracted COVID-19.”
Perrault said that the company’s bread dough is brought fresh to the restaurant every day via trucks from New Jersey.
“That is pretty scary because you don’t know who is working and where they have been,” she said. “It’s crazy to be considered essential and working with reduced hours. I don’t have an assistant anymore and it’s all just me. I have children at home and it’s scary because I might bring something home. There is nothing I can do except ride this illness out and hope that I don’t get hospitalized.”
Perrault said that she believes that large corporations and stores should be offering hazard pay to their employees.
“It’s just crazy to work for so many fewer hours and not get a pay raise, or anything, to help protect ourselves,” she said. “We have insurance, but that’s only if you pay for it and if you want it. As far as I know, there isn’t anything as far as protection for myself. I just hope this all comes to an end soon because, even with any stimulus money, it is still a fraction of what I’m getting a month for me and my two children.”
“Realtors are considered essential employees because it keeps the economy going.” Christine Hunter, Winsted
Hunter is a realtor who has continued her work while the state has put restrictions on how she and other realtors conduct business.
“One of the things is that you can’t bring a buyer to a property unless they are ready to buy within 30 days,” Hunter said. “Appraisals are now being done as drive-bys. It does not affect me, but it does affect buyers because you can’t see the improvements in the house on the inside. We have had a couple of older sellers that don’t want realtors or buyers in their house. So they either have taken their house off of the market or they are allowing for virtual tours on their property.”
Hunter said that usually March, April, and May are the three busiest months of the real estate season.
“It should be hopping about now and usually I sell about 30 homes a year,” she said. “Half of my sales are usually during these three months. It has shut it down a little bit, but because the interest rates are so low, people who are ready to buy are going either full price or over the asking price of the property. In that sense, it has made the real estate market trend go up, which is a good thing. But on the flip side, I have had properties that were under contract with government financing, like an FHA (Federal Housing Administration) loan, where buyers had a low down payment.”
Hunter said that, due to the current environment, lenders are making changes to their FHA programs that have reduced the availability of the program to potential borrowers.
“With that aspect, I lost some of the potential buyers for properties who don’t have a lot of funds,” Hunter said. “Overall, I think the market will make a little dip, but things are still going on with business as usual. I put two properties on the market last week and they were sold within two days. I think we are now looking at serious buyers instead of people who do not necessarily need to buy a property.”
“Everybody is anxious and fearful…and it is all normal to feel that way.” – Lynda Dunlop, Barkhamsted
Dunlop works as a behavioral health nurse practitioner while her husband Richard Busch works at a local gas station.
“He is still going to the gas station when he is scheduled,” Dunlop said. “The gas station is cutting their hours and changing things around, but he is still working. I had to start using Telehealth because I’m not seeing patients in my office. I was planning on continuing to see patients because I have two private practice offices. However, a friend of mine was randomly exposed and I said, I think I’m not going to do this anymore.”
Dunlop said that her friend, who is also a therapist, works in Bloomfield.
“She had a patient who was later told by the patient’s son that ‘Oh, coincidentally, I was in Florida for spring break and all of my friends are getting sick,” Dunlop said. “It just kind of told me that I should look at things differently.”
Dunlop said that both she and her husband have lost money during the pandemic.
“I don’t make as much with a Telehealth interview as I would for a face to face one,” she said. “I have had some cancellations and Richard’s hours have been reduced. How will this impact things in the long term? I guess we will have to wait and see. Everybody is anxious and fearful, but it’s normal to feel that way. I don’t know how I’ll be able to make enough money to keep us afloat.”
“I don’t know how long this will affect us, but all I know is that we have each other.” – Amelia Ellis, Torrington
Ellis worked as a waitress at Christy’s Diner up until restaurants were shut down for in-store dining on Monday, March 16.
“We were pretty much working and busy up until the state shut all the restaurants down,” Ellis said. “Two weeks before that we had started disinfecting all of the menus with Lysol wipes. All of us knew that something was going to happen, we didn’t know what it would be.”
Ellis, along with other employees at the diner, were all laid off.
“There were people there who work there who were like, crap, this is my main source of income,” Ellis said. “It was originally going to be until April 20, but that is a long time.”
Ellis is four months pregnant and lives with her husband, Armando Cabrera.
She said she is financially staying afloat with freelance writing assignments.
“It’s beans to me,” Ellis said. “But it’s good beans because it’s enough to buy groceries. I don’t know how this will affect us depending on how long this goes on for. We are religious people and we believe that no matter what happens we will be taken care of by God.”
“Right now we’re trying to stay sane.” – Armando Cabrera, Torrington
Ellis’ husband, Cabrera, worked at Fire Equipment Headquarters in Torrington up until a few weeks ago when he was laid off.
“We hope it’s going to be for two weeks, but nobody knows for sure,” Cabrera said. “They had to lay everyone off. From my understanding, at the moment it is going to affect the company because they have huge accounts, and technically no manpower at the moment.”
Cabrera said that this is the first time that both himself and his wife have been laid off at the same time.
“Thankfully, I did have an interview for an Amazon warehouse a few days ago,” Cabrera said. “If all goes well, I should be working within a week or two at their warehouse. That would solve the financial issues, but now every day I show up there it puts me more at risk of possibly getting infected.”
Cabrera said that he is skeptical about the government’s plan to send stimulus payments to people.
“Everyone has different financial requirements every month,” Cabrera said. “My biggest concern is, let’s be honest…nothing is free. What will happen with tax season next year because of this financial help? They are going to ask for it back one way or another, and that’s my biggest worry.”
“There is no sand left in the sandbox.” – Susan Bryce, Torrington
Ellis’ mother Bryce worked at The Warner Theater as a box office associate until she was laid off over three weeks ago.
“They did not give me a date for when we could come back again,” Bryce said. “Nonprofit theaters like the Warner sometimes can’t even survive a small hit, so they may be hard-pressed to reopen.”
Bryce said that she previously worked in the medical field, but was too ill to work for several years.
“Because of my illness my husband had been let go from his job, so previously we were living barebones anyway,” Bryce said. “So now there is no sand left in the sandbox. I can’t go back into the medical field again, and I’m 57 years-old, ageism is a real problem.”
“This is probably going to put me at a complete halt.” – Rachel Maxwell, Winsted
Maxwell is an auction manager who runs estate sales in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York.
She is a 1099 subcontractor whose business has come to a complete halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I can still go around and photograph houses for people, but I can’t let the auctions go live and sell their items,” Maxwell said. “I’m self-employed and I don’t think I can collect unemployment. There’s no income coming in, which is worrisome. That’s what stinks about being an independent contractor, there’s nothing else you can do except sit tight.”
“I work at home and I consider myself very fortunate.” – Ron Abbott, New Hartford
Abbott works as a technical service representative for the LANXESS Corporation.
Over the past few years, Abbott has been battling cancer and he is still undergoing treatment.
“I am currently working from home, so I consider myself fortunate,” Abbott said. “Lots of other people are not in the same position. My company is considering me as an at-risk employee and they are demanding that I stay home.”
Abbott said that the company has plants internationally and it has had to deal with the spread of COVID-19.
“We do have plants and personnel in China affected by the virus,” he said. “The plants have not shut down all over the world because we are considered an essential homeland security company. Italy and Argentina are the only two countries in the world where everything is shut down.”
Abbott said that, while he has dealt with cancer, he had to self-quarantine and could not go out to see his friends.
“Both me and my wife Darcy have only been in New Hartford and Barkhamsted in the past few weeks, and from what I’ve seen everyone is doing their part to social distance,” Abbott said. “I hope that this will all be over soon.”
“We are very worried about our local businesses and we need to support them.” – Darcy Abbott
Ron Abbott’s wife, Darcy, is a real estate agent for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England, a board member of The Winsted Phoenix, and the organizer of the yearly Still River Music Festival in Riverton.
“Things have slowed down when it comes to real estate,” Darcy Abbott said. “There is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to people being laid off, and it shows in the real estate market. Business is still going on, but several of my active clients have decided to wait until this is over to continue their search or to decide on whether or not to list their homes.”
Abbott said that she hopes that things will get back to normal after the peak of COVID-19 is reached.
“Hopefully after that, things will start getting back to normal financially,” she said. “I think that what you are going to see is that what would be happening in the spring market will happen after COVID-19 has peaked. People are not going to stop buying homes, it’s just going to be delayed. I think one of the main things that could help is if interest rates were dropped. It would be easier for people to borrow money.”
Abbott said that she is worried about local small businesses going under during the crisis.
“Some of the people we know that work for small businesses aren’t in the same position that big corporations are able to be in,” she said. “We are trying to help them by purchasing orders to go, just little things that we can do within our limited movement.”
She added that she appreciates everyone working in healthcare that is on the front lines of treating people in this crisis.
“I worked in healthcare for 20 years and healthcare workers helped to keep my husband alive,” she said. “One way or another, we are going to keep the momentum going and get through this.”

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