Some N.H. Workers Completely Uprooted, Others Go Untouched, For Now | New Hampshire Public Radio

Some N.H. Workers Completely Uprooted, Others Go Untouched, For Now

Mar 18, 2020

Credit Center for Digital Archaeology/Flickr

Ask some people a simple question right now - what do you do for work? - and they aren’t totally sure how to answer.

“I as a bartender,” says Helen Leavitt, unsure what tense to use.

Flashback to just this weekend, and Leavitt had two good jobs at restaurants on the Seacoast. 

But now, both are closed, one temporarily, one permanently. That's in the wake of an order by Gov. Chris Sununu that all restaurants in the state temporarily cease on-site dining, in an effort to stem the rise of COVID-19 cases in New Hampshire.

“It means my income is totally up for question,” she said. “How am I going to pay my bills? How am I going to feed my kids? And it speaks to a larger issue about how fragile our small businesses are.”

[Read NHPR's latest coverage of the coronavirus outbreak here.]

Leavitt said she applied Tuesday for emergency unemployment benefits offered by the state, made newly available to people harmed financially by the coronavirus pandemic. The process was glitchy, she said, likely due to high demand, but she finished her application online and is now awaiting a decision.

Leavitt's situation is becoming increasingly common these days, as the first ripple effects of the coronavirus outbreak work their way through the local economy. And it’s leaving some workers with unsettling questions about how to navigate their professional lives. Do I go to work today? Can I go to work? It’s all suddenly much more complicated.


Another person dealing with this uncertainty is Roxanna Matthews of Plymouth, who works at a big box store that she’d rather not name.

Late last week, she was in the fitting room area chatting with a coworker, who casually mentioned she recently traveled to Europe. 

“I was like, 'Did you get quarantined?' No. 'Did you get tested?' She said no,” Matthews recalled.

“And then she tells me, oh, she’s fine, she’s feeling fine. And she’s going to Disney in a few weeks. And I’m like, 'you should not be going to Disney, it is not very safe.' This woman should not even be here," Matthews said.

Matthews said she told her manager, who replied that there is nothing they can do: “I felt so unsafe, I was like, I don’t want to do this.”

Matthews finished her shift, and hasn’t been back to work since. She’s scared of catching the virus, scared of spreading it to her customers. So instead, she’s at home, using up unpaid sick time. 

But then there are people -- and lucky doesn’t feel like a strong enough adjective -- who haven’t been impacted much at all. Consider all the outdoor workers, including the foresters. 

“Really, I’ve stood by and been an observer of what’s happening elsewhere. As for me, I’ve just been working out in the woods as I always do,” said Swift Corwin, a Peterborough forester. 

Aside from the occasional meeting, "I just wander around the woods by myself. Socially distancing all the time,” he said with a laugh.

What’s the opposite of the lonely forester? How about a massage therapist.

“I’m seeing too many people too close,” said Sarah Elizabeth Anderson, a Concord-based licensed massage therapist. “And I don’t know if I can guarantee that wiping down every door knob, changing sheets on the table, etc., is going to be enough to keep my clients from passing something to me or each other.”

Anderson made the decision to shut down her hands-on practice for now. But she was on a conference call with others in her field Wednesday morning, and there was discussion about remote therapy sessions.  Could she continue generating some level of income -- and serve patients -- even if it's just over the phone?

“It may sound a little strange to people who aren’t used to touching or feeling energy, but it made sense to me, because we really do, at this point, need those people that are healers to be touching each other, even if it is just energetically,” she said. “We need our healing to happen.”