When senior Jaime Suarez found out that school would be closed for the remainder of the year, he understood the necessity.
“It’s for the best but it’s still really sad to me. I can’t get to say goodbye to my friends or teachers, yet as a senior, I won’t be able to see most of them ever again,” Suarez said.
Along with school, Suarez has taken on more responsibilities at home, taking care of younger siblings while their parents are at work.
“I’m starting to wake up earlier now, like every day I’ve been waking up at least an hour earlier than the last day and getting started on whatever work we have for that day,” Suarez said.
Suarez’s daily routine starts at seven in the morning and ends around midnight in order to fulfill responsibilities in both his school work and home life where he’s caring for a younger brother and two younger sisters while navigating digital learning.
Suarez’s role as caregiver became all too real when his mom was tested for COVID-19 on March 11.
Lorena Martinez, mother of four, visited the emergency room at St. Mary’s Hospital because she felt nauseous, experiencing body pains and fatigue.
“I went to the hospital because I felt bad, but I never thought I would get tested for the coronavirus. I thought it was another virus, like a stomach virus,” Martinez said.
As protocol, the nurses conducted several tests on Martinez, including radiography and blood tests. As soon as the results came back negative for any common diseases, she was tested for COVID-19. Martinez’s test consisted of a deep nasal swab and the test fee was added to the bill for her doctor’s visit.
“I was okay with being billed if it meant knowing whether or not I’ll be able to be around my children. My children’s health was the main thing going through my head throughout this whole experience,” Martinez said.
While waiting for the test results, her family was ordered to be quarantined. Inside their home, Martinez was isolated in a room by herself in order to prevent the spread of the virus to her children and husband.
“We did everything they asked us and we would disinfect the house often. The five days that we waited for the results I was not in contact with my family. I was isolated in a room by myself and I didn’t even have contact with my 1-year-old baby. It was especially hard to do so since I’m always with her,” Martinez said.
The entire family was not allowed outside their home. Friends dropped their groceries on the doorstep, and family members were excused from work.
“Financially, I’m okay because I work for a pretty big company, Nike, and they told us [employees] all stores nationwide would be closing. They said that we’ll still be getting paid for those two weeks,” Suarez said.
While many students work to help their families, senior Edgar Escutia has experienced the opposite. Normally, Escutia would only work some weekends at a local restaurant. However, the 24-7 shelter-in-place policy ordered all non-essential businesses to close. Without the option of part-time work, Escutia is now assisting his father’s landscaping business.
“I’m doing this mostly to help my family,” Escutia said.
Omar Escutia-Torres, father of two, has been able to sustain his family’s needs through his second job. Alongside his wife and occasionally his son, Escutia-Torres worked full time in a restaurant. The restaurant’s closure has made him fully dependent on his landscape business that still brings customers.
Due to his unpredictable work schedule, Escutia says he has trouble with deadlines for his classwork since schools transitioned to digital learning after spring break.
“It’s a little bit confusing because of the deadlines and when to turn in things. Also how to get some of the work done or finding the resources. Like not everything is specific and you don’t have the availability of a teacher to ask questions so easily,” Escutia said.
Escutia has also been worrying about his elderly grandmother who is visiting from Mexico. Both Escutia and his father could be exposed to the virus when they leave for work.
“Every time we go to work, my dad and I will kind of try to disinfect and we’ll wash our hands. We use the spray sanitizers to kind of put all over our bodies and we’re being really careful to not touch anyone outside of the house,” Escutia said.
The Escutia family has even changed the way they communicate with their clients in the family business as a preventive measure.
“ I like to offer personalized customer service to fit the needs of my clients. Now, this has switched. When I greet them I try to not have personal contact and I’m always keeping a distance from them,” Escutia-Torres said.
As of April 25, Athens currently has 127 positive COVID-19 cases and 13 deaths.
“It’s just been very scary to me because I’ve never seen anything like this in my lifetime. Like the entire country is going into a state of emergency because of it. We’re having to stay at home all the time and closing school was like one of the biggest realizations that this is real,” Suarez said.