School, Work, Duty, Family All Affected by COVID
DEXTER – Being a senior in high school, a grocery store employee or a firefighter is a tough job anytime, to say nothing of during the time of COVID-19. Eric Bennett, 18, of Dexter is all three.
Responses to the pandemic escalated quickly at Dexter Regional High School, Bennett said, with reminders about hand washing and cough etiquette and encouragement to track symptoms in the early days, followed closely with complete school closure.
“They were sending us all home with packets of stuff to do,” he said on April 14. “The hardest part is the culture shock of going from a classroom setting to studying at home. The work they gave us is not necessarily hard, but I found it more difficult to stay focused, compared to in the classroom with a teacher you can ask. I used to go to Mr. Murray’s room after lunch to ask about English. Now I write emails. I got my report card the other day and I am passing all my classes.”
Things have changed at Hannaford Supermarket, as well. “I noticed the parking lot was absolutely packed one day, and it was pretty much a mad house in there,” Bennett recalled. “I asked one of my coworkers if they had also noticed things picking up around March 11. That’s when I heard about the first case in Maine. About a week and a half after that, they were putting Plexiglas at the registers. We also have six feet markers for the checkout line. Today we are putting in signs on some of the aisles for one-way.
“The six-foot policy has been interesting to follow,” he continued. “It kind of affects everybody’s performance a little bit because you can’t just sneak by a person. You have to wait for the aisle to clear before you can start stocking. Out front, they are cleaning the carts after every use, and you can’t have more than 45 people in the store at one time. We have two employees out front: one who counts, and one who cleans carts.” Employees were being offered the option to wear masks, as well.
Bennett said he picked up extra hours at the grocery store because he wanted to earn money while not in school, but that “it always felt like kind of a moral obligation, if you will, to work now because of how many people need groceries. It’s nice to have extra money in my pocket, and I might as well work and try to get that extra experience, but I am also a lot younger than a lot of the workers down there. I’d rather me catch it than somebody who might not be able to bounce back.”
Bennett was a junior firefighter for a couple of years before turning 18, and has been a full-fledged firefighter with the Dexter Fire Department since last August. In addition to putting out fires, firefighters answer calls that may put them in contact with COVID patients.
“We do get paged out for lift assists and car accidents and some other medical calls,” he said. “We’re all more mindful of [COVID], and social distancing. And it’s always an option whether or not to go to a call anyways. I found a couple of calls that I opted not to go on because of certain characteristics of that call.”
Bennett has reason to be cautious. His family has already had its first brush with COVID-19. His sister, 16, who has preexisting health concerns, had been babysitting down in the Portland area. Her employer developed symptoms associated with COVID and was advised to treat it as such, but could not get tested.
“So I get a call from my mother that my sister has been exposed,” said Bennett. Since he had not been near his sister, Bennett went to stay with his grandparents in Guilford for two weeks rather than be quarantined at home with her. “I was stuck between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “If I had stayed home, I could not have worked. And it turned out to just be pneumonia.”
On the day we spoke, Bennett said graduation was the only thing that had not yet been officially cancelled, “but the writing is on the wall for it. In the fall, I thought, ‘I don’t care if I march’ but now that it’s actually out of the question, that kind of hurts a little bit. But, it’s one of those things where we have to roll with the punches, I guess.”
He was also disappointed that prom was cancelled because she “never really had a very good prom and I told her she would this year, but that’s kind of the way the cards fall,” he said. She occasionally visits him at lunch at an outdoor picnic table. “I’m hoping this will be over by summer, at least. It’s bad in this regard, because we are both going to colleges and are going to be halfway across the country from each other.”
To destress, Bennett buys project materials online, plays a lot more video games than in the past, and, “I’ve also found myself taking a lot more walks and runs, now that I think about it, which is very relaxing. And if my beeper [for fire calls] goes off, I am out the door! I go stir crazy pretty easy,” he said, laughing.