Bay Area residents share what life is like 9 months into pandemic -- COVID-19 Diaries

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Last July, Frank Nguyen's small business, Academic Coffee in San Jose, was saved by the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. Five months on, we asked him about the status of that loan money.

"That's been exhausted," Nguyen laughs. He used the PPP loan to pivot towards wholesale coffee roasting, online shipping orders, and more food offerings.

COVID-19 DIARIES: Personal stories of Bay Area residents during pandemic

Nguyen feels lucky that his business has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic, but he still holds plenty of caution.

"We're living month to month. You only need one more disaster to throw in the towel at this point."

Caution has become the norm for the people we have followed in the COVID-19 Diaries series, even as vaccines for the novel coronavirus have been approved and are now being distributed. In our nine-month update, we asked our subjects how they've been getting along during the holiday season.

"We spent a Fauci-approved Thanksgiving. It was just the two of us in the backyard," says Paula Baessler, a retiree in Oakland.

At the time of our interview, she was concerned about the coming Christmas holiday for her mom, who lives in the Sierra foothills with Baessler's sister and family.

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"My mother lives with four adults, two of whom will fly to Oregon for a family gathering, and two of whom are flying to the Midwest," Baessler explains, concerned they could infect her mother with COVID-19 when they return home. "That's playing very badly in my gut. I can't kidnap my mother but I think that would be really ill-advised."

"My stomach's in knots thinking about family. I know I'm not alone," Baessler adds.

For Kirstin Hernandez and Andre Ramos, Thanksgiving and Christmas were spent at home, a disappointment for their three young children, who are used to their annual holiday trips to Hernandez's family in Bakersfield. They made up for it by buying a trampoline.

"The full-on, oval-shaped, so that two, maybe three kids can be on at the same time," Hernandez explains.

"I may need to lose a few pounds to be eligible to go on," Ramos adds. "I have some pandemic weight gain."

Reflecting on the difficulties for the past nine months, Hernandez says the pandemic has led to an overall tighter bond between her and Ramos. "Our communication is stronger than it was nine months ago, than it was a year ago, because we have to. We're here together all the time with the kids."

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Nguyen says his blood pressure has become a problem that his doctor now monitors monthly. Aside from his business, Nguyen must coordinate his work with his wife Kathy Duong, while both raising their one-year-old toddler, Finley. "It's a blessing and a curse working at home with a toddler--more blessing than curse," Duong says.

"I'm not missing any of her developmental milestones, but also now we have to be really big on communication so that I can get my work done and (Frank) can get his work done."

The recent news that vaccines are being distributed brings guarded optimism for everyone. For David Wolfson, Baessler's husband, his initial worry about the safety of the vaccines has moved to the speed of its distribution. "I can't believe how far down on the queue I am before I get the vaccine. Even though I'm 69 years old it's still months away."

Nguyen is also concerned about the slow pace of vaccine distribution. " Small businesses have been going through this for nine months now. And they're going to have to go through it for at least another year before the vaccine is widely distributed. So there is light at the end of the tunnel, but we're not even halfway through the tunnel yet."

The biggest doubt about the vaccine, though, comes from Hernandez and Ramos' five-year-old son: "Wait, but is the vaccine a shot? I don't want a shot!"
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