Irish in California on coronavirus: ‘The supermarkets have empty shelves’

California has declared a State of Emergency in response to the Covid-19 outbreak - Readers share what life has been like since

The number of coronavirus cases is growing as more than 98,000 people are infected globally and more than 3,300 deaths.

California declared a State of Emergency on Wednesday after the first death from coronavirus in the state was reported to limit the spread of the virus. More than 60 people have been infected Covid-19 in the state. The overall death toll in the US from the virus has reached 12.

An emergency declaration allows counties and cities to ask the state or other counties for aid if their local resources run out. It gives the governor the power to close state offices and deploy emergency responders. The declaration also helps states activate emergency response plans and state emergency operation centres, get reimbursed for money it spends on getting prepared from the state and federal government, and gives authority to use funds to deploy additional personnel, buy equipment, and prepare stockpiles.

We asked Irish people living in California what life is like since the coronavirus outbreak and State of Emergency declaration:


Cathríona Smith: ‘People are in a cautious mindset with a heightened awareness’

My main concern is the wellbeing of my children and I'll continue to do what I can to keep them safe and healthy. Overall, people are in a cautious mindset with a heightened awareness of handwashing and other cleanliness practices. I live in Alameda in Alameda County in the San Francisco Bay. The schools are updating parents every few days as to the efforts they are taking. Some schools have closed and my employer is actively working to update our sick leave and work-from-home policies to accommodate school closures or self-isolation restrictions that may be ordered in the coming weeks. I was at the shop yesterday and many shelves are bare. People are stocking up and preparing to be home for an extended period of time. Shops are sold out of hand sanitiser, antibacterial wipes and many bulk food items.

Jacinta Tobin: ‘There are major concerns about what will happen’

Tensions are high in San Francisco. I flew for work yesterday and the airport was almost empty. People are worried about what will happen on the cruise ship that is off the coast of San Francisco . We have heard that there are cases on board and they don’t have test kits for all the passengers. So there are major concerns about what will happen when the ship comes to shore and if the infection may spread. Large companies, such as Twitter and Square, are asking their employees not to come to work. Also, we are all trying to figure out how to work when the schools close down.

Tim O’Sullivan: ‘People are staying inside and not going out’

Yes, I’m worried about the virus, but more so for the elderly. My main concern is we don’t know what we don’t know. I feel it’s the tip of the iceberg, we’ve no idea the extent of the transmission, Case numbers will drastically rise over the next few months as more extensive testing is rolled out.The overall reaction is still calm, most people feel we are better equipped with local resources backed by the federal government to help screen test and quarantine people with symptoms. What we are seeing is people are staying inside and not going to restaurants, bars, gyms and movies. The silent rule is no shaking hands. The biggest fear is for the elderly with some underlying conditions. The other big fear is the numbers we are seeing only reflect more serious/tested cases therefore I worry a younger healthier person with what seems like a regular cold could be a carrier of the virus. Currently there is a shortage of testing kits.

There is a cruise ship of the coast of California with infected people on it. The rising trend is companies are forcing people to work from home. Twitter asked 5,000 people to work from home. Amazon has asked people to work from home. International work travel is not happening and domestic travel will suffer. The local mom and pop businesses (family owned) are suffering. We own a solar sales and installation business and people are cancelling house visits. People's reaction is try and stay from crowded areas and other people. There are a bunch of cases locally, which is a concern. Ironically, hospitals and schools are a dangerous environment.

Robbie Hayes: ‘The mood is unease rather than panic’

In the community the mood is one of unease rather than panic. Starbucks will no longer fill your mug with coffee – now disposable only. All the hand sanitiser locally is sold out, and Costco (a major warehouse-type store) had a bumper weekend with long queues as people bought extra supplies of non-perishable food, water, and cleaning products. "We need these as earthquake supplies anyway," I heard a neighbour say. Locally, no event has been cancelled so far – the interruption has been to business meetings, which are increasingly virtual if they include participants from different locations.

I work at a non-profit organisation that offers hospice and palliative care, and a range of Alzheimer's services,to the seriously ill and their caregivers in Napa, California. Coronavirus patients from the Grand Princess cruise ship were transported from Japan to Travis Air Force Base, about 40km (25 miles) away, and two were placed at our local hospital, causing a lot of concern among local residents. Another case was identified 16km (10 miles) away from us and was cared for at UC Davis Medical Center. The mood at work is very professional. We already have strict precautionary measures because we care for a vulnerable population. We are also required to have up to date vaccinations at all times as a job requirement and regular testing for TB. That said, we've placed additional signage throughout our building reminding people of best practices in preventing the spread of any infectious virus.

Angie Chong: ‘The local Costco supermarket has empty shelves’

We live in the Bay Area, which currently has 33 cases of coronavirus. It’s in the news constantly with frequent local updates from health officials, but I don’t feel that people are panicking (yet). I haven’t noticed an increase in people wearing masks, but there were always a few people with masks prior to this anyway. Having said that, the local Costco supermarket has empty shelves and people seem to be stocking up on toilet paper. There’s certainly concern about the many cancelled conventions in San José and San Francisco as well as the significant decrease in visitors to Chinatown. The local economy depends on visitors to the area. There’s also general concern about how a possible recession in future would affect Silicon Valley. I’ve no doubt that this is only the start of this outbreak, so things will change.

Frazer Hazlett: ‘I’m concerned but not worried’

I live and run an interior design business in the heart of Santa Barbara's wine country in central California. Our vendors are a mix of US-made and Asian-made products. We have noticed an significant increase of lead-times of products from Asia. Although I'm not sure if it is factories running a reduced production rate due to workers staying home or if it is due to reduced transportation and difficulties in getting product to port.

Regionally, we have had very few cases as yet in Santa Barbara County, although neighbouring Ventura county has reported a few. Nationally, president Donald Trump has appointed vice president Mike Pence in charge of the Covid-19 response and as Pence is an avowed disbeliever in science and all things that rely upon fact-based research, I don't hold out much hope for the success of that programme. The biggest furniture trade-show in North America is scheduled for April 25th-30th and as yet there are no plans to postpone or cancel according to the organisers. However, my passion outside of work is cycling and the organisers of the Sea-Otter Classic – a week long festival of all-things bicycling – has been indefinitely postponed, which is going to massively impact the Monterey Peninsula area as normal attendance numbers are in the region of 30,000. Am I worried? I think the infection rate is high enough to cause concern yes, but the fatality rate is still relatively low so as a fairly healthy individual (as are most of my friends and clients) I'm not worried.

Paul O’Connor: ‘We all expected it to hit us at some stage’

I live in Santa Cruz but I work in Santa Clara County in Silicon Valley, which has just confirmed a number of cases. I don't get a sense of extreme worry just yet, as we all expected it to hit us at some stage given the amount of business that takes place in this area with people flying in from all around the world for meetings and conferences. At the moment it is more a topic of conversation rather than a sense of extreme panic. However, a lot of the big stores such as Costco, Walgreens, Target have been sold out of disinfectants and supplies, so there is definitely a concern and people are taking precautions just in case it spreads significantly. The biggest hit to industry has been supply chain, particularly with getting product or materials from Asia to the US. There is also a fear that borders will close and goods will be restricted, which would be a significant disruption to most industries. Most sports and music events are continuing as planned for right now. Overall, it has not really had much of an affect on everyday life, although it is a pretty fluid situation which could change day to day. As I was typing this I got a notification that one of the biggest motor sports events in the area (Laguna Seca in Monterey) was being cancelled due to the coronavirus, so it just goes to show how fluid a situation it is.

Mike Faul: ‘Good luck trying to find a face mask’

As an Irish ex-pat, living in the US for more than 35 years and in California for the last 30 years, I don't see much of a difference in the behaviour between people now with the current "pandemic" as I have for the Sars, Mers, flu virus H1N1 scares. I came to the US in 1980 – the day I turned 18. I've served in the US Navy as a naval aircrewman during the cold war, then was fortunate enough to get into high-tech in Silicon Valley before opening my brewery/winery here in the valley. I have lots of customers that visit my taproom from all over the country and I can't say that any of them appear to be doing much of anything other than usual – wash your hands, try not to touch your face, don't cough all over other people, that kind of thing. There are business that are recommending that their employees work from home and I have heard of several large conferences that have been cancelled, but not at the level of Venice or Italy in general. I have noticed that all the sanitary wipes in the shops are sold out and good luck trying to find a face mask as well.

Diarmuid Harrington: ‘I have seen no panic about the coronavirus’

I live in San Francisco in the neighbourhood of Russian Hill. I’ve been a local artist here on and off for the best part of 49 years. San Franciscan restaurants are still looking full and I see lots of people happily on their way to and from work. Apart from the odd white face mask, I have seen no panic about the coronavirus yet.