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One Bar. Twelve Weeks. Seventeen Lives in Lockdown.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Cold beer flowed, soul music played and regulars lined the redwood bar to order tequila shots and tater tots. No one wore masks, many hugged, and the staff passed a joint out front.

A scene from a bygone era, it was March 16, the final night before the nation’s first effective coronavirus lockdown. Hours earlier, officials across the San Francisco Bay Area had ordered most businesses to close at midnight for at least three weeks. In response, the staff of the Hatch, a cozy locals’ bar in downtown Oakland, opened its doors to bring people together for one last night of drinks — and pay.

Robin Easterbrook, the Hatch’s tattooed manager, served beers and whiskey to a municipal-bonds trader and a fried-chicken cook, two stools apart.

“We’re six years running, so hopefully something like this doesn’t wipe us out,” she said from behind the bar, her dyed orange-and-pink hair peeking out from a baseball cap. “It’s frustrating, because I don’t have all the answers to give to our team, other than my word that we’re going to do our best to make sure that you get taken care of.”

Behind a curtain, Santos, a 56-year-old Guatemalan immigrant, pressed burgers to the grill. He and his six children in the Bay Area had all received word that day that they no longer had jobs. He planned to return to the three-bedroom house on the outskirts of Oakland that he shared with 11 family members and stay put. “I want to respect the law,” he said in Spanish. “But my worry is my rent, food.” The Hatch’s other cook, Leonardo Garcia, fried fresh tortillas into chips and packed meat into the freezer for the bar’s sudden hibernation.

Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Shelter-in-place orders in the United States and beyond have forced millions of businesses to close, some for good. Amid that loss, there are countless stories of the places that people loved and that made their communities special — like my local watering hole, the Hatch.

It’s a laid-back melting pot of a bar, where the art is abundant and the cans of Tecate are $3. The night before the lockdown, I persuaded the staff to share their finances and lives over the next three months.

On that Monday night, Kenny Bloom, a bartender, was fairly zen. “Am I worried? Of course I’m worried. Is it the end of the world, though? No,” he said. “If society crashes, whatever. We’ll rebuild it.” Antoine Towers, the bouncer, was more fatalistic. He forecast riots. “Three weeks of not making any money?” he said, standing outside the bar. “People are going to do what they have to do.”

Not all of the bar’s 17 employees were there for the impromptu farewell party. Abel Oleson, another bartender, had served drinks that afternoon but was now quarantined inside his home, worried about his asthma and nearly empty bank account. Maria, an undocumented immigrant who cleaned the Hatch each morning, was already in bed, set to awake around dawn for a final scrubbing of the floors.

Eventually, the owner entered. Wearing a black beanie over his dreadlocks, Louwenda Kachingwe, known to everyone as Pancho, looked relaxed as he greeted customers and employees with a broad smile. Then he started to do some math. The rent was $6,200, and two days earlier, he had agreed to take on the $2,600 lease next door for a long-planned sister bar.

“I know,” he said. “It’s a problem.” He burst out in nervous laughter.

“Are we laughing, or are we crying?” Ms. Easterbrook asked.

“That’s the crying laugh,” he replied.

On a scale of one to 10, Mr. Kachingwe said, his anxiety about the bar’s future was a nine. “Three weeks is doable. But what I’ve been told is, it’s probably realistically eight weeks,” he said. “If it’s eight weeks, then I’m just like: How does anyone survive that?”


Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The Hatch used to be a Hawaiian barbecue joint with orange carpets. “It was nasty,” Mr. Kachingwe said. He leased it anyway, tore out the carpets and built wooden tables and benches with some friends.

The Hatch opened in November 2014, a side-street hideaway just off Oakland’s main drag. It offered a single India pale ale and a bacon-wrapped hot dog. (Both are still on the menu.) Customers drank out of red Solo cups and sat on chairs borrowed from a restaurant down the street. Mr. Kachingwe slept on a couch upstairs.

Mr. Kachingwe, 40, was used to risks. His childhood took him from Chegutu, a village in Zimbabwe without electricity, to Coralville, Iowa, where his stepfather had gotten a job as a professor when he was 10. Fifteen years later, he moved to San Francisco and ended up managing a popular Senegalese spot known for its dance floor. (The owner promoted him because he didn’t drink.) Eventually he thought owning his own place would give him more time to play guitar and write screenplays (wrong), so he looked to Oakland.

“The first goal was completely selfish,” he said. “And then immediately, you realize it has nothing to do with you.”

The Hatch grew into a community hub. The narrow two-story bar, jacketed in reclaimed fence boards and local art, became a hangout for the city’s artists, musicians and writers, as well as waiters, bartenders and baristas. Upstairs were free comedy and rap shows, and Mr. Kachingwe hung a bedsheet to project obscure movies. The success helped drive sales from about $250,000 in its first year to more than $700,000 in 2019.

Now — on March 17, a Tuesday — Mr. Kachingwe and Ms. Easterbrook were packing up the booze and boarding up the windows. On top of the $8,800 in rent, an advertising contract with Yelp was $1,000 a month. The point-of-sale system was $284. Cable and internet, $180. The alarm system, $165. Ms. Easterbrook poured a beer and then remembered that the six tapped kegs would also soon go flat — another $1,200. “We’re about to find out what we can and can’t pay for,” Mr. Kachingwe said.

Within days, he had a creative plan for survival: Use the Hatch’s tiny kitchen to cater meals for a government operations hub a few miles away. He had already met with city officials.

“We have a saying that closed mouths don’t get fed,” he said. “My main goal is just trying to figure out how we can possibly, one, survive, and two, get people anything in their pockets.”

A few days later, Mr. Kachingwe said the catering idea was looking unlikely. But he had a new plan: The Hatch would become a takeout joint. “We’re going to see what it looks like,” Mr. Kachingwe said. “Because I have no clue.”


Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Santos is the sort of man who blesses you when he meets you. “Que Dios te bendiga,” he says. When you ask him how he is, he often replies, “Bien, gracias a Dios.” And when you part ways, he offers another blessing for the road.

By early April, weeks into joblessness, he was still optimistic. He had begun taking morning walks in the hills and leading nightly family prayer circles. “Almost every day, we are praying that God takes control,” said Santos, who asked to be identified only by his first name because of his family’s immigration status.

God had carried him through difficult times before, he said. His first five years in the United States were spent working 70 hours a week in a buffet for less than $5 an hour and a bed in a house crammed with colleagues. After authorities raided the place for human trafficking, he lost his job and his home. Eventually he found dishwashing work and welcomed four of his children to the United States from Guatemala.

In 2016, he began working the grill at the Hatch and settled in there, making roughly $2,500 a month. He sent a slice of his pay to his wife and remaining two children in Guatemala, whom he hasn’t seen in 12 years. Last year, he won legal residence. Life had been improving.

Now he wasn’t sure if he could pay rent. When I visited him one day in early April at the three-bedroom house beneath elevated train tracks that he shared with four children and seven grandchildren, he swung open the iron security gate, wiped his bleary eyes and smiled to reveal his missing teeth.

Standing in the driveway, amid scattered children’s toys and bags of empty cans collected from the Hatch, he said the family had just barely made their $2,860 rent for March, plus about $500 more for utilities. He and his children had applied for jobs at a recycling plant and a tortilla-chip factory, but were turned away. “We are OK right now, assuming this ends in a week or two,” he said. “But if this goes on longer, then it really worries me.”

I asked him if he had any questions. He hesitated. If it wasn’t too much trouble, he said before blessing me, did I know of any place that was hiring?


Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

A few miles away, Maria, the Hatch’s cleaner, was having a more difficult start. Her nagging back pain had sharpened, and at times, she couldn’t walk. She started paying for $100 chiropractor sessions, a service not covered by her health insurance, cutting sharply into her slim savings. (We agreed to publish only her first name because of her immigration status.)

Like Santos, Maria and her husband have scraped by since they arrived in the Bay Area from Coeneo, a small town in Mexico, in 1998. Her husband labored in the smoky kitchens of cramped East Bay restaurants, working under fake $20 documents, while she collected bottles and cans and raised their children.

Since 2016, Maria, 55, has taken the 7 a.m. bus to the Hatch to clean, earning sometimes $400 a week, or about $20,000 a year. (Her husband sometimes helped her, but was otherwise unemployed.) The family could hardly afford life before the virus. Their share of the monthly rent costs $1,000; Maria’s stepdaughter, who works at a Toyota dealership, has helped keep them afloat.

“Right now our worry is financial. To pay the rent, to pay the bills, to buy food,” Maria said in Spanish. “Because the diseases themselves, thank God, haven’t touched us yet.”


Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Mr. Oleson, the bartender, was also struggling. After a grocery run and a $270 late phone bill, he said he had just $20 to his name and plenty more in debt. His girlfriend had left her job at a marijuana dispensary, in part to protect Mr. Oleson, who worried his asthma put him at particular risk of the virus. “I’m completely broke,” he said, adding an expletive. “This couldn’t have come at a worse time.”

Mr. Oleson, 34 and from Portland, Ore., is the kind of hipster who plays 1970s soul vinyls during his DJ sets but wears 1980s metal shirts around town. When we met, he had a bushy beard beneath his mask and lots of tattoos he couldn’t explain. “No story,” he said, when I asked him about a goat head spitting fire on his triceps.

He took home roughly $2,000 a month at the Hatch and spent about half on rent and bills. When the lockdown began, he immediately filed for unemployment and food stamps. Mr. Oleson said he also felt lucky to have another safety net: his sister. She could lend him more money if needed; she was already doing his laundry and had sewn him a mask. “By May, hopefully it’ll swing back,” he said, “and I’ll only be a couple thousand in debt.”


Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Takeout, it turns out, is not so easy. To start, the Hatch didn’t have a phone, so Mr. Kachingwe posted his cell on the website. He and Ms. Easterbrook had to scour stores to find takeout containers, beer growlers and Mason jars for to-go cocktails. Their point-of-sale system couldn’t handle internet orders, so they contracted with a new company, which required building an online menu. One weekday in late March, I walked into the bar to find Ms. Easterbrook hunched over her laptop, painstakingly adding custom sauce options for all the varieties of chicken wings.

Yelp, the online-review site, locked them out because of an overdue bill, so they couldn’t alert prospective customers. The refrigerator broke. And finally, there was what to do about the delivery apps.

UberEats, Grubhub, DoorDash, Postmates and Caviar have long been operating what many restaurant owners describe as parasitic businesses. According to the restaurant industry, they intercept customers and then take roughly 30 percent of the sale for facilitating the online order and delivery. The apps says they provide restaurants with customers they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Mr. Kachingwe considered the apps’ 30 percent cut and decided to go it alone, calling it “a moral stand.” He bet that the Hatch could generate enough business with Instagram posts, fliers in nearby condo buildings and the loyalty of its regulars. He would run the deliveries himself.

On March 28, two weeks after the lockdown began, the Hatch opened again for business. Ms. Easterbrook manned the empty bar to make Mason-jar margaritas and pack orders while Santos and Mr. Garcia split days on the grill.

In the first week, the Hatch received nine orders for $369. I was one of them.

I asked Mr. Kachingwe how he felt about his decision. “Honestly, pretty good,” he said. He knew business would be slow at first. “Next week should be better. Right?”


Five days went by, and I watched the Hatch’s Instagram account post increasingly desperate pitches. There were mentions of free delivery, Taco Tuesdays, Tiger King tie-ins and eventually just a shot of Ms. Easterbrook waiting, bored, by the phone.

I called Mr. Kachingwe back. He was signing up with Grubhub. Ms. Easterbrook had canvassed other restaurants and convinced him. “She’s like, ‘Everybody’s in the same boat. They hate it. They don’t want to do it. But what is the choice?’” Mr. Kachingwe recounted. He asked me to hold; he was getting a drive-through coronavirus test. (Negative.)

Grubhub quickly caused sales to climb, but it wasn’t enough to cover overhead and payroll. The Hatch brought in about $3,250 in April and $1,500 in May. Before the virus, the bar averaged roughly $70,000 a month. By May, Mr. Kachingwe had burned through roughly $20,000 in emergency funds and another $20,000 of his personal money. “The logical thing would just be to shut it down,” he said. “But in this case, it’s about the people.”

When I met Maria at her Oakland home on May 1, her husband pushed her to the door in a chair. She could no longer afford the chiropractor, and now she couldn’t walk. When she rose for a moment, her face twisted. A week earlier, she had gone to the emergency room. “I couldn’t stand the pain anymore,” she said in Spanish. “It grabs me and, for a few seconds, won’t even let me move.” The doctor gave her pain pills, and ordered more tests. While she talked, her 18-year-old daughter sat at her feet, looking at the floor.

Weeks earlier, on the phone, Maria had broken into tears telling me that, to pay rent, she spent the $800 she had been saving for her daughter’s high-school graduation gift. After that, she stopped answering my calls and texts for a while. Eventually she got back in touch and explained her silence: She had stopped paying the phone bill.

On that call, I asked her if she had enough to eat. Her voice choked. “I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s very, very difficult.”

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 5, 2020

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

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      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

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      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

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      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

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      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

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      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.