COVID-19: One Year Later
Today marks the one-year anniversary of our closure due to COVID-19. It was this week one year ago that the pandemic tore into our lives. Suddenly we were glued to our screens, mouths agape and wondering what was happening around us. Today I thought I’d take a few minutes to reflect on the past year – one filled with tragedy, miracles, despair and hope.
I remember watching what was happening in Italy in the weeks leading up to our closure. A business-owner friend of mine had warned early last March “this thing is coming, and it’s going to be bad.” I remember saying “eh, I’m sure it will come but what are you going to do?” To be clear, I did have a sense COVID was serious back then. The extent to which it would rip apart our economy and upend our daily lives, however, was beyond my comprehension.
We made the decision to close Green Clean Maine just a few days before Governor Mills ordered businesses and schools in the state to shut down. We made our decision based on safety concerns and financial realities. In those very early days, we knew so little about the virus. We had no idea how or even if we could keep our employees and customers safe. So many customers had suspended service in such a short period of time that we were losing more money by staying open than we would by closing our doors.
There were many sleepless nights in those early days last March. Will we have to start over again? What will our staff do? Will we have a business to go back to or will we all be picking up pieces? The deluge of information was smothering and exhausting. We were all scared. My wife and I both have parents in their late 60’s. Would they be ok? If they get sick will we be able to see them? Thinking back even now I shudder at those thoughts, and feel pain and loss for those who have lost loved ones (thankfully, our families are healthy and vaccinations have begun).
Advocating for Small Business
Once the initial shock wore off I got to work on protecting our little company and making sure our staff members were taken care of. Luckily, our elected representatives in Washington had gotten to work too. Our own Senator Susan Collins co-authored the Paycheck Protection Program and helped get it passed in what had to be record time for congressional action. It was welcome relief, but had some serious flaws that, if not addressed, would leave millions of people behind, particularly those of us who had actually closed our businesses.
My full-time focus and attention turned to advocacy on behalf of small business owners. I am proud to say that our advocacy worked. After appearances in local and national media, our representatives in Washington began to listen, and made critical changes. This was a huge win not only for our own business, but for small businesses across the country. Many small businesses have weathered this storm that would have otherwise failed.
But what impressed me most through the whole ordeal in those early weeks and months was the generosity of our customers and the resiliency of our staff.
Our Customers’ Unwavering Support
Even before we suspended service, customers began asking where to send money to help our staff, and were offering to pay for cleanings they knew they were not going to get. Seeing as we are not a charity but a business, we felt the best way to respond to these offers was to create a fund for employees. Our clients contributed more than $10,000 in just two weeks’ time, enough to buy groceries for all of our staff for the weeks until unemployment kicked in. Since then, this fund has helped with rent, unexpected medical bills, COVID testing and even extra paid days off so our staff can help children and other family members affected by the virus.
The generosity of our customers continues to humble and I will be forever grateful. We won’t soon forget the unflinching support not only during the early weeks, but throughout this entire pandemic.
Our Team: Getting It Done
When we closed our doors a year ago, I didn’t know when or how we would reopen. I sent regular updates to our team members, hoping they would stick it out with us and feeling an ever-growing sense of duty to protect and keep everyone on our team safe.
Once we had a good sense of what we’d have to do to reopen safely, we got to work overhauling our operation to fit this new reality. Our small management team and I developed re-entry trainings for returning staff and changed how we clean. We disinfected our cars. We disinfected our equipment. We made marks 6 feet apart all over our office. We figured out how to get everyone out into homes by themselves, so we could practice physical distancing. We changed how we schedule, how we train, how we manage the delivery of our service every day. We made emergency COVID protocols, tested them refined them. And we remembered to laugh a lot along the way.
When we did return to clean homes, our technicians demonstrated incredible professionalism, focus and caring. They jumped back in enthusiastically, happy for the chance to serve again and to create joy again. I knew we had a great team, but the depth of commitment has been astounding.
All of this required extraordinary flexibility, ingenuity and persistence. It wasn’t always easy. The road was pretty rough at times! But this team was committed to making it work, and remains so. What we accomplished in such a short period of time is amazing. I am so proud.
While this post is about reflecting on the past year, I can’t help but look ahead. I’m optimistic about the future, both for our company and for our community. The pandemic has taught me a lot, not the least of which is what an amazing community we have in Greater Portland. There are challenges ahead, to be sure. But with a team like ours and a community that cares, it feels like anything is possible.
To all of you who have supported us through the past year, thank you. And to all of our team members – I can’t wait to see where the next year will take us. Thank you for staying the course, even when it was tough, and thank you for doing what you do, every day.
With happiness and gratitude,