Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Richardson Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Richardson

From life on the unemployment block to worrying if she was infected with COVID-19, Elizabeth Richardson has experienced all aspects of the pandemic. 

MICHIGAN—It was February 2020 and Elizabeth Richardson, then 24, was like many Michiganders who believed that the news of an emerging COVID-19 virus was something others had to worry about. 

She thought it was something that wouldn’t affect day-to-day life much. Then she traveled to California to visit her sister, and her perspective changed. 

“I was concerned because the person I sat next to on my flight home had just been in England and she said she was ill for a few days while she was there,” Richardson, who spends much of her free time messing around with arts and crafts, always looking for a new project to sink into, told The ‘Gander. “She also coughed a few times during our flight, and at that time, coughing was the main symptom we were aware of. This was (during the) early days when masks were not required and certainly weren’t the norm, so no one was wearing them on the plane.”

Richardson said she felt a little under the weather when she returned home from her trip but couldn’t find a COVID-19 test. At that point, little was known about the virus, and guidance wasn’t yet as prevalent as it is today. 

“I soldiered on and hoped I wasn’t sick and didn’t get other people sick,” she said. 

Luckily, Richardson said she wasn’t sick. But she was faced with a new facet of COVID-19 many others would later be faced with themselves: the fear of not knowing, at least early on, if you were carrying the virus to loved ones around you. 

Shortly after her return, Richardson said she was faced with another facet of COVID: how it impacted businesses and work life for thousands of Michiganders. 

“I got home from this visit to California two weeks before we were sent to work from home,” she said. “I returned to work from this vacation on March 2, we were sent to work from home starting on March 16, and I was laid off on March 18.”

The non-profit organization Richardson worked helped to facilitate youth foreign exchange, working with US students interested in studying abroad. Students were sent home to their respective countries in the wake of the pandemic, as the company focused primarily on student safety. She said this cost the company in many ways, as it had to cancel most if not all of its programs, and it also cost Richardson her job. 

“I am unhappy with a lot of what my organization did while handling the pandemic, especially in how they managed their employees, but I am not unhappy with the way they protected their students,” she said. 

Richardson said she was able to land on her feet thanks to unemployment benefits that were bolstered by the CARES Act. 

“I was incredibly thankful for the extra help,” she said. “I had no idea how long this additional federal unemployment would last, so I saved everything extra that I could.

“I still looked for and applied for jobs vigorously,” Richardson continued. “This early effort was largely unsuccessful. The future was still so uncertain, that most employers that had previously posted open positions were not actively moving forward in the hiring process. The job search process was so disheartening for that first 6-months or so.”

Richardson eventually would find a new job. She now works as a financial analyst for a disposable food and beverage packaging company. She said that things have taken a complete 180 from the beginning of the pandemic, something she attributes to the feeling stemming from the development of COVID-19 vaccines. 

In Michigan, COVID-19 vaccines are readily available for nearly everyone, with the US recently approving the use of a kid-sized vaccine for children as young as 5. 

“I definitely feel more confident re-engaging in social settings now that I am vaccinated, and a large portion of the population is vaccinated,” Richardson said. “I recently got my booster shot and encourage others to as well. I felt ill for a few days after my second shot and currently feel poorly because of my third, but I wouldn’t change anything.”