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Laois Abroad: From Vicarstown to Southern California and how Coronavirus is impacting work

Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic across the world we have been hearing stories of Laois people scattered across the world.

Today we chat to Simon Miller, the Vicarstown native who has been living in the USA for the last three years.

Prior to moving to the USA, Simon was heavily involved with Annanough GAA club and represented Laois at minor and U-21 level, winning a Leinster minor medal in 20007.

Simon and his now wife Grace moved to Newport Beach, a coastal city located between Los Angeles and San Diego in Southern California, almost three years ago where he works for a US subsidiary of Total Produce PLC, one of the world’s largest fresh produce producers and providers.

With offices in California, Washington, Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas, he runs the Accounting and Finance function for them.

What is the situation like where you are?

We have been on lock-down here since mid-March, with all schools and ‘non-essential’ businesses closed. California was one of the first states in the US to order a lock-down and this seems to have worked quite well in slowing the spread of the virus, particularly compared to Coronavirus hot spots such as New York.

You are only allowed out of your home in a limited number of circumstances, such as going to work (if you work in what they have defined as an ‘essential’ industry), going to the supermarket or pharmacy, or to get some daily exercise.

From what I have experienced, people here appear to be abiding by the lock-down rules pretty well. The news networks have been broadcasting the situation in Europe, particularly Italy, for the past two months so people have had a good preview of what was to come and that has focused the mind.

Do you know anyone that has been affected by the Coronavirus?

Yes. One of the Board members of my company got the Coronavirus a couple of weeks ago. Thankfully, he is now fully recovered but he remains in self-isolation.

He is from New Zealand and believes that he picked the Coronavirus up on the flight home to Auckland from Los Angeles in mid-March. Everyone on the flight was tested on arrival and two of them tested positive. He developed symptoms five days after arriving so he is pretty sure that is where he got it from.

What measures have the authorities taken where you’re living?

As stated above, they have instigated a full lock-down across the state. It isn’t quite as onerous of the one in Ireland but we may get to that stage in the coming weeks.

We haven’t seen a major ramp up in positive cases and deaths yet (relative to population) but I imagine they will make the social distancing measures even more strict once we start heading in that direction. In Los Angeles they have announced that schools will be closed until September.

Do you feel people where you are are taking it seriously enough?

In California yes. America is a very diverse place though and there are plenty of places that haven’t yet fully adopted appropriate social distancing measures. For example, several, mostly mid-Western, states still haven’t ordered a lock-down on activities.

America is a very decentralized country so it has been interesting to observe the diverging approaches taken by the various State Governors.

How has it impacted on your work arrangements?

We operate in the food business so all of our warehouse employees have continued to go in to each of our facilities so that we can continue to operate and keep the supermarkets stocked.

However, almost all of our office-based employees are working from home by now. I am still going into work everyday but it certainly makes for a strange atmosphere when there are only a few of us there.

So far, working from home has had no noticeable impact on productivity and our teams are still managing to get everything accomplished. Once all of this is over, I think a lot of employers are going to reevaluate their approach/attitude to employees working from home.

I expect that those working remotely will show that they can get the job done just as well from home as they can in the office.

Working from home also saves them both time (commuting) and money (lunches, petrol etc) while their employer saves on leasing and other costs. I certainly wouldn’t like to be in the commercial office real estate business right now.

Are you happy to stay where you are? Have you considered coming home?

I am very happy where I am. Southern California is a beautiful part of the world to live in. The weather is fantastic and there are lots of things to see and do. Grace and I will be here three years this September and the time has flown by.

We are only recently married and have no plans to move home at the moment. The Coronavirus hasn’t changed that.

How are you staying in touch with friends/family?

We have been using Zoom mostly to stay in touch with friends and family at home. There have been a lot of virtual house parties, poker games and quizzes so the past few weekends have actually been a lot more fun that I had been expecting.

I’m sure the novelty will wear off soon enough so hopefully this lock-down doesn’t last more than a couple of months.

Are there any positives that you see coming from this?

In a strange way, I think the self-isolation had actually forced a lot of people to be more social than they normally would be.

Being isolated in your house has brought home to a lot of people the importance of always making the effort to stay in regular contact with friends and family. Everyone is so busy these days that it is very easy to go a long time without checking in with a friend.

Now everyone has the time to do that so it is a great time to reconnect with a friend you might not have chatted with for awhile.

Have you found yourself doing things now that you wouldn’t have previously?

I definitely haven’t joined the Coronavirus fitness craze anyway! A lot of lads in my local GAA club have been posting photos in our Whatsapp group of their runs but I haven’t gotten going yet.

The USGAA National Championships aren’t until the end of August so there’s plenty of time yet! I have found myself watching a lot more TV series, Netflix etc though.

I think the lock-down is really highlighting to people that they are talking nonsense when they walk around in everyday life and say that they would learn a new language, learn to play an instrument etc if only they had the time.

SEE ALSO – 500 new cases of Coronavirus in Ireland and 28 more deaths

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