A first responder spouse talks about planning for when—not if—the virus strikes

March 24, 2020, 12:28 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s husband is diagnosed with coronavirus, Fortune talks to Helena Foulkes following her departure from Hudson’s Bay Company, and we learn about what it’s like to be a first responder family in the midst of a pandemic. Have a socially distant Tuesday. 

– First responder families. Yesterday, Emma wrote about the women on the frontlines of the coronavirus fight.

Today, I’d like to highlight those in a related position: spouses or family members of health care workers and first responders. These people—many of them women—too, play an essential role in facing the virus and keeping our society running. And while they may not be out in the field themselves, they’re in the difficult and stressful position of supporting a loved one who is putting him or herself in harm’s way every day.

Last week, we spoke with Margaret Arakawa, CMO of Seattle-based tech startup Outreach. Arakawa’s husband Brad Schmidt is a firefighter and paramedic in Everett, Wash.—the town that saw the first U.S. hospitalization for coronavirus.

The family lives with their 12-year-old son Logan in Kirkland, 10 minutes away from the nursing home where about two-thirds of residents have contracted the virus. Arakawa’s 80-year-old mother, who has heart issues and diabetes, lives next door.

Given the realities of her husband’s work, Arakawa told us via email:

“We just had a talk as a family about what happens *when* my husband gets exposed and *when* he comes down with coronavirus. We’ve come up with a plan. It’s not a great plan, but it’s a plan nonetheless. When my husband gets exposed, my son and I will move to my mom’s house and my mom will move into my sister’s apartment. Then we’ll all stay put for 14 days until hopefully we’re all cleared and reunited.

If my husband gets really sick, I’ll take care of him and we’ll keep away from my mom and son. We figure this could last weeks or maybe months. And I think to myself that this is nothing compared to all the men and women whose brave relatives, spouses, and significant others are in the military. They can go for over a year without seeing their loved ones when they are deployed. So, I feel quite lucky. We can climb a tree in the backyard and say hi to each other. We can maybe eat dinner together with us sitting on the back porch and my husband sitting behind glass inside. We’ll figure it out.”

The family’s plan is designed to prioritize protecting Arakawa’s mother and, hopefully, allowing her to still see her grandson. “My son is the engine for my mom’s happiness—I can’t have her isolated from us,” Margaret told Emma in a follow-up conversation by phone.

The couple have also had to have difficult conversations with their son about what the future may hold. “He’s had some questions: ‘If we isolate ourselves, how are we going to see Papa? Will we have picnics or dinners separated by glass or FaceTime from next door?’ No more hugs, no more check-ins. We talked about the sacrifices that families of first responders and military families make. He totally understands it.” 

Read our full Q+A with Arakawa here.

Certainly, first responder families aren’t the only ones creating these kinds of plans and having tough conversations these days. But for those of us who are currently working from home it’s a good reminder to be grateful for our ability to do so—and for the people on the front lines trying to help us stay safe.

Finally, a reminder that we’re still collecting your tips for staying productive and focused while working at home. Send your best ones to broadsheet@fortune.com and they may be featured in a future edition of the newsletter.

Kristen Bellstrom

Today’s Broadsheet was produced by Emma Hinchliffe


- Exit interview. Fortune's Phil Wahba talks to Helena Foulkes, the now-former CEO of Hudson's Bay Company. "We made a lot of bold moves really fast," Foulkes says of her two years in the company's top job. Plus: "I loved being a CEO, and I’d do it again." Fortune

- Get well soon. Sen. Amy Klobuchar shared yesterday that her husband, John Bessler, has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and is in the hospital. "Not being able to be by his side is one of the hardest things about this disease," Klobuchar said, noting that she has not been in the same place as Bessler for the past two weeks. Another Minnesota official, Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, shared that her brother Ron died after contracting coronavirus. Star Tribune

- Good sports. With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics officially postponed, beach volleyball player and gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings shares in Elle how she'll be affected by the changes to the Games, which were supposed to be her last. Women's sports as a whole have been hit hard by the pandemic, losing some of the momentum they had earned this year. 

- Yum, catering. Yum China, the Fortune 500 company that operates KFC and Pizza Hut, is trying catering and delivery of raw food for home cooking to make it through the coronavirus pandemic. "The traffic is recovering but it still takes some time," CEO Joey Wat says of demand in China, which seems to be through the worst of its crisis. Bloomberg


- CEO setup. In the New York Times' Corner Office column, CEOs share how they've been working from home. Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman is at home in Maryland with her husband and two sons in their 20s—all also working from home—monitoring the decline of the markets. Beautycounter CEO Gregg Renfrew is working to keep the company going from her Pacific Palisades apartment for the network of 50,000 consultants who sell Beautycounter products as part of their own livelihoods. New York Times

- Accessible abortion. As Texas joins Ohio in attempting to put a hold on surgical abortions because of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.K. is taking steps to make medical abortion more accessible. Women will now be allowed to take pills for early medical abortion at home, instead of visiting a hospital or clinic first. Bustle

- Goodbye, Alfred? Hello Alfred, the startup co-founded by Marcela Sapone and Jessica Beck, employs W2 workers who run errands, do housekeeping tasks, and provide other services inside the homes of a largely wealthy clientele. But the startup is now facing unrest as it continues to operate amid the coronavirus pandemic, reports The Daily Beast. "I just do not see how we can classify ourselves as an essential service during a pandemic," one anonymous worker said. But Sapone, the company's CEO, says: "We are delivering food, medication, cleaning products, baby and personal care products that families need." The Daily Beast 

- Lasting legacy. Airickca Gordon-Taylor spent her life educating others about the legacy of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old who was killed by lynching in 1955. Gordon-Taylor was Till's cousin, born after his death; she recently advocated for an anti-lynching bill in Till's honor. She died at 50 on Saturday. Time


New from Lena Dunham: A serial novel, Verified Strangers, for Vogue.com Vogue

An oral history of a socially distanced wedding The Cut

How Marie Kondo declutters during a pandemic New York Times


"In a lot of ways, I’ve been preparing for this moment with my yoga practice my whole life; to be able to make the hard decision, to be able to do the right thing—no matter the consequences."

-Bec Gathmann-Landini, the owner of two Long Island yoga studios, on closing because of the coronavirus pandemic

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