Sunday, June 26th, 2022

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March 17, 2020, was a typically bleak day for winter’s longest month: a Tuesday with gray skies and enough of a chill in the air to preserve all the dirty piles of snow left from February.

It was St. Patrick’s Day, but the streets, shopping malls, sidewalks and highways were empty. Many people were already sheltering in place, even though Gov. Charlie Baker’s stay-at-home order was still a week away.

The biggest news that day was Baker’s order shutting down all bars and restaurants in Massachusetts effective March 18. The idea that you couldn’t just go out and have a beer and a hamburger was so ominous and bizarre — but no one knew what was coming.

Hours before the shut-down, Olga Campbell was crocheting alone in the back corner of Patsie Duggans, the Irish bar and restaurant along Millbury Street in Worcester’s Canal District.

Spread out on a table in front of her were a variety of items she had made. Scarves and hats in Irish colors that she was hoping to sell that day to revelers. No one ever came.

Find out what’s happening in Worcesterwith free, real-time updates from Patch.

“No, I sold nothing,” she said this week, looking back on March 17, 2020.

It’s a lonely memory, but Campbell can look back at that day with relative ease. Two years on from those first strange weeks of the pandemic, she has come through OK.

Campbell was working as a waitress and bartender two years ago, but she decided to leave the industry alongside the pandemic shutdown. She began focusing more on crocheting and selling creations by word of mouth. She also began working as a shopper for Instacart, the on-demand grocery delivery service.

Apps like Instacart and GrubHub exploded during the pandemic, when takeout was the only option and lines snaked around grocery store entrances due to capacity limits.

“I made more money than I ever did with tips, and people were really generous,” she said.

In 2020, Campbell’s son was finishing up his junior year at UMass Amherst. He came home that spring to continue classes remotely, but graduated on time in 2021. Campbell was afraid she wouldn’t get to attend a live graduation, but UMass did in the end allow family members.

“If that’s the worst that happened, that’s not too bad,” she said.

Campbell truly counts herself lucky. Close to 1.7 million coronavirus cases have been counted in Massachusetts — almost a quarter of the population, and likely an undercount — since the start of the pandemic. More than 20,000 in the state have died due to COVID-19, which is 5,000 more than the population of Hampton, New Hampshire, where Campbell now lives.

Over two years, no one in Campbell’s family or close to her has tested positive for the virus or worse. She has been very cautious, she says. She’s received three vaccine doses and makes sure to wear a mask when out in public.

Campbell may actually be in a better place now than on March 17, 2020. While making Instacart deliveries, she met a family in Portsmouth in need of someone to take care of an elderly relative. She now works full-time as a caregiver for the family.

“We’ve been among the lucky ones, we’re very grateful,” she said.

Campbell won’t be back selling items at Patsie Duggans this year, but she hopes to go back for a future St. Patrick’s Day. (In the meantime, you can make crocheting requests to [email protected])

“I feel like we should all be very careful,” she said. “This could definitely happen again and could be more severe. I don’t think we should take it for granted that it’s over — I don’t think it is.”

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