William Whitmire and his wife, via the subject
William Whitmire and his wife, via the subject

The pandemic forced William Whitmire, a 56-year-old living in Phoenix, Arizona, to shut down his microbusiness just when it was on the verge of taking off.

Ahead of Election Day, COURIER spoke to five Americans who’ve been impacted by COVID-19 in one way or another. Read more of their stories here.

William Whitmire’s business was on the verge of taking off in March. 

The 56-year-old Arizona entrepreneur specialized in providing coffee for events like fundraisers and pet adoptions, and had recently signed a contract with a company that hosted health and wellness expos. 

“It was a great opportunity to get a lot of exposure,” Whitmire told COURIER.

But as the coronavirus pandemic spread across the country in March, Whitmire’s clients canceled on him, decimating his business. “Things started really going south in March and April here,” Whitmire said. “Things started to shut down a little bit and my business started taking a hit.”

Whitmire’s business didn’t qualify for the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, which provided financial assistance to some small businesses, so he was forced to temporarily shut it down. Whitmire, who is married, didn’t receive unemployment benefits and was reluctant to take another job because he worried he might bring the virus home to his 66-year-old immunocompromised wife. 

But he also needed income, so he took on a few short-term sales jobs, none of which worked out. In June, he was hired as a barista at Starbucks—a job he still holds to this day. 

The pandemic’s impact on Whitmire hasn’t been isolated to his business. He also believes he contracted COVID-19 in January, long before the outbreak had been declared a pandemic. He suffered nausea and experienced a 105-degree fever. “It felt like the flu, but it wasn’t the flu,” Whitmire said. “It was just a lot of weird stuff I’d never experienced before.”

Because Whitmire fell ill so early on in the outbreak, he never received a test for COVID-19. But as the virus spread across the United States and scientists, doctors, and the general public learned more about COVID-19, Whitmire consulted with physicians about his experience. 

“They said, ‘It sure sounds to me like you had COVID,’” Whitmire said. “And when the list of symptoms came out from the CDC and I started looking at the primary and the secondary symptoms, I’d had every single one of them, except for the loss of taste and smell.”

In June, Whitmire’s wife contracted COVID-19. She was “kind of out of it for four days,” Whitmire said, but added that her symptoms were otherwise mild. Still, the experience scared her and pushed her into retirement.

“It’s wreaked a lot of havoc in our lives.”

“It’s wreaked a lot of havoc in our lives,” Whitmire said of the pandemic. 

Despite the hardships he and his wife have faced this year, Whitmire considers himself lucky. The pandemic hasn’t affected his housing status, as it has for so many other Americans.

“We’ve been able to stay where we live, but it’s only because we’re blessed with other resources—some investments that we had from before,” Whitmire said. “We’re really fortunate, but there’s a lot of people who aren’t this fortunate. There’s a lot of people facing homelessness, and that just really bothers me.”

Arizona’s eviction moratorium ended on Oct. 31, and hundreds of thousands of residents could face eviction when the moratorium enacted by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention expires Dec. 31. Nearly eight months into the pandemic, more than 400,000 people are still also claiming unemployment benefits in Arizona, which offers a maximum weekly benefit of only $240 per week, the second lowest rate in the nation.

Whitmire blames President Donald Trump for the federal government’s failure to extend the $600-a-week federal unemployment benefit that expired at the end of July. “He’s the president. He should be able to go in and do something,” he said. “He is the leader. He should have found a way to have gone in there and negotiated or done something.”

He also put some of the blame for the economic devastation at the feet of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who downplayed the severity of the virus, rushed to lift public safety restrictions, and refused to require Arizonans to wear masks.

“If Gov. Ducey and President Trump had handled things better early on when it started, I don’t think things would have gotten as bad as they did,” Whitmire said. “If the governor and Trump had coordinated their efforts more, I think that our economy would have been better off.”

Equally frustrating for Whitmire has been the lack of compassion coming from the president. “I don’t hear anything about the people who are really suffering through this pandemic,” Whitmire said. “I don’t hear him talking about it or acknowledging it.”

Trump has continued to speak of the virus as if it’s over, arguing the nation is “rounding the corner,” even as the US recorded more than 97,000 cases on Friday, setting a new daily record just ahead of Election Day. 

While millions of Americans will head to the polls on Tuesday, Whitmire has already cast his vote for Democratic nominee Joe Biden. He believes the former vice president could actually help America recover and rebuild from the pandemic. 

“I think Joe Biden is really the person that can get people back to work. He’s got a plan,” Whitmire said. “I haven’t heard Donald Trump say, ‘Here is my concrete plan for getting people jobs.’”

As for Whitmire’s own plan, he continues to work at Starbucks, but is trying to find ways to restart his own coffee business. He recently came across a microgrant program from the City of Phoenix focused specifically on microbusinesses like his own. 

“If I could get something like that, I could maybe start up again part-time and maybe make a go of it,” Whitmire said. “That’s kind of where we’re at.”

READ MORE: Your Coronavirus Stories: Here’s How We’re Dealing—or Aren’t