The Week the Virus Came Here

I called Evan Plotkin for a story I was doing on the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the commercial real-estate sector.

It’s one of many stories I and others here have been working on as this crisis unfolds, and I had many questions for him involving everything from how property owners can assist tenants hard hit by the virus to what may happen to the office market after all this is over.

And Plotkin, president of NAI Plotkin, a family-owned business that manages a number of properties across the region, was — as he seemingly always is — more than willing to discuss such matters.

But first, he wanted to talk about his mother, Judy.

A resident of a local nursing home, she was displaying symptoms of COVID-19 and had been taken to the hospital. And he was naturally quite concerned. He answered all my questions, but the tone of his voice made it clear that his mind was elsewhere — and where it should have been.

Less than 48 hours later, he posted a message on Facebook that his mother had passed away, providing more tragic evidence of something all of us already knew: this virus wasn’t somewhere else anymore. It’s here. And it’s killing people.

For months, it had been somewhere else. First, it was in China and a place none of us had ever heard of before called Wuhan. Then it was in South Korea, Italy, and Spain. And when it came to this country, it was still somewhere else. It was in Washington State and California, New York and New Jersey.

Not anymore. Now, it’s here.

This became all too apparent during a week we won’t forget, although we’re certain to see more like it.

This was the week we (and everyone else in this country) learned of the tragedy at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. Many heroes of a number of different wars have contracted the virus, and more than a dozen have died, some with strong ties to this area. The sorrow being expressed across the region — almost everyone knows someone in that home or knows someone who has a father or grandfather there — is tinged with controversy surrounding reports of missteps in the handling of the virus and an unwillingness to take the matter as seriously as was necessary.

During that same week, Colleen Loveless, president and CEO of Revitalize Springfield, posted a note on Facebook that her father had died in a Hartford Hospital soon after testing positive for COVID-19.

“This virus is devasting and cruel,” she wrote as she explained that she and other family members could not be with her father as the end came. “His healthcare professionals are heroes! Do your part to help all of us — STAY HOME!”

Loveless, as you might know, was honored by BusinessWest with its Difference Makers Award in 2014. And in the ‘gee, it really is a small world’ department, Evan Plotkin received that same honor a few years later.

It is a small world, and this virus is making it even smaller — in every way we can imagine.

It used to be somewhere else, this virus, this invisible menace. But not anymore. It’s right here, right now.

Plotkin, the Difference Maker, honored for all he has done to help revitalize Springfield and restore the vibrancy he remembered from his youth, wanted to talk about how his mother was a difference maker in her own right.

“She was a career volunteer for Baystate Medical going back to the late 1960s,” he wrote in an e-mail the day before she died. “She served as chair of the board of trustees, the first woman to hold that position. My entire life growing up, I thought my mother was an employee of Baystate; it wasn’t until later on that I realized that she did this as a volunteer.”

Judy died in the hospital she served for so many years on April 3.

And, tragically, she won’t be the last.

In case there was any doubt at all, the virus isn’t ‘somewhere else’ anymore. And it’s time to heed Colleen Loveless’s advice.

George O’Brien is the editor of BusinessWest; [email protected]