Editor’s note: The Virus Diaries is a series in which Mainers talk about how they are affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Michael and Janette Sweem. Michael is a 23-year veteran of the Navy; their daughter, Rebecca, also is in the Navy, aboard a destroyer that is dealing with a coronavirus outbreak.  Photo courtesy of Janette Sweem

Janette Sweem of Richmond is dealing with plenty during the coronavirus lockdown, trying to remotely manage a food pantry – and the increasing demands upon it – in between chemotherapy treatments.

Then came news of a coronavirus outbreak on the naval destroyer USS Kidd, deployed off the Pacific coast of South America. As of Monday, 64 of the crew of 350 had tested positive for the virus.

“We got word (Friday) about the outbreak. Our daughter is a LTJG (lieutenant junior grade) on this vessel,” said Sweem, “and we are now very concerned for her and for all the sailors on her ship.

“In this crisis, as parents, we thought she would be safe being out to sea. That is not the case now. We are watching very closely for any updates. … Communication is sporadic, and we haven’t heard from her in a couple of days. But last we heard she is doing just fine.”

Rebecca Sweem, the daughter of Michael and Janette Sweem, is a graduate of Richmond High (2012) and Norwich University (2016). She was first assigned to the USS McCampbell at Yokosuka, Japan, for three years before transferring to the USS Kidd.

“We are so very proud of her accomplishments and being a representative of our community,” Janette Sweem said. “She is OUR hero.”

Rebecca Sweem is a lieutenant junior grade aboard the naval destroyer USS Kidd. At least 47 of the crew of 350 have tested positive for COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Janette Sweem

Sweem, 63, has other issues to deal with, besides worrying about her daughter.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January, so in February I underwent two surgeries and started chemo in March and will continue until the end of July, when radiation will then commence. It’s been a hellish year all around.

“The care I have been receiving at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Brunswick has been tremendous; they have taken extreme measures to keep me safe and I feel very blessed to have been able to continue my treatments.

“Because I am immunocompromised, I have to be extremely isolated … I just do not go out. My husband has been doing all the shopping. We have many friends who have graciously offered and brought over food for us and other items; and my husband will not let me touch anything until he has cleaned it.”

Sweem has continued her role as director of the Richmond Area Food Pantry, which serves Richmond, Dresden and Bowdoinham.

“I keep busy with being an armchair warrior on the computer, organizing food pantry volunteers and fundraiser,” she said.

“Food pantries in Maine have been hit hard. … We have had a 40 percent increase in the number of clients due to job loss, and essentially more people needing the food pantry to put food on their table. The biggest problem has been having access to food. Because we are a small town and have no big box grocery stores, we have to rely on stores in other towns to help us out, but the supply is limited. Our partner, the Good Shepherd Food Bank, unfortunately, does not have a lot of food to distribute at this time, either.

“We are so grateful to the people at the USDA in Augusta and to our local business and individual supporters who have generously donated and kept us open for business throughout this trying time.

“There has been so much good that has come of this pandemic that I see: We are closer to our neighbors – we check on each other. If someone is going out, phone calls are made: ‘Do you need anything, can I pick up something for you?’ I see more people getting outside: Families are walking/riding bikes/doing things together. People seem to be more empathetic and caring towards others’ needs. We are kinder to each other and not so judgmental.”

Sweem quipped that she had one concern about being quarantined.

“My husband, a 23-year Navy veteran, spent half of his time away from home on deployments and then spent six years (three of them away from home) working as a contractor in Afghanistan. He has had to work from home for these past few months.

“It was terrifying, worrying if we would be compatible, virtually being confined to a small space.

“I know now that, when it is time to retire, I will be able to enjoy retirement with my husband. We have discovered that we can live together under one roof and still have fun!”

Do you have a story to share about how you are affected by the coronavirus outbreak? Email us at [email protected]

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