Essential workers brave the front lines

Perspectives from grocery workers, medical staff


Ian Doyle

Walmart adds social distancing stickers on the floor so customers can stay a minimum of six feet apart, as per CDC guidelines.

Millions of essential workers are braving the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing groceries, medical support and deliveries. As the public storms grocery stores of all products, workers are expected to keep the store stocked and ensure safety for themselves as customers. Medical staff are dedicating all time and effort to their patients, both affected and unaffected by COVID-19. Delivery drivers are supplying the demand for online ordering to the many who are home bound by the stay at home order. Without these workers, the U.S. would suffer far more.

Chase White is a grocery store stocker and general worker at the Round Lake Jewel Osco. His position requires that he regularly interacts with coworkers and customers; however, regulations, like staying at least six feet apart from others, have impacted communication.

Interacting with customers and co-workers has definitely changed. I feel a little bit more safe to stand a couple feet away from people.  At work, I am washing my hands probably every half hour and wearing rubber gloves as well. I try not to stand too close to people and also respect the customers’ health. At home, I wash my hands frequently as well,” White said.

Grocery stores have high interaction levels, which potentially puts workers at risk to get exposure to the virus. Companies, such as Jewel Osco, are conscious of this, and are compensating their workers for their continuous effort. This involves directly working with the union to seek out fair adjustments.

“I think Jewel-Osco has handled it pretty well. They allow us to wear gloves and anything we believe is necessary. They have bumped our pay two dollars up, which is amazing. They also have allowed us to take time off without any repercussion,” White said.

The pandemic quickly changed the public’s attitude towards supplies. At the start of quarantine, grocery stores were raided of hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and non perishable items. Grocery stores had to keep up with the demand. 

“Before the pandemic, my shifts would be very boring and slow. By 8:00 p.m., Jewel would be a ghost town. As the pandemic grew, every day would be absolutely insane. It was the most amount of customers I’ve ever seen. Nearly every supply of essential food or water we had were wiped clean from the shelves. I would stock 20 cases of water, and it would be gone in two minutes. The customers however didn’t seem to be panicked. They came off as determined and understanding, at least most of them,” White said.

Grocery stores and other public stores are highly encouraging to continue practicing social distancing and other precautionary measures during this time, especially if someone is going to go out.

“I believe customers should know that employees are just as concerned for their health as they are. Do not take offense if we take a couple steps back or refuse to touch or hold something. Also, make sure to wash your hands and stay home if you have symptoms,” White said.

There are other positions that now need extra precautions due to the pandemic. Ian Doyle, a cart associate at Walmart, has modified his daily actions.

“At work, I wear gloves since I touch dozens if not hundreds of carts a day. I don’t feel the need to wear a mask because they are not effective at preventing the disease. They could go to better use for doctors, and I am mostly isolated from the customers and from many other workers. Distance is my key to safety because in order to do my job. My only worry is that I have to touch a lot of potentially unclean surfaces, which is why I wear the gloves,” Doyle said. “The unfortunate thing for me is that I really can’t fully be safe at my job. I’ll constantly be touching the carts, so I have to rely on others not to come out if they aren’t healthy.”

The pandemic brought a sense of fear throughout the public. Stores are now conscious of how to keep efficiency and safety throughout the store to ease fear.

“People were, and still are, scared. People wanted to stock up on what they could as fast as possible, leaving many isles empty. Early on in the panic, on some of the first days of hoarding, I had no idea how bad it was going to be. I walked into my shift and saw the garage almost completely empty, with a small row of carts left. By the time I clocked in and brought in a new row of carts, the carts that I had seen on the way in were gone, and a group of customers were waiting to get the ones I brought in,” Doyle said.

However, customers and Walmart show gratitude toward their workers for working during this stressful time.

“Customers have since calmed down, but they are still cautious, wearing gloves and masks into the store. Some customers have been nicer and even shown gratitude to me and my coworkers for continuing to work at this time. Employees will be given bonuses, $150 for part-time employees and $300 for full-time. While personally it’s not quite as much as I would have expected for continuing work in a crisis, I’m happy to be getting something to help me out, and anything is appreciated,” Doyle said.

Medical staff are working day and night at the front lines

Walmart adds social distancing stickers on the floor so customers can stay a minimum of six feet apart, as per CDC guidelines.

to tend to COVID-19 and non COVID-19 patients. Hospitals nationwide also have to keep in mind protecting doctors, nurses, and other patients from contracting the virus. Alexis Lopez, a patient care tech, sees how COVID-19 has overtaken her position.

We all have to wear certain gear (gowns, N95 masks, gloves, goggles, etc.) in order to protect us. Along with that, we have to change our gear each time we go into another room, minus the mask and goggles since we are short on them. This also in turn helps protect other patients since we won’t be touching the patient with contaminated clothing. We have to wash our hands all the time. On my unit, we have to perform hand hygiene three times before even going into the room, and three more when we come out. Along with that, there is a hospital wide rule that we have to all be wearing normal surgical masks as we are walking around anywhere in the hospital to ensure that there is nothing going to be transmitted between workers,” Lopez said. 

With the recent lack of medical supplies, medical staff encourage the public to follow Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. By doing so, the public can protect themselves and others from spreading the virus.

All of our staff can agree that everyone should stay home unless you absolutely NEED to go out. I don’t think people realize how important that is. I’ve witnessed people first hand get emotional and upset because they can’t even see their family members anymore. Along with that, we don’t want to have to keep seeing more and more people come in sick. We all work hard to help people in need, and we come home exhausted, but even then we are trying to fight something we can’t even see. We have families that are worried about us at work, and people who don’t want to come home because they live with elderly individuals or have young children,” Lopez said.

Despite the constant stress, medical professionals and staff are determined to help the public in the fight against the virus.

“During this time, I just keep in mind that I am trying to help people. I would not want to leave during this time when people need it most. My mindset is that I have to stay positive in order to spread that positivity to my patients who are worried if they will get better. At times when it does get stressful and overwhelming I just remember that I am doing this for the good of the people. Making people feel better, in turn makes me feel better,” Lopez said.