It’s 2020 and we are living through a pandemic. We have seen grocery stores with empty shelves due to panic buying, been directed to walk one way down aisles to avoid infection, washed our hands multiple times a day for twenty seconds to kill the virus, struggled to find toilet paper and hand sanitizer (again, due to panic buying), isolated ourselves, maintained physical distance from others in social situations, and donned masks when we entered public spaces.
Many people are either laid off from work or are working from home. Essential workers—those who do work that is necessary to people’s lives—can work if they are healthy. Those who are seen as non-essential have been forced to stay home. How are people handling this time of uncertainty? I was curious, so I spoke with five people who were willing to share their stories.
For Monika Olszewski, a physical therapist who lives in Connecticut, being an essential worker means letting go of some of her freedom in order to protect the health of herself and those she cares for. It means getting her temperature checked before and after each shift, changing her clothing, and following other strict rules and regulations to ensure the virus doesn’t have a chance to find a new host.
Monika knows that it is key that she stay healthy so that she can be there to help those who depend on her. She follows the rules at work and limits her interactions with others, quarantining herself from family, friends, her girlfriend, and her children to keep them safe and to make sure her mother, who has a weak immune system, isn’t infected.
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With the changes at work, she has also encountered greater compassion and has gained greater respect for those she works with. “It’s unfortunate that only when tragedy hits is when most have a different outlook on things,” says Monika. “A lot of people depend on us more than we really know. All healthcare workers and first responders have my ultimate respect, as they always have, but this time it’s more of a unity to keep people alive.”
When considering when life will get back to normal and what that will look like, Monika, like so many others, is skeptical. “I do not think it will be normal for a long time,” she says. “…even when the state opens, I won’t find myself going back to any usual routine of kicking my shoes off when I go in. It’ll still be zip locking everything to change into clothes at work, only to repeat it at home again…”
Sean Colegrove—New Hampshire
Sean Colegrove, a guard for an armored truck who lives in New Hampshire, faces a different set of challenges. When asked about them, he says, “Work has changed in many ways. A lot of our retail customers are closed so in turn that reduces hours. Also, some customers are requiring us to wear masks and check our temperature before we are allowed in the building. We have been having to wait to be let into some customer buildings, which hinders how efficiently we can do our stops, so while we start later to accommodate customers opening late, we are rushing around to make it to all of the customers that are also closing early. It makes the day a chaotic balance.”
The changes have also trickled into his homelife. “Personally, I have had to now start making sure I clean up completely, right when I get home,” he says, “to try and limit my family’s contamination level. As well as we do not have Sunday dinner with my in-laws which is something we did every Sunday. We cook at home a lot more instead of eating out, so my air fryer has been getting used a lot.” While it is a breath of fresh air to know that there is job security, there has been quite a bit put in place to ensure everyone’s safety.
Despite the changes, Sean sees some positive outcomes of the pandemic, “People are coming together with their families and wanting to go outside,” he says. “Also, the environment is making a huge change with how much less pollution we are pumping into it. The air is cleaner and the water is cleaner. It is amazing how the Earth can make a rebound if we actually stop being so destructive.” There haven’t been too many changes for him, however. “When all this is over, I can’t wait for fires with friends,” he says. “Also, having places to go out to like mini golf or bowling. So, I’m just excited for social activities.”
Rubens Massena—New York
For Rubens Massena, a paralegal who lives in New York, changes include having to work from home and do nearly everything via phone or email. Having to commute to the office once a week means making sure he has his mask and being more aware of his surroundings. To keep himself and his family safe, he is following directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is washing his hands as often as is needed. Knowing what it means to be essential, he is doing all he can to protect himself and those he encounters, despite how seldom he sees others.
When asked when he thought his routine would go back to normal, being in a state so gravely affected by Covid-19, his response was, “I think it will take about a month or two after the quarantine to truly get back into my routine.” Although he is looking forward to getting back to some sense of normalcy, when reflecting on what he misses the most, he notes, “I’m mostly looking forward to getting back to being around family and friends.”
During this pandemic we have all noticed the people who have really stepped up to help. Rubens, as an essential worker, also says, “This virus has raised my respect levels for health care workers 1000% because they step into the fire each and every day to help other Americans. I’ve always respected them, but this just brought it to a whole new level.”
For Tajay Powell, a billing accountant from Tennessee, being an essential worker means that she is no longer working three days a week. She’s now working a full work week. She has to work from home and has to incorporate video meetings into her day, as it is the easiest way to securely communicate with her team. When thinking of how her schedule has changed, she says, “I no longer have access to the gym and had to cancel all trips.” Altered as her schedule might be, she had this to say when it came to things she is more appreciative of: “Life and family. A lot of people have died due of the virus. It’s very sad and I wouldn’t want to lose a loved one to this virus. I am happy that I get to be around my family.”
We might be missing what made our lives normal, but we are all leaning to appreciate what we still have. Whether it be family and friends or life itself. Even when you’re really missing and looking forward to, “crab legs and just enjoying the outside world again,” as Tajay laments, you can’t help but appreciate being in the moment.
Wyatt Ellingwood—New Hampshire
Working as a beverage distributor in New Hampshire, Wyatt Ellingwood considers his work as an essential employee, “We have had [to split shifts] in order to be able to maintain social distancing and to limit the risk of people in the warehouse getting sick.” On a personal note, he says, “I have had to change my diet due to how late I go into work. Having to cook more and prepare for the week and do home workouts versus ordering out and going to the gym.”
We depend on many businesses for what they provide us with. We have started looking at some through a different lens. This is what Wyatt added about essential businesses: “I have always viewed essential jobs and most workers as essential before the virus outbreak. They are there when you need them year-round, I just appreciate what they are doing to accommodate the elderly and more at-risk people.”
Like everyone else, Wyatt is looking forward to when things reopen. “I am hoping [things open] sometime before summer starts,” he says. People have really been doing what they can to prevent further spreading this virus, I’m hoping that that will be enough to get rid of it by the time we are ready to start having fun again.” Like everyone, Wyatt is looking forward to a change. “I am looking forward to getting some fishing and hunting done,” he says. “Spending some quality time with my family and welcoming my newborn nephew into this world. I am also looking forward to going out for date night again.”
Everyone has had to make changes due to the COVID-19 virus. Will these changes stick? Will we always have this in the back of our minds, will we so urgently go back to what we all thought to be normal? Things might go back to being normal within a week, a month or even a year. What we do know is what we are seeing now, which is, never take anything for granted. We are all missing something right now or someone; maybe multiple someones. Some people miss being able to go out and just have a good time with friends. Some are looking forward to visiting the elderly in their family and some are looking forward to just being able to leave their homes.
COVID-19, 2020. May we remember what we lost, cherish what we gained and appreciate the lives we live.
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