I Caught the ‘Rona: Working Retail During a Pandemic
I Caught the 'Rona: Working Retail During a Pandemic
Beyond the media cycle COVID-19 has been a part of, my first moments of having the gravity of the situation put into perspective was at my nine-to-five job.
I work at a major retailer that primarily sells electronic goods. When the threat of COVID-19 began looming about a month ago and employers were starting to have their employees work from home or suspend operations, our store had seen more traffic than it had all year.
People came in for monitors, computers, and a myriad of adapters. They came in droves for printers, ink, tablets, and other various things they needed to work from home.
They also knew they would either be cooped up for a while or unable to easily make purchases, so they were also buying entertainment devices – Nintendo Switches, virtual reality headsets, Playstation 4s, Xboxes, and televisions were also selling out.
I’m sure you can see where this increased traffic may pose a problem for my coworkers, customers and me. We were supposed to be avoiding direct human contact during this time and instead, thousands of people were walking into our store every day. I was interacting with hundreds of strangers during my shifts.
We had plenty of hand sanitizer at the onset of this wave of customers, but it was quickly depleted. Hand sanitizer was especially important because my associates and I were all touching the same equipment (computers, registers, display models, products), and we realistically couldn’t walk to the back and wash our hands for the recommended amount of time whenever we touched something.
Tensions were high not only amongst employees, but also with customers. I had more unpleasant interactions in the last month than in my entire five year tenure with this company. It’s likely due to a combination of the psychological trauma COVID-19 is having on individuals, potential health risks, and or the uncertainty that it will have on their employment status or the economy.
As aforementioned, people were coming in droves, the likes of which we usually see around Black Friday and the holiday season. We’re sold out of many things, and people want them now. They didn’t want things shipped to them or to return to the store, fearing infection or spreading the virus if they were unknowing carriers (since you can have the virus and be asymptomatic).
I tried to remain empathetic, as this is something most of us have never experienced and everyone’s a little scared. But it is difficult when you are butting heads with others for more than half of your shift – and you end up contracting the virus from doing your job.
Exacerbating the increased risk of exposure for both employees and customers is the fact that COVID-19 has been a monetary boon to purveyors of electronic and consumer goods. While grocery stores are seeing increased traffic and items are selling out, some retailers, like GameStop, are seeing more business than they’ve seen in years. For a company that is on the verge of collapse, one could see why GameStop would want to remain open, especially with two major releases of 2020: Animal Crossing: New Horizons and DOOM Eternal.
My company has done the same. I worked what may be my last shift for the time being on March 21, 2020, as we closed down the store and switched to curbside pickups. Going forward, interactions will be made outside where customers remain in their cars and the associate runs inside to grab whatever product is needed.
Ultimately, while I think this is a good path forward, this should have been done much, much earlier.
What it Means For Me
Financially, I am uncertain.
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But right now my retail job is what pays the bills. While we have been promised our regular pay for the next 2 weeks, and there is an additional $2.50/hour incentive for people who volunteer to work the curbside assistance, there has been no plan communicated following that.
This is a frightening and uncertain reality that many people are facing. Hell, many people have already lost their jobs due to the financial hardships many businesses are finding themselves in after only about a month of pandemic.
Personally, while I was not tested (how could I since there is no rigid procedure in place?), there was evidence that suggested I contracted COVID-19.
Shortly after my last shift, I became short of breath with a tightness in my chest and also developed a dry cough. I don’t know if I had a fever as once I realized I may have the ‘rona, I secluded myself within my room for a week.
I never felt completely immobilized. However, I was tired and remained in bed, leaving only to get food or water. What worried me most was not my own health, but whether or not I would spread the virus to my roommate, who is diabetic with a compromised immune system.
Whenever I did leave my room to go to the kitchen, I made sure to only touch what was essential and to sanitize everything I had come into contact with.
As of now, I am fine and feel fully recovered, though I am still partaking in preventative activities. I’m also finding ways to pass the time in healthy ways and have begun working out at home and running miles through my neighborhood.
What it Means For Us
It’s no secret that we are in the beginning stages of a pandemic. I say beginning, because while it may be crazy now, with city-wide shutdowns, major sports leagues suspending their entire season, and shortages of essential protective equipment, we are only experiencing the initial stages.
With over 374,329 confirmed cases [a week ago, there were 103,321], we still don’t really know how many are infected with the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) because of test kit shortages. If you live within driving distance of Georgia Tech, you can register for one of the 1,000 tests they’re issuing each day (must be same-day appointments).
But you have to be quick, like 12:01 a.m. quick.
I don’t mean to be an alarmist. I am merely reiterating just how serious this issue is and to ensure that we are prepared to deal with the pandemic.
The reality that COVID-19 has thrust our society into is dire, there is no sugar coating it. But for a generation that has seen multiple financial crises and countless tragedies, we can make it through – we fucking have to. We simply need to follow the preventative measures suggested by experts and remain headstrong.
Hang in there… And remember, you are not alone.