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What it’s really like being an essential worker in a politicized pandemic

By Summer Bowman, Opinion

The life-threatening coronavirus pandemic was first acknowledged by the American government in March and case numbers shot up like a rocket.

In some states, they continue to rise by record numbers daily.

People working in businesses deemed “non-essential” found themselves unemployed, desperately seeking jobs on the front lines.

For the most part, the virus was taken seriously. People understood their lives were in danger every time they stepped foot into a public place.

On the other hand, there were people who thought the virus was a joke made up by politicians during election season to gain voters.

They believed that because they were not experiencing the virus first-hand, it must not be as dangerous or easily spread as the government would have the public believe.

Regardless of their personal opinions on the matter, the virus and its effects were felt far and wide.

Essential employees saw drastic changes in their work lives. Every state implemented procedures to close business not vital to the general public’s wellbeing.

Some people were lucky enough to have the opportunity to work from home, but the majority found themselves furloughed, or completely unemployed. These people worried about their mortgage, their bills, and putting food on the table.

They considered those of us still employed to be the lucky ones. They were wrong.

At the start of the pandemic, I worked in a pharmacy as a technician. At first, I too considered myself lucky to remain employed.

What I never considered is how little would change at my place of employment.

It was quickly made apparent to me that the owners did not take the pandemic seriously and called it a conspiracy. The pharmacy did not require masks to be worn or that the customers and employees remain a distance of 6 feet apart, which had become the standard procedure for most companies still in operation.

When I first wore a mask into my place of employment, I was mocked. The owner said to me, “You can’t buy into this crap. Take that off.”

I had just watched the sister of a dear friend of mine’s contract the virus. I knew all too well the reality of the virus and all the negative side effects that came with it. Yet, I took my mask off that day.

I didn’t want to be mocked, but I could not find a new job given the circumstances.

Every day I came in to face the harsh reality that I could contract the virus that day and potentially bring it home to my parents.

There were no guidelines implemented, no plexiglass installed to protect us from sick patients, there was only ridicule.

It astounded me that my employer could be so naive to the matter at hand. I could not understand how I was being called lucky when I worried that my life was in danger every day. I could not understand the decision to risk our lives rather than wear a mask they considered to be irritating and unnecessary.

I was an essential employee during the pandemic and considered lucky to remain employed, but I was not. I choose to leave the pharmacy after several weeks of wearing my mask to work regardless of what they believed.

On my last day, they made it a company policy to wear masks. The public’s concerns with their lack of safety procedures in place were noted to management.

In that moment, I had the biggest smirk on my face that could only be interpreted as “I told you so.”

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