Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

Living Day to Day as an Essential Worker

They're still concerned for safety, just trying to get by.

By , Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service - Aug 5th, 2020 02:04 pm
Photo by Adam Carr/NNS.

Photo by Adam Carr/NNS.

Milwaukee’s essential workers continue to toil on the frontlines, risking exposure to COVID-19 by doing so.

Since March, we’ve been checking in with a group of workers who have shared their stories with us. (Note: Names of individuals and some details have been withheld or altered to protect their identity and jobs. The stories have been edited slightly for clarity.)

‘I definitely feel a lot better about everything now’

Lisa, a chef/supervisor at an assisted living facility: Early in the pandemic, there was an outbreak at the facility where she works and some residents died. A month later, things had settled down and she felt a little more secure.

Update: So everyone at the job –  staff, residents – are all negative for COVID-19 right now. They’ve actually relaxed some of the quarantine restrictions now. Some of the residents are able to journey out of their rooms as long as they have a mask on. There are a few who come to eat in the dining room. They have also accepted three new residents. They have to stay in isolation for two weeks, even though a couple of them don’t listen.

We’ve just been stocking up on personal protective equipment. I can only order small amounts of gloves, disposable masks and gowns at a time. My boss is worried about another outbreak. Otherwise it’s business as usual, still wearing masks and changing into scrubs when we get to work. I definitely feel a lot better about everything now than I did back at the beginning!

My family is good. My mom still won’t go anywhere. I started to let my 14-year-old out to do some things. She went to a protest, has been to the mall, and she goes grocery shopping with us. She even ordered a Black Lives Matter mask to wear. I won’t take my 3-year-old anywhere she has to go in a cart. She touches too many things and puts her hands in her mouth. She would definitely get sick. My 20-year-old is still working at the job with me. We do a lot of playing outside, walks and bike riding. My girls got some real nice tans (lol).  But all in all, things are way better now than it was.

‘I feel safer at work, less safe outside of work’

Linda, a public health nurse: In late March, she said: “I sit on the edge of my bed thinking … is this the day? Will I bring it home today? By May, she still had anxiety over catching COVID-19, and her workplace was beginning to expand services.

Update: I do not have the fear that I used to have. We have PPE figured out and everyone is supplied, although some refuse to wear it.  So far, no employees here have been diagnosed with COVID (knock on wood). I don’t feel safer outside of work, as I’m not wearing PPE besides a mask, and too many people have bought into “loss of freedom” and “it’s not that that bad” and “it’s a left wing hoax” conspiracy theories and don’t wear masks. They are just lazy and inconsiderate.

I go grocery shopping on Saturday mornings, have taken a couple of trips to Menards (early morning for garden necessities), but other than that have remained isolated. I’m OK with it, but I have an 88 -year-old friend who lives on her own and is really starting to decline because of the isolation. I can’t visit her because I am too exposed at work.  So . . . I feel safer at work, less safe outside of work.

‘I just wish people would think about how they treat retail workers’

Maria, a Walmart worker and tax preparer: Maria had not had the opportunity to meet her first grandchild, who was born during the pandemic.

Update: I have not got to meet my granddaughter yet, but I’m hopeful that I will very soon.  I’m just around so many people and I don’t want to risk it. I’m on my eight-week leave from my tax prep job right now. Walmart is stressful. It’s like so many people lost common sense and think just because you work at Walmart,  you’re insignificant. We had a customer throwing a fit because we didn’t have an item in and he started knocking things off the shelfs; parents who do not watch their kids and let them ride bikes all through the store – not just in the bike section to try out the bike either.  I mean from one end of the store to the other.

We asked the kids to please not ride the bikes in the store three times. Then the mom came over and said it doesn’t matter what the employees say, they can do what they want. I try so hard every day to be kind and respectful and treat people how I want to be treated.

Oh, and the mask. I feel so bad for the door greeters. One already quit because of the customers. I don’t feel safer from COVID-19, but what can you do? I have bills, and they need to be paid. I just wish people would think about how they treat retail workers. We try and keep the store clean and safe for everyone but get yelled at, spit on and treated badly. Kindness goes a long way.

‘Is it really safe enough?’

Jennifer, who worked as an Amazon delivery worker: The last time we spoke to Jennifer, she didn’t feel safe working at Amazon.   

Update: I haven’t been back to work. Amazon hasn’t increased the wages. They know people need the work, so they lowball everyone and send you out over 100 miles for a three-hour block and you make maybe $60. No way. Not worth it. Not to mention the warehouse doesn’t seem too safe either.

I don’t think things are any safer at all. The proof is in the numbers. I have mixed feelings about things opening up. On one hand, we need to work and do life, and on the other hand, is it really safe enough? Not sure.

‘We are still taking this COVID seriously’

Ofelia, a staffing consultant: Ofelia and her husband had been taking precautions outside of work to protect their family from COVID-19. In June, she said she felt safer than she did in March.

Update: We are taking extra safety measures at work to make sure that our staff and associates feel safe while in the office. At this point, we are not accepting any walk-ins to minimize the exposure to COVID, and we are requiring everyone to wear a face mask and use hand sanitizer upon arrival to their appointment.

My husband and I are still following the same safety precautions. We are still taking this COVID seriously, especially when it has to do with our children’s safety. I like the idea that now the City of Milwaukee has a mandatory mask policy. As far as whether or not schools should open, I feel like it is much safer that the children stay out of schools. They are children and don’t know any better on how to properly stay safe from spreading the virus.

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

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