“Essential workers” continually put their lives at risk during current pandemic

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Tessa Collinson

After my workplace, Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers, closed the dining room, my first shift back was beyond weird.

Everything seemed normal. I walked in to work and everyone continued to act as per usual: joking with each other and trading stories from the past few days. We all got a good laugh at my manager who had jokingly put on a “Hi my name is” sticker, “essential” written where your name typically goes. I accepted the fact that I would have to wash my hands frequently and wear gloves to protect myself and others.

Then I started to take everything in.

Red chairs still sat on top of all of our tables, which someone had pushed against the far wall. One of my managers pulled out a booth chair and began to reupholster the cracking vinyl. Our normal staff of anywhere from eight to 10 people plus four or five managers had been reduced to four or five people, though the number of managers remains the same. Recently, we installed a plastic barrier between us and the guests, something I found out when I ran head-first into it. We also implemented a two-person drive-thru system to prevent contamination from handling money.

At first, I found it to be eerily quiet. Between a full dining room and a robust staff, Freddy’s is rarely quiet. Screaming kids run around chatting parents and teens while the rest of us provide the best service to our guests possible.

I quickly began to regret even thinking it was quiet. “Thanks for choosing Freddy’s,” I say, running almost purely on adrenaline and muscle memory. “What can I get started for you today?” I took orders after orders while a line formed around the building. Or, I took money, handed back a card or change along with drinks, and pushed out bags of food. Meanwhile, I would multitask by making drinks or custards or placing napkins, receipts and sauces in each bag, a desperate attempt to keep the line moving and prevent orders from stacking up.

These shifts have felt consistently crazier than before the outbreak. Despite everything, our demand through our drive-thru still remains extremely high. Attempting to keep track of large orders and making sure each guest has everything they need is taxing, not only physically but emotionally.

Every time I open the window, despite the distance between me and our guests, I wonder if the virus is making its way towards me, clinging to my gloves or my clothes. Every time I interact with the elderly or someone with a baby, I wonder if I am passing something on that could kill them. Cars full of giggling teens panic me. Why aren’t they social distancing, I think to myself. For all I know, they could be unknowing carriers, passing on a virus which I can then give to others.

While part of this is my innate tendency to worry, they are valid concerns. We all have friends and family who are high-risk. Many would caution me to just stop working, but I believe that my contribution is important, as we are one of a few restaurants still open. However, because of this, I ask that everyone else does their part.

The more people who are out, the higher the chance deadly pathogens spread. Resisting social distancing puts not only workers at high risk but also those we interact with. Unless there is no other option, make dinner at home. I know it’s hard, but resist the urge to go out to get some form of dessert. By doing this, we are all ensuring more people will make it through this hard time.

Everything will still be there when quarantine is over.

The views in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of the HiLite staff. Reach Tessa Collinson at [email protected]

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