Essential Workers Workplace Changes

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During COVID-19, essential workers are required to go back to work with new safety changes put in place by companies, and employees risk contracting the novel coronavirus.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak hit the country in late January, the unemployment rate skyrocketed. However, medical jobs and service industry jobs such as retail became more active. As school resumes, and quarantine lifts, workers begin taking their places back. A majority of the companies and businesses opening are only requiring essential workers to attend. Although, COVID-19 is still ongoing, returning to work means taking the risk of contracting it.

Costigan working the cash register at Crumbl.

“Personally, I think I worry maybe more than other people my age,” junior Sarah Costigan said. “Like I’m just really cautious, mostly because of my family, because I know [for] me, I’m relatively healthy and my immune system is working fine. So I know if I got it, I would probably be okay, but I can’t say that for the other people in my house, so I’m pretty cautious.”

Costigan works at Crumbl Cookies and has since they opened in January before the pandemic. Sarah originally took a month off work. After coming back, cases spiked and she went on another small break before returning for good.

“We make sure when we’re in the back or [in] an instance where we need to take a sip of water or something, we all keep our distance,” Costigan said. “So all my coworkers are being really safe too.”

New precautions at Crumbl during the pandemic include: wearing a mask (also required of customers), wiping down the counters on a regular basis, and wearing gloves and changing them out whenever employees touch anything that could be contaminated.

“Hopefully, as for my coworkers, if they felt symptoms they would immediately say something,” Costigan said, “Just so we know in advance, and we can make sure that no one else is showing the same signs.”

The majority of schools in Houston began opening up their doors for face-to-face students for the 2020-2021 school year starting around the end of August and early September. According to Wilson Elementary School nurse Jan Thomas, the Harris County Health Department advised that schools have an under 5% positivity rate, but not all schools did when they went back. Harris County is currently leading the state in COVID-19 cases, yet school workers still find reasons to return to work despite these things.

Essential workers have been working around the clock since the coronavirus struck.

“Being that I’ve been there for a while, they’ve become like my work family and I felt like we were all in it together,” Thomas, said, “And the personality that I have, I didn’t want to trust that particular school to anyone who didn’t have experience with it with infection control. And so along with my family members, we together decided it was best for me to go back to work.”

Working for the district, Thomas explained how difficult the decision was deciding if she should risk going back to work or leave the job up to someone else. In times like these, going out affects you – and potentially those around you.

“We are maintaining three to six feet apart from each other, we’re wearing masks, except when outside at recess. And during lunch, we’re washing our hands and sanitizing our hands frequently. To a degree that we follow the guidelines, they can be effective,” Thomas said. “However, with the CDC, recently, making it official that COVID has an airborne component. I’m not sure if our guidelines are going to be enough.”