A Student Perspective: What It’s Like to Work During a Pandemic

By Gianina Fan, editor

For many young people, quarantine is a time of absolute boredom, hours upon hours of Netflix or even a time to watch the online school work pile higher and higher. But for others, it’s a time of stepping up while the rest of the world shelters in their homes, even if it’s just a matter of going to work.

The long lines that trail outside grocery stores today is something no one would have ever envisioned happening. For Maria Carrillo High School senior Trey Tuxhorn, an employee at Oliver’s Market, this is his new reality. “We’ve had to change a lot about how the store runs,” said Tuxhorn. “We only allow 50 customers in the store at one time, and my main job is to keep track of how many people we have in the store.”

He continued, “We are not allowing people to bring in reusable bags from home, but we are giving away our paper bags for free. We’ve put up glass panes on every check stand to try and separate the checkers from the customers, and we’ve put decals on the floor to keep customers six feet apart while waiting in line. We constantly sanitize everything, including carts and baskets.”

Oliver’s has been requiring its employees to don face masks and gloves. In accordance with the county’s new requirements, customers without face masks are not allowed into the store. According to Tuxhorn, they have “placed restrictions on the amount of certain products each customer can buy, such as eggs and frozen vegetables.” In addition, Oliver’s has changed Senior Discount Day to run from Tuesday to Thursday and employed a senior-only shopping hour from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m.

MCHS alumna Isabella Aldred, who graduated just last semester, described a similar work environment at Target: “Stressful for sure. I experience the stress of online orders and having to get thousands of items packed in four hours.” She added, “Not to mention the front end always calling for backup.”

On top of the stress of working during such odd circumstances, dealing with angry customers hasn’t been helpful. MCHS alumna Sierra Morgan said, “A lot of people were very cautious–which is good–but a lot of people got very grumpy and annoyed with employees.” Morgan recently took on a job at the Safeway bakery decorating cakes after losing the job she had at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa due to campus closure. 

Not only that, but the risk of catching coronavirus is very real for these essential workers. In fact, Aldred very likely caught coronavirus while working at Target. While Aldred was never formally tested, she reported having a high fever, coughing, soreness, a sore throat and difficulty breathing. “It got to the point where the doctor asked if she needed to call an ambulance for me,” said Aldred. When asked if she felt anxious about her condition, Aldred replied, “Oh definitely. I got scared to go to work.” Although she has recovered from her illness, she now has strep throat. She has not returned to work.

Morgan also contracted coronavirus, but not from work. Rather, her stepfather brought it home after his coworker was infected, both Santa Rosa Police Department officers. Due to such circumstances, Morgan got tested at Kaiser Permanente through a drive-thru system on March 29 where patients must stay in their car and show their ID before they can even roll down their window. 

She began to show symptoms later, though not nearly as serious as Aldred’s: “It felt like a bad cold and I had some trouble breathing.”

Because working at a time like this has its fair share of incredibly high risks, businesses have tried to accommodate their employees. Tuxhorn and Aldred have both noted that Oliver’s and Target have raised their wages two dollars as hazard pay until the pandemic is no longer an issue. As an employee for a large corporate business, Aldred reported, “My leads and our [human resource] ladies were making sure we felt appreciated while I was there. Doesn’t feel the same with the company as a whole.” She continued, “ I couldn’t get paid because I wasn’t ‘sick’ even though I sent in all the documents to corporate.”

On top of hazardous conditions, balancing work and school has been difficult. “I’ll get off at 9 p.m. then have to go into work the next day at 6 a.m.,” said Tuxhorn. With so much of his time dedicated to working, Tuxhorn hasn’t been able to allocate time to school: “Well now that my grades can’t drop, and I ended third quarter with A’s and B’s, I have no reason to work on school at all.” After he reached out in an email, his teachers have been understanding of his situation.

Likewise, Morgan said, “it’s really hard to balance both.” She works seven days a week, about 70 hours total. Though it’s hard to imagine a culinary school being able to have online classes, CIA has moved their operation online by giving students double the amount of lectures so that they won’t have to do those lectures the following semester when they return to campus. The CIA doesn’t have a summer break and plans to have their students return to campus June 1.

Many other MCHS students are now dealing with job loss. While most students don’t depend on their jobs to provide a living wage, many still feel the toll of being out of work. Senior Megan Kruetzfeldt was supposed to start a new job at K9 Activity Club late March, but is now unable to due to her immunocompromised condition. She has ulcerative colitis and chronic fatigue syndrome, or MECFS.

For others, it’s more of a matter of a loss of routine and an almost guilt-like feeling for not working. Senior Catherine Fields lost her job at the Santa Rosa Gymnastics Center. “The money I earned is what I used to pay for my food and some gas so now I just have to ask my parents for money which I feel bad about,” said Fields. “But I guess it’s more just kinda like a sad ‘oh well.’” She was able to get paid the first two weeks of quarantine.

Senior CiCi Steur, an employee of The Basque Boulangerie, has not been officially laid off, but admitted, “The idea of just having a job is a good feeling and having my work so up in the air is a bit unsettling.”

Along with the uncertainty of work, Tips Roadside worker Peyton Whiteside, an MCHS senior, said, “I work mostly catering for events in the Napa area, and since social gatherings are pretty much banned until who knows when, it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll have any work this summer.”

For Tuxhorn and Morgan, working during such high-risk conditions is something they’re willing to do in order to save money. Had a global pandemic not stricken, Morgan was on the way to a paid culinary internship in “one of the top country clubs in the country” in New York this summer. “I was so excited,” said Morgan. After losing the opportunity of both income and an “amazing resume booster,” she found a job at Safeway, one of her only options since most restaurants closed due to quarantine. Working so much is both due to needing money for college and helping Safeway’s high demand of customers. She returned to work April 17 after being cleared by four different doctors over the phone. 

“If it wasn’t for the money, I wouldn’t be working right now,” said Tuxhorn. “I’m trying to save up as much as possible to move out by the end of this year.”

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