Being an “Essential Worker” during the Coronavirus

Photo Credit: Photo via Angelina Wintonick
Pharmacist, Ian Berman, cleans the countertop with alcohol after his shift.

By: Angelina Wintonick, Co-Editor- in- Chief

With the Coronavirus spreading quickly throughout the world, government officials have been trying to limit the spread of the virus. Measures are being taken– by self-quarantining, with social distancing such as shutting down schools, businesses, and public places. Many students and employees across the country are working from home. But for some others – they have to continue to go to work, as they are considered “essential personnel”. 

What is an Essential Worker?

Many states have ordered self-quarantining, and the closure of many businesses and schools. Except for essential workers, who are considered essential personnel services, that can’t be shut down or stopped during a pandemic. 

Essential workers are deemed as medical personnel, grocery store workers, funeral service workers, janitors and garbage disposal and the pharmaceutical industry. For a while, banks, restaurants and other businesses have take-out and deliveries, but it is slowly coming to an end. Pharmacies and grocery stores have been packed, as worried citizens are trying to stock up on supplies, or stock-holding, which is a huge issue.

As I work at the pharmacy in my town, I am deemed an “essential worker,” which has been tough, but opened my eyes during this pandemic.

My Own Experience

I started working at Colonia Natural Pharmacy in May of my sophomore year. As a 16 year old, I was very happy to have my first job. The atmosphere at the pharmacy is something that is very special. The workers care for their patients and do an efficient job, whereas other pharmacies and stores may not provide the same caring assistance. I have worked part-time, around 15 hours a week, when I am not traveling for volleyball, or being in school.

When the Coronavirus first started my co-workers had talked about it reaching the United States. We prepared, using gloves, and cleaning many times throughout hours. But, when the government shut down all non-essential personnel, that’s when we knew that things were about to change.

My manager gave us the option of working less, if we did not feel comfortable. Three of my co-workers took off, as they live with elderly family members and are at a higher risk of becoming infected. I began to take their shifts, working four or five days a week, when needed. We have changed our hours, closing at 8 PM, on weekdays, as the curfew is now at 8 PM. All workers have N95 masks that are for washing and wear a different pair of gloves every shift.

How the pharmacy stays safe

We have to clean our assigned spaces every 30 minutes and spray Lysol around the pharmacy. For me, I have to clean the pen on the card-holder, the phone, the front register, the lottery machines, the door handles, and the light switches.

We also have given our customers the option of “Curbside Pick-up.” We are able to bring out prescriptions after payment through the phone to patient’s cars in the parking lot in case they do not want to come inside.

Michael Ambrosio, the store’s manager, says about curbside pickup, “Svet (owner) and I have been talking about possibly doing curbside pickup only in the near future – but we have not decided yet as to when we are going to implement it.”

From my own experience, being an essential worker is scary. Being at work causes a high-risk for infection. Extreme measures are taken every shift, to make sure that the pharmacy is clean and safe.

A Pharmaceutical technician at CNP comments, “having a plan of action is important and ensuring that what is needed by the public is provided, such as medications and other necessities. It is also necessary to be patient, caring, listen and show empathy to give each customer the attention that is needed. Our customers are our priorities. I want to make a difference in helping them.”

Negatives

The Coronavirus is scary, and it is understandable why there is fear within people. But bringing it upon workers who are trying to help is not understandable.

I have witnessed many customers get angry with the pharmacists after they have asked for medication refills up to a year ahead. From my experience of listening to the pharmacists do their jobs, I know that for some medicines, this is not possible. Doctors have even been refusing this but patients are worrisome. 

I have heard of many arguments between customers about thermometers, and hand sanitizers. For weeks, the pharmacy has run out of supplies, and gets an order once in a while. There are many lists for masks, gloves, distilled water, hand sanitizer and thermometers, and once the orders come in, the pharmacists take hours calling names to come in and receive their wanted supply.

Store manager Michael Ambrosio also comments on the supply, “thermometers are the hardest thing to find or get. We received 48 of them about two weeks ago – they sold out fast. Masks are easier to buy from a couple vendors but a higher cost. We want to get them in so that we can get them for our employees and our customers. Gloves have not been so hard to get in, although the last couple of days all of our wholesalers have not shipped them. We have a decent supply of them though”.

Stock-holding is also a problem, which is why the pharmacy is starting to limit buying numbers of masks. We sell N95 masks and surgical masks, but there is a limit. You can only buy up to 2 N95 masks for $10 each, and up to 10 surgical masks for $2 each.

The Positives

This is not everyone though, as there have been many customers that have been super supportive and nice. Many have come in with food and snacks for the pharmacists that are working long hours. Many have commented nice things about the pharmacy, who have been still caring for their patients the same.

Pharmacy employee also encourages, “to follow the rules and or recommendations and wear protective gear such as masks and gloves. Wipe down the most used areas around you, and stand six feet away from everyone, to help prevent the spread of the virus. I’m not nervous, as I have faith and am praying for the nation and the world”.

During this time, the world is a scary place. The Coronavirus has taken over the majority of  the country quickly, without any warning. It is understandable to be frightful during this pandemic. But, try and remember the essential workers that are risking their lives in order to help others, during this scary time.