From entry to essential

Since March, essential workers have put on masks and gone to their jobs everyday. While customers and clients may say an extra thank you as they drive away with a chicken sandwich in hand, working throughout a pandemic raises several different issues for employees, many of whom are Cedar Shoals teenagers working their first part-time jobs. 

Kroger employee and Cedar Shoals senior Astrid Avelar’s biggest concern is her family’s health. 

“I was scared of getting sick because I have (my mom) and a lot of little siblings at home. I was scared of people not wanting to wear their mask or me touching something and getting everyone in my house sick,” Avelar said.

Other teenage essential workers share the concern that their health goes beyond themselves. Junior Hadiza Sarr, who also works at Kroger, enjoys her job but is still anxious in certain situations. 

“What always scared me was having the coronavirus and being asymptomatic and spreading it, especially when we had older people in the store,” Sarr said.

Unfortunately, their concerns are not directly under their control. These workers’ health relies on the cooperation of their community. 

“Sometimes it’s cool to not wear a mask, you know, but I want to live,” Chick-fil-A employee and senior Mounina Ba said, joking about customers who choose not to wear masks.

Avelar has experienced mask resistant customers first hand.

“There was one time where a woman was coughing and sneezing and somebody asked her to please cover her mouth or to put on a mask, and she got really mad and she started to say that we can’t tell her to wear it, that she’s not sick and doesn’t have the virus and that she doesn’t believe in the virus,” Avelar said.

Although these experiences are discouraging, small acts of appreciation don’t go unnoticed for high school students. Sarr values her positive experiences, however small the gesture. 

“When we’re bagging, (customers) will say something really nice or they’ll even give us small tips, (which) you really never see grocery clerks get. It’s really helpful,” Sarr said.

Ba thinks the community’s mindset has shifted to be more courteous and appreciative towards essential workers in the last few months. 

“Society is coming to realize that we’re in the middle of a pandemic and nobody has to have a job, but every day they’re risking their lives to (serve) fast food,” Ba said.  

A new part of some essential workers’ job descriptions is monitoring customers wearing a mask approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . The CDC recommends a two layer, snug mask that covers both the mouth and nose, cautioning against using face shields and gaiters. 

“I’ve seen (someone) use a Halloween mask. It was the guy from the ‘Halloween’ movie, Michael Myers. It was really scary because it was (night) getting off work and this guy comes out of his car with the mask on,” Avelar said.

“When we were at the (primary) election there was one person who had a red solo cup (as a mask),” poll worker and junior Enock Maganda said.

MASK UP: A sign is posted outside of the east side Kroger reminds customers of the mask requirement. Since July 22, Kroger has required all customers and employees to wear masks in the store. “If you’re not (wearing a mask) then what are you doing right now?” Maganda said. Photo by Violet Calkin.

Kroger requires masks in all of their stores, stating that the company feels it is necessary to protect their essential workers and customers. Employees also check temperatures before and after shifts, and Kroger provides masks, gloves, and hand sanitizers, as well as individual vests and aprons. Avelar and Sarr say they feel these protections are adequate for them.

Walmart also requires customers and workers to wear masks. However, shelf stocker and Clarke Central senior Jackson Bramlett still encounters unmasked customers. These situations raise questions about ethics and safety for him.

“It’s a matter of if we have good customer service or not. Do we help the person without a mask? (I think) ‘I shouldn’t be doing this,’” Bramlett said. 

Avelar feels frustrated that her safety is disregarded for convenience and an individualistic mentality. 

“You can’t get mad over a restaurant not allowing you to come in because you don’t have your mask, because you’re putting a lot of people in danger. You can’t think you can ruin someone’s life because you don’t want to wear a mask,” Avelar said.

Ba hopes to encourage customers to wear a mask out of respect for essential workers.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic so you should be doing everything you can to protect yourself and others and wearing a mask, it’s not that hard,” Ba said.