By Alexander Osornio, Feb. 9, 2021
The struggles of working in food service or retail is not lost on most college students, but the COVID-19 pandemic has created a new danger in the form of negligent co-workers.
The general public has continuously expressed sympathy and solidarity for those who put themselves at risk in order to help others attempt to live normal lives. This concern is mostly based on interacting with customers, an obvious risk during a pandemic.
I have worked in fast food for over 3 years, so this concern made sense to me. However, I was surprised to learn that the biggest risk to me was not from the people lining up at the drive-thru window, but from the people I was working with.
This past October, several of my co-workers tested positive for COVID-19, with others beginning to show symptoms. After some internal discussion among crew member employees, it became clear how unbelievably careless people could be.
I learned that a group of my co-workers, mostly managers, had traveled together to Las Vegas as a social outing, an obvious violation of public health guidelines. They took it even further by sharing drinks and electronic cigarettes with each other.
None of the people who were present on that trip made any further efforts to reduce infectivity, such as getting tested for COVID-19 or self-isolating. Rather, they continued to come to work, met with each other outside of work and did not inform anyone of them leaving the state.
One of the people present on that trip ended up testing positive for COVID-19, which they did not learn until after working several days and in close contact with other employees. The rest of the employees on that trip also began showing symptoms in the same period.
This eventually led to an outbreak among employees, with everyone who went on that trip and several others testing positive in the following days.
The resulting reaction among employees and management was chaotic. People were afraid of being infected, getting their families sick, or potentially causing more outbreaks by spreading COVID-19 to customers.
Management recklessly told employees concerned about spreading the COVID-19 virus that they were still required to come to work as long as they were not feeling sick.
Management also made the decision to keep the store open during this time, which led to employees working while infected, potentially spreading the virus even more. Employees were forced to scramble to get their shifts covered while also trying to get tested for the virus.
This reached its peak with a total of 12 positive cases among employees, all of whom eventually recovered.
That experience made it concretely obvious just how little faith I could have in the people I have spent thousands of hours with when it came to keeping each other safe.
I never thought I would have to worry about my co-workers, the same people I am regularly in close contact with, purposely putting me and our fellow workers at risk.
While I do not think that any of them acted with any malice, the impact of their decisions is too massive to ignore. All the fear, panic and worry we faced was 100% avoidable.
They acted selfishly and made everyone’s lives materially worse.
It was clear at that point that even if I did everything I could to stay safe, the ignorance of someone else could make all my efforts futile.
This has become the harsh reality of living as an essential worker. While the anxiety of having customers flooding our lobby is gone, it has been replaced by the fear of wondering if the person I am spending hours with is doing everything they are supposed to do to keep me and others safe.
If nothing else, this situation highlights just how much more important it is to follow guidelines and act sensibly. This should go without saying for any essential worker but is apparently something in need of reinforcement.
All that I and others can do on our own is to continue to do what is necessary, in the hopes that through collective action, it can be enough to make the situation just a bit more bearable.
When it comes to making mistakes, the best thing you could do is learn from them. If enough of us can put in some effort to do what is right, that could be enough to spare everyone some grief.
So, to everyone who are at their wits end and would love nothing more than to spend a day with their extended family or friends, remember what I and many others have been through as a result of the ignorance of others.
Not all of us have to go out, so we should make things easier for those of us that must.
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