What it’s like to be an essential employee during the coronavirus pandemic

Tina Copeland is an Illinois-based truck driver who works about 70 hours a week delivering supplies to Fortune 500 companies, as well as dangerous and sensitive equipment for the Department of Defense. His usual work schedule consists of four weeks on the road and then one week at home.

Like thousands of other truckers, Copeland, who drives for Tri-State, is an essential employee who plays a vital role in delivering vital supplies that many businesses and households need today.

As fears around the coronavirus continue to spread, Copeland, who has worked in the trucking industry for five years, says she faces obstacles she has never encountered before.

“It gets pretty tough,” she told CNBC Make It, “especially when I’m driving at night.”

At some truck stops, the showers have been closed because “workers don’t want to clean them,” Copeland says. And since most cities have closed restaurants, she says truckers are struggling to find food because their truck can’t get into the drive-thru line. “They tell us we can’t walk to the window and we have to be in a vehicle,” she says, while explaining that it becomes a huge problem late at night when restaurants that serve takeout are closed. .

This difficulty, Copeland explains, often results in truckers having to drive for hours before they can find a place to eat.

While the spread of the coronavirus has undoubtedly changed the way we live and work, essential workers across a range of industries, from trucking to retail, are on the front lines helping the public through the pandemic. CNBC Make It spoke with six women from those industries about what it’s like to do their jobs during this unprecedented time.

Truck Driver Tina Copeland

Photo credit: Tina Copeland

Health and safety issues

As someone who spends the majority of her time on the road, Copeland says she’s seen some states take the severity of this virus more seriously than others.

In Oklahoma, for example, she says there were checkpoints where she had to take her temperature before she could even get to her destination to drop off her supplies. Meanwhile, in the “southeastern part of the country,” she says, a lot of “people still want to put their arm around you and hug you or shake your hand.”

“I almost thought to myself that if I didn’t get sick, I more than likely felt like I would become a carrier,” says Copeland, who lives with her boyfriend who is also a truck driver.

Talah Barner, who is a full-time employee at a Target store in Maryland, says she never thought her health would become a major concern when she joined the big-box store just over a year ago. ‘a year. Although her employer allows staff to wear masks and gloves at work, the 23-year-old says she cannot wear the gloves provided. because she is allergic to latex. As a result, she says, she takes constant breaks throughout the day to run to the bathroom to wash her hands.

“I’m also allergic to penicillin, ibuprofen and a lot of things that are supposed to keep you healthy,” says Barner, who adds that the past month has been “an experience [she] never really thought or planned to have.”

Doctors stand in the street outside the emergency room entrance of Saint-Pau hospital to thank neighbors for their support during the coronavirus – Covidien-19 crisis in Barcelona, ​​Catalonia, Spain, March 31, 2020.


Difficulty accessing necessary supplies and equipment

Like many medical professionals, Samone Pugh, a Maryland nurse who asked that her employer’s name not be shared for privacy reasons, says the lack of personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves, was one of his biggest problems. concerns.

“I feel like it’s out of our control because it’s a nationwide shortage,” the 22-year-old says, while explaining that he’s not safe for children. nurses and doctors to enter a room and treat a patient without proper equipment. .

Right now, she says, when her department calls to order more supplies, their medical provider tells them that they can only get one box of disinfectant wipes and one box of masks at a time.

Keena M., an Ohio-based mail carrier who asked that her last name be withheld for privacy, says many post office workers are also scrambling to find gloves and masks. that they can use when delivering mail. Fortunately, at her office in Ohio, she says letter carriers have received generous donations of gloves and masks from customers.

A flight attendant arrives at the Tom Bradley Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport in California on March 16, 2020.

Augustine Paullier | AFP | Getty Images

Adapt to new working hours

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Barner says he was repeatedly asked to work a double shift at Target in order to help with the checkout or the shelves.

Keena M., who has worked at the post office for just over seven years now, says she has also had to increase the number of hours she works. With schools closed, many parents have had to take time off work due to a lack of childcare options, she says, forcing some employees to work overtime.

“It almost feels like we’re still working over the holidays,” she says. “The holiday season can be very hectic for the post office as we work a maximum of 12 hours a day and six or seven days a week.”

Jasmine, a New York-based flight attendant who requested that her last name and company name be withheld to protect her privacy, says she has experienced the opposite in her industry. As the airline industry is hit hard due to travel bans and restrictions, Jasmine says her company has asked many employees to cut their hours and take voluntary unpaid leave to avoid layoffs. Staff.

“I’m taking voluntary leave for the whole month of April,” says the 25-year-old. “[My company] also offered May and June, but I don’t know if I will.”

If she ends up having to take time off after April, Jasmine says she might consider taking on a side hustle to generate some extra income. Luckily, she says, she’s not too worried about job security because her company has assured employees that their jobs will still be there when they return from leave.

Making adjustments for child care

With thousands of schools closed across the country, many working parents have been forced to make alternate childcare arrangements. Keena M., who has a daughter, says she is lucky her child is old enough to be home alone. But, she says, the arrangement they were forced to implement is not the norm for her or her family.

“She’ll be fine being home alone, but it’s more of a comfort thing for her because she normally goes to my mom’s house while I’m at work,” she explains. “But with this situation, I can’t risk that she has something [unknowingly] then take him to my parents home because [my parents] have a lot of medical issues.”

“It’s uncomfortable because I don’t know what might happen while I’m at work,” says Keena M.. “Sometimes I work 10-12 hour days which means she’s home from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. alone.”

Lekeya Hutton, a registered nurse in Maryland, is a mom to two girls, ages 20 and 9. With schools closed, she says she is lucky her 20-year-old daughter can be home from college with her younger daughter. But, she says, not all of her colleagues are equally lucky and a few have had to call in due to a lack of childcare options.

Luckily, she says, her work sent out a survey to get an idea of ​​who needed child care and at what times. After reviewing the results, she says her hospital has partnered with the local YMCA to provide free childcare to essential employees between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.

“I thought that was awesome,” says Hutton, who has worked in the healthcare industry for 20 years. With healthcare workers on the front lines of this pandemic, she says she’s proud of hospitals working with their staff to say, “we’re going to try to work with you to make sure your children are taken care of because we need you here.”

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