By Elyssa DiCostanzo
During the current COVID-19 crisis, frontline workers extend past doctors, nurses, and EMTs. Grocery workers have also become essential, and their health and safety are being jeopardized every day as they pack out and ring up peoples’ groceries.
One 61-year-old Nassau Country grocery store worker, who asked to remain nameless, tested positive for the virus. Though she’s unsure if she contracted the virus in the store where she has worked for over 15 years or while shopping on her own, she shared the trauma of her experience.
“When it started getting really bad in Italy, and there was talk about it coming here, I started using hand sanitizer anytime someone paid with cash. I had no idea how bad it would get,” she said.
As things started progressing, she started doing even more to protect herself. “I started wearing gloves before anyone else really was on the frontend. I was getting really anxious. Then I started bringing my own wipes and Lysol, and I was sanitizing every second I could.”
In the meantime, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo initiated a “Stay Home” order on March 20th, which was a shut down of all non-essential businesses. People were advised to stay home and only go out for necessities. And if they were planning to leave the houses, they must wear face coverings as per local executive order.
Then, grocery stores started changing too. All stores opened later and offered senior hours while also closing earlier. Most grocery stores have plexiglass dividers between customers and cashiers to help limit exposure, and all employees are required to wear a mask at all times.
“Those first couple of weeks were downright nuts,” she said about that period of time before people were instructed to stay home. “I can’t even put it into words. I’ve never seen lines like that. Our store made a million dollars that first week or two. We never do that. We’re a small store. But everyone was nervous, I guess. No one really knew what was gonna happen and what to expect. I guess we still don’t.”
The cashier got so nervous working in this environment she decided to take one of her paid vacations during the week of April 13th. While on vacation, she and her husband both tested positive for COVID-19. This is exactly what she’d been fearing.
“I’m old, you know? And you read all these things on Facebook, and no one ever talks about the survivors. They talk about everyone who’s dying. I really got to a point where I thought, ‘If I ever get this, I’m going to die.’ And I had to get off Facebook. It was getting to my head.”
She is now recovering at home with her husband, and she is approaching the 14-day mark. “I’m not sure if I even want to go back to the store. It’s scary. I don’t want to go through this again.”
Her husband said this changed him forever, “I can’t really compare this to anything else. I’ve had the flu before and things like that, but nothing has ever lasted this long. And nothing has made me scared to leave my house. It just really makes you appreciate life, in a way. I want things to be normal again. But now I also really understand why it is so important to social distance and protect yourself. My wife did all of that and still got sick, but you need to do everything you can. Trust me; this is scary.”
The cashier said it is important to recognize that everyone is dealing with this at the same time, and everyone is doing their best. “Just wear a mask and wash your hands. Just think of other people. Just be nice.”