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How COVID-19 Should Change the Way We Look at Essential Workers

2020 has definitely been a year of change and adaptation. When the Coronavirus pandemic first began, I don’t think any of us could have imagined how much it would change things. We all have lived through pandemics before like H1N1, swine flu and Ebola, which was an epidemic. However, none of them affected our lives the way COVID has. I remember when Kent State first shut down, it was only supposed to be for one month, and we were going to be back on campus by April 13th. When it was revealed not even a week after the initial closure that we weren’t going to be returning to campus at all, I knew things were seriously going to change. 

When everything shut down and I was feeling the most anxious about what was happening and what was to come, I tried to stick to a steady routine. Walking, reading, cooking and cleaning every surface in my home were the main activities of my day. Even though my days became more simple, the world changed in a major way for what seems like the foreseeable future. Schools went online, jobs became remote and people stayed in their houses. However, there are a lot of people who didn’t stay home and remained at work so Americans could be provided with the things they needed. Grocery store workers, restaurant workers, fast food workers, Walmart and Target workers, and so many more who were the backbone of our society for months. 

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Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigmas around people who work in these industries. The Coronavirus pandemic has proven that these jobs are literally essential to keep our society afloat. When things first shut down and everything was closing one of my first thoughts was “What if the grocery store closes?” Fortunately, that never happened, these workers decided to risk their health for others and go to work every day. It is kind of sad, however, that it took something like this happening for some people to realize how important these jobs are and how much we depend on these people in our daily lives. 

The pandemic has changed a lot of things, but removing the stigmas that surround these types of jobs should be one of the most important. I never really considered what an essential worker was before this experience except for doctors and nurses, but the medical field obviously doesn’t have the same stigma around it as the service and foodservice industry. I’ve heard the argument so many times that if someone wants to make more money they shouldn’t work at McDonald's. Or if a person was more ambitious they wouldn’t be working at Walmart. This idea and sense of superiority in our society need to be erased and we need to stop looking down on the people who provide others with the services that they require daily. Fast-food workers should make a livable wage, and grocery store workers should still be making hazard pay. 

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Not only did grocery store and floor workers have to deal with the panic that ensued at the beginning of the pandemic, but they also have had to deal with exposing themselves to COVID-19 every day. When everything first started shutting down grocery stores were like battle zones. It was eerie walking through them, everything was gone, some people fought over food, toilet paper and cleaning supplies. To throw these workers into the front lines of a global pandemic was one thing, but to continue to disrespect their profession is another. This country holds the weirdest stigmas around jobs and what your job means for your place in society that other countries don’t. Let’s also not forget that workers now have to deal with making sure customers are wearing masks. Seeing videos of people screaming at Target employees or hitting a Walmart worker because they are asked to wear a mask is disgusting. Those people would not be acting that way if a doctor was standing in the store asking them to put a mask on, and that’s a fact. Also, it’s important to remember that these workers are following corporate policies and government-mandated policies. They are doing their job. 

[bf_image id="q5cm1u-1z6qhk-2sx8jh"] When the Coronavirus pandemic calms down and some things can return to normal, it will be important to remember that the industries that some people in this country feel are lower, or not as important, were the industries that were keeping everything going. This pandemic should forever change the way we look at essential workers, and not only doctors and nurses. I’ve never worked in a grocery store or been a floor worker, but I was a waitress since I was 17 until the pandemic. It is not an easy industry to work in. Dealing with people and trying to provide them a service is not easy. Hopefully, this experience will help us make serious societal changes and stop the stigmas that surround these workers.

 

Grace Christopher

Kent State '22

Grace Christopher is a Graduate student in Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University. She graduated from Youngstown State University in May with her Bachelor's in History and Political Science.
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