Coronavirus’s Effect on Essential Workers

As classes are shifting to online and more and more people are beginning to work from home, I have been given the opportunity to continue to work at my on-campus job as a student worker.

Not that everything else hasn’t, but the rules of my job have changed drastically since the Corona Virus began to spread across the United States. I am a student worker at Texas State University in the Network Operations department, and when the stay at home order was issued for San Marcos, I got really nervous. As a student worker, I don’t get paid sick leave or paid time off. “If students don’t show up, they don’t get paid,” my boss stated.

I am extremely grateful that my job is considered essential as I would not be able to pay my bills without my paycheck. However, how things are done at my job have changed. My boss sends out all of the technicians with gloves, sanitizing wipes and face masks out of an abundance of caution. “If any of you don’t feel comfortable being here, please request time off and I will approve it with no questions asked.” She said in the biweekly stand up meeting. “I understand this is a difficult time, and I want everyone to feel safe while they are doing their jobs.” At least two people in my office work from home as they are able to, unlike the technicians, and one of my coworkers had to self-quarantine for 2 weeks as he was potentially exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

The university has been proactive in taking cautionary measures against the Corona Virus, to the point where working from home has become the new norm. Parking, which was once scarce, has now become more plentiful than ever; one can leave campus, come back and snag their original parking spot. The university has also decided to provide free lunches for those who are still working on campus in person. At the Harris Dining Hall, one can get a free meal which includes a hot protein entrée, a vegetable, and a starch along with 2 cookies and a water bottle by just showing their Texas State ID. Thankfully, student workers are also taken into consideration and can also choose to get a free meal. The meals aren’t always what everyone wants, so any lunch boxes that are left unclaimed by the end of the day are donated to the homeless.

I have talked to multiple people at my job about the pandemic and everyone seems to have different opinions on it. One of the newer student workers in our department claims that he doesn’t see the point of social distancing or businesses temporarily closing down. He refuses to take precautionary measures such as wearing a mask when out and about or going out of his way to apply hand sanitizer and says that he is continuing on as if life is normal. On the other hand, other full-time employees have done their part to stay home unless they’re getting groceries and make sure to always wear a mask on campus and when making a trip to the grocery store. I spent 30 minutes cutting Clorox wipes in half with my boss so that we had more to go around for the technicians to take them with them out into the field. My boss states that she’s not only concerned about the health of the technicians but also easing the minds of those that the technicians will see on campus. She wants everyone to feel comfortable and safe during a time when safety and health isn’t a guarantee.

As far as Texas businesses beginning to reopen, I still think that it’s too soon, and Annie Watkins, whom I interviewed, agreed. “I think it’s way too soon. Sure I’m bored staying in my house all the time but cases are already starting to creep back up,” she stated. The economy in Texas does need help as many are relying on unemployment now that COVID-19 has impacted their jobs but at what risk? Many people are facing the harsh reality that they can either choose to go back to work and get a paycheck at the risk of their own health or they can quit and stay home, but they will no longer be receiving unemployment. This is completely unfair, as workers are now compromising their health in order to receive a paycheck and pay bills. Watkins even took two weeks of unpaid leave from her job on campus because she felt uncomfortable coming in to work when the Coronavirus was supposed to be at its peak. “If I got the virus I just don’t know that I would recover from it and that scares me,” she said.

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