*Editors note: Names and places have been changed for privacy and safety reasons*
Hours before the sun rises Andres Ino is already up and moving, preparing for the long day ahead of him. He has kept this schedule for years and is used to a quiet house in the early hours. As he creeps down the stairs, he is sure to make his movements swift and sharp, ensuring he doesn’t wake the six other members of his family and a seven month old baby. Since the pandemic began months ago, his hectic schedule has already changed drastically. With the promise of imminent sickness, Ino always felt that it was his superior’s job to ensure a safe and healthy workplace. But through the craziness of the world, safety has gone out the window.
When he was first told that the United States Postal Service would continue to deliver mail to the community, it didn’t surprise him; USPS is mandated by federal law to deliver, rain or shine, holiday or weekday, pandemic or not - you get the gist. Although precautions like face masks and social distancing were enacted, Ino thought it would be hard to hold those regulations to the test because his job wasn’t providing masks nor enforcing social distancing.
“Our managers told us they have to provide face masks and hand sanitizer.” Ino says.
Since the start of the stay at home orders have begun, many essential workers have been vocal about the lack of supplies and help from their jobs and the government. Ino was most shocked at the outpour of national and community support. Being a carrier for the USPS requires minimal communication with people, besides the occasional signing. However, since essential workers started to vocalize concern about the working conditions due to pandemic, Ino has relied on donations from his community.
“People rallied together and made masks for us… more thank you’s and cards from customers.” Ino says.
His managers have implemented a new system for clocking in and out: everyone has a 15 minute period between the next person. In theory it works, but the amount of people in the building provides no true space for social distancing.
Although the support of the community has been helpful, there are still many questions that have been posed since the pandemic began. What happens if a worker gets coronavirus? Are essential workers getting hazard pay? Will the virus change the way essential workers are treated in the future? As the questions continue to pile up many workers continue to work because that money is still needed; bills pile up and the lack of support from the government only adds to the stress.
“I think if we are being forced to work during a pandemic then we should be getting compensated better for risking our health.”
The Center for Disease Control states that the virus is spread through person-to-person contact, and so recommends social distancing of at least six feet apart. Social distancing reduces the likelihood of passing on the virus. However, in the small confines of Ino office in San Diego, social distancing is much harder to do than most realize. The shelving that holds mail is only two inches in length, leaving little space to manage mail. While reaching for mail shoulders are surely to bump and graze each other. In some work spaces, staying six feet apart isn’t feasible. With an increased risk for coronavirus, employees shoulder the responsibility to protect themselves.
“The mentality of the a lot of us go into work thinking ‘I won’t get it.’” He said, “As long as I’m doing my part then I feel safe.”
As the days change and the future remains uncertain, the essential workers who have been on the frontlines have experienced an incredible lack of support fromour government. The lack of support for essential workers and hospitals has been rampant since the very first cases arrived in the states. The cracks that this pandemic has shown in our system are ones that were always there, waiting for the perfect moment to emerge. Unfortunately this virus is that moment.
As the pandemic continues in the country the response by many companies is one of adaptability. Numbers change weekly and precautionary measures are being changed as the situation changes. Since California started transitioning into phase two on May 21, San Diego county saw an increase in restaurants and retailers opening for in-person business. Although many people were happy to see the state go into phase 2, the concern remains for essential workers.
Ino continues to get up everyday before the sun. It’s quiet and peaceful as he drives on empty roads with a mask on. Pretty soon the world will wake up and go about its day. Some will remember the virus and maintain their distance while others will happily go out for the first time in months. Until there is a vaccine he will continue to take precautions at his job, not for himself but for his loved ones.
Brittany Zendejas is the editor-in-chief for InSight Magazine. She majored in Literary Journalism and English at UC Irvine. She can be reached at [email protected].