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Coronavirus: What It’s Like to Be an Essential Worker

FashionCoronavirus: What It's Like to Be an Essential Worker

The coronavirus has upended the daily lives of workers across the globe. While health officials continue to recommend staying home to avoid spreading the virus, women in jobs deemed essential — emergency first responders, healthcare staff, and even grocery store cashiers — still have to report to work.

InStyle asked five women on the front lines who are doing their part during this outbreak to clue us into their day-to-day lives, and they revealed a world far from the relationship drama and quarantine memes many of us are focusing on to pass the time. These are their stories. 

RELATED: If You Usually Pay Someone to Work For You — Keep Paying Them

Amari Hopkins, a pharmacy technician in Decatur, Illinois

COVID What It's Like

“At work, during those stressful situations, the best thing for me to do is just take deep breaths. I have one coworker — I think it was two days ago — she broke down crying, she was just so frustrated. I told her to go sit in the counsel room and take a few deep breaths and just collect [herself], because, like I said, a lot of patients understand but a lot of them don’t, and this was one that didn’t. So we have to come up with strategies to deal with it and keep calm.” 

Read Amari’s story here. 

Rina, a Registered Nurse at a trauma hospital in Downtown Los Angeles

COVID What It's Like

“For us, we have to ration out our masks per shift, and we have to ask our supervisors for masks because they store it and lock it up in their office. We are almost going to have a shortage of masks I feel like, and also the sanitizing wipes that cover a bunch of drug-resistant organisms. Basically we wipe down everything that we can in common places, as well as patients’ stuff, like IV poles and other medical equipment that we use in their rooms. We’re also rationing those out, and we count how many bottles we have.

Typically, [the masks] were just in the patients’ hallways before all of this was happening. But then people were starting to take masks and putting them in their bags. And even the wipes or gloves — it does get pretty daunting because if you don’t need it, you shouldn’t be using it. You’re wasting our resources.” 

Read Rina’s story here. 

Mendy Hughes, a cashier at Walmart in Arkansas

COVID What It's Like

“Toilet paper was the first thing to go. The other day we got some in and within three minutes it was gone. Now, we’re out of water, toilet paper, and hand sanitizers. They’re buying up all the canned food. I mean everything. They’re not saving for other people because we don’t have a limit at our store. But, I mean, save some for others. And just know it’s not our fault that we are out of stuff. It’s not our fault that our shelves are empty. We don’t know what is going to be on the trucks when they come. And stuff is gone as soon as we put it out anyway.

Also, a lot of people have compromised immune systems where I work. Our greeter said her husband wants her to quit because she has heart problems and lung problems. Another cashier has a compromised immune system because she had to have a kidney transplant. She’s stressed out already. And then a customer went off on her yesterday because we didn’t have something she wanted. [The cashier] had to get a manager to check the woman out.”

Read Mendy’s story here. 

Aleja “Lee” Plaza, a home caregiver at a nursing home in Los Angeles

COVID What It's Like

“At work, some of my coworkers have had panic attacks because they are so paranoid. And some just stayed at home because they don’t want to be exposed to the virus. But when you stay home, it means you don’t have a salary — no work, no pay. Some people might not get the virus, but they get sick of work being tiresome psychologically. [Worrying about not] having money because you don’t have work, especially when you have dependents way back home waiting for you to send money every month, it makes you more vulnerable.”

Read Lee’s story here. 

Emily, a flight attendant based in Boston 

COVID What It's Like

“As far as precautions, I know that we’re taking extra precautions for a clean work environment. [We’re] deep cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting the planes every single night. But as far as us flight attendants, the company has also stocked our planes with Clorox wipes. So we literally are just wiping the planes down and we’re handing [wipes] out to customers to wipe their seats. Every single flight I’m wiping my galleys down, I’m wiping pretty much everything down all the time. That has gotten more extreme over the last week, maybe two weeks.

I feel grateful that I still have a job and I can still show up to work every day. At the same time, I know that if nobody’s traveling, then we’re not bringing in an income, and that’s not really sustainable. I think everyone in the airline industry is feeling that. Not even just the airline industry — I know hospitality, hotels, cruise lines, travel agencies — we’re all feeling it right now, every day.”

Read Emily’s story here. 

The coronavirus pandemic is unfolding in real time, and guidelines change by the minute. We promise to give you the latest information at time of publishing, but please refer to the CDC and WHO for updates.

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