I am going back to work tomorrow, and I don’t really know how to feel about it.
I imagine this is what many of us will be going through in the coming weeks and months. My return is just happening a little sooner than others…
I work at a bakery in South Florida. As we sell food we are a ‘necessary’ service… and as much as I love baking I disagree with that assessment, but it is not my decision to make. The bakery is remaining open, although at slightly reduced hours, unless we are forced to close. As a small business, that is a worst-case scenario. The small business loans that the federal government promised dried up less than a week after they were issued. Closing, at this point, for any extended amount of time, means that there is a fairly good chance that we won’t reopen. It is a risk that, as an employee is not mine to assess. The risk that I need to assess is whether I am willing to potentially expose myself for what is, at it’s best, not a livable income. Especially when I could just as easily be exposed somewhere else.
Two weeks ago my roommate, who also works in customer service, was sick. High fever, cough. We were all riding a wave of anxiety as she struggled to get an appointment to get tested and we then waited for OVER A WEEK to get the test results. During that time none of us worked, none of us left the house, none of us dared to get within ten feet of another human being. Everything was disinfected and scrubbed and sterilized. And now that we know that we weren’t exposed… we get to go back, to the same places where we could have been exposed before.
I have two nephews, a one year old and a three year old. Both of my parents are in their sixties, and my father is currently living with me. I have had health problems in the past that, while not a huge concern, would definitely complicate matters. And while, even with my own health issues, I am not overly concerned about contracting the virus myself, I am absolutely TERRIFIED of passing it on to my family.
Every time I go to work I have customer interaction after customer interaction. All the bleach, and the buffer table between us and the front, and the DIY facemasks won’t make that any less terrifying. And none of it will be any consolation if I infect someone I care about.
At the same time, nearly everyone in my life has been either laid off or furloughed due to the pandemic. Five of my close friends, my brother and sister in law, even my mother has been restricted to working limited hours from home. Many of them desperately need work and would really appreciate the chance to work. So the thought of shunning an income right now feels somehow almost disrespectful to them.
My cable company would also greatly appreciate it if I did not shun an income right now. While there are some protections in place for utilities, the internet providers are not quite so gracious. And at a time when we are not leaving the house unless absolutely necessary, I would count cable and internet access as necessary utilities.
To add more flames to the fire, my second job, as a nanny, is obviously not an option right now and, if I’m being completely honest, might never be again. The girls are getting older and while my abilities with algebra and laundry were still very much needed, my function as guardian was now.
The unemployment office in Florida is so overloaded that the website has crashed, and the phone systems are no longer using call waiting or scheduling call back times. You call, they are busy, they hang up on you after a brief automated message – and that’s about it. So while I qualify for unemployment benefits, I may not see any for the foreseeable future.
I know that I am better off than many. There are people who were working paycheck to paycheck prior to this and who are in desperate need right now. I could hold out if I needed to. I could go without an income for a couple of weeks, maybe even two months and, considering none of us are going out or even going shopping beyond the barest necessities, I would be okay. But by doing so, I likely would not have a job to come back to a few weeks or months down the road.
So… that is where I am at. And I imagine that is where many of us will be in the coming weeks and even months. Eventually businesses will reopen, shops and restaurants will have customers again, and the schools will open their doors.
But the thing about pandemics is that they’re never really ‘over’. Unless a vaccine is developed, we will continue to have resurgences. There will be hot spots of cases cropping up, seemingly out of nowhere, and people getting sick. We will continue to have mild cases, and asymptomatic cases. We will continue to have those who become seriously ill, and even deaths. The numbers will be lower, but they will still be there. And even if we do develop a vaccine there will be individuals in our populations who remain at risk. People with compromised immune systems or allergies. The elderly and the very young. And there will, undoubtedly, be anti-vaccers insisting that this is all a government scam and refusing vaccination, thereby putting everyone around them at risk.
The world will undoubtedly change after this, maybe only a little, or maybe a lot. But it will change. I guess I am just wondering at what point I will be willing to shake someone’s hand again without instinctively flinching back.
I am going back to work tomorrow, and I am scared.