At the end of March 2020, my mother, Eyvonne Taylor celebrated her five-year anniversary at a grocery store in Shrewsbury, Missouri. That same month, the 60-year-old sporting goods associate first heard about COVID-19.
“When I first heard about COVID-19, the media was covering it in China,” she said. “Then, it started to spread in Italy and to people on planes coming to the United States. The pandemic hit home with New York. Governor [Andrew] Cuomo was talking about how each day more and more people were infected with the virus.”
On Thursday March 12, 2020, she went into work and noticed that there were people waiting in line for toilet paper. Shoppers were stocking up on paper goods, like toilet paper and paper towels, and making other panic purchases throughout the store because of the coronavirus crisis.
My mother’s role has caused her to identify as an essential worker during COVID-19. Essential workers, from doctors to grocery store clerks, are working to keep the American population alive and healthy. Each has a family, a story and a life of their own.
She goes into her job each day and works a nearly 40-hour workweek with closing duties. She wears a mask and gloves the entire day. The next time you go to the store, whether it’s during the COVID-19 pandemic or in a post-pandemic world, keep the following in mind for how to treat essential workers:
1. Practice social distancing inside the store.
While Taylor told me most customers adhere to social distancing while standing in store lines, others do not. This can make it difficult for employees to successfully do their jobs.
“Some customers will try to get as close to me as possible,” she says. “They will step forward, even if you step back. I stick my arm out as if to say, ‘You’re coming too close, please stay at a distance.’”
Practice social distancing guidelines if you are in a grocery store to protect the health of yourself and others inside the store. Social distancing means putting six feet between yourself and the next closest individual and avoiding gathering in groups of 10 or more individuals.
Additionally, new data is emerging that COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic. This means you can unknowingly spread the illness without realizing you have it. Protect yourself and others when out for essential activities by wearing a mask. You can sew one at home yourself, using cloth items like scarves and bandanas, or seek out a tutorial from a seamstress.
2. Instead of going to the store every time you need something, utilize online grocery pickup or delivery options.
Did you know most grocery stores now have online grocery service available? These services allow customers to place their orders online, then drive to the store and pick up their orders. Their groceries are already ready and packed for them, ensuring they do not always have to go inside, shop and put essential workers at greater risk.
3. Be patient.
It’s a trying time for everyone right now, regardless of job title. When it comes to their workload, Taylor says retail workers are no different from office employees working remote. The key is to practice patience and consider the needs of an essential worker. They have budgets of their own and families they work to support. There's no need to make their lives harder by complaining to management, criticizing stores for opening to their staff first or plainly being rude.
“We’re all in this together,” Taylor says. “Please be patient.”
4. Compliment essential workers — please!
During this challenging time, the small gestures mean everything to essential workers. Taylor says that compliments from customers helps to keep everyone on the team feeling positive. Recently, Taylor helped a male customer find a few necessary items for his family. He thanked her and showed her a few photos of his newborn baby. The next time you’re doing an essential activity, thank the person who helped you. Kind words keep spirits up.
“A customer recently said to me, ‘Thank you for working here and for having your store be open,'" she says. “It was very nice of her to say that. When a customer compliments me, I feel appreciated by them. As an essential worker, we really are making a difference.”