Essentially Unmasked, the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic

Susan Campbell

On March 30th, The Governor of The State of Maryland, Lawrence J. Hogan announced during a press conference measures to further protect Maryland residents during the COVID-19 global health pandemic. "We are no longer asking or suggesting Marylanders to stay at home, we are directing them," He said.

This press conference sent shockwaves throughout the state. Everyone immediately began calling and emailing their employers, human resource managers desperately began sending out emails to reach their associates promptly to ease tensions. Immediately following the press conference a list was published of which types of businesses were considered essential and which were not.

The term essential is now being worn as a badge of honor. However, it comes with a cost to those who are deemed as such.

Millions of Maryland citizens have tried to adjust to their new “essential” title, some wishing they were not. This change caused many to choose between gainful employment and their health and safety.

One of the most essential businesses outside of the medical field has been grocery stores. Social media has been flooded with pictures of empty shelves and people walking out with multiple carts of items with the assumption they will need to remain home for longer than normal.

Derron King has over more than 15 years working in grocery retail. Increased levels of shoppers and running low on more items than he has ever seen before, he explains how his store is helping their management team cope with stress during these difficult times.

"Since we're allowed to take more than 2 days off without using our paid time off, I've been taking multiple days off for me to maintain my sanity and stress level of being around the public."

Many businesses that have been permitted to remain open to offer life-sustaining essentials have made drastic changes to their standard operating procedures to ensure the safety of customers and staff.

King further explains how this change has impacted his work environment. "Our customer interactions are to the bare minimum,” he said. “Work-wise, even with employees, we must maintain our distance from one another. Every work practice we have had in place has changed for the safety of the employees and customers.”

King expands on how grocery store customers can keep essential employees safe by, "Staying home and keeping their distance from each other and us, and respect those measures."

Aside from taking a toll on their mental health, this has caused many to sacrifice their relationships with loved ones. Some in medical professions are being forced to stay away from their significant others, parents, siblings, and children.

Former Marylander, Lauren Joy, is a registered nurse in Pennsylvania who works at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. She is currently sleeping in the basement of her family home, away from her two young daughters.

Lately, Joy has been staying in a hotel room closer to the hospital than her home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. After working increasingly complicated and stress-inducing 12 hour or longer graveyard shifts, she is grateful for the benefit of the close by, hygienic, and comfortable accommodations.

She explained while most of the general public has been kind, she was yelled at by someone in a grocery store that she was spreading the virus while shopping in her scrubs after her shift. This illustrates the fact that Nurses and other medical staff have kids to feed just like everyone else.

The general public has been advised to stay home whenever possible and only go out for essential life-sustaining items such as food, healthcare, and employment. Joy offered some advice saying, "Honestly, I can't tell you how many times this month I've said, ‘Stay home!’ Yes, we all need to flatten the curve, but it does not stop once the curve is flattened. We're still in this for a least a month afterward."

She continued to say she has been managing her stress by preparing for the return of automobile racing. Joy participates in autocross automobile racing around The Mid-Atlantic as one of her hobbies. A recent social media post of a pair of custom throwback Vans with the caption, "Patiently awaiting the return of RADwood official so I can bust out these bad boys," Illustrates her desire for things to go back to normal. “RADwood” is an annual event usually held around the Philadelphia region that features automobiles from the 1980s and 1990s where over 3000 enthusiasts attend each year. The April 5th event had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Over in Washington, DC, another essential service is still pizza. At Comet Ping Pong which became notorious during the 2016 “Pizzagate scandal,” manager Mike Brewer explains the recent challenges he is been facing at work.

"The challenges include having to learn the system for ‘to-go’ at work as that's the primary method now as well as food couriers. This has me doing different things at work like boxing/putting orders together. Since we are trying to make as much as we can we have added 2 more food delivery services."

Brewer says he does not have to have close physical contact with much of the general public. His downtime is occupied with his toddler when he is not slinging pizza. Brewer expressed how his family has been handling the pandemic and staying home.

"I'm managing stress by having more family time and playing with my son as well as playing some video games. My wife Karla can work from home, which is nice." Mike and Karla Brewer reside outside Washington DC in Howard County.

Further north in the western part of Maryland, a local FedEx delivery driver is feeling the stressors and facing his own set of unique changes to his daily routines. Brandon Wingfield bids farewell to his Russian Blue Cat named Smokey then makes the commute from his West Virginia home to Hagerstown, Maryland.

Wingfield says dealing with the increased volume of deliveries has been like an additional winter holiday season after just ending one. One of the biggest complaints that makes his workday more challenging he explains is, "the lack of public restrooms and nowhere to get food since his company-issued truck is too tall for drive-thru windows. The stress is not too bad…just staying positive. I am thankful I have a job and I am making money."

Wingfield is referring to the millions of people across the world who are currently out of work. Some being terminated permanently, and others furloughed surviving on unemployment.

One of those furloughed employees is Carroll County Public School Teacher, Kate Worcester. She is missing her first-grade students and communicates with the them through their parents via email and Zoom, the video conference call service. During the summer, Worcester loses some income due to the school system being closed for summer break. She supplements her income working as a shopper for Instacart, a grocery delivery service. She made over $150 delivering groceries throughout Sykesville, Maryland. She explains everyone has been incredibly generous. She was given snacks and hand sanitizer by one of her customers.

"I love it. I am careful, I wear my mask and gloves,” She said. “My sister is a certified nursing assistant and home health care aide, so we have these things at home already. I find it is a fun easy way to make some extra money. I do not know when I will go back to work, having a nest egg gives me peace of mind."

Lastly, Baltimore County resident Jon Johnson is another on the healthcare frontlines. Many have faced challenges that are not necessarily new to them but how the general public has reacted to this global health crisis has added additional obstacles.

Johnson is a paramedic with the Johns Hopkins Lifeline Critical Care Transport Team, and a Captain with the Ferndale Volunteer Fire Company in Anne Arundel County. Johnson details what he does at the hospital as well as how important testing and personal protective equipment are for healthcare workers.

"I work in the pre-hospital environment as well as the hospital environment and the level of protection offered by PPE between the two is different." Johnson continues to describe the difference between the two saying, "For example, the pre-hospital environment utilizes eye protection, gloves, surgical or N95 masks, and isolation gowns. The supply is limited so we are asked to reuse masks that aren't visibly soiled."

Johnson received his paramedic degree from The Community College of Baltimore County in 2013. He stated that, "From a clinical perspective, I find working in the pre-hospital environment much more stressful than the hospital."

Johnson recalls a recent patient he interacted with. "I had a patient who presented with shortness of breath but had a cardiac rhythm that can result in a patient experiencing shortness of breath. I treated the patient and transported them to the ER for further evaluation as it is common practice now to utilize eye protection, surgical masks for all providers, and gloves so I did have those measures in place, in addition to having the patient wear a mask."

PPE is crucial for those in the medical field while combating The Novel Coronavirus. Johnson was informed of the test results from his patient. He conveys the same information being released by many health organizations.

"I received a phone call from a fire department health and safety officer several hours later informing me that the patient tested positive for COVID -19. It just reinforces the most dangerous quality of this virus; people can be asymptomatic and still be infected and they can be contagious as well."

Johnson encourages social distancing, taking precautions while out in public, and if you are having symptoms to call the hotline provided by the Center for Disease Control.

To maintain and ensure the safety of citizens, many Governors across the nation have announced several changes and additional safety measures and protocols to be enforced to protect Americans.

Maryland Governor, Larry Hogan held an additional press conference on April 17th in which he delivered his announcement about mandatory face masks when in public places such as retail stores. Hogan was asked what he thinks about citizens in other states who protested mandatory face coverings. "Spreading this disease infringes on your neighbor's rights," he said. He defended his decisions to ensure Marylanders' public health while the world adjusts to short- and long-term changes to their daily lives caused by COVID-19.

Note: At the time of publication Gov. Hogan held a Press Conference on May 6th that announced all Maryland Schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year. He also announced that if numbers continue to stabilize or decrease, the stay at home order could be lifted and Maryland could begin Phase 1 of the recovery plan as early as next week according to The Baltimore Sun.


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