Essential worker: ‘I’m being forced to make a decision no one should have to make.’

Keeping essential workers safe

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - As families across the state hunker down at home to prevent the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus, those deemed essential employees must brave the crowded stores with a smile.

For a local mother who has worked in a popular grocery store for three years, the pressure to perform during a deadly pandemic began to take its toll.

“I have to come home and completely get naked outside my door, like I’m a nurse, because I’m afraid that I have it on me. I have to tell my son not to touch me until I get out of the shower,“ said the woman.

We have chosen not to identify the woman to protect her employment. She said dealing with the possibility of being infected with COVID-19 is stressful and rude customers were not making it any easier.

“I had a lady wish corona on me," she claimed. “I’ve had a gentleman walk up to me and ask me for something on his phone. When you ask them to give you space, they [customers] get upset.”

The woman says her store was recently sent an email from corporate confirming one her coworkers had tested positive for COVID-19. She said she usually worked in close vicinity with the employee and was upset she’d not been told sooner.

“Even though I’m washing my hands 30 times a day, I don’t have a mask. We don’t have anything to protect us PPE-wise besides gloves,“ she complained.

The woman said her company was not providing PPE to employees.

State medical officer Dr. Karen Landers said essential employees’ best bet at staying healthy is first keeping your hands clean.

“Keep our hands away from our face unless we have washed them and have a reason to be touching our face,“ explained Landers.

Landers added that a mask can also be helpful if practicing social distancing was not possible or more difficult.

"A cotton mask that you might make yourself at home, not a surgical mask or N95 mask,” said Landers.

Landers said N95 and surgical masks need to reserved for healthcare workers.

“Gloves, again [should be worn] depending on your individual work practices. Again, I remind you it [wearing gloves] gives a false sense of security," Dr. Landers warned.

Since learning of her coworker’s diagnosis, the essential worker said she immediately called off of work and sent her son away, a tough choice for anyone to have to make.

The White House COVID-19 task force is suggesting people stay away from grocery stores and pharmacies for the next two weeks due to projected spikes in the death toll.

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