The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused major changes to the American workforce. Many businesses have employees working from home and teachers are preparing to teach in an online format.
Workers in restaurants, bars, movie theaters, gyms and other social gathering places are facing financial uncertainty as their places of employment close down.
Retail is one of the few industries that has not yet been shuttered by the virus. Many stores, especially grocery chains, have seen masses of customers stockpiling food and other supplies.
While many businesses are now closing overnight to better sanitize the stores and restock shelves, they are still open every day.
I have been working at Walmart for nearly two years and I have never seen anything like this. My coworkers, many of whom have over a decade of experience, have never seen anything like this.
It’s the middle of March, but the store is busier than it was in the week leading up to Christmas. Most shocking to myself and others is the bareness of the shelves.
Everything from lunch meats and eggs to canned goods and pastas is decimated. It looks like people are preparing for the end of the world.
However, there is no “shortage” of food and supplies. Our store is still getting shipments every single day.
The biggest problem is having enough people to move the products on to the shelves. By the time we stock a whole pallet’s worth of items, half of what we just stocked is already gone.
Our online grocery pickup department, where I normally work, is currently closed. There’s no product on the shelves for us to give to online pickup customers.
Walmart has made changes to their attendance policy to protect workers whose health may be seriously impacted by the virus. Still, some workers are struggling with childcare options now that schools are closed.
Others do not have enough paid time off hours saved up to allow them to miss more than a day or two of work before they are no longer paid.
Those of us who are still coming into work come into contact with hundreds of people every day. Retail and food service workers are among those whose professions put them at an “elevated risk” of becoming sick.
However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. People from various departments at my store have come together to get products on to the shelves as quickly as possible.
I’ve gotten to work with friends that I do not see very often and I have gotten to meet and work alongside people that I never before had a chance to know.
Many of our customers have been great too. I have had more than a few of them thank me for the work I was doing, both when I was cashiering and when I was stocking shelves.
There has been a lot of attention placed on “panic buying” and a lot of that attention has been highly critical. From what I have seen, though, these are not hysterical masses that are attacking employees.
People are simply afraid, and they are doing anything they can to ensure the health and happiness of their families.
I ask that wherever you go (or preferably: don’t go) during this time, be kind to one another. We are all just trying to find our way through this crisis.
Thank your cashier, wave hello to your neighbor from the mailbox, and check on your friends via text or social media. We will get through this, as a community and as individuals. It is just going to take a little patience.