By Kathy Dobson

Brenna and Carey have been working at a local major chain store for the past three years. Brenna is a fulltime student at Carleton University, but tries to work as many hours each week as possible. Carey works fulltime but wishes she could afford to work less hours each week as she believes every shift increases her odds of catching COVID-19.

“The scariest part about being an essential worker, working in a grocery store during a global pandemic,” says Carey, “is just how many people you come into contact with. There must be like a thousand a day that come into my store.”

Co-worker Brenna agrees it is a numbers game. And one that puts them at the mercy of the public.

“How fast a virus spreads is dependent on two things,” says Brenna. “How dense the population is, and how dense the population is. That’s something a co-worker of mine said to me the other day that I find both very funny and true.”

Both agree their workplace has been taking steps to try and keep their employees safe.

“Every precaution they can take, they do. We’ve masks, plexiglass at the checkouts, gloves and sanitizer. But it might not be enough with how ignorant some people can be,” says Carey. “No… what scares me the most is that despite what everyone is doing and sacrificing to keep everyone safe, every day I see the same type of almost aggressively ignorant customers come into the store and single handily pose the same risk that a group of 30 people might.”

Brenna says it is the customers who disregard social distancing, or won’t wear the free face masks offer at the store’s entrance.

“They’re throwing caution out the window and that scares me the most. F*** you very much for not wearing a mask while you buy your organic coffee beans and salad.”

Carey says she hates it when she believes a customer pretends they didn’t hear her.

“Recently a guy tried to walk past me as I stood next to the entrance handing out masks, like I was invisible or something. I stepped forward and said, ‘Hey! Sir? Excuse me, please?’ And when he finally turned back to look at me, in that moment, I realized he had seen me but had decided to actually just ignore me. Then he says, ‘Naw, I’m good,’ then walks away. I know I can’t kick him in the ass like I want to. Or say, ‘Yeah, you’re good, but for those of us who work in here every day for up to 10 hours on some days, we aren’t good. We’re stuck breathing in your air. So, get back here and put the fucking mask on.’

But nope, can’t do. Not if I want to keep working. Well, I actually don’t want to keep working. But I have to. I need the money. Why else would I show up here every day and have to deal with idiots like that, right?”

Brenna shares Carey’s frustration over customers who won’t wear a mask, even when one is provided for free by the store.

“They only have to wear the mask in our store for like…what…20 minutes while they’re walking around and then checking out. Do they even have a clue what it’s like to try and breath through a mask for hours every day, especially when pushing a heavy cart or lifting heavy boxes and breathing becomes so hard, you end up gasping a bit for breath?”

Brenna says she wishes everyone could come and work in a grocery store for even just one day.

“Maybe then the next time someone politely offers them a free mask, they’d take it and just say thank you. Then put the damn thing on.”