My boyfriend is an essential worker and I worry


Tribune News Service

Assistant general manager Kathy Hartman, left, and general manager Bob King chat in the warehouse where Sam’s Club orders will be filled. The Sam’s Club fulfillment center held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday on Tobias Boland Way. [T&G Staff/Christine Peterson]

Veronica Wernicke, Assistant Opinion Editor

Prior to COVID-19, the Department of Homeland Security listed 49 to 62 million employees as essential workers, per a report from Brookings.

Amidst all of the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus (COVID-19), many are locked up in their homes hoping that the virus steers clear of them and their loved ones—myself especially. But not everyone has been confined to the comforts of their homes during this time. 

Essential workers are still out there working to help the rest of us during these uncertain times. 

In fact my boyfriend, Zach Carter, is an essential worker and I worry about him, his safety and his health. Carter has been working at a Walmart distribution center three days a week for the last two and a half years.

His official title is a fifth shift dry side order filler.

“We have start-up, stretch and we go get our headset equipment and our quick-pick equipment and we go find a ride, our lifts, that we use to order fill since it’s essentially an autonomous two-by-two double jack and we pick up pallets,” said Carter. “We fill the orders for the Walmart stores. Some of them are big and very heavy and we do them for eight to 10 hours at a time and it hurts, but it’s good money too.”

Even though he only works at the distribution center three days a week, I still worry because he and his co-workers are still at risk of getting COVID-19, as they are handling products coming from all over to a central location. For each of those three days, he can possibly come into contact with the roughly 60 other people working with him. 

In fact, someone at his warehouse has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

“There has been one case; it was our maintenance manager and he has not been at work in three weeks,” said Carter.

Since then, he has reassured me several times by telling me about all the new things that have been implemented since COVID-19 started. They take everyone’s temperature when they enter, and if it is above 98, then they get sent home. Their usual absence point system is not in place at the moment, so they cannot be punished or be at risk of losing their job for not coming into work due to being sick or fear the risk of getting sick (COVID-19 related or not). 

In addition, if they were to contract COVID-19 they are guaranteed two weeks of paid leave. Lots of new cleaning personnel have been hired to keep up cleanliness and health standards. This makes me feel better, as I constantly remind him to wash his hands.  

“They just kind of tell us to keep our distance from each other inside the warehouse. I mean it’s kind of hard when you’re on the aisles ’cause you’ve got to go really close to people with your trips, going around them can suck. But, besides that, just distance ourselves,” said Carter. “And, if you go outside on your break, they check you when you come back in, which is weird, but they have to. There’s only been one case and they are taking it seriously and they put the attendance policy in place so that if you think you have it or scared to get it, you can miss work and not be written up.”

Carter takes several personal measures to remain safe and healthy while on the clock in addition to what Walmart is telling them to do.

“I wear my mask and my face shield, try to keep my glasses clean, [and] drink a lot of water,” said Carter. “Definitely wash my hands a lot cause there’s bathrooms all around the warehouse. So, if I’m in the middle of a trip, I can stop and go wash my hands.”

Besides Carter, I know plenty of other people that are deemed essential workers during this period of pandemic. My aunt is a nurse at Tampa General Hospital, my cousin is a healthcare counselor, several friends work at pizza delivery restaurants or grocery stores. 

If you stop to think about it and get out of your own selfish boredom bubble, how many people do you know that have to risk their lives every day to continue working? Some of them may even be struggling just as much as you are because they have to keep working and cannot be confined to the safety and comfort of their own homes like the rest of us. 

Carter is not the only essential worker out there putting his life at risk to help the needs of others during the times of COVID-19. Health care, delivery, first responders, restaurant and grocery workers—among many others—are doing the same every day. And while I am so thankful for his and everyone else’s work, I still worry and rightly so.

“I still get a paycheck. I get to pay my bills. I know it’s dangerous, but at least I’m not out of work. That’s a good thing,” said Carter.