Friday, May 29, 2020

COVID Student Journal: 2020 was supposed to be a year for everyone to succeed.

(Student submission Spring 2020)

2020 was supposed to be a year for everyone to succeed. People were saying they were thankful 2019 was over and were making their new years resolutions for what was ahead. We all wanted it to be a year of happiness, wealth, and new opportunities. Coronavirus started with a whisper far away of a flu-like disease people were getting. This grew into a brand-new disease that had originated in China that some people saw as flu-like and some people saw as a potential pandemic. Unfortunately, the latter were right.

            January was my first semester back at Tallahassee Community College in almost 2 years. I had decided to take online classes a while ago and was moving between Florida and N Georgia. The classes I had decided to take were harder classes and I ended up almost failing 1 and withdrawing from 1, while passing the other 2. This led to me making the decision to not go to school the next semester and wait until I thought I could do it. Obviously I was out of school a while longer than I thought, but I am happily back! I started the semester taking only 3 classes, 1 with my brother, 1 with my best friend since elementary school, and 1 with both. I was ready for this to be a great semester, and grade-wise it has been. I also had a major job change right before I started back at school. I went from being an office manager for 22 months to scooping ice cream for minimum wage. I worked at B****  throughout the entire Coronavirus because it was able to be considered essential.

            With my mom as a nurse and an avid traveler, she was the first one who informed me anything about the coronavirus. My parents had planned an out-of-country trip and I was asking her details on it and I learned of some new virus, infection, something that was starting to grow and affect more and more people. While it wasn’t in the US yet, I did tend to ignore small things that I heard about it. A few hundred people dead from an illness? The flu has more deaths than that so it couldn’t possibly be that bad. But then it started to grow. As it spread to other places and the news talked about it more, I got more interested. I spent a lot of time googling about the symptoms, where it came from, who was most likely to get it, everything I could find I wanted to know. 

            My minimum wage job is managed by someone who puts forth no true effort and always believes he is right, and assistant managed by a conspiracy theorist. In the beginning of the Coronavirus, my manager was convinced it was not as bad as the flu and people were being over dramatic and my assistant manager thought it was a conspiracy theory and would spout out things like “they made this virus to put chips in everyones arm” or occasionally he claimed it was manmade to kill part of the population. These differences in opinions were starting to be seen everywhere and were vast. Some people didn’t believe it was even real, just something they were making up for whatever reason. Some people thought it was the next Bubonic plague upon us.

            The beginning of February was still pretty normal for us in the United States. People were on edge and starting to think it could spread, but we hadn’t had any spreading in the US yet. This was the time when things started to shift a bit and people started to be affected. I remember the Diamond Princess cruise ship was quarantined in Japan and the spreading on that ship with over 700 cases shocked me. I thought for sure that spreading couldn’t be that serious, but it turns out that it was. That was one of the biggest problems they were facing, it was so easy to spread and could take so long to show symptoms while you were contagious all the while. More cruise ships were being quarantined, more people who were traveling to foreign countries tested positive, but there was still no spreading in the US. Maybe we handled it better? Little did I know, it just had not arrived yet. My sister had a cruise planned for the end of February and despite the outbreak around the world, they still decided to go. When they got back, they learned that the end of February would be the time we saw our first spreading of the virus in our country and our first death not related to travelling. After that first death it seemed to be a kick for a lot of Americans to wake up and see what was going on, because it was here and we had to do something.

The beginning of March there were more than just whispers of the school shutting down as the president made Coronavirus testing available to everyone. I was getting ready for my second round of tests in all of my classes and debating whether spring break plans were a good idea or not. Being the nurse and caring mother that she is, my mom sent me and each of my 2 siblings 10.00$ on Venmo with the caption ‘Buy hand sanitizer, AND USE IT!!’, which I bought for all of us and handed out in exchange for lunch from my brother. The bombshell came in the middle of March that the whole country was in a national emergency and the whisperings of the school closing were most definitely not rumors.  This same time that America is waking up to realize what is going on, my sister had decided that she was going on another trip, despite protests from our mother about the safety. My sister went to Savannah, GA for the weekend because it is located not too far from where her and her husband live in Jacksonville, FL. I worked throughout all of spring break and with my job being as social as it is, I started to see major shifts in peoples attitudes, financial situations, interactions with each other, and frequency. Some states were shutting down but I was still getting travelers from all over the country, and even a couple from England that were still coming to get ice cream.

            One of the biggest differences throughout all of the coronavirus was how I dealt with work. I was the co-manager of the (local)  B***** and that location is all face-to-face right over the counter interactions and had 4 inside tables and 3 outside tables. When the CDC first started making recommendations, I followed them closely and informed my management of each and every one because the ones that I could not follow myself, were not getting done due to lack of caring. The owners did not see what was happening as an issue, the manager didn’t see what was happening as an issue, and it began to irk some of the employees. This led to us losing 3 employees between Spring break and the end of March, which also caused us to hire new employees and have to go through training during what was going on. At this time I was working 40 hours a week solely at the (this) location. This location is 1 person working alone and occasionally, for me and the other co-manager, we would work all day open to close 12-hour shifts. There were no cameras and whereas the owners did allow us to pull all seating, that was the only change made to anything. My store is located in a strip mall surrounded by a flower shop, a salon, a thrift shop, a brewery, and a bar and grill. All of these other stores shut down for Coronavirus and this left us with very few customers and often days making not even 100.00$ total sales. We started to get more rude customers, customers who didn’t have any money, homeless people wandering in and around, and this all led to an event that caused me to leave the (local) location one night and I still have not been back since. It was April 4th, 2020 and I was working an all day shift. I had been working since 11 am that morning and by 9:30 pm, 30 minutes prior to close, I had 40.00$ in my tip jar at the register. We have a plastic cup that is decorated with ‘TIPS!’ that sits next to the register to allow people to put money into. This has never been an issue and that is where we are trained to put it but this particular night, if I could change anything, I just would have moved the tip jar. I was starting to do all of my closing tasks and was back in the kitchen doing my dishes when a young man walked in talking on the phone. I turned the sink off and walked up to the front with my typical cliché statement of “Welcome to B****, have a look at our menu and I’ll be with you right after I wash my hands.” He responded like any other young man who walks into somewhere on their phone with a shrugged off “K.” As I turned the water off and grabbed a paper towel to dry my hands I heard the door bell ding and saw the man who had previously been looking at the menu walking out. I did not think anything of it and had assumed we didn’t have his favorite ice cream that day so he wasn’t interested. I finished drying my hands and made my way to the register to make sure he did walk away and I noticed that my tip jar was gone. I immediately grabbed the phone and walked out the front door to see if he truly had ran or not and he was long-gone. I called my main store and they told me to close early and go home. I immediately locked all the doors and called my sister to help calm my anxiety like I do anytime I get upset. She was super apologetic and offered immediately to send me all of the tips that had been stolen from me. As sweet as that offer was, I declined and was just thankful to have the support. I finished all my closing tasks and hung up with my sister to give me free hands to carry bags and extra stock to my vehicle. I parked directly out the back door and when I opened the door there was no one, not a single person or car, within eyesight. It felt kind of eerie so I just tried to hurry and lock the door and get into my car as fast as my trembling hands would allow me. In my anxious state, I panicked and dropped my work key and while picking it up set off my car alarm. I had a small laugh at myself and hurried into my car, locking the doors behind me. As I did this, I saw the same young man from earlier appear out of what seemed like nowhere. I did not see my tip cup and before I could make a decision on what to do, he started running towards my car. I immediately threw my car into drive and was instantly thankful I backed my car in that day. I called the police as I raced out of my work parking lot. Not in the strip mall parking lot or either neighboring parking lot had there been a single other car or person. The cameras in my work did not function, they were just for looks. They were losing money and forcing us to stay open. They had a female working alone at night with a cash register. Something like this happening is one of the specific things I told my boss that I was worried about if the Parkway location stayed open during a time when unemployment is at its highest and people are on edge everywhere. He had completely ignored me and then this situation happened. I went back to the main store location and my shift leader told me everything would be okay and she couldn’t get ahold of our manager because he had fallen asleep. I had work the next morning and by 12:00 the next day, I still had never heard anything from the manager. When I told the assistant manager Lynwood what had happened, he instantly called management and made it seem like a much bigger deal than anyone else had so far. When my manager finally did get in touch with me, he told me it was my fault for leaving the tip jar where it was and that they were still not going to change anything, including non-working cameras, to prevent it from happening again. I felt betrayed.

Seeing as how I could not find a new job fast enough, I was forced to continue to work daily and it was never brought up again except by employees who wanted to talk about it and when I talked to my therapist about it. That following day after my morning shift at the  (local) location I met with my manager and requested to be transferred to main store-only. This request was granted and I have been working there and looking constantly, everywhere for a new job ever since. Working at the main store definitely took an adjustment. The morning shifts were an hour earlier every morning and night shifts could be starting an hour earlier to ending 2 hours later. I also went from working alone to working with 2-3 people every night and training new employees. I started working more morning shifts and ended up getting less hours. I’ve come to the point where I can’t pay my bills. I haven’t yet received my tax return or my stimulus check and I don’t know why which has not helped my situation. With finals coming up I have been studying and doing homework like crazy. Two of my online classes have gotten to the point of feeling like 24/7 homework. Assignments due every single day. Videos that don’t relate to anything and just seem like busy work. Despite all of this, my grades did not suffer too terribly much. I could potentially end up with 2 B’s instead of 2 A’s depending on finals but I still have hope and faith in my studying.