Critical workers talk about how COVID-19 affects them


Health care workers, grocery store staff, transit drivers and food deliverers are among those who are hailed as heroes for continuing to provide much needed services during the COVID pandemic -19. The Canadian Press spoke to people whose work was deemed essential by their provincial government about how the public health emergency had affected their lives:


Helen Stathopoulos, Manager and Grocery Clerk

When buyers obstructed the aisles of a Toronto No Frills store weeks ago in their frenzy of stocking up for potential quarantine, Helen Stathopoulos was the one who led the staff on how to handle the crowd.

Since then, Stathopoulos – who works six days a week as an associate manager for No Frills and one day a week as a part-time clerk for Loblaws – has had to deal with daily changes to protect himself, his colleagues and his colleagues. clients as public servants. recommend strict physical distance to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Her employer and union have worked together to put in place safety measures and provide protective equipment, and staff try to support each other emotionally, she said.

“The fear is there, whether we want to admit it or not,” she said. “But the behavior we have, my two places where I work, we all try to keep it light … we make jokes, we do our thing and we stay together just to get through the day, and we take it as it happens. “

Stathopoulos, 41, said she is happy to do her part during the pandemic and appreciates the unprecedented wave of gratitude to grocers.

“In my 25 years working for this company, this is the first time that someone has actually called to speak to the manager, not for a complaint but to thank my staff,” she said.

However, some buyers have let their fears and anxieties take over, especially as more restrictions are imposed. Some are fighting among themselves, others are blunt with the employees, she said.

At the end of the day, Stathopoulos barely has the energy to shop for herself, she said, although she tries to stock up on essentials.

“I have probably eaten more takeout in the past three or four weeks than I have had in the past two years. You’re so battered after a 12-hour day that you say to yourself, OK, I need something quick and fast, “she said.

Twice a week, she buys food for her 82-year-old mother and puts it in front of the woman’s home. Stathopoulos, who lives alone, said not seeing her family was the biggest adjustment, but she stays in touch by phone or video chat.

The pandemic is throwing away her family’s plans to celebrate Orthodox Easter, which coincides with her mother’s birthday this year, she said.

“We are planning this absolute big party to celebrate Easter and my mom too, and I am thinking of all these things that we will not be able to do,” she said.

“It scares me, it really does, because what will this standard look like in three months? Does it slow down, right? Does the grocery industry itself still maintain the same pace as today? ” she said.

“We are all talking about (how) we are tired, but I think it is not that we are physically tired. I think we are mentally tired. “


Michelle Anbar-Goldstein, social worker

Many people with whom Michelle Anbar-Goldstein works daily do not fully understand the public health crisis unfolding around them.

As a social worker, she helps people found not criminally responsible for crimes due to a combination of developmental disabilities and a major psychiatric disorder, either in an institution or in the community.

Some supports, such as group work, have been temporarily interrupted due to the pandemic, but Anbar-Goldstein continues to visit people in her care, reviewing restrictions put in place by various departments and organizations to help to contain the virus.

“I always go into the community and I see my guys and I spend time,” said the 35-year-old.

“The mere fact of the pandemic does not mean that we do not have a mental health crisis. And in fact, it’s much worse now. “

Part of her job is to help people follow the security measures imposed by health and government authorities, but it has proven difficult, she said.

The lack of respect contributed to her anxiety about the virus, as well as that of her family, even if she practices physical distance and makes sure to change her clothes and shower as soon as she comes home, he said. she declared.

Anbar-Goldstein said her husband recently asked why she sat on the couch while visiting a patient’s home. Her four-year-old son also showed signs of anxiety about the pandemic.

Her husband and son have at least been able to spend time in her husband’s music studio because no one else has been there for weeks, she said.

“So they can leave the house and go there and they play music together and record songs. It’s really fun for them, ”she said.

As for her own concerns, they have so far been offset by the rewarding aspects of her work, she said.

“Although I am anxious, without a doubt, to get sick, I am also grateful that I have been able to leave my house and see people as much as possible,” she said.


Katie Stock, social worker

In addition to helping people prepare for life after a serious illness or injury, Katie Stock also helps them think about how they will manage the risks of COVID-19 when they return to the community.

“Having an injury or illness that changed their functioning at a time of the world where the whole world has changed the way it works creates much more uncertainty,” said Stock, a social worker at a hospital in Toronto rehabilitation.

Some aspects of her job have changed due to physical restrictions and other safety precautions, but the nature of it remains the same, she said.

Telephone calls and videoconferencing are replacing face-to-face communication with families of patients due to a visitation ban, she said.

“I have to do a lot more of this work on the phone and try to send videos on things to people, because it is really difficult to describe how someone moves or functions without physically observing it,” she said. declared.

Stock said she appreciates public support for essential workers and also feels grateful for the work done by grocery store workers and those whose jobs rarely receive the recognition they deserve.

The pandemic has affected the way she behaves outside the hospital, she said, noting that she was fully aware of her responsibility to patients and other members of the community not to spread the virus.

She now rides a bike rather than walking or taking public transportation, she said, and tries to limit shopping and contact with others, which has meant not seeing her family.

Stock has also discussed safety precautions with his roommate and plans to change his clothes as soon as he returns from the hospital, she said.

Prior to COVID-19, Stock said that she was rarely at home, spending her free time playing recreational soccer and softball, anecdotal nights or concerts with friends, and trying new restaurants.

But public health measures inviting people to stay at home have brought Stock closer to her roommate, with whom she’s lived since November, she said.

The two are now cooking and eating together, jogging and playing Dance Dance Revolution, a dancing video game, she said.

“I couldn’t have thought of a better roommate for the pandemic,” she said. “She is so positive and easy going. “


Ron Kang, owner of Elite Freight Lines transportation company

As the number of COVID-19 cases increases in the United States, Ron Kang is finding it increasingly difficult to find truck drivers ready to transport goods across the border.

In some cases, he said, the drivers themselves feel comfortable driving, but their relatives urge them not to, for fear of being exposed to the potentially deadly virus.

Kang, who oversees about 25 contract employees and drivers, said he was trying to allay their fears and changed company policies to ensure they have as little contact as possible with anyone at the outside of their vehicle.

For example, truckers can now pay for fuel at the pump, rather than going inside the truck stop, he said. They were also given masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, he said.

“If you look at it, you’re actually quarantined in a truck, but the only time you go out, you just have to take these precautions and use the protective equipment,” he said.

Kang, 43, said he also wears gloves to handle paperwork and other materials while working in the Toronto area office.

Although the business was deemed essential, the closure of other industries means that fewer goods have to be transported, which, combined with the reluctance of drivers to go to the United States, affects the business, he said. -he declares.

He applied for loans and saw what payments could be deferred, while counting his lucky stars that the business could work, he said.

Truckers have not hesitated to take indoor trips so far, although some are struggling to eat well on the road now that restaurants can only take away, said Kang. At least they are able to use the toilets in businesses again after a call from government officials, he said.

His family also had to make adjustments in light of the pandemic, he said.

It was his wife’s birthday this week and she could not have visitors, so a friend dropped a gift at their front door, he said. Meanwhile, Kang picked up a cake from Dairy Queen and a small gift from Shoppers Drug Mart, he said.

The couple’s three boys, ages 12, 14 and 16, are employed at home, located on farm property in Caledon, Ontario.

“If this thing lasts another three or four months, at least we can spend time outside without any problem,” he said with a laugh.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 5, 2020.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press


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