With 478,000 cases of COVID-19, Michigan alone has more cases than Australia, Greece and Sweden. Going on a year living in a pandemic, essential workers across industries are suffering from the changes caused by COVID-19.
Working the frontlines while handling a pandemic
Nurses have been crucial frontline workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and have continued to work. While others could take their foot off the gas and isolate at home nurses stepped on the gas and shot right into this. Erin Kiley, a registered nurse at St. Joseph Oakland Hospital is one.
Kiley said she can never really know what to expect each day she goes into work. That is stressful.
It is “anxiety provoking, not knowing what you’re going to walk into each day,” Kiley said. “If you’re gonna be short staffed because your nurses are sick, if you’re going to have a COVID patient that day, not knowing if you’re going to get pulled to the COVID unit.”
Kiley said she is frustrated with how certain situations are handled.
“… we’re kind of like the last people to receive tests, and we’re expected to be at work even if we have a stuffy nose. One of the most frustrating things is the NFL players are all getting tested and we’re on the front lines every day around the patients that are sick. You basically have to have chest pain or really bad shortness of breath to get a test,” Kiley said.
Killey isn’t putting the blame on anybody in specific, she just said that the system is flawed.
COZVID-19 exposure concerns always present
Exposure to COVID-19 in schools is one of the biggest issues in the nation. Districts and teachers are at odds over whether to continue online teaching, or to return to in-person classes.
Despite an increase in school cases, many districts are still planning a return to in-person classes as soon as January.
Grace Christian School, a private K-12 school in Raleigh, North Carolina has given students the choice of in-person or virtual instruction.
Amy Stevens, a Grace social studies teacher, said, “I do think masks are important, as well as distancing. I wish that schools could just be “normal” so students weren’t always so stressed over the changes, but I also 100% understand why we need to take the precautions. I’m also very lucky to be at a private school that has been truly blessed with low numbers and is very strict on contact tracing. We have safely run since August in-person. Also, I believe that since students tend to be asymptomatic, and being in school is better for their mental health, they should be here. Suicide rates are skyrocketing … adolescents need engagement and interaction.”
Erika Jones in Walled Lake, Michigan, has been a Spanish teacher for almost 20 years, but is new in her district and the pandemic is affecting her job status.
“I work in three schools in the district. I was hired during the online teaching period. If we go back next semester,I would have different students and be teaching different classes, losing the connections I had with my students,” she said.
Jones said she is uncomfortable going back without a vaccine.
She said, “I am not comfortable with the janitorial and safety precautions and that they will work. It is still also unclear what will happen if a teacher or a student gets the virus and how that will affect everyone.”
An additional concern is that schools are giving waivers to students have medical reasons or don’t want to wear masks.
Front-line workers also have been working countless hours throughout this pandemic all while being exposed to this life changing virus. Kiley, the nurse, said she is exposed every day.
“There could be a patient that is asymptomatic. We test them just randomly and then they come back positive and we’re unaware because they have no symptoms,” Kiley said. “I’m more worried about exposing my family. I mean, I worry about myself, too, but my grandparents and my husband’s grandparents.”
Workplaces across the nation shut down
In October, the DeWitt Police Department shut down due to an outbreak of COVID-19.
DeWitt Township Police Chief Mike Gute said the shutdown was very hard on his officers.
Even though the DeWitt Township police could not provide direct service for a short time, the community stood by them.
“The community support was great. People brought us cards and treats after we opened up. It shows how much of a tight knit and supportive community we have here,” said Gute.
Gute said that while they were closed the Bath police and Michigan State Police came to aid the community.
While Kiley’s hospital did not shut down, she has experienced the shutdowns that have clamped down Michigan workplaces.
She has her own idea of how it should be handled and what may be to blame for this second outbreak.
“I think that the shutdown would have to be taken a little more seriously if we’re actually going to see results from it. I don’t think that limiting people in restaurants but letting us go black Friday shopping is really going to manage the situation. I think it’s the same risk of exposure,” Kiley said.
Kiley said the second outbreak happened because “people kind of aren’t as afraid of it anymore because the numbers were declining, so people kind of put their guard down. The second wave is coming now which could be a result of this. “
Virus has deadly and mental health costs
COVID-19 has taken the lives of many front-line workers.
DeWitt Police Sgt. Bill Darnell died from COVID-19.
Gute said, “He was a great person, not just a great officer. He was often the voice of reason, and he did so much for the community as well.”
Gute said Darnell did so much work for the community that after his passing, his assignments had to be divided among five officers.
The loss still weighs heavy on Gute.
“It kills me inside that I have done so much to get ahead of the virus, and I still lost a friend and a great person to it,” said Gute.
“His loss created a rally for help, and a lot of officers stepped up to help and found their niches. We have come a long way, and are moving forward in his honor,” said Gute.
Front-line workers have struggled especially with the holidays and worry whether they should gather with families. Kiley worries about returning home for the holidays.
“I am more hesitant to go home or go to family functions and even for Christmas I’m debating if I should wear my mask around them, or if we should even go, or do a Zoom get-together with them, just because I could be asymptomatic and not even know it,” Kiley said.
While the pandemic has hurt workers around the nation, it has also taught valuable lessons. Grcae Christian School teacher Amy Stevens explained how the pandemic has made her appreciate her students even more:
“I think it has taught everyone a lesson in resilience. I think, for me, losing three months of contact with students from March to June taught me to really appreciate seeing them face-to-face, so I’ve embraced whatever I had to in order to be able to be in the classroom. I wouldn’t say my ability to teach has been changed, but it has definitely added to the workload of teaching!”
Kiley said she has learned that her job can be frustrating, but it is everything she signed up for.
“It’s definitely frustrating. The most frustrating part is I’m a nurse because I want to care for people, but doing my job and doing what I love to do puts me at greater risk. We’re expected to put ourselves in those situations without really thinking about ourselves.”
Kiley said that no matter what is thrown in her direction, she will continue to be a nurse and do what she loves: care for people who need it.
Trying to maintain the norm
Many K-12 schools across the country have switched to fully virtual instruction, causing teachers to adjust their lessons. Grace Christian School gave students the choice of going to school in-person or virtually. Stevens, the social studies teacher, said “I have about 85% [of students] in-person. I have had students have to quarantine because of exposure and the school encourages us to stay home if we feel off in any way. I had to be home for three days because I got tested and I was still able to teach virtually.”
With in-person attendance optional, Stevens has to make sure her lessons can be completed both in class and on Zoom.
“I have had to make lesson plans that are sure to work both virtual and in person, as well as meet the requirements for spacing. For me this has been hard because I like to use group work a lot. I can no longer put students in ‘clusters’ of desks. They have to be spaced out and with Plexiglas between them. I also have to always make sure that my lessons are reproducible online as well in class. We have to provide the same opportunity to both virtual and in-person students.”