Pierce students balance being essential workers

As government officials urge Americans to practice social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19, some Pierce students find themselves risking their own health to stay afloat financially.

For Sabrina Corona, 23, working at Target during COVID-19 puts her boyfriend with asthma at risk because they live together. The couple struggle to pay rent and live paycheck to paycheck, so Corona continues despite the hazard.

“If I lose my job, I don’t know what I’ll do,” Corona said in a phone interview. “I don’t get help from the government and everything I have is what I worked for.”

Corona said she also worries about losing her job because Target reduced her availability to about 20 hours a week–just enough to pay rent.

Anadela Lopez, 20, is also a Target employee. Target gives their employees gloves when handling items to protect employees and customers, according to Lopez. But she does what she can to protect herself and customers.

Before going to work, she showers. She also takes her own hand sanitizer and masks to work. When she returns home, she takes a hot shower again.

“I can’t always be six feet apart from people when working since I’m always around customers,” Lopez said in a phone interview. “It’s scary if I do bring it home.”

To stay organized, Lopez uses a planner to schedule her time between work and her two classes to keep up with assignments.

“With class and work, I am going through a hard time right now since I am the only one working in the family and we aren’t financially stable,” Lopez said.

Associated Students Organization Senator Jane Benga works at Walmart. She practices code “62100,” which enforces employees to stay six feet apart, wash their hands for 20 seconds and mandates them to call in sick if they have a fever over 100 degrees.

Benga is an overnight stocker at Walmart and works five days a week from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. She doesn’t drive, so she has to take two buses to get to work and back home.

She said in a phone interview that working is worth the risk because it financially supports her family.

“Even though it’s COVID-19, we still have financial needs to take care of and bills to pay,” Benga said.

While some Pierce students are able to work, others struggle with losing their job.

Paula Young, 20, worries about how she will pay $500 for her six classes this semester after being laid off from 85C Bakery Cafe.

“The minute I can go back to work again, I’ll pay it off,” Young said in a phone interview. “But it doesn’t seem likely anytime soon.”

Young said managing six classes and being laid off from work has taken a toll on her mental health. In the past, being outside and socializing helped with her ongoing depression.

To cope while in quarantine, she virtually talks to her friends on a daily basis.

“Just keeping in contact with coworkers and friends has helped me so much,” Young said. “I realized I have 10 phone calls a day to keep me going.”