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On the Payroll In the Pandemic

Senior Sofia Little wearing a protective mask at work. Photo provided by Sofia Little.

Due to the spreading of COVID-19, schools across the nation have been closed and many students have started online schooling. With the flexible hours and more free time that comes along with online school, students have had the opportunity to explore new hobbies and melt into relaxation during the quarantine. However, this isn’t always the case.

Some Freedom High School students are working on the front-lines of this pandemic. Although they’re not medical professionals, many employed students are helping provide people’s bare necessities: food. With low wages and long hours, students are continuing to work at grocery stores and fast-food restaurants.

Senior Sofia Little has been working at Panera Bread for over one year and is continuing to do so during the pandemic.

“With my work schedule that can go up to eight hours, I have no time to reflect on my abruptly stopped senior year or stay on top of my assignments,” Little said.

Despite the nearly 900,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States alone, Little feels safe at work due to the numerous safety precautions Panera Bread has installed.

“At first I was a little scared [coming into work] but I feel better now because I keep my distance from all the employees and the interactions with the customers are minimal,” Little said.

Senior Aylin Escobar works at Bed Bath & Beyond and has experienced a lot of work changes that are meant to help protect employees and customers from the virus. Even with the increased protection, she is still remaining cautious.

“We had a lot more rules for making sure we keep everything clean and no customers are allowed in the store anymore, only online pickups,” Escobar said. “I still feel more at-risk though because a lot of people would come in with no mask or any protection at all and I have no idea who they’ve been in contact with or where they’ve been.”

On the other hand, junior Fiona Dumais feels safe working as a Harris Teeter cashier amidst the occasional chaos seen at the grocery store.

“They make it mandatory to wear masks and stay six feet apart,” Dumais said. “They also regularly disinfect the keypads and things that are touched regularly.”

Dumais just recently began working at Harris Teeter and her first day as a cashier was only a few days ago. Although she has heard stories of paranoid customers during the outbreak, she has not interacted with any herself.

With the unemployment rate continuing to grow, Harris Teeter and other grocery stores are one of the few places that are still looking to hire. She suspects that grocery stores need able bodies who are willing to work during the pandemic to replace workers that left due to fear of being at-risk.

At Badd Pizza, senior Courtney Golden can be found making pizzas in the kitchen. Since some of her employees stopped working due to health concerns, she has been working for longer hours. Although she has more work, she does not mind losing some of her free time.

“I love that my work is still open because I have a reason to leave my house and I still get to see some of my good friends,” Golden said. “Since I’m still working though, it’s harder to find that motivation to do some of my school work.”

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