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All in a Day's Work

As COVID-19 takes socialization, jobs, and even lives away from thousands of Americans, junior Kristen McIntosh takes a chance as she helps hundreds out at the front line at the now busier-than-ever Wegmans

Reporting by Ria Gupta; transcript edited for clarity and brevity

“On a scale of one to 10, I’m about a five as far as how worried I am that I’m going to get sick while at work. I know that it’s likely to happen, but at the same time we’ve been really good about cleaning everything and making sure it’s okay, so it’s kind of 50-50. My parents support me going to work, they’re just like, ‘Make sure you’re washing your hands and wearing gloves.’ They just want to make sure I’m safe.

“People haven’t gone grocery shopping and still need a lot of stuff and don’t have it, especially the older people. They can’t really go out often, so if the older people are out grocery shopping, I feel like I should at least be there to help and just try to go in whenever I can.

On March 21, customarily-full toilet paper shelves stand empty at Wegmans amid the coronavirus crisis.

“Personally, I got a lot more hours working at Wegmans because I was out of school and they were getting really busy, so now all the registers are open and there’s new procedures for cleaning registers. I told them that I could work more just to help out a little bit because they’re always super busy now, so then I was put on the schedule. The last week has been really crazy — every register is open and each one has a cashier and a bagger just because it’s so busy.

“After each customer, we have to clean the register and there’s a bunch of new rules. I usually get there in the afternoon so it’s pretty busy, but then after school was canceled and I was able to go in at 7 a.m. when we opened, there’d be a line of people out the door. It was pretty crazy until 11 in the morning and it would slow down a little bit.

“The interactions with customers are really different — I can tell they’re a lot more stressed out, but some people have also been really nice about it. A lot of people wear gloves or carry around wipes and some have the mask. I’ve also seen some nice customers sharing toilet paper with each other and stuff like that.

“One day when we were really busy, we needed bagels since we always run out and then I asked one lady if there were still any left and she said, ‘Oh, I’ll run and buy you some.’ Another day, there was another really nice lady: we were really busy, and she was like, ‘Do you just need a coffee or something? I just want to help you out,’ and that was really nice.

“There’s a rule now that you have to stand at the red line. There’s the register, and then there’s a line that lines up with the back of it and then there’s a red line behind that. The customers stand at the farthest one until we clean the register and then you come up to right at the end of the belt to load your stuff. Until we’re done checking them out they don’t come up so as to limit the time we’re next to them.

“There’s been a lot of people who have been rude. I’ll be cleaning the register and somebody will just start putting their stuff on the belt and be like, ‘Oh I don’t care, this is stupid.’ There’s also other people who are like, ‘Why aren’t you wearing gloves? Why aren’t you wearing a mask?’ I just try to put myself in their shoes: if somebody’s being rude, I just try to think of them instead of thinking of me, so not thinking that they’re being rude to me, but that they’re stressed. I want them to realize that we’re doing the best we can and that it’s a bad situation for everybody, so we’re just trying to make the best of it and doing the best we can to keep stuff clean.

“People have been asking a lot of questions, like, ‘When is toilet paper coming back?’ or ‘When is chicken coming?’ A lot of people get pretty mad about the shortages — I understand that with some people who have big families, it’s hard for them to transition into that. Most people are pretty fine with it though, and they try to follow the rules.

“There’s definitely a lot of Instacart — there normally is, but I know all the Instacart people say they’ve been super, super busy. However, a lot of people also want to go by themselves since we’re out of a lot of stuff so they can get what exactly they want. The most purchased items are probably chicken and meat-type stuff, toilet paper obviously, and then a lot of canned stuff or stuff to make bread such as flour and yeast. It’s easiest to stock up on that kind of stuff rather than stuff that’s going to expire super quick.

“I think it’s good that the government is shutting down all the businesses, but at the same time a lot of people are losing their jobs. It almost makes me feel like there’s other people who could also be working instead of me, but I’m also grateful that I still have a job. I’m just going by what I’ve heard and it sounds like it’s going to get worse in the next couple weeks, and it’s going to be a while before it gets normal. Since people aren’t really allowed to go out anymore, I think business will start slowing down a lot more because people will just be coming in for the things they absolutely need, but other than that it’ll be okay.”


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