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“I Can’t Afford Not to Work”: Workers on the Omicron Surge

Workers tell Left Voice about safety measures at their workplace

Left Voice

January 11, 2022
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Server in a mask looks at maskless customers.
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

COVID numbers continue to surge; last week, more than a million new cases were reported in the U.S. Despite skyrocketing case counts, people are still being asked to report to work with little to no safety provisions. Schools are reopening despite protests from teachers. It’s business as usual for bosses — time to exploit workers  in the name of profit. Left Voice asked workers to share their workplace’s response to the Omicron surge. If you would like to share your story, contact us at [email protected]

Nurse

I work at a small clinic. HR told me that if I have Covid I still need to work as long as I’m asymptomatic. We are understaffed and overbooked. I’m seeing patients in person for non-essential visits and there are no clear guidelines on whether or not patients have to wear masks. I’m so tired of all of this. 

Psychotherapist

I’m a psychotherapist at a nonprofit community mental health clinic. We were virtual, and then we were told we had to go back, and for a while, it was just therapists in the office. We would be in there all by ourselves doing telehealth sessions. Something we did at home previously. When we first started having clients come in, it was slow and only on certain days. Then, it was presenting a vaccine card or a negative Covid test

The clinic then changed it—without telling any of the clinicians—to anyone can come in, vaccine, no vaccine, and no negative test required. They have us in rooms where we can be at least 6 ft apart, but with sessions lasting much longer than 15 mins, it was still a little risky. If I hadn’t had someone show up for an in-person session without being notified about it, none of the therapists would have realized we were sitting there with unvaccinated, untested clients. 

Right now, we are back to working from home, but the administrative staff is still going in. It doesn’t make sense that people have to risk exposure on public transportation to do what they had been able to do from home only a few months ago.

And their solution to objections regarding unvaccinated clients being seen was to buy giant plexiglass “doors” on wheels which were placed in the middle of the room between us. As though Covid were like a Walking Dead zombie and would just stop at the stand-alone door in the middle of the room.

Quality Inspector

I’ve been at three jobs throughout the pandemic, and the response has changed at each as well as with the availability of vaccinations and everything else. Manufacturing has never struck me as a very people-focused job. As long as you can output product, they don’t really care how you feel or what is going on outside the shop. My current job is as a Quality Inspector for a space electronics manufacturer, but previously I’ve worked in aviation. Currently, we don’t have many Covid safety measures, though because of government contracts, they’re pushing for a high vaccination rate. They also have limited building visitors and have a mask policy in place that isn’t strongly enforced. 

Server

I’m a server in a café in Manhattan. Staff wears masks and are all vaccinated. They sometimes check vaccination cards for indoor dining. A couple weeks ago, they had to close because too many workers had Covid. (But they later erased all evidence that had happened from their Instagram page). 

While I can’t pinpoint specific instances of Covid exposures — the café is pretty busy all the time — I think the chances of me not having been exposed to Covid are slim. The space is small and can have about 30 people inside during peak hours, there’s constant turnover, and most of those people are not wearing masks to eat. Additionally, I have to get to and from work on a crowded train. I’ve told my partner I know I’m going to get Covid. It’s just a matter of when. I already have chronic health issues so it’s kind of scary, but I can’t afford not to work.

Shutting down for a few weeks and paying us would be the only way to really keep us safe. Hazard pay wouldn’t keep us safe per se, but it would make sense. Less people in the café could mitigate some risk, but I still wouldn’t feel that great about it.

Pediatric Doctor

We have been swarmed by people needing testing. They finally created a nearby place where people can go if they are asymptomatic and don’t want to see a doctor, but that’s only 9 to 5, and most people are symptomatic. Our waiting room in peds is tiny and symptomatic people are just crammed in there breathing all over each other, babies, and immunocompromised people. Also there’s no separation from the registrar who has to check them all in.

We are already down two doctors for non-related health stuff with no plan to replace them, so we have been busting our asses covering their shifts already, and now that everyone is getting sick, there is absolutely no plan on how to cover more shifts when people eventually go out, besides just us covering more shifts and being even more exposed and not getting any rest and making us even more likely to get sick.

Unlike nurses, we need to find coverage for every shift. And our boss went out of the country for the holidays.

My colleagues have been reluctant to test themselves for minor symptoms because we don’t want to put the burden of coverage on our fellow colleagues. We have been actively discouraged from testing if we are asymptomatic. We also have no way to test ourselves besides checking into the ER; in two years, employee health still hasn’t made an easy system

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