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Essential Workers Keep Spirits High Despite Virus Surge

A server at Lucky Baldwin’s Delirium in Sierra Madre keeps her face and hands covered to protect thirsty customers as well as herself during the July 4 holiday. – Photo by Terry Miller / Beacon Media News

Locally, Trader Joe’s in Monrovia and other grocery stores had some employees test positive

Without the luxury of sheltering at home as some have experienced these past few months, essential workers are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety, according to mental health experts. This of course includes the massively overburdened frontline health care workers.

Nearly half of all American adults say the COVID-19 pandemic is hurting their mental health, according to a recent KFF Health Tracking poll. But those numbers could be much higher for critical workers, Alison Holman, a psychologist and nurse, told the American Heart Association.

Essential workers such as restaurant servers suffered yet another setback last week when a second round of closures was ordered by Governor Gavin Newsom. Those who just recently were thrilled to be called back to work got the devastating news that only outdoor seating would be allowed in restaurants and bars would not be allowed to do any business for at least three weeks.

The average server, who usually gets minimum wage, relies on tips and some say customers were so pleased the see their favorite watering hole reopen that tips were “very generous for the first week,” Tatianna Pister told Beacon Media. But that apparently, that didn’t last.

Now, all that has changed: servers and staff have been cut to the bone in many instances, hurting weekly paychecks and adding stress in an already extremely anxious time in our recent history.

The latest upsurge of positive COVID-19 cases in California appears to have hit us by surprise. Not really, say experts who point to the past several weeks when concentration of people has been heavy, little social distancing practiced and a reluctance of some to wear mandated face coverings. It’s not surprising at all to see those elevated numbers.

Trader Joe’s in Monrovia as well as other grocery outlets, including Whole Foods in Hastings Ranch, have reported workers testing positive for COVID-19, which has put some customers on edge. Five employees were reported as testing positive last week at the Monrovia Trader Joe’s. The Monrovia store has been deep cleaned and is observing strict health precautions; as do most other retail businesses which are allowed to remain open during this epidemic. All Trader Joe’s shops now run efficient “crew member wellness checks” including temperature tests. Many local restaurants, including Lucky Baldwin’s three Pasadena and Sierra Madre locations, do the same.

At the end of March the supermarket chain temporarily closed six locations because an employee at some East Coast locations either tested positive for COVID-19 or was receiving treatment for a suspected case. “Out of an abundance of caution, we have temporarily closed the stores for thorough cleaning and sanitization,” Trader Joe’s said in a statement at the time.

The effort to which restaurants and all food related businesses go is extensive in dealing with the pandemic. In addition to face masks, employees sometimes use protective shields (similar to clear surgical facial coverings) to keep their customers and fellow employees a little safer. These essential workers, as they’ve become known to us, face excessive heat issues wearing these coverings — particularly in these warm summer months — but the majority we spoke with said they were thankful to be part of a solution to the problem and were just happy to have their jobs back.

Trader Joe’s, like many other stores, adapted swiftly to the massive changes the food industry has suffered as a result of the pandemic. The efficient and early social distancing was a store trademark and the company went to exhaustive lengths to keep customers and employees safe.

But despite all the precautions by restaurants and stores, people are still getting sick. Some people still refuse to wear a mask in public, despite pleas by health officials and California mandates. There have been many instances recorded on social media where some get into verbal or physical altercations over face masks or lack thereof.

The internet has also offered official looking, albeit bogus “Face Covering Exemption Cards” which people could buy and display at stores. There is no such card available.

Responding to a stunning increase in coronavirus hospitalizations and positive test results, Newsom also banned indoor operations in wineries, zoos, movie theaters and museums in the state’s hardest-hit counties. The closures will remain in place for at least another couple of weeks. The California Department of Public Health is currently monitoring 26 counties in the state.

Whether you are going into work or working from home, the COVID-19 pandemic has probably changed the way you work, says the CDC: “Fear and anxiety about this new disease and other strong emotions can be overwhelming, and workplace stress can lead to burnout. How you cope with these emotions and stress can affect your well-being, the well-being of the people you care about, your workplace, and your community. During this pandemic, it is critical that you recognize what stress looks like, take steps to build your resilience and manage job stress, and know where to go if you need help.”

Following the Fourth of July weekend, California’s total case count is at 277,774 as of Tuesday, July 7. California has reported at least 6,448 deaths.

Over 3 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, including a growing number of young adults. More than 131,766 Americans have died from COVID-19, and some survivors are grappling with long-term complications.

Newsom hopes that his new restrictions enacted last week will help flatten the curve again.

“We were successful in bending that curve. We will be successful again in bending this new curve,” he said last Wednesday.

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