The bleak reality of being an essential worker during COVID-19

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Photo courtesy of Samantha Gomez

Brandon Cortez is currently working at Whole Foods.

Exodis Ward, Contributor

It is almost like sleepwalking. Junior Brandon Cortez walks into the store and checks his temperature at the door. Under 100.4  degree, he is good. The florescent lights seem to be brighter than usual at this early hour. He puts his belongings away and begins taking things off the trucks. Then, he starts stocking items on shelves. The skylight in the building goes from a dull blue to full blown sunshine as the sun rises. It is time to begin cleaning up the floors and prepping for customers. The 60 and up shopping hours begin soon.

“Going into work now is definitely more stressful than ever. The biggest concern that I have is that I could be exposed to the virus and not even know it because some people can be asymptomatic and be spreading it unknowingly,” Cortez said. “I think they said it could take-up to two weeks to show symptoms? I could have it and be spreading it to my family and not even know it. For me that’s the scariest part.”

Working the 2 a.m. to 11 a.m schedule at Whole Foods Market provides some ease for Cortez. As an essential worker, he does what he can to keep himself safe: Gloves, two masks and excessive hand-washing. Even then, that might not be enough.

“Since the pandemic hit, my co-workers and I have a couple things we have to keep in mind. One being social distancing which is pretty hard considering aisles in a grocery store don’t have the most space to move around in,” Cortez said. “Whole Foods has also required us to complete a cleaning log every couple of hours that includes us sanitizing different areas of the store like door handles.”

Work isn’t the only place that’s been disrupted since the pandemic. UTEP shifted to online coursework right after spring break and Cortez is a multimedia journalism major. Most work is done in the field. Working online has been rough for him. .

“Balancing work and school have been a major challenge for me because I’ve been working such sporadic shifts, it’s been hard for me to catch up on sleep and still have the energy to handle all the work for my four classes,” Cortez said. “I’ve fallen behind but I’m trying to keep up as much as I can.”

Despite the struggle, it hasn’t all been bad. There’s little moments Cortez looks forward to. He spends time with his girlfriend. He practices guitar. He plays video games. There are positive aspects outside of Cortez’s circle too.

“I think the virus has brought some communities closer than ever before. Not only that but I believe it’s giving  people a much-needed break from their everyday, stressful lives and it’s giving them time to work on themselves and their hobbies,” Cortez said. “I also think it has given most people a wake-up about what life is. I don’t think anyone after this will take their everyday lives for granted anymore.”

Cortez thinks of himself as “cautiously optimistic” even though he tends to “overthink and get lost in his worries.” To not lose his bearings, he takes it a day at a time and tries not to dwell on the seriousness of the pandemic. He remains hopeful about the future and what it will hold for himself and everyone else.

“I look forward to visiting my family and seeing them on a regular basis without fear that I might be killing them unknowingly. I look forward to going out and doing things with my girlfriend. I look forward to getting together with my band to practice and play shows again,” Cortez said. “I look forward to not having to wear a mask anymore because it’s almost impossible to wear them with glasses, they fog up all the time and it’s the most annoying thing. I just look  forward to life going back to normal.”

UTEP students interested in telling their stories can send how they are  handling quarantine  at [email protected],The Prospector’s email solely focusing on how Miners are living while quarantined.

Exodis Ward may be reached at [email protected].