Apr 23, 2020
Firsthand tips from essential workers
A quiet army of Bay Staters is keeping the Commonwealth running amid the great pause of COVID-19. Among them are grocery store and pharmacy workers, utilities workers, T workers, cleaning people and correction officers. They cannot stay home, cannot telecommute or join Zoom calls to do their job. Like first responders on the streets and doctors and nurses on the front lines in hospitals, their presence is essential.
These workers face fear every day – fear of contracting the virus, and fear of bringing it back to their homes where their loved ones wait. They go to work anyway, often hard work, on their feet, often working with the most vulnerable. They carry with them bleach and gloves masks and an abiding sense of obligation to their families and their neighbors.
Coverage talked to a range of these workers over the past week in interviews on Boston streets, and asked them to share their experiences, how they try to stay safe, their advice for other essential workers, and their messages for the public. Here are their thoughts, unfiltered, in their own words.
Corey Peabody - 38, Boston, Essex County, Correctional Officer
"We’re wearing masks all the time, surgical masks. And if I have to come in contact with someone, I wear the N95 mask too. We’re lucky to get a good amount of those supplies. I worry about bringing the virus back home with me from work. We’re around a lot of people all day long. I take my boots off in the hallway when I get home. I take off my uniform as soon as I get in. I don’t go visiting my mother or anything just in case. She’s older, so I have to stay away.
You do what you can. Stay self-quarantined. Don’t go out unless you have to."
Preston Varrs - 49, of Dorchester, Environmental services, Unit Service Associate
“I work in environmental services for the hospital. Which means I clean patients’ rooms and in the hospital. You got to stay with your proper PPE (personal protective equipment). Mask, gown, gloves, even eyewear right now. Whatever I’m wearing at the door I take it right off before going home. My shoes come off at the door. We got to stay safe. I even wipe down my sneakers before I leave the hospital. I can’t bring nothing back home. My wife is a prime candidate for this virus, so it’s a must for me not to bring it home. Just pay attention to the rules. And wash your hands properly and frequently."
Jari Pena - 24, of Roslindale, Hospital Housekeeper
“I wear my mask, gloves, and try to stay my distance. When I get home I take everything off and put it in a bag at the door and wash up. I’m grateful that I work and I still have a job, but then again I’m exposing myself to everything and everyone. You don’t know who has the virus, or where one person has been. Stay home. It’s crazy that people aren’t taking this seriously until they actually know someone who actually has symptoms or came in contact with the virus. It’s kind of sad."
Juan Arias - 40, Brockton, MBTA sanitation worker
“I’m out here working and everyone else is home. I’m a little nervous about it, but what can I do? I have a family to care for, children. When I go home I take everything off and go right into the shower because I want to be safe for them. I’ve been doing this for about 15 years. My family knows the work I have to do and they support me, even when it seems that things are getting worse."
Vivi Vega - 18, Jamaica Plain, Restaurant worker
“I spend work just waiting for Uber pickups and deliveries, just being patient for eight hours. During my shift I’ll see about 20 people coming in and out for deliveries. People have to eat, that’s it. I miss my friends. I can’t see my friends, and that’s kind of sad. But just stay home. If you have to go out, then protect yourself. Don’t be around people or too close. It’s safe to stay home."
Jessica Rodriguez - 33, Roxbury, Home health aide
“I’m an essential worker. I work as a home health aide. I work with the elderly, in and out of their houses. Hand sanitizer, gloves, mask - that’s what I have to protect myself as well as others. It’s scary. I have kids, so as soon as I get home I take everything off. I jump in the shower and everything goes into the washing machine. I’m often cleaning my hands with soap and water. I’m doing everything I can to prevent them and myself from getting it. It’s very scary. Just take precautions. Carry hand sanitizer with you. If you’re wearing gloves, then take them off properly and throw them away instead of throwing them on the ground. It helps a lot."
Linton Blake - 33, Mattapan, Security guard
“I do security at an elderly home. Even though most people in the world have to stay home, it satisfies my heart to go to work and make sure my elderly residents are actually taken care of. I get it, everyone should stay inside and be safe. But I have four kids and I gotta pay the bills. I rather the elderly be taken care of over myself. I was just raised that way. My kids are in the house because schools are shut down. They’re doing schoolwork at home. My kids are good. So as long as I can make it to work and back home without being sick, then we’re ok.”
Ursel Hughes - 52, Dorchester, Emotional & recovery support health worker
“I work at a halfway house, and do a lot of early recovery work with pregnant and postpartum women. I’m in and out of the hospitals with women that are getting ready to deliver their babies. I spray my car down, I have a lot of hand sanitizer, I wear my mask. When I go home I go straight to the bathroom, don’t even say hi, just head to the bathroom, wash up first or even jump into the shower. Then I’ll say hi. If you don’t have to be out don’t be out. If you have to, then do a lot of hand washing and a lot of sanitizing. Definitely wear a mask or a scarf around your face. But you have to today put yourself first in order to take care of other people. You have to put your safety first. During this, my family is really important to me. I have a 16-year-old and with her in the house, I have to be real creative to keep her from going stir crazy. But it’s made me appreciate that quality time with her. Back in the day when I grew up it was all about family and neighbors and community. It seems that that’s what we’re getting back to right now. Looking out for each other, making sure people have what they need. We’re appreciating what we do have, and not wasting it and being frivolous."
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PHOTOS BY NICOLAUS CZARNECKI