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Student Essential Workers

Over 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Ryan Freels, a PLNU junior, and Ryan Fridge, a PLNU sophomore, are not a part of that 10 million. 

Freels works as a team member at Whole Foods in San Ramon, CA, while Fridge works as a construction worker for Osman Construction in Nashville, TN. Both have continued working full-time as stay-at-home orders cut millions of jobs. 

When the orders were called and some businesses began to close their doors, Freels knew his job would be safe. What he wasn’t expecting was how much would change at the store in a short amount of time. Initially, there was confusion in the company for about a week after the first cases were detected in California, he said.

 “It kind of just got crazy before we knew that it was going to get crazy. The lines were out the door of people trying to get toilet paper and stuff like that,” Freels said. 

 Now, Whole Foods has outlined a set of regulations for its workers to follow for the safety of both their employees and customers. All team members are required to wear a face mask and gloves when they’re in the store, but before they’re allowed to start their shift, they must pass a temperature check every day. If they fail, they are sent home for a two-week quarantine. While they’re in the store, they’re required to keep appropriate social distancing with customers and disinfect the area they’re working in regularly. 

“Essentially, all the jobs are the same, but we just have so much more that’s on our plate,” Freels said.

The store has also implemented a few regulations to control customer capacity and interaction, including prohibiting the use of reusable bags and capping the number of customers allowed in the store at 54. The limitations make this a weird time for customer service, according to Freels, but overall, he feels safe and protected enough to continue his position during the pandemic because of the guidelines Whole Foods has put in place. 

“If you’re really worried about getting coronavirus when you go to the grocery store, go to Whole Foods, because it’s probably going to be the cleanest grocery store you’re going to, just because we are doing so much,” he said. 

In contrast, Fridge said his coworkers have shown an indifference to the pandemic and his job assisting his boss has continued as normal. 

“With construction, no one really cares and guys just want to get work done and get paid,” he said. 

On a typical day, he says that the only person he works with in close proximity is his boss, while his other coworkers are all off doing their own thing.

“My job has remained exactly the same,” Fridge said. 

Both Freels and Fridge said they don’t feel like essential workers since they’re not directly battling the virus but despite the risks, they have continued serving their community in their positions through this crisis. 

Written By: Jaden Goldfain