While most of the state is on lockdown, thousands of Washingtonians are still making their daily commutes, ensuring the lights are still on when we get back.
They bag our groceries. They tend to the sick and dying. They drive. They prepare our food. They look after our kids.
For months, they’ve pressed on, knowing thousands of people, many of whom were working in the same jobs, have already died. There is no Zoom call that could replicate the services essential workers provide.
As they continue to fight on the front lines of a pandemic they never expected to face, The Seattle Times asked a few of these workers to share how the pandemic has altered their lives. Here is what they want you to know.
Kyong Barry, Albertsons front-end manager
Kyong Barry, a front-end manager at Albertsons and UFCW 21 member, says grocery stores are “a home away from home.”
“My community, my neighbors — They become part of your family,” she says.
Barry spends her shifts hiring and training employees, but also keeping the store clean and making sure people maintain social distancing.
“We’re constantly worried whenever people come through — and especially when they bring their kids and elderly people — that we make sure they’re not going to get sick, and we’re not going to get sick.”
During a recent busy afternoon, Barry made sure customer carts were sanitized, as well as store registers, restrooms and equipment. She says every day is nonstop.
The store put up plexiglass at the cashier stations. She says every check stand offers sanitizer.
“It’s become a job where you help feed your community, which is a great feeling,” she says. “Power to all workers in whatever industry you’re in. You work your butt off and you make things run.”
Allyssa Howard, Community Transit coach operator
Allyssa Howard, who started with Community Transit last year, understands the importance of transit workers during the time of COVID-19.
During her shifts, she transports community members to the grocery store. She witnesses doctors and Fred Meyer employees coming to and from work. She says seeing other essential workers gives her “a push” to keep serving the community during a challenging time.
“It’s a very stressful job, and one way to relieve that stress, especially during this pandemic, is to show us respect by putting on a mask or something over your face — just so that we have that relief to know that we’re not going to get anything from you,” says Howard, a member of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1576.
“That in and of itself would help a lot of drivers feel safer.”
Marily Sta. Maria, nurse at ICHS Holly Park Clinic and Kindred Hospital ICU
For Marily Sta. Maria, nursing is a calling. She trained and worked as an engineer in the Philippines, but she was always drawn to taking care of people, and she became a nurse in 1994.
Sta. Maria, a cancer survivor, also lost her husband to cancer. It helps her empathize with the patients she sees in her two jobs at ICHS and Kindred Hospital. “I am a family, and I’m also a patient at the same time. I can put myself in both situations,” Sta. Maria says.
But her preexisting conditions as a survivor, including anemia and diabetes, make her more vulnerable to coronavirus.
“Going to work, I have a lot of fears and anxiety,” Sta. Maria says. “What makes me strong is my faith — my faith and my vocation and my calling. It’s stronger than the risk that I have.”
Kulwinder Kaur, Draper Valley Farms production worker
Kulwinder Kaur has worked at Draper Valley Farms for the last seven years since immigrating from India.
“Before, we came from work and we hugged our children, our family,” Kaur says. “But now, no — before we come in, we have to take a shower, clean ourself and have distance.”
For Kaur, a UFCW 21 member, it’s a small inconvenience in fighting the virus.
“As the essential workers, we are providing food to all over America,” Kaur says. “There is virus; you have to face it with a strong willpower.”
Rocío Luquero, Seattle World School family support worker
Rocío Luquero knows what it’s like to struggle with basic needs. She grew up in a poor, single-parent home in Madrid, without the help of any government safety net.
“I saw the pain in my mom’s face all the time,” Luquero says.
As a social worker at the Seattle World School, Luquero helps some of the city’s most vulnerable children — recent arrivals to the United States, helping them connect with rent assistance and food. Her job got much harder once schools closed and the need from families rose exponentially.
“My heart was racing for three weeks,” she says.
Many students and their families worked in restaurants that have shut down because of the pandemic, leaving them with no way to support themselves. In some cases, their immigration status prevents them from receiving government benefits.
Her job, which was once possible to do mostly from her office, has now become an all-consuming task to make sure families don’t fall through the cracks. She spent three days last week in the hospital with a student who’d just given birth and had no one around to support her through the process.
Every week, she mails Safeway cards and delivers food to families’ homes. But the demand is much higher than what she can give.
“I have the heart for this,” Luquero says. “These families are very resilient, and they are the ones who are in deep trouble. So if they can do it, I can do it. I have to go on.”
Josefina Martinez Loeza, Alliance Building Services janitor
Josefina Martinez Loeza has worked as a janitor for Alliance Building Services for three years and is a member of SEIU6 Property Services NW. She has always valued the job, but even more so now, she says, because there are so many people who are without work.
“COVID-19 has affected me emotionally in the sense that it changes your life completely,” she says. She worries about being exposed to the coronavirus and bringing it back home to her family. They are relying on her, as many of her family members have been laid off due to the pandemic.
“What we are doing is essential,” she says of her janitorial work. But it’s a risk.
Seeing so many people in her community in need is also difficult, she says. With their limited resources, she and her family prepared and donated meals to more than 300 people outside their home in Renton last week.