How the COVID-19 Quarantine Affects Essential Workers, CPS, and Others in Chicago

By Zirah Wadley, Carolina Molina and Ludmila Pesce

Sign at Angelo Caputo’s Fresh Markets reminding customers to practice social distancing. Photo/ Ludmila Pesce

“But as of recently, I am not 100% completely satisfied with working from home. Since COVID-19 started, working from home has been a little bit difficult for me. When I ship a package, I normally take public transportation so that I am able to ship the package on time to my customer. But I am now trying to minimize the amount of time I spend outside even if it’s just to ship a package. ” – Myka Westmoreland,  19 , an Etsy Seller Online.

On April 13, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker executed a stay-at-home order for all Illinois residents, and at the time Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot predicted the order would extend into May. 

Flourish: States With The Highest Amount of Coronavirus Cases

“I am vegan-vegetarian. I have the advantage to look and find lots of vegetables and fruits in the store. I rarely eat junk food. But when it comes to cleaning supplies, no I am not satisfied because it’s hard to find any. Even before this pandemic I’ve always gone shopping for groceries once a week so I could have food in my fridge that could last me a week. ”

During this pandemic, many stores have been running low on certain foods and toiletries. Eggs, milk, tissue, and meats are all in low stocks currently. Some stores have given customers a limit of buying a multitude of certain items just so everyone can have their fair share. 

“I recommend people to stop hoarding food because stores will eventually restock,” Westmoreland proclaimed

“All homes should be prepared with — but not hoard or stockpile — a sufficient amount of key household items and groceries in case they need to stay home for a period of time,” said Dr. Chloë E. Nunneley, a resident in the ABC News medical unit explained. 

Sign at Tony’s Fresh Market asking customers to limit their purchases of paper products to ensure that everyone gets the products they need. Photo/ Ludmila Pesce

Additionally, “There is absolutely no concern about running out of food,” The National Grocers Association announced on March 17th.    

NGA President and CEO Greg Ferrara said “independent grocers are helping larger chains meet demand during this time, and that grocery stores are being restocked at unprecedented speeds.”

When traveling to the grocery store or any store in general, Westmoreland explains that she is nervous being in public spaces. “ Not because of the virus itself, but because of the people around me. This pandemic has made a lot of people think irrationally which leads to making irrational decisions like saying outlandish things to others or acting out in public.”

Map: Grocery Stores With Social Distancing Policies

“I see it every day mostly, in my girls that they had a routine and they were able to socialize and now they do have each other, but I can tell they miss their routine and I do miss my own routine,” said Lizbeth Chacon, 30, a parent of twin girls who is now working from home.

“They have gone to daycare since they were about 3 months old so this quarantine has kept us all inside and I do work from home currently without having hired help to watch my girls, but I do count on my mom and my sister who have been very helpful,” she explained. 

Childcare has been a concern for parents that are still working during this time. Parents with kids in daycare are having to find someone willing to watch their kids while they either leave for work or need to step into another room to get their work done from home. For Chacon, it wouldn’t be prudent to have a babysitter come in everyday to watch her kids for fear of that person potentially being a carrier. 

“We try to minimize the amount of times we go out to stores or in public because one of my twins is asthmatic and my mom is a breast cancer survivor so their immune systems are compromised,” said Chacon. 

“It’s been challenging, working from home and having my girls around. The work I do I have to manage other employees so it’s not an easy job to do every day,” she continued, “Being in quarantine, and I’m sure other people are going through the same, brings different feelings and when I do have Zoom meetings with my staff everyone is excited to see each other and it makes me miss our routine.“

Timeline: COVID-19 Cases In Illinois

I get by like a normal day at work. Just simply doing the same old stuff, and since I work in a factory where shipping and handling is a big factor, I do not feel safe due to the fact that the trailers I work in are not clean.” — Trevon Nelson, 22, an essential worker at FedEx. 

On April 13th,  Chicago Tribune article, essential workers have filed complaints about the lack of action being taken on safety measures. At Jewel Osco in the Chicago area, pharmacists complained of insufficient staffing and personal protective equipment. Some have said that they were told to remove their masks when interacting with the public. 

Teamsters Local 727 filed a grievance against Osco Drug demanding it do more to reduce the risk of virus exposure. The company later installed barriers at pharmacy counters, improved communication and instituted bonus pay.

“I keep myself protected by doing what I can to make sure I’m safe. Basically, dressing according to the weather. The weather here is bipolar. I also do wear gloves when I am on duty. As far as benefits go, the closest thing I got is a $2.00 raise because of the pandemic. I went from earning $14.75 to $16.70 working at FedEx,” Nelson explained. 

This, however, is not always the case. 

“We’re not given any benefits,” said Renato Lopez, 32, an essential worker at SWD INC., “I don’t get any overtime anymore. I can only work 40 hours maximum. I used to start a half hour early, but now I’m starting an hour later.

“I have to try to not have contact with anyone because we’ve had 3 confirmed cases and two pending in the last two weeks. The company I work for processes parts that go into respirators that are needed to help with COVID-19 so they can’t just shut down. They’re implementing a new policy to take everyone’s temperature upon arrival before punching in.” 

He makes his understanding clear that even though he’s not getting benefits, his work is very important.

The cases at work have brought up concerns about his exposure and how that might affect his family. While some healthcare workers are isolating themselves from their loved ones to avoid potentially spreading the virus, Lopez shares the childcare duties with his wife, who is also working at this time. 

“It’s made simple things more trivial like when coming home I don’t say ‘Hi’ to my girls or my wife,” Lopes stated,” I go straight into the shower and I disinfect anything I touch to keep them safe.” 

“We have to follow the CDC cleaning guidelines with the work equipment, my shoes, my car, my clothes, and even the hat I wear,” Lopez added,” I have to keep my mask on all day and sometimes we have to move really heavy materials and it makes it hard to breathe when it gets too hot. It’s a bit hard and using the mask tires me out faster, but I guess at some point you get used to it.” 

Datawrapper: Confirmed Cases In Illinois

CPS Community 

Back in the middle of March, Pritzker implemented a statewide school closure to halt the spread of the rapidly growing COVID-19. On April 17, Pritzker extended the school closure for the rest of the 2020 school year, meaning that students and teachers of CPS will continue to rely on remote learning tools and resources.

There has been mixed emotions on the announcement. Michelle Moore, whose two children attend Sayre Language Academy, notes that with the school close, it has a great impact on her children’s education. 

“Because both my children have IEP, they get services that I wouldn’t be able to offer at home … [and] both have benefited from [them],” she said.

Moore’s two children were provided with packets containing their assignments, encouraged to read each day, utilize IXL Learning, and have access to Google Classroom to keep up with assignments and reach out to their teachers for help.

Even so, keeping up with their assignments can be tedious and Moore encourages them to continue their assignments on a daily basis. 

“‘[Be]cause if I don’t do that, then they’ll be playing catch up, which is hard to do,” she said.

Other parents note that the school closure relieves their children of daily stress from the competitive learning environment. Pauline Brown, whose daughter is a freshman at Lane Tech, noted a change in her daughter’s busy school routine. 

“She seems more relaxed…. She gets up in the morning and she does homework for a few hours…. Then breaks for lunch and goes back to it for a couple of hours in the afternoon.” 

Such a change is more beneficial for students who are able to research and learn at their own pace without having the added stress of extracurricular activities and secular jobs. However, learning online can never replace traditional learning.

“There’s something to contain by being in a classroom with other students and a teacher and you’re able to interact with one another for learning,” Brown said.

Flourish: States With Academic Year Closures

Much like Moore, Brown also agreed that she’s able to spend more time with her children as a family and more time for their Bible study now that school is not open for session.

Although parents of CPS have seen a bright side to the bleak event, CPS teachers have their own challenges in response to the statewide school lockdown.

Jehan Hinds, a social science teacher at Simeon Career Academy, said that with lockdown in place, she loses connection with her students that she makes on a regular basis. She prides herself in building a community with her student, and using other means like email or Google classroom can’t replace the interaction. 

“Just to see the students facial expression, you can tell a lot what a person’s going through. That aspect is a little hard,” she said.

To ensure that her students are keeping up with their schoolwork, Hinds communicate with them regularly through email and Google classroom. She also sends them hello messages and checks on them periodically to see how her students and their family members are coping with the lockdown. 

Students who have lingering questions about their assignments could still reach out and ask for more clarification, as if they were still back in a classroom at Simeon Career Academy.

Parents can also see the class material and assignments and know whether their child is keeping up with the assignments on Google Classroom. 

However, even before the lockdown was put into place, Hinds and her colleagues recounted taking protective measures.

“We were making sure we were cleaning our classrooms even more thoroughly,” she said.

Students who had flu-like symptoms were also asked to stay at home or to be kept isolated from others.

“It was definitely a hot topic among teachers,” Hinds said.

Chantel Mitchell, a school based Cadre assigned to Darwin Elementary since Nov. 4, also expressed her challenges during the quarantine period.

Since her students are a special needs group and most do not have access to the internet or have the technology to interact or reach out for help, a challenge itself. Parent interaction was also limited prior to the quarantine order. Phone numbers would not work or the parents were simply too busy to answer.

Despite those challenges, Mitchell encouraged her students to continue with their learning routine by going over their assignment packets and had them practice using vocabulary and IXL Learning prior to the quarantine.

Students had also taken their own precaution by wearing gloves and using hand sanitizer. Mitchell and her colleagues would also make sure to wipe down desks and other surfaces using clorox wipes during prep.

Venngage: School Closures In States With Highest Number of Cases

Given how CPS is handling the quarantine, Mitchell hopes it will be a learning lesson for everyone, especially with how fundings could be better utilized throughout CPS for greater needs such as learning resources and cleaning supplies. 

However, she also noted that “[she] wouldn’t be surprised in three to five years that we’ll be back to where we were before the outbreak because it’s a reality of life and Chicago Public schools.”

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