Social distancing doesn’t stop the need to eat. Many people only leave the house to go to the supermarket, and only then when it’s absolutely necessary. But grocery store employees have to go there every day.Many grocery workers are comparing it to a war zone. At least 41 grocery store workers have died of COVID-19, and thousands more either have symptoms or have been exposed.
People who work in grocery stores are touching items touched by dozens to hundreds of people a day, interacting closely with customers, touching hands when exchanging money. Most are doing this without any protective gear.A lot of groceries companies’ policies require people to have a positive COVID-19 test before they can access benefits.
But it is very difficult to get tests. This puts many grocery store workers in a financial situation where they have to work even if they have symptoms. Then other employees’ risk of contracting COVID-19 gets higher. The fear about going to work gets stronger.
One 67-year-old grocery store employee, who decided to take a leave of absence until COVID-19 infections reached a peak in her state, said, “It’s an awful decision: Go to work and put your life at risk, or lose your job, lose your income, and lose your insurance.”
She decided to wait until after her state’s peak because, as an older adult, she didn’t want to be sick when hospitals were overrun. She’d read stories about doctors in Italy having to turn people away based on their age or existing illnesses.These are horrible risks to weigh.
That level of distress can wreak havoc on a person’s physical and mental health. We are likely to see a rise in substance use among grocery employees and other essential workers. We should expect grocery store employees to struggle with mental health. We should be prepared to help them when they are in need.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union is asking the CDC to classify grocery employees as first responders, so they can access tests and protective gear. This would be one step in the right direction. We are deeming peoples’ jobs essential—we should make protecting their lives essential, too.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder during this unprecedented time, TruHealing Centers is open and here for you. We are using third-party, hospital-grade sanitation, and telemedicine services, to ensure that you feel safe receiving treatment. At our recovery centers across the country, we provide compassionate and high-quality care to help you build a life in long-term recovery. To find out more, call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.