‘I Have Now Had More Physical Contact With The Deceased Than I Have With Anyone Living’

‘I Have Now Had More Physical Contact With The Deceased Than I Have With Anyone Living’

This is Sick Days, a series documenting how jobs are changing during the coronavirus pandemic, as told by workers themselves. This week, we hear from a cop, a morgue volunteer, and more. If you’d like to submit a story, use this Google form and provide as much detail as you’re able; read this post to learn more about the project.

Gizmodo has verified the authors’ identities, and submissions have been edited for length, grammar, and clarity.

Anonymous, grants specialist, Northeast

In usual times I work as a grants specialist. It is typically difficult for people to understand the actual nuts a bolts of what this means as I am not a grant writer. The technical and scientific training that would be required to write medical research grants are beyond what I am qualified for. What I really do is assist the faculty and lab members in identifying, applying for and administering research funding.

I work in a basic science department which means that there are no clinicians with whom I work. This is a mixed blessing in this time as this means less chance of exposure while we were still in the office, but also less ability to help and reduced job security. I am lucky in that I am able to perform my duties from home and have been doing so for the past five weeks. However most of our labs have shut down and only essential maintenance is taking place for the time being.

The biggest change to my duties came when I received a phone call on Saturday. One of the institution’s talent acquisition managers was on the other end and immediately struck an extremely apologetic tone. It seems that she was responsible for asking those that had signed up to volunteer in emergency situations to perform an uncomfortable task and I was a candidate. I must emphasise that I was able to decline and it seemed that the TAM almost expected such, as she was overtly grateful when I agreed. The volunteer position title was morgue assistant.

I was to go for training in the middle of the week and would start working shifts on the weekend while I continued to perform my typical 9-5 WFH hours Monday through Friday. After the training I have now learned how to properly transport the deceased from the onsite hospital morgue to the temporary refrigerated trailers of which there are currently three full due to the strain this has put on the funeral industry and their ability to pick up the newly deceased.

I realised today that after the training I have now had more physical contact with the deceased than I have with anyone living for the past month. Honestly though I am just grateful that there is something I can do to help, as the social distancing was contributing to an overall sense of uselessness and lack of purpose. There is currently no end date for these responsibilities at least that they have been able provide. So, for the foreseeable future my weekends will consist of moving the deceased from one storage facility to another (in full PPE thankfully.)

Connor, unemployed, New York

It all started before the coronavirus existed. Money was tight at the nonprofit I worked at. My coworkers and I knew it. We suspected something was coming when an out-of-the-ordinary meeting was scheduled for a Friday morning. More than half of the staff were laid off in one fell swoop. This was November 15, 2019.

November and December, I looked around to other organisations in the same sector before realising it just wasn’t going to happen. I switched gears and began looking elsewhere for a position. Applications flew out, 15-40 per week to employers in New York City hoping one would take notice and give me a chance. The weeks went by and I hadn’t heard anything; that is until the first week of March. Several different employers had made it to the next step in their hiring process and I had been chosen for an interview after applying in January.

The second week of March arrived and I interviewed at a worldwide company. I was told that I’d hear back the following week if I was selected for a second interview. Three days later, the company shut down all of their operations in that division worldwide for the foreseeable future due to the pandemic. I still have not heard back.

The third week in March, I was approached by a recruiter who thought I would be a good fit for one of her clients. We chatted for 30 minutes and she said I’d get a call back later because both she and the company were looking to move fast and get the position filled. She asked that if I don’t hear back by the end of the day I should give her a call to see how it went. I didn’t get a call back.

Positions that had been open for months, with applications submitted long ago, are disappearing en masse. Months of work trying to find work evaporated during the final week in March. Job boards dried up and the number of relevant jobs I could apply to went from 5+ per day down to one or two every few days. The number of applicants per position grew by a factor of five or more. I expanded my search to other cities across the country where the situation wasn’t as dire but as the weeks went on, the jobs in other cities began to decrease as well. Now I am down to only a few applications a week.

Yes, I’m scared that I’ll get the virus and suffer ill health. More importantly, I’m scared about the hunt for a new job. I was *this* close to locking something down and now I’m back to square one. Months of applying to jobs are gone and there is no getting it back. Unemployment is finite and the virus doesn’t care how many weeks of benefits are left.

Jon, police officer, Midwest

I’m a police officer and EMT for a medium-large city. In early March I had a “low-risk exposure” and was sent home for two weeks. At the time it was so early in the pandemic that it felt like a misuse of resources and I was really rolling my eyes, especially when it went from “monitor for symptoms and show up” to “mandatory self isolation for 14 days” in a 12-hour period.

During the time I was off, all the closures and shutdowns started. I came back to a vastly different department and set of SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures]. Also while I was out, what little PPE was available was issued and I managed to get one of the last masks. I’m thankful that as an EMT I already had a larger-than-normal supply of gloves and a can of virucidal spray. We were told the one issued mask would have to last until we got more, and that the PPE was a slow trickle at best.

Seemingly overnight the department flipped from focusing on tickets and stats to ordering us to stop zero cars and only respond to serious crashes or incidents. It took a few weeks, but the new normal has set in. It’s also broken me. I was very proactive before this; I led my unit in citations and collisions worked. Now I’m doing pretty good to get a day’s worth of work done in a week or so. And that part doesn’t bother me any more.

The new stress is not having a normal routine to rely upon. Instead of a predictable pattern of crashes, they happen at almost any day and time. There have been days where literally nothing happens the whole shift, and then a day where a fatal crash happens around lunch time. I have investigated two fatal crashes during my working hours within a two-week span, something that was unheard of before this mess.

I’ve noticed a lot of people driving excessively fast. As a comparison, before the pandemic I would stop speeders once they were more than 11mph above the limit. Now the cutoff is 21 over— which is a mandatory court appearance— and if it causes a fatality, a high likelihood of prison or jail time. I used to find someone 21 over the limit maybe five times a month out of 120+ stops; I’ve stopped that speed now five times this month and have only stopped five cars. Two of those were people driving 30+ over.

It seems DUIs have increased as well. The highest number of DUI arrests in one month last year was three, and that was a lot for day shift hours. I’ve had three so far in the first half of this month. All three have been before 5 p.m., and two involved crashes.

I doubt this will normalize any time soon. I’ve heard estimates ranging from two to five years before we get back to where we were, and that’s if another flare-up doesn’t force us into social distancing and more shutdowns. I’m amazed at two things: the number of people who are legitimately out of work, and the number of people who insist on roaming around unnecessarily. Just. Stay. Home.

I know I’m fortunate to have a job, since so many people do not. This has made me more compassionate, even toward those who are out racing in the middle of the day. I’ll bend over backwards now to not ticket someone. It’s expensive enough whenever people get into crashes, but now with no work or furloughs or pay cuts? I really try to ticket only the worst offenders, despite the people who will take advantage of the discretion. Even though I am looking forward to the days when I can safely stop some more cars and be seen by the public actually doing my job, I think the new, less statistic-driven way of working will carry on past this pandemic. At least for me it will.

Saiyadul, banker, Bangladesh

I work at payment system unit of a private commercial bank in Bangladesh. My department deals with interbank check clearing and electronic fund transfers. Covid-19 was detected for the first time in two recently returned expatriates from Italy on March 8. On March 22, our manager was horrified to discover that a VIP client who has recently returned from the U.S. has walked into the branch, sat in front of an executive and was happily chitchatting. The client was immediately shown out, but the incident shook us all. It is of note that since late February, the government had requested everyone coming from abroad to go through self-quarantine for a minimum of 14 days. These requests were made upon entries, but even VIPs were not obliging, let alone the rest. The situation was dire.

So I and my colleagues rejoiced when the government shut down almost everything except over-the-counter cash withdrawal service on March 25. However, our happiness lasted only so long. On March 29, my boss called me in the late afternoon, waiting near my building in his car. I had just cooked for dinner, and the food was still hot. I got into his car, and as we raced towards the office, my boss gave me the bad news: The government has decided to resume inter-bank payments. We worked for four hours in the office firing up the official correspondences. At the same time, a pound of cooked chicken went bad in my kitchen.

As days are passing, areas near me are being locked down one after another as more covid-19 patients are being diagnosed. I still have to go to office, on foot as there is no transport. I also have to work way past usual hours, often alone. Banking hours, including interbank clearing hours, [have] been shortened, but electronic fund transfers have not been rescheduled, forcing me to work in solitude after everything is closed. There is no breakfast or lunch, because as a bachelor living alone, I relied on catering services for these meals. Often I am too tired to cook dinner after office as well, meaning I am literally starving some of the workdays. It doesn’t help that groceries and vegetable markets open after I get to office and close around 2 p.m., long before I can walk out.

It does not help my mental health in any way that six fellow bankers have fallen ill, and one has lost his mother to covid-19. The official death count is still 60 out of 1200+ confirmed cases. [Ed. note: Johns Hopkins now has Bangladesh listed with 4,186 confirmed cases and 127 deaths.] At the same time we are thoroughly shaken by the news of an esteemed physician succumbing to the virus. There was no ventilator system in his workplace, and his request for an air ambulance was denied. The unfortunate man made a 300 kilometre journey to reach the nearest ventilator, only to die next day. The incident shocked us as it exposed many lies that’s been told about our covid-19 preparation. But I guess this story is following a familiar course around the world now.

Anonymous, live events effects producer, UK

I’ve had nearly $50,000 of work wiped out, all the bookings I had, and no prospect of replacing them. There’s no welfare or support from the UK government for people in my situation, and with a family to feed I have no idea what to do. My industry stopped overnight.

I was less than 12 hours from getting on a plane to fly to a tour. Nobody has insurance for this. Companies are shutting up shop and shedding staff, and we’re all screwed. Most of the working world has had time to prepare, adjust, to work from home, but I can’t work from home. No shows, no jobs.

Any money from the government still isn’t making it’s way out quickly enough, because I’m behind with my paperwork. Even hardship funds from my own industry aren’t available to me. I’m working for minimum wage, getting a month what I used to earn in a week, in a warehouse just to put food on the table.

Mentally I’m better than I was, but I’m still leaving the house and driving over 30 kilometres to work and then the same back each day, working with strangers and hoping nobody has it, as I load groceries into trucks for delivery to stores. The risks I’m having to take to feed my family currently places my family at greater risk of catching it, but so far we seem to be lucky.

It seems live shows maybe won’t come back until next year, if ever like they were, what do I and all of those like me do?

As always, if you have a story you’d like to submit to Sick Days, please use this Google form or send me an email. Stay healthy and safe.