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 healthcare workers, film industry professionals, a caterer, 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.
Christina, nurse anesthetist, Eastern U.S.
Excerpted from an interview with Gizmodo’s Whitney Kimball
My job is to give anesthesia in the operating room as a nurse anesthetist. Anesthesia providers are at a higher risk of contracting this virus because when we put breathing tubes in people’s airways, there’s a risk of aerosolising the virus; a lot of the data that came out of China and Italy showed that anesthesiologists and emergency medicine doctors who do the same procedure got sick at higher rates than other healthcare providers. So right now we have PAPR [powered air purifying respirator] helmets that blow air over our faces to keep the virus out when we’re working with patients with covid-19. For any other person that we don’t suspect, we have N95 masks and face shields.
So I’m very lucky at my job, in that I feel like we’re adequately protected.
I’m in contact with a lot of healthcare providers across the country, and they don’t have the same protections that I do. I have family members who work in New York, and they’re reusing gowns and masks for really long periods of time. My aunt’s a nurse, and she’s not getting an N95 mask to work with these patients at all. They’re running out of gloves, so she’s being told to wash her gloves and try to keep using them.
Since we started calling for more PPE, there’s been a lot of [victim-blaming of healthcare providers] on the internet. I’ve gotten a lot of comments where people are saying things like you signed up for this or that nurses are going into the field for the wrong reasons, and we shouldn’t complain. Some people are claiming right now that this whole thing is a conspiracy theory, and healthcare providers are helping propagate it. I know a nurse at a different facility from TikTok, and someone sent her a death threat for “spreading the conspiracy.” It’s really frustrating; you would never say that to a police officer without a bulletproof vest or a fighter fighter without a helmet.
I think that [the conspiracy theorists] have actually been growing louder more recently. People assume that healthcare workers are contaminated and are harassing them, telling them they shouldn’t be spreading the virus. People are getting afraid and hostile. I try to not identify that I’m a healthcare provider out in public now. I never had to feel that way before.
I do think that most people in the public are really grateful for healthcare workers. On social media, the overwhelming majority of comments and messages I get are from people thanking me for what I do. Individual people have been donating masks, and restaurants have been donating lunches to the ICU.
Even just a positive message goes a long way. Other than that, the best thing people can do to help out is continue to flatten the curve and stay at home.
Andrew, filmmaker, Los Angeles
I graduated from college in the summer of 2001, right before 9/11. I managed to get my career on an upward trajectory and had a lot of good prospects just before the financial crisis in 2008. I’ve had the best four years of my life recently, and now here we are. Work has dried up for just about everyone I know in this industry (though there are some people working in postproduction who are still working on projects from home, thank goodness). I feel fortunate that I’ve managed to build a bit of a nest egg that will help me get through a few months if need be, and, like so many others, I’m waiting to find out about my SBA loan application.
I had been feeling pretty miserable a couple of weeks ago. The sense of despair and utter lack of hope borne by incompetent leadership at the federal level was overtaking me and killing any sense of or desire for creativity in my life. I came up with an idea that I’ve since seen many others pursue as well—portraits taken from a safe distance. I started reaching out to some friends and asking if I could come by and take their photos —everyone said yes. I would either photograph them from the footpath or, in most cases, not even get out of my car. We would have a few minutes to chat across the yard, or from the street up to a balcony, and I would move on to the next person or family. So far I have photographed more than 120 people and almost 30 pets. I plot everyone’s address on a custom google map and plan routes so I can efficiently cover as much ground as possible. I have more than 50 more families on my list, which grows each day. I have enjoyed seeing the comments from their friends and family on social media, and have been amazed to discover how many people from different friend circles overlap with one another.
Being able to do this has given me a purpose during this pandemic. I’m finding that it keeps a sense of community alive and brightens peoples’ days. And my mental health has turned around completely
Anonymous, ICU nurse, Southeast U.S.
I don’t believe I really had the luxury of working from home, though being a nurse at a hospital it would have been a silly notion. It hasn’t been that much busier really. Not yet anyway (I’m not working in one of the states that have been massively affected by coronavirus, but I assume it’s a matter of time).
I don’t sleep well in-between shifts, maybe just three to four hours a day.
We still get our temps checked when we first walk in, and we are given one N95 mask that should last as long as it is not visibly soiled or completely damaged (my record was three weeks with the same mask). We always place a less-valuable surgical mask on the outside of the N95 so it never has direct exposure in the patient’s room and therefore makes it able to be used again. Aggressive hand washing and a constant shortage of bleach and germicidal wipes are par for the course.
The majority of the patients that have been admitted to the floor are either covid[-positive] or covid rule out (so still waiting out the results of their covid screening). Rapid testing has yet to arrive at our hospital, so it will take at least two days to find a result.
At work, I imagine myself playing “covid lottery;” every time I go into a room I run the risk of exposing myself and contracting it, meaning that they have to scramble for another nurse to come in and cover my shifts while I’m out, which puts a strain on our staffing numbers as we don’t have an abundance of night shift staff to begin with.
I also go to the grocery store and play “toilet paper lottery,” where I go to to “paper products” section of whatever store i’m a to see if I could find any toilet paper. I go to the store at least once a week to test my luck but I’ve come up empty for the past four weeks.
I still dread getting it without knowing it and spreading it to my family or loved ones, though they are also in healthcare and work in places with active covid patients, so we’re all playing the lottery.
Jordan, catering, Texas
The first paragraph was submitted March 17, while subsequent ones came by email on April 8.
I work full-time in the kitchen, with a focus on banquets, and my hours have been slashed by more than half. Nearly every group we were supposed to cater in the past two weeks has cancelled and it shows no sign of stopping. And I just found out that our restaurants are shutting down too. No banquets and no restaurants means I have figure out how to stretch out making food for the coffee stand for eight hours a day, three days a week.
Since being furloughed, I’ve been put in contact with a local nonprofit that links hospitality workers with food drives, Meals on Wheels, etc., and actually pays them for their time volunteering. I’m mostly doing it to stay busy and do something beneficial to other people; I’m lucky enough to have money saved up and not a lot of expenses. But I worry for everyone else I’m volunteering with. The servers, bartenders, and fellow cooks who also take these shifts are likely doing it because they haven’t been able to find other work, and the pay is solid for the work we do, but it isn’t nearly enough to reasonably help anyone pay their rent or keep their car from getting repossessed.
Not to mention, these food drives have seen incredible spikes in the number of people they’ve been feeding. They seem to be above water in terms of how much food they receive, but even with the influx of new volunteers I worry about how long this can stay sustainable. And even though we’re given gloves and masks (and one place I volunteered even has an on-site nurse to ensure nobody’s working with an elevated temperature) and wash our hands plenty, I’m also concerned for my own health and that of everyone around me. Is it really worth breaking quarantine and risking more people’s health just to make a few extra bucks?
I have also had zero luck in filing for unemployment in Texas. Every time I try to file online and tick the “covid-19″ box, I’m immediately thrown to a page telling me to call their offices. And when I call, I either get a busy signal or a prerecorded message encouraging me to file online if it’s because of the pandemic.
Neil, semiconductor production, Northeast U.S.
The first two paragraphs were submitted March 17, while subsequent ones came by email on April 8.
Being a global company things are different all around. In the Netherlands, 100 per cent of office staff is required to work from home. Here in the northeast U.S., we’re staggering the office groups so group A is at the office on even weeks and group B works from home on the odd, and then reversed—and unfortunately the manufacturing team is required to be on site 100 per cent of the time.
It is a cleanroom environment however so transmission risk is minimal and they’re taking everyone’s temperature as you enter the building and sending anyone home who even feels slightly under the weather. In California though the plants are entirely closed. Our supply chains don’t seem to be affected and as far as I’m aware demand for our machines hasn’t waned, but as these are the early stages of the situation I anticipate something will change. Right now though as is with our branch I get the feeling most of our customers are desperate to not stop production and only will consider it once a confirmed case has been on site. Chip production is an extremely “time is money” kind of business.
Personally speaking, working from home isn’t quite as liberating as I thought it would be. It’s the same thing with the same amount of effort but I don’t have the ability to physically expedite things. I’m set up at my kitchen where it’s cold and the seat sucks and I’ve only got the laptop instead of the dual monitor rig at work, but the food’s a far sight better.
Would also like to add that at this point we’re seeing some of our suppliers in Eastern Europe struggling due to covid closures. We now have eight confirmed cases at the plant here and all office staff is working from home. Other asymptomatic employees are using vacation time to isolate out of caution. Our output is slowly being affected, which is making things difficult as demand has not waned and management is determined to keep the plant operating normally as long as possible. Working from home is like having one hand tied behind my back; I am spending a lot more time and feeling a lot more stress and getting a lot less done than I ever did at the office
Anonymous, director of photography, Western U.S.
This entry combines an email from April 8 and an entry from March 17.
I work in the film industry, primarily in the music video and commercial world but with some narrative feature film and television work mixed in as well. I (and essentially all other crew members) had every job I had booked over the next few months cancel or push indefinitely.
Joining the IATSE Local 600 as a director of photography carries the most expensive union initiation fee for any working position in the world (around $US16,000 ($25,339) flat + around $US1200 ($1,900)/year in dues) and provides no health benefits for workers who are not actively working on union jobs. To become eligible, you must work 600 hours on union sets in a six-month period, and then 400 hours every six months thereafter to maintain coverage.
For younger directors of photography like myself who live mostly on music video and commercial work (which is much shorter term and generally non-union), even the 400-hour minimum is not feasible, so I am left paying for private health insurance on top of union dues. Before we’re even talking about food, my cost of living with just rent in a modest apartment, utilities, union initiation, union dues, private health insurance, and car insurance comes out to $US2800 ($4,434)/month. Luckily though, being a director of photography is a relatively lucrative job when the work is consistent, so it’s manageable.
With the current situation however, myself and all of my colleagues are unable to work as long as the stay-at-home order is in effect and film permits are not being issued. We are entirely at the mercy of the industry “reopening” and our skillset is something that cannot be performed remotely except in preproduction, which has mostly been put on hold until people have a better idea of when things will be moving again. We are also in the thick of “pilot season” which is when most TV show pilots are filmed for broadcast networks. For many people in the film industry, pilot season is what carries their year, financially. It may simply not happen this year or be significantly smaller.
One other thing worth noting is that applying for unemployment benefits is so dramatically stacked against self-employed people that it’s almost comical. Some of us have as many as 50+ employers year-round (many of whom pay through payroll companies, which are not directly affiliated with the production) which makes the application process an absolutely ludicrous hunt for the hundreds of pay stubs and producer contacts and payroll company addresses that we’ve accumulated since October 2018. The process of completing the application took me several weeks, and many of my colleagues are still working on it.
I am lucky to have a bit of runway, but most of the independent film scene is going to collapse relatively quickly as a result of what’s happening right now. It is likely that the independent film world will not recover for a while. In the meantime I and many of my colleagues are hoping for some kind of relief until we can get back on set again. Until then, we are out of luck.