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 two medical workers, a rideshare driver, and a financial services employee.
Have you been laid off or furloughed? Are you a frontline worker dealing with new stresses or irresponsible management? Is working (or not working) from home starting to take a psychological toll? Submit a story usingÂ this Google formÂ or send me an email with the subject line “My Covid Story” and provide as much detail as you’re comfortable with.
Gizmodo has verified the authors’ identities, and submissions have been edited for length, grammar, and clarity.
Molly, Lyft driver, Midwest U.S.
I almost only pick up passengers at the airport, due to safety concerns as a woman driver surrounding bars and other locations. I also have fairly severe asthma and I’m in my 30s. In early March, I pared down my daily number of rides, but I drove through Friday, March 13, before I decided to stop.
When I stopped driving, I hadn’t heard a word from Lyft, not even a single email, about employee support during the pandemic, and I’ve seen many drivers continuing to risk their lives because they need the money. I’ve been tweeting at Lyft for a while to get them to clarify their policy of informing drivers if passengers turn up positive, but I can’t get a response. This is incredibly frustrating and I feel like I’m completely on my own. Since Lyft classifies its drivers as “independent business owners,” it seems like they are completely washing their hands (no pun intended) of any issue surrounding drivers and the pandemic.
I am incredibly lucky to have a husband who not only can work from home easily, but he can support us (I mostly drive for spending money). The vast majority of Lyft and ride-share drivers are not in the same position as I am, and I feel it’s my responsibility to fight for answers to help these people.
As of the beginning of May, Lyft still has yet to treat its drivers like employees deserving of assistance. At one point, the company came out with an absolutely terrible suggestion that we start accepting “high-risk” rides, like transporting people to the emergency room, or that we join Amazon and make deliveries. Drivers who already are forced to drive for 10 or 12 hour days just to make a living now have to choose between exposing themselves to a deadly virus in their own car, or heavy labour at the Amazon warehouse, where they’d also likely be exposed.
I drove for Lyft for a little over a year. I always thought of them as “the better one,” the more ethical alternative to Uber. But over the course of that year, Lyft implemented a series of pay cuts and other programs designed to look like benefits but really just ended up creating more difficulties for its drivers. By the time February of this year rolled around, I would inwardly cringe whenever a passenger mentioned they liked Lyft better than Uber because they thought of Lyft as the better option. No ride-share company is the ethical option, and I truly believe that Lyft is the worst one of all.
When, or if (it’s a huge IF), I go back to driving for ride-share, it will probably be with Uber. At least Uber lays the cards out on the table. You know Uber is terrible. Lyft is sneaky about it, and that’s what really sucks.
Anonymous, credit union worker, Pacific Northwest U.S.
We’re still open with regular business hours. Most of our interactions are longer than 10 minutes (we open accounts, apply for and fund loans, and attempt to have in-depth conversations about customers’ finances), yet we still are sitting within a couple of feet of each other during these conversations. When bringing up to management how we’re not following department of health guidelines, I’ve been told that our company “doesn’t know how to follow them.”
We have a lot of elderly members coming in, and based on the recent news on asymptomatic transmission, I’m concerned we are actively harming our customers and members. The call centre and all back-office staff has mostly moved to work-from-home, but those in the retail branches are tragically unprotected.
We’ve been told that there’s a plan regarding paid time off for people who have to self-quarantine, and we’ve had several “important updates coming soon!” alerts, but nothing has happened so far. All we’re told is that they’re still trying to determine who the plan will apply to. I’ve received the same amount of communication from executive management about random in-branch competitions we’re running as I have about how they’re protecting employees, members, and everyone’s families.
Recently, in discussing cramped quarters in our break room, I was told if I didn’t feel comfortable in the break room then I didn’t have to be in there. When I brought up how we have several surfaces that are repeatedly touched by employees throughout the day, I was told that if I felt they were dirty I should clean them, but my manager wouldn’t ask everyone to do it because what would happen if they didn’t listen to him? He also told me in this meeting that he wondered how many people are in dire financial straits right now because I didn’t do a better job on selling them our loan products when they came into our branch previously.
Admittedly, there have been improvements, and I honestly do appreciate those changes. I’ve been told repeatedly that since we’re a big company, it takes time for changes to be enacted. Despite larger companies making these changes quicker (including several local, comparable financial institutions), my issue isn’t how long it’s taken. My issue is that while they were figuring this out, employees were left on their own and exposed for weeks. Instead of closing down branches (while keeping online banking and our contact centres operational) for a couple of days or a week to come up with a concrete plan to keep people safe and then adjusting as needed, it’s felt like they’ll do one thing and then pat themselves on the back for being “creative.”
Anonymous, physician, U.K.
My job as a family physician or GP as we call it in Britain has transformed over the past few months. We tried to preempt it slightly, but guidance from our governing bodies has been slow to say the least. Pre-lockdown”which we as a nation failed to adopt early enough in my opinion”from a work point of view at least, it was business as usual. I had my normal pre-booked clinics with the usual fare, and the occasional cough and cold, with patients enquiring about my opinion on covid-19, and whether they ought to be worried. All I could say back in February was that it looked serious. Moonlighting in walk-in clinics on the weekends, seeing some more acute presentations, I saw the rise of more upper respiratory tract infections, but all patients seemingly being well, mostly just discharged with reassurance.
As the weeks went on, guidance about people returning from foreign travel become more and more stringent, and I was occasionally having to refer patients to our local branch of Public Health England with suspected novel coronavirus symptoms. And gradually, I started to see the dwindling of patients, both in regular clinics, and the walk-in clinics. My regular face-to-face clinics were being replaced by mostly telephone or video consultations, with a few spaces at the end to see anyone face-to-face that we really felt were necessary.
Whilst this was going on, there was the evolving issues about lack of personal protective equipment. Originally, we were armed with full protective equipment: full gowns, gloves, FFP3 masks [the European standard version of N100 masks in the U.S.] and visors. But as supplies started to dwindle, unsurprisingly, the guidance as to what was acceptable and safe to see and treat patients with suspected covid-19 changed. No longer were we to assume that all patients had potential covid-19, but only those who were symptomatic. Full gowns were replaced with aprons, FFP3 masks were replaced with fluid-repellent surgical masks, only to be brought out when working in intensive care, or doing an aerosol-generating procedure.
Now you don’t need to be a doctor to realise that whenever someone coughs or sneezes, they generate aerosols, which can potentially be laden with virus, so why our governing bodies feel that a mere surgical mask is safe enough is beyond me.
Lack of equipment aside, I still took it in my stride to see as many patients face-to-face as possible, since although remote consultations are really useful, there will inevitably be things that are missed. All the while, patient numbers continued to diminish. Out of fear of possibly contracting the virus, or just concern that they “didn’t want to bother the doctor,” we as a profession we’re starting to see our numbers of referrals to services such as cancer assessment centres go down. Covid-19 causes a lot of things, but sadly curing cancer is not one of them.
These figures are still really low, despite our pleas to patients that if they have serious concerns about possible suspected cancer, they should come to us. I fear we will be seeing some really aggressive metastasised cancers in a few months’ time that could have potentially been seen and treated early. Some things going around social media are not helping. The actual times that patients booked into telephone consultations simply to discuss their theories of 5G just added to the dismay.
Nowadays, my full-time job is spent in a covid-19 assessment centre. Most of the primary care physicians in the area aren’t seeing patients face-to-face when they suspect covid-19, so that’s where we come in. My main role is to assess and examine patients, and then see how we can manage them in the community”or escalate them to hospital care if appropriate. I’ve been seeing more and more alarming presentations of the virus, multiple patients in their 30s and 40s, with no previous co-morbidities, previously hospitalised with confirmed covid-19, representing with worsening shortness of breath that turns out to be secondary to pulmonary embolism; people with oxygen levels so low that they should be blue all over, sitting talking to you as if they are well; cardiac signs in children that I only previously read about in books.
Personally, I’ve made the conscious decision to stay away from friends and family, and haven’t seen them face-to-face since the beginning of March. Especially now, I do not want to take the risk of possibly being an asymptomatic spreader of the virus to my loved ones. But even still, I consider myself lucky. I am able to do the work that I love, and try to make a difference to patients, however corny that might sound. I know I am in a fortunate position, since there are so many people out there who don’t have the luxury of being able to leave the house, or are not able to work because their company has folded or laid them off.
There’s talk of easing the lockdown locally, my main concern of which is the likely dreaded second peak of infection. But our government says they are doing a great job, with the worst death toll in Europe, so how can we go wrong?
Anonymous, medical social worker, Northeastern U.S.
I was initially sent home 6.5 weeks ago because my family situation made me high-risk (new baby), but have since been brought back on site. The stress on my family is real”we had to move from our tiny apartment to the home of one of our parents. With them being high-risk, it makes things even crazier.
Thank goodness my patients are not covid-positive. And if I would have one, I can call them on their room phones.
Unlike many of my colleagues, I don’t have much in the way of risk. All of my patients are tested before they come to my unit, so theoretically, we’re good. But that does not stop the fear.
One thing that has been beyond difficult is the emotional toll of speaking with [my patients’] families. Families are NOT allowed on site. Some of them will never see their loved ones again, not because of covid per se, but because of some other situation. The emotional toll of having to do that daily will leave some of us with such deep wounds that I doubt will ever fully heal. As social workers, we’re expected to make things work in the hospital. But in the world of covid, we can only do so much.
I get that we signed up for this, but the lack of planning at every single level of political leadership has added far too many layers to our fears.