Students make impact as essential workers

Alexandra Chertok, Executive Opinions Editor

All entrances to Covenant Living of Northbrook except one have been blocked off with cones and signs since March 20. Workers have their temperatures taken and are asked pre-screening questions before entering the building. Photo by Alexandra Chertok

As a waiter at Covenant Living of Northbrook, a retirement community, senior Andrew Fan felt pretty safe going to work delivering food to residents in the residential living area. That changed when he received an email April 28 stating that a nurse, who worked in the assisted living area, tested positive for COVID-19. Now, he takes extra precautions like wearing an N95 mask at work instead of the surgical mask he used to wear. 

“Now that [COVID-19 is] here, it feels more real, so I’m being more careful,” Fan said in a video conference. 

All entrances to the property are closed except for one, said Fan. When workers enter, they pass by a drive-up kiosk where their temperatures are taken and they are asked pre-screening questions such as whether they have come into contact with someone with COVID-19. There are handwashing stations at the front of the facility, and workers are handed masks as they walk in if they are not already wearing one.

Sophomore Isabel Jung, who is also part of the waitstaff at Covenant Living of Northbrook, said in a video conference that the shifts worked by the waitstaff used to be four hours, but are now around two hours each because the dining area is closed. The waitstaff now packs meals in styrofoam boxes and delivers them in bags to residents’ doors instead of serving guests in the dining room. All workers wear masks and gloves and there is not much face-to-face contact with the residents.

“When [the residents] see us sometimes through the window, … they’ll wave and they get really excited, and it’s just nice to see them smile,” Jung said.

As soon as she gets home, Jung puts her clothes in the washing machine, takes a shower and disinfects her phone.

Isabel’s father Richard Jung said in a phone interview that he took comfort when he drove by Covenant Living of Northbrook and saw the living community had blocked off most entrances and Isabel came home with protective gear. Isabel and her two brothers are all working, and Richard Jung has some concern for his children’s safety. He would not allow Isabel to continue to work if there was a COVID-19 case reported in the Residential Living area where she works, but he also trusts his children’s decisions and thinks it is important that they are contributing to society.

“We’ve remained healthy here, so I suppose until somebody comes down with COVID-19, we won’t have any regrets,” Richard Jung said.

According to Fan, many workers told their manager that they could not work anymore after the notice that one of the nurses, who does not work in a part of the facility where waiters deliver meals, tested positive. He is not sure whether he would continue to work if a resident at the facility tested positive.

“This is something that I’ve been struggling with personally because they keep telling us that they need us, but also I feel kind of scared,” Fan said.

Senior Nate Rogers works at Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria. In a phone interview, he said all workers get their temperatures checked before work, wear gloves and masks and try to stay 6 feet apart. Customers are not allowed in the store. He is not usually thinking about COVID-19 while working because the virus is not something that can be directly seen.

“It’s kind of just become, like, I don’t want to say second nature, but it’s just become part of the job to take all these precautions,” Rogers said.

There is usually a rush of cars on weekdays around dinnertime when customers line up in cars to pick up their pizzas, and some customers have been quick to complain, Rogers said.

“Sometimes their food is two or three minutes late from what we promised and they’re complaining, they’re leaving their cars and coming up to the store and knocking on the window,” Rogers said.

Despite some instances of complaints, Rogers said for the most part, customers have been understanding of the extra wait time that comes from curbside pickup, and generally have been nicer and are tipping more than they were before the pandemic.

According to Fan, residents at Covenant Living are regularly given slips to fill out with feedback for the dining staff, but recently, some residents have gone out of their way to write nice letters to the staff instead of the regular feedback forms.

“I didn’t think [much of it] when they told us that we were essential workers, to me I was just like ‘Oh, I’m just a waiter at a retirement home,’” said Fan. “So once they read us those letters I felt like ‘Whoa, I’m actually making an impact on their lives.’”