Courtesy of The Bison

SEARCY, Ark. – While some students are spending their time completing online classes or learning new hobbies, others are clocking in hours as an essential worker. At the time of this publication, 42 states in America are under a shelter in place order. Students and their families are required to stay at home; however, a handful are learning what it is like to continue working during a pandemic.

An essential worker is an employee who performs tasks involving the safety of human life or the protection of property as stated in the 2013 Essential Service Act. Many jobs such as those involved in healthcare, groceries and delivery services are commonly labeled essential. This is the case for freshman Amanda Brown, who works at a Walmart Supercenter in Mountain Home, Arkansas.

“I have had to adjust my work schedule into my new online school schedule,” Brown said. “We are always disinfecting everything 24/7, and we have put limits on certain items because of people hoarding them. We changed our store hours and have to keep six feet from customers and associates.”

Brown described the regulations Walmart has put in place, including limiting the number of customers who may be inside the store at a time. According to Brown, a little over a thousand customers at once are permitted to occupy the 220,000 square feet of the Walmart Supercenter where she works.

On the other hand, smaller grocery stores such as the Natural Food Store (NFS) in Searcy, Arkansas, encourage their customers to use curbside pick up. NFS sells produce, as well as supplements and vitamins, making it essential for customers to purchase what they need. The Natural Food Store now offers delivery within 10 miles of their location. Junior Cassie Weaver, an employee at NFS, has had to adapt along with the customers.

“It has been a little strange [to be an essential worker] because I am so thankful to have a job, and yet trying to stay home and isolated as much as possible,” Weaver said. “It has been a bit of a journey to find the balance and peace of mind.”

Harding alumnus Gregg Downing experiences a different side of essential work. Downing spends three days a week as a medical technician for OneLife Wellness Center in Searcy.

“My job responsibilities have not changed much since the beginning of all of this, but I still feel like I make an important impact because people still need medical attention unrelated to COVID-19,” Downing said.

Downing’s responsibilities include screening individuals for COVID-19 symptoms before they enter the clinic, as well as triage prior to the patient seeing the doctor.

“I am the first person a patient meets, so I can help each individual feel comfortable during a time of uncertainty,” Downing said. “It is important to start the visit off in a positive way before they see the doctor.”

Being an essential worker is clocking into the front lines every day, providing communities with the care they need, and still ensuring their families are safe at home.