Our store workers
By Jenn Watt
For the majority of us, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic are most obviously seen in our excursions into the outside world, particularly in our grocery stores, restaurants and local shops. Our collective anxieties have come to rest in these places – and with the people who keep them running.
I vividly recall March 12, days before the province declared a state of emergency, walking into one of the pharmacies in Haliburton to see shelves nearly empty of toilet paper, paper towel and sanitizer. Word was spreading that those items were selling out, causing panic shopping.
Not long after, arrows began appearing on grocery store aisles, hand sanitizer and washing stations placed at the doorways and staff members designated to control numbers in and out.
We were asked to stay away from each other. Don’t get too close. Don’t touch anything you don’t intend to buy. Some people began wearing masks.
I remember all of these days too, because they were jarring and scary. Places where I would expect to chat with friends and neighbours were now places where I was expressly asked not to do so. Adding a mask to the mix was another barrier, both physical and symbolic, between me and others.
What wasn’t at first obvious was the emotional toll all of this could be taking on the owners and staff of these shops – from those who had to close their doors to those who stayed open and had to enforce rules over which they had little or no control.
They may not typically be described as front-line workers, but during this pandemic they certainly have taken on that role.
On Wednesday, we saw the furthest extreme of what being on the front lines can look like when workers at Valu-Mart in Minden were confronted with a customer who refused to wear a face mask, which had that week been mandated by the local health unit, and allegedly assaulted a worker before getting in his vehicle and speeding away. The man drove to his residence on Indian Point Road where he was fatally shot during an altercation with OPP, which is under investigation.
We don’t know what was going through the man’s mind, what led to his distress that day, but we do know that what he was feeling was brought to the entrance of a local grocery store, to workers who have nothing to do with mask policy or any of the other COVID-19 protocols.
Since the beginning, the people who run our local stores have been coming to work when many others were self-isolating. They have been implementing new rules, stopping people at the doors, and absorbing any negativity we as customers may bring with us.
For many of us, they have been our constant in a turbulent time. They have provided kind words when we felt worried, have helped us navigate precautions introduced to keep us safe, and have been a source of stability when very little seemed certain.
We need to remember this each time we feel a wave of panic over a long line or a new rule.
These people have been supporting us since day one. They deserve only our thanks.