Back in 2012, when the Arkansas Times introduced its “LR Confidential” annual issue, it was a simpler time. Then, it was people spilling on stories from the workplace. A pawnbroker talked about a guy pawning his prosthetic eye. A bikini waxer told us what a Brazilian was. A defense lawyer confessed to being a better actor than researcher. A nanny said her family didn’t believe in immunizations. Today, it’s a different world. The novel coronavirus dominates our thinking, and the on-the-job stories all have a common theme: COVID-19 has changed us and worries have replaced the weird. Now, war stories come from doctors and nurses. A teacher broods about the education her students are getting. A sex worker takes to the worldwide web, the internet their new, less lucrative stage. A restaurant worker is concerned about both his health and his customers, and urges a bit more respect. In exchange for their candor, all who talked to reporters or wrote themselves were granted anonymity. 

Economics teacher

 haven’t worn real pants since March. I haven’t worn makeup since March 12. For my situation, I decided early on I was going to stay home and not go out. Because I’m teaching economics, we were talking about COVID in China from early on. 

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I’m trying to keep a structure in my day. Without it, people can go crazy. I think teachers were at a little bit of an advantage with the unstructured time thing in a way that other adults were not because we have summers free. I get up and clean my house every day because I’m a germ freak. I get in the online learning management system my school is using and basically stay in it all day. I check for alerts, see if there are tests I need to unlock. I message students based on their individual work and what I’ve reviewed. I’m trying to at least show them that their teachers are still here, they’re still available to help. My students have been very good at reaching out, but not with content questions. They are always technical questions about the learning management system. I’m pretty much tech support and a counselor.

I don’t expect any parent to replace me because what I do for your kids is so much more than just a tutorial. I plan meaningful activities. I sponsor clubs. I leave every single lunch I have open so my kids know they can ask questions or work on stuff. That support structure is gone. As much as I can call them or Google Hangout with them, I can’t consistently be in their lives as much as they need it socially, academically and emotionally. 

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We get attached to these kids in ways I can’t explain. I’m not a parent yet, so for more than a decade, these kids have been my children. I’ve had kids be murdered. I’ve had kids be murderers. I’ve had kids experience every horrible thing imaginable. It’s something that sews itself onto your soul. For teachers to not be with their kids, it hurts. I cry. I worry. 

One of the biggest changes has been how I approach communication. It’s now, “I hope you’re well. I’m just checking in.” Not, “Why haven’t you been doing your work?” which is what I would have done in the past, very automatically. My mindset was there’s no excuse for this in the beginning, but then I was like, “Oh my God, what is wrong with me?” after I started finding out my kids’ different situations.

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We put this equitable expectation on kids. But life isn’t equitable. I can’t expect a student who is the oldest in the home and is taking care of the children in his home to sign into the learning management system and do economics. 

I’ve had a couple of parents who have really humbled themselves — because I wouldn’t want to say it to a stranger — and have told me, “I called Comcast for their free internet deal, but I didn’t qualify.” Or they said they called and found out you have to put $100 deposit down or you had to buy equipment. And they couldn’t do that. I had another parent say, “Look I called the internet companies and I can’t afford it. I really want my kids to work on this, but we don’t have a way. We’ve tried through their phones, but it’s just hard.” No kid should be doing their schoolwork through their phone. That’s just impossible.

The equity of access is an issue that goes beyond my district. I think all the districts in Central Arkansas have done a lot to solve the device problem. But the internet problem is something the districts really can’t help with. The state HAS to invest in it. It’s 2020. The internet is a utility at this point. We have to have one-to-one devices and internet access for every child.

What I’m doing is not teaching. The economics course in the learning management system is nothing I would ever do. It has an extremely hard, high level of vocabulary. I have a mixed group of students [from different grades and ability levels] and some of them need me there with them. I feel like I’m completely ineffective in educating them. I spend my day unlocking tests and messaging with my students. Instruction-wise, this is worthless. The kids are getting nothing but credit it out of it. 

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We also have Google Classroom that we can use. For the first couple of weeks, I was using Google Classroom, and I felt like I was still delivering instruction. It’s completely your blank slate. I can create whatever I want in there, post whatever I want, have the kids do discussions. There’s multiple ways for them to submit their learning and multiple ways to communicate them. I could pull the correct readings for each kid based on their reading levels. 

But with our learning management system, kids are working at a self pace. That eliminates my ability to say, “We’re going to Zoom about this topic at 3 p.m. on such and such day.” They’re all working on different chapters, so I can help them just one-on-one instead of helping them amid the class, which I would prefer and I think they would prefer. They’re missing socialization.

My district said it moved to the learning management system to ensure that kids were receiving at least the baseline instruction. I understand the equity idea: You have to provide something that’s the same for everyone, so you can ensure everyone got the same access. When you do that, you’re looking at that group of students that’s one homogeneous group that all have the same needs, all have the same background, all have the same capabilities, and that is just not reality. I have kids who read on a first- or second-grade level. The kids who need by far the most help in my course are the furthest behind. A lot of them are really trying.

 If I have to follow CDC guidelines and space desks, I can get maybe 8-10 kids in my class, and then I have to trust that all of those kids are going to wash their hands, that they’re going to wear a mask, that they’re going to follow protocols that kids really cannot be trusted to follow. I’m happy to be the person not making the decision. 

This is my career. This is my sole income. People outside of teaching don’t realize. We work every day, every hour. Every day of my life is devoted to teaching. The idea of being forced into a situation where I have to choose to not go back, I really fear that. I have a pre-existing condition, so for me personally, there is a risk. I also have a 75-year-old father and that’s it. We’re each other’s only family. If I choose to go back to school in an environment I consider unsafe, I won’t be able to see my father. 

Without expansive COVID testing, I don’t think that school can safely happen. If I become sick, I need to know very quickly if this is what I have, so I can get out of work and not spread it to the elderly person who works near me or the person with diabetes down the hall. There are just too many risks.

My district is making the master schedule as usual with the normal class sizes. I understand, until they’re told otherwise, they will act as things are going ahead as usual. But we need to know something sooner rather than later. Let’s say we go back to school in some manner and then we immediately have to go back out because the virus returns. I need to be prepared for that. I need to spend my summer recording my lectures and coming up with my content. Elementary teachers would need even more time because they’re teaching multiple subjects.

Part of me thinks that this is a really good time to think about what we value about education. Clearly it had no impact on anyone’s life to not do standardized testing this year. We need to look for different markers and approaches. We need more teachers and more facility space. We’ve been decreasing both things for so long. In the past, I had a class of almost 40 middle school students with four adults in the room. It was my highest needs class. 

That can’t exist now. But with that kind of class, if you lessened it to 10 or 12, I could do wonders! I know it’s a pipe dream, but if we invested in hiring more teachers and finding more space, I think we could not only actually return to a slightly normal school environment, but we could also help these kids get on grade-level, get the services they need and get the social/emotional stuff worked out. When it’s a class of 30, I’ve never been able to provide what they need. And I’m certainly not providing that in the learning management system.

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If I had children and had the capability to stay home next year, I would want to know sooner rather than later what the plan is for next year. I think it’s going to be too chaotic. I don’t think big districts will be able to turn on the dime like we need to in the fall. I’m also really scared. Imagine elementary schools and trying to get them to wear masks or not touch anything.

— As told to Lindsey Millar

Emergency room doctor

When I get to work, I go pick up scrubs out of the scrub machine. I change into them. I hang my clothes up separately on hooks. I wipe every surface down. I wipe everything I have on me down: pens, watch, nametag, stethoscope. I go into every room in the ER wearing an N95 mask, a cloth mask, a head covering, gloves and eye protection.

When I’m done for the day, I lose the scrubs, wash my hands and arms. I re-alcohol my watch, my pens, my keys — anything you’d touch. When I get home, I put my shoes right outside the door. Right inside the door, I change into sandals, then I put my clothes in the washing machine, and then I go take a kind of triple shower. I also bought these car wipes that are anti-bacterial that have a little alcohol in them, too. I wipe my seats down before I let my kids in the car. The normal day, which was usually 13 hours, is now 14.

Still, I think the likelihood of me getting COVID-19 is nearly 100 percent. I also wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve already had it and didn’t have symptoms or had minor symptoms. If you work in an ER, we’re going to be exposed to it so constantly that we’re highly likely to get it. I’ve never been tested for it and neither have most of the people I work with. I think they should probably be testing all of us weekly, but we don’t have the tests to do it weekly. Ideally, if you had a rapid test, you could test people as they show up to work.

The whole thing has been handled poorly from the start. Mainly, something like this needs to be run by the federal government, and they’ve done nothing. They’ve done literally nothing. They’ve done no contact tracing. They didn’t try and put out any push for getting earlier testing. Unlike South Korea, which has done an amazing job at testing, contact tracing and controlling the disaster, we still don’t have easy access to testing. We run out of swabs, still. They don’t give out N95s to everybody who deals with patients in the ER at the beginning of the shift, only if there’s a code and you have to intubate somebody.

If you ask the hospitals, “how much PPE do you have,” they’ll give you a number of days, but that’s based on not giving them out to everyone at the beginning of the day. They’re not going to tell you the exact numbers they have. They’ll say they’re in reasonable shape. Or, “We have a 15- or 30-day supply.” But if they were using the PPE the way they were pre-COVID, they probably have a three-day supply.

The CDC guidelines started out with what their normal guidelines were, which was full PPE  protection, and within two weeks — and this is all political — they went down from that to “Maybe wear pants and hold your breath.” Most of the doctors are buying their own N95s or even the PAPRs, the powered air respirators. They’re what you use at Level 3 and 4 biolabs. They have filters and there’s forced air that goes through a filter and filters out all the viruses. Several folks have bought those. But those are $1,500 to $2,000, if you can find them.

It’s challenging to find N95s and most of what you can find are made in China. They’re not the 3M masks, in terms of quality. I’ve had some luck sourcing those myself. I’ve probably spent $2,000 myself, mostly on masks that I give out to my providers. I’ve also been giving out cloth masks to protect the N95s.

Before this, you never put on an N95 mask and kept it. For a while, I was reusing them every three days and leaving them in a bag. Now, I’m using products I bought online, filter replacements and things. But most of the docs I know have acquired their own. The nurses are in the worst shape. There’s not enough. 

The hospitals are following CDC guidelines to the T. My hospital means well. There’s no way in hell Arkansas ranks as a priority in the country in terms of equipment. There’s no way you could get the number of N95s to operate [as we did] pre-February.

The masks don’t work if you don’t have a proper fit. They do fit-testing to see if it seals. But I don’t run into too many hospitals that have more than one brand of N95 and up to two sizes. If neither one of those works, you just fail your fit test and you’re not supposed to go in the room, but you’re going to anyway, because it’s your job. I see people in stores all the time, like a little kid wearing an adult N95. That’s just silly. It’s not doing much.

We got everybody in my hospital fit tested. The fit tests, weirdly enough, are where you can get a N95 mask, because they have to give you one to wear for the test and they can’t put it back in the box. We’ve discussed giving everyone three N95s because, in theory, every 72 hours the viral load is so low that you should be able to reuse it. But they’re being real tight with the N95s because it’s hard to get them. It shouldn’t be. They’re not hard to manufacture. It’s not rocket science.

The cloth masks offer very little protection, but they extend the life of N95s. If you’re in a room and someone has the coronavirus, or anything — Ebola — you can then clean the cloth mask and lengthen the life of the N95s.

Mask cleaning is something you’d usually never think of doing. It’s like going into a biohazard site and saying, “Hey, let’s grab that stuff and reuse it. It just has a little blood with HIV on it; we can just wash it off.” That’s what we’re down to.

I’ve had several patients that were positive. Intubation is the most aerosolizing thing you can do and that’s when you’re head to toe in covering. Even with eye protection, when I had to intubate someone who was positive, the house supervisor was like, “Here, use this face shield, too.”

We’ve had several docs who have had it, and we’ve had several who have had to be quarantined. A lot of hospitals have a COVID floor. That’s where most of the PPE is, as it should be. They have doctors and nurses who volunteer to work the entire week there. They isolate themselves and that’s what they do for a week.

Acuity [severity of patients’ illnesses and the level of medical attention they require] is up, even though our numbers are down in the emergency department. It feels like I’ve had much sicker patients recently. I’ve intubated at least every other shift. I’ve seen a number of heart cases. They don’t always get tested, and they don’t often live. People that just kind of may have been feeling a little bad or felt like they had allergies and just died. I’m pretty sure those people aren’t tested for it. Mainly because they don’t fit the criteria, but unless the family wants an investigation on the autopsy, we don’t do a lot of testing after someone passes. It’s hard to know. It could be the virus. There’s a percentage in China where the first complaint is cardiac and not fever or shortness of breath and weird hypoxia.

The limited studies I’ve read is that in some autopsies they’ve done, they’ve found fibrosis in the bronchials — fibrotic tissues or fibroblast growth. Then there’s a small subset that just gets clots everywhere. They’ll be on anticoagulation and then they’ll still just start clotting all over the place. It’s happening at much higher rates than usual, even though it’s still rare. There’s still a lot of the basic description of the disease we still don’t have. Even rare diseases we have a much better picture of. Everything is so reactive. The treatment, a lot of it has come down to, when death is imminent, you do what you can.

I’ve been in contact with some docs in other parts of the country on different treatment methods. Turning people upside down and putting them on nasal canal oxygen — that’s new. That’s definitely something we haven’t been doing before but seems to keep people off the vent. I haven’t had any firsthand dealings with that, but that’s become common. The critical care treatment, a lot of times, is to keep them off the ventilator as long as you can. Then you put them on the ventilator and hope they come off it.

The hydroxychloroquine hasn’t shown, from what I’ve seen, any benefit when they’ve actually tested it. I’m sure there’ve been millions and millions of doses taken for no reason. Remdesivir has shortened people’s time on the vent, but we don’t know what the ultimate mortality difference is or if there’s an end result in quality of life difference, but it’s at least something.

Everyone is fatigued. You can see it even in the ER. People are letting their guard down a little bit. Everyone is still wearing a mask in every room, but I have noticed that the patients have quit wearing a mask, and our volume on certain days will pop back up quite a bit. You can kind of see these waves of self-isolation fatigue.

Also, people are waiting too long to go to the ER than they should. It’s understandable, but man, it’s much easier when you catch someone earlier when they’re having a stroke or heart attack or trauma. But then there’s the ones who are less urgent who are showing up again. Through early March, our numbers really bottomed out, but we’ve had several days in May where we were back to our pre-COVID census.

My hospital has been laying off/furloughing nurses and techs. Only when there’s a crunch is care affected. But it’s almost impossible to predict when that’s going to happen. So far it hasn’t been all that negative, as far as the effect on care. But if the numbers pick up and they don’t backfill all the furloughed positions, there will be some serious waits and there will be negative outcomes.

Hospitals are in dire straits. Smaller hospitals especially. If they don’t do something drastic, there’s going to be a lot of small hospitals close. We pay more for elective surgery than saving lives. We pay people more for setting a broken bone than intubation by almost an order of magnitude. In general, the way we reimburse medicine is messed up and a source of some of the problems.

I’m a little surprised we haven’t gone to a country that’s gotten this right and begged, borrowed, pleaded. Singapore, Hong Kong — I think Somalia even has a better testing regimen than we do. We’re still doing maybe 20 percent of the tests we need to do every day before we get to the point where we can talk about contact tracing. Those tests are going to have to get rapid.

Arkansas’s numbers are relatively low because we’re sparsely populated and not well traveled. I don’t think we’re lucky. We’re just in a geographically good position. We do have a lot of the comorbidities, but we just haven’t had as much exposure. But those crowded Walmarts are going to kill people.

I think we’re probably going to have cases through July for sure, possibly August. It depends on how people react. Then it’s going to come back with the flu, and that’s going to be a disaster. Hopefully we have good testing by then.

— As told to Lindsey Millar

Sex Worker/Content Creator

Content creator is probably the best way to explain what I do. I make pornography. So, a sex worker, in general, I guess, but the terminology’s kinda weird, because so many people, when you say sex worker, especially white middle-aged people, they think you mean a prostitute exclusively.

My weekly schedule is pretty all-encompassing, but most mornings when I wake up, I do promotional stuff — and mostly via Twitter. That basically involves other sex workers and content creators posting your stuff on their pages, and in return, you do the same for them, and it’s kind of in an organized fashion. So, there’s that, and occasionally posting on other forums, like Reddit and Discord and stuff like that, just to advertise, basically. My approach right now is making as much high quality as I can for as little money as possible, because I would like to maximize my profit and cast as wide a net as I can at the moment. 

With COVID, I went from making the most money I’d ever made — when I was working in strip clubs — to making nothing, and having to build everything from the ground up online. As far as the videos go, my best friend and I actually just made a home office, which we’re really, really excited about. We have this little bed with pink satin sheets on it, and then really cute decor. And all of our storage is there and it’s very artfully done, so we can just go pluck our sex toys and use them. Tripods with good lighting. And a lot of our outfits are purchased for us by our subscribers. You like to reward people, and we’ll make them private stuff if they give us gifts. We do that mostly through Amazon Wishlist, which is a really popular way of gifting and treating content creators well, from a buyer’s perspective. Just a sweet little thing to do. They can also buy you sex toys that way, which is really great, because you get exactly what you want, it ships really fast, and you don’t have to fuckin’ pay for it. And then it also makes money for you. 

It’s kind of exhausting sometimes, but what work isn’t? And you have a lot of agency. We do everything on our iPhones, which maybe is a little tacky, but I feel like that’s the appeal of the venue that we’re both working through. A lot of people are kind of over pornography that is high, high quality and super professionalized. I feel like with [platforms like] OnlyFans — that’s the platform I use to sell my stuff — you’re paying, in part, for a connection with the person who’s making this content. You know what I mean? 

[Video work] is brand new for me. … I’d been working in Hot Springs at a strip club, and it was a pretty abusive situation all around, and so my friend and I went, “OK, we gotta go,” and we started at Visions [Cabaret] and simultaneously made [accounts on] OnlyFans, just because we were like, “Hey, this could be extra money.” And then the pandemic struck. My last day was March 11, I think. I’d been working for two months straight without a break — like, 40 hours a week in a club, which is not normal at all. I was going to give myself the weekend off. And then COVID got bad, and I was like, “Fuck, I should be making as much money as I possibly can right now, but I was just like, “I’m gonna honor the fact that I don’t want to go in right now.” 

My friend went and danced [out of state] that weekend, and she said that the men who came in were absolutely disgusting. Like, worse than they normally are, because it was the ones who obviously don’t give two shits about public health. She said it was a really gross and unfortunate experience. 

That Thursday and Friday is when I realized that it was starting to get bad in Arkansas, and personally, I’d basically use it as a tactic, to be like, “Oh, like, don’t try to make out with me.” I have ground rules, but they obviously depend on how much money somebody is willing to put up, up front. I really like doing private parties. Me and my best friend will just go as the strippers at nice parties, which is always really fun, but typically does involve doing more — well, they’re called extras — little sexy stuff with people, for tips, basically. We’ve both been called over to give a dude a backrub for like 30 minutes at his hotel, and get $100 and then leave, you know. People are weird. It kind of runs the gamut. 

If I had to take a guess, maybe 20 to 30 percent of my fans at OnlyFans are women, or femme-identified. Women there pay a lot more than they do in real life, at clubs, which typically involves going with their partner, or a group of guy friends, and girls are notoriously bad tippers at the strip clubs! It sucks! 

But with my timing, I really wasn’t doing a lot of stuff in person when I realized it wasn’t a great situation. Essentially, lockdown began a week after I started on this [online] platform, which was weird. I feel like a lot of people made these intuitive professional jumps like that. People just felt like there was something in the air, like before it got bad, and were like, “What the fuck? I need stability.” What’s it called? Like, a universal subconsciousness. It’s popping off right now, I feel like!

In the long run, the work that I do now is much less exhausting and could be much more sustainable, if I could get a bigger base. But at the club, especially during racing season in Hot Springs, I was making like $7K, $8K a month? And I’m now making about $3K a month. I would say this month I’ll be making half of what I was making stripping, basically. I texted all my regulars after I started doing video work, and was just like “Hey, just so you know, I make this extra stuff now.” … A lot of them were just like, “Oh, that’s cool,” and didn’t join, but some folks did. I know one of the regulars to Visions, and we were just kicking it this entire time, and I was like, “Hey, I make porn.” And he was like, “That’s fucking so hot,” and he’d come back in and be like, “Oh, I watched this video.” He’s one of my absolute best customers now.

I’d made a couple of [in-person] bookings, but they’ve fallen through, for various reasons. Men are being hella wild right now, but they’re always being wild. I have a lot less in-person stuff because I mostly planned that stuff while I was dancing. So just losing that market has affected it, I guess. 

It is a bit nerve-racking, because at the clubs anywhere, you’re getting people from so many different places. And you can’t wear a mask when your appearance is your selling point, you know? You know how they can’t incentivize people to join certain scientific studies because if they’re offering too much money, it’s impossible to say no? That’s kind of how I feel about it, because I’m like, “Fuck, that was so much money, and so much security.” And I really miss that. So I don’t know what kind of safety precautions I’ll be taking. Something to brainstorm with my pals about. 

As told to Stephanie Smittle

Critical care nurse

I stood on my front porch in my socks, stripping off my scrubs, when a neighbor family of five rounded the corner on their evening walk. I’ve taken to wearing shorts and tank tops under my uniforms so I can bag contaminated clothing before entering my home. As I stumbled to tug off a pant leg, I called out, “Just taking off my hospital clothes.” They all smiled, and one called back, “Thank you for your service.” It was the first time I had heard this phrase regarding the work I’ve done for over a decade. It felt bewildering — isn’t that what people say to soldiers? 

I am now frequently asked, “Are you on the front lines?” It’s the first time I’ve had to grapple with the meaning of this concept.  When life began to change, somehow I forgot everything I knew about health and science, and held a subconscious belief that all of this would be over in a few weeks. I remember telling my best friend in another state that I was worried about the social implications for families if schools closed. She said that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. An hour later my phone was ringing with the district message about the LRSD temporary closure. 

My first thought was to send my children as far away from me as possible. As a critical care nurse, I knew that if there was a pandemic in Arkansas, I would be involved. I pictured working a few weeks in a war-like scenario and then being able to reunite with my family. It became quickly apparent that what we were in for was nothing like that. If I had followed my initial instinct to separate from my girls, it would have stretched on indefinitely over months — unclear, confusing and painful. At the same time, I remain vigilant. I constantly carry the knowledge that there may come a time that I must isolate from them. For the first few weeks, I surveyed all the other parents every time I went to work. “Are you separating from your little ones?” “How are you keeping them safe?”

None of us had done this before, but somehow it felt safer to think collectively. We all shared our decontamination measures — the strips, the scrub downs, the sprays on our shoes. One co-worker told us she had undressed in the parking garage and drove home in her underwear so that her scrubs would not touch her car.

The first few weeks it seemed that policies changed every hour. We felt the implications of riding a wave that no institution in the United States was prepared for. But as we rode it, I saw nursing at its best. I saw nurses protecting each other even before a policy was in place to protect them. I saw knowledge chains form, research being shared. Every week, I continue to watch new and seasoned nurses alike step into caring for COVID-19 patients without a single moment of hesitation — mask up, zip into suits, pull shields over their eyes, cover their hair and sweat out a shift with all the intensity and quality they always give. Everyone on my team is quicker to say “I love you.” If one of us is on the COVID floor, we know. We are texting our love and support.

Even months into this, global knowledge of the virus is so constantly changing. It can have so many different faces. As nurses, that leaves us feeling vulnerable. What if we fail to test because it is presenting in a yet unfamiliar form, leaving us exposed without proper protection? Early on, we did not have rapid testing. We quarantined potentials as positives for days awaiting test results, leaving the patients, families and providers alike in a trying limbo.

But it is not just the virus itself that has changed our day to day in health care. The restrictions we have had to impose have led to quieter hospitals — fewer patients, no visitors, reductions in staff. Employees have faced furloughs. Closed units or low census may mean practicing in an area outside of our usual comfort zone. Families are facing separation from their critically ill loved ones no matter what they are admitted for. I feel their pain through the phone. I try to tell them little things so they know I’m paying close attention and providing good care: “I washed and braided her hair, she was wrinkling her brow and so I adjusted this medication and now she is more restful.” I can tell them all the labs, the radiology results, but how can they trust I am truly watching their loved one the way that they would? I had to guide a family through deciding to transition to end-of-life care over the phone. How can we walk this deep road together without our eyes meeting, without looking together at the suffering of their loved one before us, without our arms to wrap around one another?

And yet, despite all these changes, much of what I do feels the same. I’ve always seen people go far before their time. I’ve always witnessed suffering and seen nurses’ strength. There is something almost confusing about hearing people say “thank you for your service” when we simply go in and do the work we’ve always done: tend to the sick, bear witness to suffering and attempt to bring a balm of healing whether to the moment of death or the season of recovery.

Back home, my clothes double-bagged and ready for the wash, my hair scrubbed with chlorhexidine soap, I prepare for another stretch of days single-parenting and homeschooling kids. I don’t have any time to process. My sink is piled with dishes and I definitely have not made any sourdough bread. My mind turns to the others in my life who I consider much further out on the front lines than me: my sister who lives in the hardest-hit county in Michigan, where the number of deaths outnumber Arkansas’s number of cases. Her friend, who has lost two family members to COVID and is home alone with her positive diagnosis. My brother and his wife, who brought a newborn baby into the world during quarantine and now must face the anxiety of early parenthood in the climate of a global pandemic. My friend who is fighting to keep her small business afloat. My granny in her assisted living facility who I am afraid will turn 100 alone. A dear friend’s family of five, who cannot seem to get anyone to give them answers about why their unemployment is not yet processed. The list could go on. We all carry a piece. We are all on the front lines. I can promise you that we nurses are not going to stop toeing the line and giving our all for you. I trust you will continue to do your part. Perhaps we can all make it lighter on one another and ultimately look to everyone in our community and say, “Thank you for your service.”

Restaurant server

Now I’m basically a carhop instead of a waiter, which in some ways is easier, and in some ways more of a pain in the ass. We don’t have to watch stupid sports anymore. 

It’s all the minutiae, the little details of doing things, you know. The bleaching of all the pens. People are really funny about touching the pen, but it’s like, “I also just touched your credit card or the container I just handed you.” I see people coming in with their masks around their necks a lot.  

The crazy thing is, the people that are the least concerned are the ones that come into the restaurant to pay. And they aren’t wearing masks. It’s insane to me. I’d say about 40 percent of people seem very concerned and the rest seem very flippant about the whole thing. I don’t think people should be allowed to come into the restaurant at all. I think it should be strictly curbside. I think restaurants should be taking employees’ temperatures whether they open up or not. Even as I’m saying it, it sounds extreme, but it’s really not, considering what’s going on. 

I feel safe enough doing the curbside thing or else I wouldn’t be doing it. I wouldn’t feel safe opening the dining room at any percentage at this point. A lot of people have thanked me [for working]. People seem to understand that it’s a pain in the ass for everyone. People have been really generous with tips for the most part. 

I worked the last Friday before the shit really hit the fan [March 13]. There were cases here, bigger cities were closing down. After work, we rolled out to Pizza D’s — as stupid as that is. We got there and they were checking people’s temperatures at the door. Pizza D’s, of all places, was on the up-and-up with it. We didn’t stay long, we just had a couple of drinks, but there were a bunch of people there. And I was running into people I hadn’t seen in a long time. One girl I talked to had moved back because her college shut down, so she came home to live with her parents. And I       

talked to several other people that came back because all this shit was going on. I started wearing a mask the next week. I feel like I was the first one at my job wearing a mask. I got weird looks for the first week or two. Or people thinking they’re funny doing the number where they stick their hands up like I’m going to hold them up because my mask is a bandana. I never really watched the news before and I’ve actually been watching the news lately. I’m saving a lot of money not going to the bar. 

The new small talk is people asking, “Y’all hanging in there? Y’all ready to open back up?” or “When are y’all opening back up?”

Monday night [when restaurants were allowed to open for indoor dining] I had a couple of dudes pull up and I asked them what the name was on the order and they said, “We were hoping to get a seat.” I said, “Well, our dining room’s not open.” They asked me if I know anywhere where dining rooms are open. I said, “No, I don’t go anywhere but here and home.” Why would I know what other restaurants are doing? But also, you’re so eager to go sit in a dining room — I wouldn’t even want to right now. I’d be too freaked out. It doesn’t seem responsible. I know people get antsy and get cabin fever, but everything I’m seeing and everything I’ve heard is there’s definitely gonna be more of this. A second wave. And people aren’t being cautious enough. If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. 

What I fear is that we’re going to move too quickly, we’ll see a lot more cases popping up. It’ll be one step forward and two steps back again. I feel like people weren’t being careful enough from the get-go. They’re just not taking it seriously enough. 

I heard a story, before all this went down, about this mom and her young daughter going into a coffee shop. The mom was going to pay and looked over just in time to see her little girl lick a whole stack of like 10 cookies that were there on display and the mom was like, “Uh, we’ll take those cookies, too,” and she bought all the cookies. Shit, are buffets gonna be a thing anymore? It’s hard to imagine that ever being acceptable again. 

Early on, before we went to curbside, a bar regular was sitting in here complaining about the news coverage and said, “I just figure people that come here are different.”

I was like, “What do you mean, like ignorant?”

He was like, “No, I mean we’re made of stronger stuff.” 

It’s not hurting anybody to not go out to eat. I know that it’s probably not going to work for some restaurants, and it may mean that some of them have to shut down. And that’s a bummer, but safety-wise, you kind of have a responsibility to look out for the health and safety of your customers. Or you should feel like that’s your responsibility as a business owner. Especially in restaurants. It’s the same as not wanting to serve bad food or give poor service. You don’t want to potentially get your customers sick or not provide a sanitary enough environment. 

 — As told to Rhett Brinkley

Grocery store worker

Basically, I take care of processing certain shipments that come into the store and ensure the items make it to the shelves. Aside from that, I assist shoppers. I show up, clock in, glove and mask up. The store provides us with gloves and makes sure we have masks daily. Masks are mandatory. Recently, our temperatures have begun being taken and logged. Not much has changed in my personal daily obligations, aside from the amount of time I spend washing my hands and changing gloves. There is a difference in how we interact both employees and customers in that we’re all trying to practice social distancing as best as we can. Obviously, when it comes to people working together, we can’t always be 6 feet away, but we try to not huddle up. In regard to customer interaction, we try our best to be courteous to the customers, while being responsible to them and ourselves. I wish I could say that that is reciprocated, but unfortunately, many customers simply do not practice any form of social distancing. Most stores these days, including the one [where I work], have displayed signage encouraging social distancing and the 6-foot spacing, which is great, but I have had people reach over me, across me, I have had people touch me unwarranted. That is quite stressful. It can be frustrating, and it can make you feel a bit of anxiety, but personally, I try to keep a positive outlook. 

I do think that people are taking the situation seriously, for the most part, but unfortunately, this is a relatively new experience for everyone, and it takes time to develop certain habits. Lately, in the past week or so, I have been seeing [fewer] masks. I would say, on average, about half of the customers I see are wearing masks. We have adjusted our hours of operation, and we have a suggested early time for our senior and more at-risk customers. 

For the most part, I do [feel safe at work]. Everyone has their worries, as we all should at this point. For me, it just makes me strive harder to be as responsible, courteous and cautious as I can be. The steps that businesses have taken do allow for a safer setting, but this is all an adjustment. 

I haven’t seen anyone get sick in my workplace, which I am extremely thankful for. I was paid a supplemental hourly wage for being an essential worker. It was installed for a limited amount of time. I have been thanked by customers for the work I do a handful of times. It was very odd at first, as again, this experience is so new and something [I’m not] used to. Those comments provide an incredible sense of support in a time when everyone is feeling a lot of anxiety and not really sure what’s going to happen day to day. These people definitely can brighten the day, especially when your essential-ness is feeling a bit more [like] expendable-ness. But they do make up for those who don’t seem to want to practice the social distancing guidelines that are suggested. 

The most ridiculous thing I’ve seen since the pandemic started is The Great Toilet Paper Buy-Out. 

The best thing the average grocery shopper can do for us is to respect the employees’  personal space and mental health.

 — As told to Rhett Brinkley