A Walk To The Edge
Sometime in February, stories began circulating of a mysterious illness originating in China. I remember hearing snippets about this new “Coronavirus” for the first time and shrugging it off. A virus spreading in a few cities in China? It seemed a world away. I don’t think any of us had any concept at that time of what truly lay ahead. Like a freight train barreling down the tracks, the speed and intensity of events that lead up to a nationwide Coronavirus outbreak — along with the subsequent series of crises it spawned in its aftermath — were simply breathtaking.
Suddenly, it was here in New York City. A 39-year-old woman had tested positive for the virus on the Upper West Side, the papers told us. Then there was a lawyer in his 40s, also in Manhattan. It just kept spiraling from there.
At the time, I was employed by a major grocery store chain in Manhattan. Our manager Jeremy called a store meeting. As team members sat perched on boxes, ladders or whatever makeshift seating we could find, Jeremy gave us specific instructions: we were not going to be allowed to wear masks, gloves, or any form of PPE, at any time. His rationale for this was that it “would be bad optics for the company” for customers to see employees wearing masks and PPE.
Over the following weeks, customers raided us in droves. At that time, no one was controlling the flow of customers in and out of stores or restricting how many customers could enter at a time. The result was weeks of sheer pandemonium. Customers were fighting amongst each other, jostling each other in the aisles, loading up their carts as if they would never be able to buy groceries again. I rang customers up at the register until my arms hurt. My fellow cashiers and I worked like pack animals during those seemingly endless days, leaving us sapped from an exhaustion that transcended physical tiredness.
One evening in March, I was feeling the drag of fatigue particularly hard. I noticed that I was winded just from climbing stairs at the store. That’s strange, I thought. Without being able to put a finger on it exactly, my body was feeling…seriously off somehow. I remember pulling Walter, another one of my managers, aside and…