COVID Third Wave: How Will It Affect Service Workers in Ontario?
Recently we hit the one-year mark of our two-week quarantine. We’re all antsy, frustrated, and anxious to see if we’re going to lose another summer to quietly staying at home, and more importantly, we’re anxious to keep our loved ones safe and healthy for as long as it takes.
With vaccinations rolling out by the thousands, the finish line is slowly coming into view, but not before a third—and potentially fourth—wave of the illness has made its way through our collective society. In Ontario, we’ve seen two proper waves roll by already: the first bringing mass-panic, empty grocery store shelves, and a 3-month lockdown, and the second bringing mass-annoyance, curbside shopping, and another 3-month lockdown.
As a third wave begins to pick up, fewer and fewer people seem to be taking the lockdown seriously, which will ultimately put more people in danger. One of the people taking this pandemic less-seriously as the waves roll through is Ontario Premier Doug Ford. His disinterest in this pandemic will actively put service people and people living in poverty in danger through this third wave.
Toronto restaurants are beginning to open up, people out looking to enjoy their summer regardless of consequence, and stores gaining more and more in-store sales, the main losers in this third wave are the service people, who cannot work from home and who will be coming in contact with countless people, sometimes without masks. As a retail worker myself, I am frightened. This is what the third wave is probably going to be like for service people.
Covid infection and illness will be worse than the first two waves.
As we’ve seen in pandemics and the mass spread of illness before Covid-19, as the illness continues, each wave becomes worse than the last. Currently, public health is warning Hamilton—my home city—that cases are rapidly inclined. According to CBC News, regarding Hamilton’s Covid cases: “Public health epidemiologist Stephanie Hughes said there has already been 1,701 cases, and 59 outbreaks declared, as well as 124 hospitalizations over the past month. That’s notable, she said, because of the speed.” To see such a large number over just 30 days is obviously very frightening; as we begin our climb to the peak of the third wave, we need to ask ourselves how to control this, and if the economy is more important than the lives of our people.
The Ford Administration will be very hesitant to shut down.
I remember being pretty impressed with Ford when the first lockdown hit. I thought the time he shut everything down was pretty efficient. The severity of the regulations was fair and strong, and his “people who don’t wear masks are a bunch of yahoos” was a kind of refreshing from a provincial government that I had lost all hope for. Then, the second wave hit.
When the second wave hit, especially for Hamilton, Oakville, and Burlington, there was a lot of hemming and hawing from Ford’s administration. Most of us were open past Christmas day, encouraging several people to come into stores in droves to buy gifts for the busiest shopping time of the year. Even though there were restrictions for me to see my family on Christmas (as there should be) I was still able to see over 40 strangers throughout my day on Christmas eve, touching the money from their pockets, standing near them to help select items, and cleaning up after them when they left.
I have no doubt that this wave will be approached with the same hesitance as the last one, confirmed after Ford said another lockdown would be “absolutely terrible” while encouraging people to stay home for the sake of businesses staying open, not the public’s safety.
Ford said, “Folks, it’s absolutely critical that we do this because none of us want to go back to another lockdown; it’d be absolutely terrible.” When I think he probably could’ve said, “Folks, it’s absolutely critical that we do this because none of us want to get sick, none of us want to lose any loved ones, it’d be absolutely terrible.”
The way Ford talks about the lockdown makes it sound like a shitty punishment for partying too much, not a necessary part of keeping Canadian’s safe, and I have no doubt that he’ll bring the same apathy when confronted by the real potential that we may need to lockdown again.
If there is a lockdown, we will potentially see another ‘soft’ lockdown in the COVID third wave.
A lot of us were pretty annoyed right before Christmas when it was announced that there would be another lockdown, but this time it would be soft, where stores were still open for curbside shopping but closed for in-store shopping. This was an absolute nightmare for many of us, who still had to approach several people daily, do cash and debit exchange, and walk up to their personal cars. Ford did some tongue-in-cheek, back-handed safety procedures that were basically “HEY! Don’t go shopping….but the stores are open….but don’t go….but they are open.”
I can’t imagine that this coming wave will be different. I think that if Ford is backed into a corner by COVID and forced to shut down the province, he will pull another one of these soft-lockdowns that allows Doug Ford to have his cake and eat it, too. This means that people like me who work in retail or restaurants will be trekking out into the unknown.
Who is put in harm’s way?
This kind of pussy-footing around the issue at hand put many people who were living below the poverty line at risk. Many service jobs don’t pay a living wage, leaving the poor and already-underpaid to pick up the slack and continue working. The people most at risk in the third wave are the people who have to leave the house, and most minimum wage jobs cannot be done from home.
Multiple layers make going to work dangerous for service people and anyone else who has to leave for work during the COVID third wave:
- Most obviously, dealing with customers and the general public and trusting them to sanitize and wear a mask properly
- Handling cash/debit machines
- Some people need to ride a bus to commute to work, exposing them to countless others and surfaces that the public had touched
- Many workers have to send their children to daycare if they’re at work all day, now exposing a second member of the family to people outside of their household
These are all risks taken primarily by service people and people below the poverty line. People with cushy jobs can work from home and choose to go shopping if they wish; this is not the case for people who are forced to be out in the world. Being put in harm’s way should not be a consequence of being poor or working minimum wage.
People are going to be jerks, no matter any wave of COVID.
During and right after the first lockdown, people were angelic to service workers. Words like “hero” and “angel” were thrown around pretty indiscriminately, but honestly, this wore off pretty quickly. After the second lockdown, I found from my own experience and from my friends who work service and retail that people were over the sanitizer, they were over the masks, and they were pissed off at anyone who tried to enforce the rules. I have personally been sworn at and threatened over making someone wear a mask, and I work in a pretty low-traffic store.
Currently, service people are taking a lot of punches—even more so than normal—and in the wake of a third wave where service people have the right to ask customers to sanitize or wear a mask for their safety, there’s going to be some real assholes on the way into stores.
All risk, and for what?
As the third wave begins its ascent towards its peak, my general prediction for myself and other service workers is that things are going to get harder before they get easier. The lockdown is iffy, the shopping will probably continue, and people are going to be pissed regardless (and somehow that’s our fault.)
Service people are putting themselves at risk, and have been for the past year, with little to no reimbursement, incentive, or thanks for their effort. Caught between a rock and a hard place—unemployment or potential illness—there is often no hazard pay and no ability to collect money if they refuse to work because of health concerns. Service people are screwed in this coming wave, and probably until Covid is a distant memory.
If you genuinely care and want to make things easier for your fellow human beings, consider these things during the COVID third wave:
- Seriously, don’t go out if you don’t have to. Don’t go to the dollar store to browse; you don’t need to go to Walmart to get a new welcome mat; you have no business standing in Shoppers looking at shampoo because everything else is closed. I get it; I want to go out too, but every time you go shopping for no reason, you’re putting people at risk and encouraging non-essential businesses to exploit their workers.
- Order online! Get what you want to be delivered; you can choose zero contact.
- Talk with your friends; if they want to go out for dinner, ask them if that’s a good idea and opt for a Zoom chat instead.
- Be fucking nice to people! Oh, my god! Please!