Fear and anxiety from COVID-19 has made me afraid of going to work

Senior+Gianne+Veluz+wears+a+mask+as+she+takes+customers%E2%80%99+orders+during+her+shift+at+a+dessert+cafe+in+Buena+Park+on+Sept.+19.%0A

Image used with permission from Gianne Veluz

Senior Gianne Veluz wears a mask as she takes customers’ orders during her shift at a dessert cafe in Buena Park on Sept. 19.

Gianne Veluz

“I’m going to have to ask you to put a mask on, or else we can’t serve you.”

This is what I find myself saying often to customers when they refuse to comply with the mandated face covering requirement for entering indoor public spaces as issued June 18 by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

When I first started working at this dessert cafe in Buena Park in January, I hoped to earn money that I could save, gain work experience and alleviate some expenses from my parents. I never thought that a few months later I’d be laid off from the same job and then return to work five months after the lockdown — all during the coronavirus pandemic.

To protect my standing at work, I am choosing not to include the name of the cafe.

Around the same time schools went into lockdown in March and unessential business closed temporarily, my workplace closed down as well. My boss decided to take advantage of this period and began working on the renovations that he’d been planning for months.

The cafe opened back up after two months of renovation, and I decided to hold off on returning with Orange County’s spike in coronavirus cases. What started as a two-month vacation evolved into five months of unemployment.

I get paid $12 an hour and was eligible for unemployment compensation during the few months in which I was out of work.

I initially planned to return in July, but when my mom got sick with COVID-19, I knew it was best to stay home and keep customers and my coworkers safe.

After my mom recovered from COVID-19, I realized how beneficial it was for me to take care of some of my own expenses such as groceries and cleaning products for the house — especially while my mom was out of a job for a month while sick. I was fearful of returning to work but knew that I couldn’t stay at home forever if I wanted to keep my job.

I started working during my junior year when school was held in person, but I wasn’t worried about school starting because I knew that it would be held virtually. Without attending meetings, practices and rehearsals for all of my extracurricular activities, I knew I could handle it. Upon returning, I noticed changes from how things were before.

Firstly, the most drastic change has been wearing a mask and gloves during our entire shift. I don’t mind wearing a mask because making drinks and preparing desserts does not require me to run around much.

However, when I do feel the discomfort from the red marks my mask leaves on the back of my ears, I think about all of the healthcare workers who must wear much more protection than I do while caring for patients.

Even though I’m not a frontline worker, I still get anxious when I have to work and interact with customers. There’s no way of telling whether someone has the virus and is asymptomatic. I find myself thinking about how minimum wage employees don’t get paid nearly enough to be putting ourselves at risk like we do.

For about a month, most customers also tipped better than they did before the pandemic. I assumed that this was because customers felt pressured to do so out of respect for being served during the current crisis.

The credit tips we receive at work are divided between all of the employees. Prior to the pandemic, I received roughly $10 worth of credit card tips in my paycheck. I now get around $25, which isn’t much, compared to what my friends who work at boba or coffee shops tell me they receive, but it’s a nice bonus.

I personally make the effort to tip more than pre-coronavirus amounts when I order takeout or get food delivered to my house because most minimum wage workers are not getting more money added to their paychecks to compensate for working under hazardous conditions.

Prior to the second lockdown, people were comfortable eating out in Orange County during this pandemic, so they no longer felt inclined to tip as much.

To accommodate for outside dining, the parking lot in front of the cafe has been replaced with tents and tables. From May to September, no customers were allowed to eat inside. However, after California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Dec. 3 stay at home order, we have eliminated both indoor and outside seating once again. We are currently only providing take-out, which means I don’t have to worry as much about customers taking their mask off in the shop while they eat.

My priority is to make sure that the shop is kept clean, sanitized and safe for all of the takeout and delivery orders we receive throughout my shift.

Even though certain tasks have become tedious as a result of COVID-19, I understand that they are necessary to ensure the safety of others and prevent the spread of the virus.

At the end of the day, dealing with stubborn customers is all worth it because I know that my efforts at work — even as small as a dessert cafe — is an important part of beating this pandemic.