It’s been more than a month since the Government of Ontario declared a state of emergency and issued subsequent orders pushing most businesses to either close or conduct their work virtually.
These orders and other public health recommendations have meant drastic changes to the way people earn a living. According to Statistics Canada, over one million people became unemployed in March. And nearly 30% of respondents to a recent Statistics Canada survey said they are adapting to working from home.
But on the front lines, essential employees still have to show up to work, and their jobs likely feel more stressful than ever.
Peterborough Currents checked in with three locals who are continuing to work in person through the pandemic. Here are the stories of a biohazard technician, floor supervisor and bank teller and how their jobs have changed in the pandemic.
Kidd Cleaning Services
For the last few weeks, Mike Frampton has been driving to police stations throughout the region with a truck full of disinfectant. “I’ve gone through gallons and gallons and gallons,” he says.
Frampton is a biohazard technician. On a typical workday before the COVID-19 crisis hit, he’d find himself sterilizing crime scenes, responding to animal infestations or cleaning up human bio-waste in other situations.
Now, he suits up each morning in full protective gear to disinfect police cruisers and prison cells – sterilizing them to prevent potential infection. He says the company he works for, Kidd Cleaning Services, is temporarily refocusing almost all of its work on COVID-19 disinfection.
“It’s all hands on deck just trying to keep up,” Frampton says. “You hear about the virus going through various agencies, so why not step it up and just blast everything [with disinfectant] if you can.” Frampton says he’s visiting each police station on his route twice a week, disinfecting half their fleet on one day and the other half the next.
Frampton lives in Peterborough with his family, but spends the work week on the road. He says he’s grateful his salary hasn’t been affected by the crisis. And while the hours are long right now, it feels good to have a role. “This is the thing I can contribute,” he says, “so it’s just head down and wait until it’s over.”
While his own job is secure, Frampton worries about others in the community, and what comes next after the pandemic is over. “People’s supports have either disappeared or changed,” he says, “and they were already struggling before this.”
“I have this fear that we’re going to see suicides at a rate that we’ve never seen,” he says. If he’s right, Frampton might be the one called to clean them up. “For my own mental health, I don’t want to see a lot of suicides.”
But for the time being, Frampton is encouraged by the community response to COVID-19 he’s seen in Peterborough. “I see people supporting each other,” he says. “I see a lot of love and hope… So I hope this’ll translate into something positive in the end.”
One Roof Community Centre
When I dropped by the One Roof Community Centre a few weeks ago to make a donation, Husayn Dharshi met me at the front door with a mask on his face, urging me and others nearby the entrance to maintain our distance from one another.
Previously, he was an important presence in the dining room, helping guests to access the supports and supplies available to them, serving food and cleaning up after meals, and responding to incidents and emergencies if they arose. Having formed relationships with many of One Roof’s guests, he also facilitated a sense of community in the dining room.
Now, Dharshi meets guests at the front door to hand out any supplies they might need, and he and his colleagues provide take-out meals in the parking lot once per day. He gets to have “quick moments” with the guests, but he misses the card games, activities and conversations he used to be able to share with guests when the dining room was open.
Dharshi is a floor supervisor at the One Roof Community Centre, which provides free meals and community programming to marginalized people in Peterborough, including many from the city’s homeless community. Ever since COVID-19 necessitated the closure of One Roof’s dining room and public space, Dharshi’s job has changed significantly.
Still, Dharshi says “it’s a blessing” to be coming into work at all, since so many are unable to do so during the pandemic. “It’s an even bigger blessing that we’re able to stay open to provide the community with all the support that they need right now,” he says. It may not have the same community feel as before, but at least One Roof is continuing to offer food and supplies to people who need them. “Otherwise, these people would be experiencing a lot more hardship,” Dharshi says.
“Many of our staff have said we wish we could do more,” he adds, “but given the circumstances we’re really lucky to be able to do this.”
Before the branch she works at enacted strict physical distancing measures last month, Hannah (who has requested her last name not be published) loved the social aspect of her job as a bank teller.
“I was always a big fan of people not running all their errands from home but going out and doing things and interacting with people,” she says. “Go to the bank. Talk to me. It’s nice.”
Now, with most of the branch’s operations being done remotely, Hannah’s job has changed a lot — though as an essential worker she still needs to be at work. The branch is now open fewer hours and by appointment only. Basic services are only available at the ATM or through telephone and internet banking. Collins and her colleagues spend more time on the phone and online than talking in person.
While she appreciates the focus on safety, Collins says it’s been hard to break off some of her relationships with customers.
“There are a lot of people [for whom] coming in and seeing us is a part of their weekly routine,” Hannah says. Visiting the bank “is a really important aspect of their lives, [and] it’s been kind of a shame to tell them that they can’t come in and visit us anymore. It’s really hard to break up people’s routines like that,” she says.
Many of the bank’s regular visitors are seniors. “I was on the phone the other day with one member,” Hannah says, “she’s 91 years old and lives in a [long-term care] home, so she can’t get out. I miss seeing her.”
Financial institutions are considered essential services. Hannah points out that if someone were to lose their debit card right now, with so few businesses accepting cash, they would need to be able to get a new one right away. They have to stay open.
That means Hannah and her colleagues can’t stay home and isolate. “It definitely is a very stressful time to be someone who is still coming into work everyday,” she says. “I do have that constant threat of being more exposed.”
Hannah wants those who can work from home or self-isolate to remember that not everyone has that privilege, and to be extra careful as a result. “The one time you go to the grocery store in the week, you know the grocery store workers have been there every single day. So it’s definitely different [for us].”
This article was adapted from a Peterborough Currents email newsletter sent to our subscribers on April 21, 2020. It was lightly edited to fit the new context. To read the original newsletter, click here.