What It's Like Being An Essential Worker In NYC During The Pandemic
Health and Wellness

I'm An Essential Worker In New York, Don't Get Mad At Me Because You Have To Wear A Mask

The good, the bad, and the ugly from the perspective of an essential restaurant worker.

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Before I dive into this article, I want to preface this with what my actual job is. I work for a small family-owned ice cream parlor. While it may not seem like a very essential business, we are considered a restaurant so we are allowed to be open!

The shop is open March-September and is a "walk-up service" meaning you order at a window and receive your ice cream there. We typically open around St. Patrick's Day but given the circumstances and the escalating situation, my bosses decided to postpone the opening. With the situation changing rapidly, and new orders from New York State and the government, we finally opened at the beginning of May.

Given that the shop is already a walk-up service and essentially take-out as we have no indoor seating, we have the perfect set up for a situation like this. Given the situation, we have had to make some changes. We do have an outdoor seating area, so in accordance with the state mandates, that area has closed. Additionally, in New York, face masks are required in public — this is the biggest change for customers. Also, six feet of distance is required between customers so the line that customers wait in before ordering has been adjusted to allow for that distance. Other than these adjustments, the business itself is operating very similarly to before, for customers at least.

As an employee, things are very different.

Obviously, we must wear masks at all times. The owners of the store have put up plexiglass on the window so we have a little space at the bottom of the window where we hand out the ice cream orders. The CDC doesn't recommend wearing gloves so what we have done is we are required to wash our hands after everything that we do.

We cash someone out, we wash our hands. We make an ice cream cone, we wash our hands. We stock something, we wash our hands.

We wash our hands after everything we do.

We are very vigilant on our end about sanitizing and disinfecting all surfaces and areas of the store. After anything we do, we spray the counters down with Lysol. We are working really hard to ensure the health and safety of our customers.

As I said before, face masks are required everywhere you go in New York and that has certainly been the biggest change for everyone. While it is the law, not everyone feels that face masks are necessary for them. Everyone is entitled to their own decision on whether they can wear a mask or not, but at the shop, if you want to order ice cream, you must wear a mask.

I have to enforce this as an employee and the simplest way to put it is that I don't make the rules (the law, in this case), nor do my bosses, we just follow them. For the most part, customers have been AMAZING respecting this!!!

There have been a couple of customers who have been unhappy with us when we enforce it.

We have multiple signs out that state a mask is needed when ordering at the window per Gov. Cuomo's executive order so customers know they need one before they approach the window. If someone comes up to the window without a mask, we are to shut the window (to protect the staff and the surfaces in the shop from any possible contamination) and we are to point to the two signs on the window explaining the need for a mask.

Usually, when we have to do this, the person will run out to their car and return to the window with a mask on! Nine out of 10 times if someone comes without a mask, it's because the customer simply forgets their mask, which is so easy to do! It is such a big adjustment that no one is used to having to wear one all the time, it's easy to forget! When they return with the mask, we wait on them and serve them their ice cream!

We do get a few people who get upset with us that we won't wait on them if they legitimately don't have a mask.

They will sometimes make comments and "jokes" expressing their unhappiness that make me and all my coworkers uncomfortable. It is hard as an employee to have to tell a customer "no," and to make them unhappy as we have always been trained to do whatever we can to satisfy the consumer, but in this case, we have no choice. It is really uncomfortable and difficult when customers get upset and make comments to me, a 19-year-old girl who is simply trying to follow the rules and avoid trouble, but as I tell some customers, "I don't make the rules, I just follow them." I think that some customers forget that at times.

I did not make this law up, but I have to follow it and enforce it.

As I said, 95 percent of our customers have been so great following this. And out of the 5 percent of people who do come up to the window without one, only about 2 percent of them leave unhappy if they don't have a mask at all and we can't serve them!

So far, the whole experience has gone very well and we have had very little issues.

But the few people who do get upset when we can't serve them without a mask are really hard and frustrating to deal with at times as they take out their unhappiness with the law on me, who didn't make it up and who is just trying to avoid getting in trouble with the health department/state government but more importantly, who is trying to avoid getting sick!!!

If you don't want to wear a mask, that is fine but understand that there are places that require them and that the workers who enforce the law aren't trying to do anything but stay safe and follow the rules!

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