Being Essential During a Pandemic

Being+Essential+During+a+Pandemic

Nicholas Bartos on Unsplash

Ameerah Lawal

Disclaimer: Story initially published at beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In December 2019, Wuhan, China, detected new cases of pneumonia. Lab analysis discovered that the cause of the patients’ symptoms was β-coronavirus, which were, later on, named the 2019 model of Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The symptoms of COVID-19 include cough, sneezing, fever, fatigue, and other respiratory ailments. Although scientists are still struggling to understand the virus, transmission occurs when an infected person comes very close to another person or even animal. It is believed to be air-borne and may also drop on surfaces of items, objects like seats, door handles, clothing, furniture, and personal objects. Unfortunately, it can be transmitted even before symptoms begin to manifest, advising individuals to social distance.

Many countries shut down businesses, schools, and other coordinated activities that attract people to converge to minimize the spread of the virus, causing people to panic, buying off the shelves, and altered daily routines—hospitals filled beyond their capacity.

However, some of these businesses that aren’t closed down include Sheetz Enterprises. Companies like Sheetz are essential because they provide gas and other necessities. I paid a visit to the Sheetz on Derry Street, Harrisburg, to see how people have been doing since the outbreak.

The Sheetz building entrance had stickers plastered on the door showing signs saying, “No entry without masks.” There were glass dividers at the front counters, with many of the amenities shut down, including soda fountains, coffee stations, and bakery goods.

Julie Sherlock, kitchen manager at this Sheetz, 30, described what has been going on in the last few weeks.

“To be honest, I think it’s the same. Everyone still comes in here to either buy gas for their cars or food and other necessities. The only difference now is we do not have to brew coffee or tea for people anymore like we used to. They’re kept in the back, and you can only order either the classic or decaf,” she said.

As a customer walked out with some beer, I wondered if more people are buying alcohol than they were before.

“Yes, you wouldn’t believe it,” Sherlock said. “We are surprisingly making more money than we previously were because now that almost all the liquor stores are closed, more people are coming here to buy alcohol and snacks like chips along with it.”

She says the soda fountain is closed off to avoid as much physical contact as they possibly can.

“Everything self-service is closed off until further notice from the government,” she says.

Like many corporations, Sheetz is taking steps to provide for the workers and customers in general.

“One of the only good things to have come out of this is the increased pay. They’re giving each worker a pay raise of $3 extra for each hour they work during this lockdown period. I think that’s one of the reasons why we still have most of our workers here if I’m honest,” she sadly states.

“As for the customers, we’re doing this thing called the Sheetz Kids Meal Bags. Customers can ask for a free lunch for their child and give them free lunch. It has a turkey sandwich, chips, and apple juice. I think it’s nice that Sheetz is doing this to help people during these times. We have to help out somehow,” she says.

One customer, Judy Kwame, a 19-year-old student, had few words to say about COVID life.

“It’s kind of sad to know that people can’t do anything anymore. I miss being able to go out with my friends and having fun being outside. Sheetz is the closest I can get to human interaction, and I’m just thankful it’s still open till now,” she said.

Leaving the building, I hear the sounds of the cash registers being open and people greeting each other “hellos” and “goodbyes,” and it creates a little tug in me that soon, maybe, we’ll be able to return to our regular lives.

Ameerah Lawal is an employee of Sheetz Gas Stations