Your coronavirus stories: High-risk jobs, difficult talks, and frightened customers

A cattle rancher, a social worker, a specialist in airplane parts, and a dollar-store employee speak out.


March 22, 2020

You’ve read a lot about some of the industries that have been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic. The restaurant industry is reeling. The events business is basically canceled. Airlines are grounded.

But when we asked you last week to tell us about how the pandemic affected your lives, something else became clear: It’s had an impact in practically every corner of American life.

Today, we’re highlighting a few stories from less-prominent industries, and a few from people on the front lines.

‘We sat down at the kitchen table and talked about necessities’

Katrina Bergman, 36, a cattle rancher in Ballard, Missouri

As owner/operator at Bergman’s Blest Ranch, Bergman is concerned about how fluctuations in the cattle market will affect her family’s farm. Like many ranchers, she works all year to prepare for 1 or 2 big sales. 

What she’s most worried about: All her costs — rent, land, feed, labor — are the same. “But if the market is 20 cents less than it was 2 weeks ago and I sell hundreds of thousands of pounds, it makes a huge difference to my bottom line,” Bergman said.

How her family is coping: They’re embracing self-reliance and being cautious. “We sat down at the kitchen table and talked about necessities,” she said. Simple things like sunshine also bring joy. “It has not been super warm, so I geared my little people up in old play clothes and they have gone on adventures. They go down to the creek and they get absolutely filthy.”

‘We’re going out on home visits, exposing ourselves every day’

Connie M., 38, caseworker for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services

The pandemic has forced many companies to tell their employers to work from home indefinitely. That’s not the case for Connie.

Last week, she was still seeing families and children in person — her caseload covers 50 kids and about 20 families. She says the state’s message amounted to, “You still have a job to do, go and do your job.”

What she’s most worried about: Connie says people in her department started asking, what about our families? “We’re going out on home visits,” she says, “exposing ourselves every day to something that does not have a vaccine yet.”

How she’s coping: Many caseworkers won’t admit it openly, but a lot of them are on medication to help them get by. “I might take a Xanax or I will have a drink when I get home after a stressful day… I take a shower because I always feel dirty when I get off work. And then I turn on the TV and I just sit and I do absolutely nothing.”

‘It’s nice to know that you’re doing something useful’

Hugh Wolfe, 64, a stores clerk at Mesa Airlines in Tucson, Arizona 

As Hugh Wolfe tells it, working as a stores clerk is like managing a bank for plane parts. When a plane needs repairs, the engineers call him to supply the equipment.

Wolfe’s company, Mesa Airlines, has scaled back flights, but Wolfe isn’t too worried. He’s seen airlines weather their share of crises. While at Boeing in 2002, he watched 30k workers lose their jobs after 9/11. 

What he’s most worried about: “You kind of have in the back of your mind, ‘Well, I wonder if they’re going to shut things down and send you home.’ I’ve got a job where I can’t work from home. But on the other hand we can’t really give the mechanics access to the stores department. They kind of have to keep us around.”

How he’s coping: If his job goes away, he and his wife can survive off of retirement income. For now, he’s taking solace in the work itself. “I feel like I’m providing a valuable service in that the airplane is broken, they need a part, I’m providing it. It’s nice to know that you’re doing something useful.”

‘Our customers are scared and so are we’

Gina L, 49, an assistant manager at Family Dollar in Illinois

Last Monday was not the ideal day to start a new job. But Gina needed the benefits — she went without health insurance last year. “I’m overdue for X amount of tests, just routine stuff,” she said. “I didn’t get sick, but I couldn’t afford a physical exam either.” 

At Family Dollar, Gina dove straight into the chaos. Shelves emptied soon after she re-stocked them, and customers pressed together in lines that seemed ripe for transmitting disease. When she spoke with us on Saturday, Gina had worked 5 days in a row, running on about 4 hours of sleep per night.

What she’s most worried about: She fears customers will lose their calm. “Our customers are scared and so are we. If someone at work gets sick, we’re all scrunched together so we’ll all get sick. It’s hard to put that in the back of your mind while you’re working.” 

How she’s coping: Gina finds relief in how much her coworkers have come together. Even the customers are showing kindness: “A man and woman came through and they didn’t have money, and the woman behind them paid for the pop with cash.”

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