“Frontline Heroes” is a Daily Sundial weekly series that honors those who are fighting COVID-19 on the front lines — doctors, food bank volunteers, retail workers, testing site volunteers and other countless Angelenos who are keeping everyone safe during the pandemic.
If you know someone you think qualifies, send us an email at Editor@csun.edu.
This week’s front-line hero is Jacqueline Lopez, a grocery store cashier at El Super in Los Angeles.
Supermarkets were hit hard by the alarming outbreak of COVID-19 last winter in Los Angeles County, further complicating the workload of grocery store workers — essential workers who have been serving communities throughout the pandemic.
Grocery store workers face an increased risk of exposure to coronavirus as they are five times more likely to contract the virus than their colleagues who are not required to consistently interact with customers, according to a study led by Dr. Justin Yang, an environmental health scientist at Harvard University.
Since Lopez started working at El Super in June 2020, the store has been regularly crowded with customers.
“Most of the time, the store is packed,” Lopez said. “We constantly have to remind people to keep their distance, to wear their mask properly.”
Lopez said that working as a cashier with the added responsibility of having to enforce safety guidelines is taxing on her mental health. Additionally, the lack of support from her managers who regularly fail to maintain the store limit only adds to her stress.
“The managers should be taking care of us. It’s hard, it’s a lot of work. It’s more work than we signed up for,” Lopez said.
Grocery workers faced increased exposure to the coronavirus as people rushed into stores for holiday shopping while pandemic related policies like additional sanitation and customer limits were not constantly being enforced in all stores.
Lopez recalled coming in to work in the first week of January and being terrified when she had no sense of smell or taste.
“I remember I was working in the bakery section and my co-workers were telling me that the bread smells really good, and I got so scared because I could not smell it anymore and I lost my taste,” Lopez said.
The next day, she called off of work to get tested and her results came back inconclusive, requiring her to retake the test.
The second test came back positive, making her one of many in L.A. County to contract the coronavirus this winter.
Lopez said she was afraid as she did not know if her body would be vulnerable to the virus.
“I was scared. When you get it, you are scared, you do not know what is going to happen. You hear a lot of people passing away from the virus and you are expecting the worst,” Lopez said.
Lopez faced moderate symptoms and managed to pull through but not without infecting her mother, husband, two daughters and infant child. Her mother, a high risk target for coronavirus transmission because of a weakened immune system, was prescribed an inhaler for breathing complications after visiting the hospital.
After a couple of complicated weeks, especially for her mother, everyone in Lopez’s family was able to recover from the coronavirus.
Lopez has received first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and is scheduled to get her second shot on March 18. However, she continues to be cautious as she does her part to help bring the pandemic to an end.
“I still think I need to take care of myself because the vaccine is not a cure, I am double masking and I would really like it if people did that too, for my sake,” Lopez said.