Going Back to Work in a Pandemic

I’m terrified of going back to work.

It’s hard enough for the kids — missing school, missing friends, and now taking care of each other as I’m forced back to work in an environment where I don’t feel safe. Now they’re worried about me getting sick too, or bringing the virus home with me to them.

My 10-year-old cries,” Why do you have to go back, mom? Don’t go.” For Mother’s Day, my 16-year-old wrote in a card, “I worry about you every day.”

But I’m a single mom — it’s either work or my family starves. When Texas reopened, I lost my unemployment, so I headed back to work at a private billing company in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

There are no precautions in place at my office. There are signs at my workplace about social distancing, but no actual social distancing. I’m one of only a few who wears a mask.

I watch co-workers gather around cubicles and common spaces, carrying on as before, and I feel as if I’m living in an alternate reality. Don’t they know there’s a pandemic? Don’t they know that 100,000 Americans have died and more continue to die every day?

If they don’t care about their own safety, why not care about mine and my children’s? Why doesn’t my employer care?

So, I’ve imposed strict protocols for when I come home. First thing, I head straight for the shower — before I even see my children, before I can make dinner, ask how their day was, or help with homework.

And the bleach. The bleach. The kids and I are bleach-freaks by this point. We scrub down the house after I get home and then again when we get up. Just to be sure that we kill any trace of that frightening virus.

Before all this, I was staying safe at home, fortunately getting unemployment benefits.

Things weren’t easy. The $1,200 relief check covered just one month’s rent. Our grocery bill skyrocketed, due to price gouging and everyone being home. Cleaning supplies prices spiked even as we need so much more of them. But at least my family and I were safe at home.

Then, the governor decided to reopen the state, just days after Texas reported our highest jump in deaths from COVID-19 to date.

What if you don’t feel safe at work? It doesn’t matter. Because my place of employment is open, I’m now ineligible for unemployment benefits. So it’s work or starve, risk my life and the health of my kids or get evicted.

That’s right — Texas just lifted its moratorium on evictions, too.

My government is failing me and millions like me. We’re not looking for a handout. We’re looking to survive — not only this pandemic, but in an economy that is rigged against us in the best of times.

We need higher wages, better workplace protections, lower rents, access to quality affordable health care, and fresh healthy food. Real freedom means not having to choose between your health and your rent.

This crisis just takes the Band-Aid off a wound that has been festering for too long. It’s time to apply some UV light and disinfectant to the wound of inequality in this country. If we don’t, and the virus doesn’t get us, the rigged economy will.

Denita Jones is a single mother living in Dallas. She wants to use her story to shine a line on the inequality that’s plagued this country for years.