Like Diaz, Liliana Hernandez, a 42-year-old housekeeper, is also taking that risk.
the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica,
The couple has just two months’ worth of savings to support themselves and their teenage son. “Everybody is panicking,” says Hernandez, who’s going to try to find a job at a grocery store.
“I’m concerned about getting infected or something like that, but we have to go on and continue to work. My fear, I have to put it away.”
Many others, including the 78% of American workers who live paycheck-to-paycheck, have even less cushion.
“As a single mother, I don’t know what I’m going to do,”
says Mélissa St Hilaire, 37, a home healthcare worker in Miami. She was asked to stay home starting Friday, but she only has enough money to get her family through next week.
“I don’t know how long it’s going to take,” she says of the pandemic. “I’m just here waiting.”
The businesses that are hiring are largely doing their best to keep employees safe and vital services flowing, though no strategy is foolproof.
John DeCicco Jr., co-owner of New York supermarket chain DeCicco & Sons, has brought on about 100 additional employees to meet demand, including many laid off from a friend’s restaurant food supplier.
Among other measures, he’s limiting his stores to 30-40% the normal occupancy rates, sanitizing regularly, and providing customers and employees with gloves.
“They’re on the front line, so you’ve gotta protect them,” DeCicco says. He’s also given employees two weeks of paid sick leave, in addition to their normal sick and personal days.
“They’ll take care of the customers as long as we take care of them,” says DeCicco of his workers. “That’s our philosophy, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
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Others are under even more pressure. Caleb Ferling, co-owner of Seattle-area commercial cleaner Cleanstart, recently hired 20 new employees to meet surging demand as clients seek to clean their potentially contaminated offices.
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He outfits his workers in full personal protective equipment, including respirators and biohazard suits, when they go out on a COVID-19 cleaning job.
But he’s running out of essential supplies like disinfectant, and says he’ll have to let workers go if he can’t find more.
“We probably have enough for maybe a handful more jobs, and then we’re done, we’re out,” Ferling says.
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