Rider student describes his experience as a frontline worker during the pandemic

By Austin Ferguson 

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, frontline workers, or workers in essential industries that have to physically go to their jobs, have put themselves at risk in order to play a part in keeping local services and economies afloat.

Going to these jobs alone presents a tall task that can put a lot of stress on the worker. Being a full-time student, also notorious for being a source of stress, on top of being a frontline worker can be perceived as an impossibly difficult situation.

For many Rider students, this challenge is a reality.

For sophomore entrepreneurial studies major Ryan Boland, his job at Walgreens in his hometown of Hillsborough became one of the busiest places in town at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Boland had already worked at Walgreens for two years by the time the pandemic began, but the experiences of the initial rush for sanitation and essential supplies mounted fast.

“There were a lot of people coming,” Boland said. “They were asking for Clorox, Lysol, wipes, masks. In the beginning, we didn’t have any of it. If we did, it was very little.”

The most stress-inducing item for Boland and his coworkers were thermometers.

“The factory making the batteries for them in China shut down, so we had no thermometers for almost two months,” Boland said.

As time went on, more and more customers would ask when scarce items would be back in stock, though the uncertainty of item stock was shared by those working at Walgreens.

“People would ask us about when we get our shipments in,” Boland said. “And we can’t even tell them when stuff would be in stock because warehouses don’t have shipments either, so there was no telling when certain products would come in. It’s not like we can order it online because it’s out of stock.”

Once the end of August came and classes began, Boland’s stress levels were elevated on top of the things he was dealing with at work. Despite being at home for the fall semester, Boland had to fit synchronous classes around his, at times, long work hours.

“Most of my classes were right after or right before I went into work, so it does get stressful,” Boland said. “Not only just trying to stay safe and healthy, but trying to keep up and do well in school, especially when it’s online.”

Despite  having a better understanding of mitigating risk during the pandemic, Boland’s workplace was not making safety any easier for him. He found himself more often working around the pharmacy, which would push him into positions where he directly dealt with customers who were in need of medicine to deal with illnesses, many of which shared symptoms with COVID-19.

“Of course, this pandemic is new for everybody. There isn’t a set-in-stone way of doing things,” Boland said. “But I just started to feel like Walgreens wasn’t handling things the way I wanted them to, or in a way that was benefiting everyone.”

Because of the increased risk and stress that came from the way his employers were handling things, Boland decided that Oct. 20 would be his last day working at Walgreens.

“I felt like there was only one sole beneficiary in that system, and it wasn’t me or the customers,” Boland said. “So I decided that my time working there had to come to an end.”

Starting on Oct. 21, Boland will begin a new job delivering auto parts, which he said was a much lower risk for spreading or contracting COVID-19.

“Of course I’ll be wearing a mask, but there isn’t nearly as much contact or being close to others in confined spaces or dealing with people who were symptomatic like I dealt with before,” Boland said.

Boland also said the hours he was offered to work at his new job were going to open his schedule more for focusing on academics.

“My work hours are going to be in the morning and all my classes are in the afternoon, so I’m not going to have to worry about working until midnight, coming home and then having to stay up longer doing more work,” Boland said. “I get to work, come home, open my laptop and take my time.”

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