On your next trip out of the house, remember the cashier at the grocery store, the tire shop employee, the loader of water gallons at the water station, and other people with similar jobs who are also going out of their way to help us keep a certain sense of normalcy. These are the other kind of front-liners, who go to work every day just so we can live out our new normal amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The world’s health care front-liners certainly deserve all the accolades and thanks that are being heaped on them right now because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the situation has also created this new kind of front-liners who keep the islands’ economy alive and every family’s needs intact.
Behind her cash register, Imelda Estolas of KS Market in Garapan is protected by a plastic cover, the kind that you use to protect books that is attached from the ceiling down to the bubble gum and candy boxes at the counter. On this side of the grocery, she finds comfort and confidence to do her job.
“Knowing how serious and lethal this virus is, I’m afraid of course. …If I had a choice, I’d rather be in home quarantine, too, just like everyone else, but I know that this is the time that I am needed the most,” she said
“People need food and other goods and we provide that. This is what drives me to come here to wear my mask and gloves, turn on the lights, and open the grocery. Nearby groceries have closed since the government asked for reduced business hours and curfew implemented,” she added.
Estolas said it is not about profit or getting her salary every two weeks. “It is basically just my heart for service. I feel proud that we can help the community even in this small way and glad that my boss prioritizes our health as well because we operate on reduced hours. My hope is that the CNMI and the whole world can bounce back soon.”
LJ Supermarket on Middle Road takes safety precautions seriously. Before you enter, Rowell Ubilas will meet you, spray sanitizer on your hands and the soles of your shoes. Once inside, he will ask you to stand 6 feet away to check your body temperature on his laptop computer and you get to come in to shop once he clears you.
“The owner would rather have a few customers inside at a time to ensure social distancing is followed and for the safety of everyone’s health. For my part, I wear double masks and gloves as it helps me feel protected and do my job well,” he said.
“I meet different people at the door every day to check and clear them. I have already sent away people, those who are not wearing socks or shoes because it is beneficial to them, to our store, and the customers inside. We do not think that we should have many customers but how are we going to make it safe for them,” he said.
Mei Xianzhu Reyes fixes a flat tire in 5 minutes at her shop in Dandan. Every day, her shop is filled with customers who needs new tires or a car wash. “Life goes on for us but we do not start work without our masks and gloves. Those are pretty much our uniform,” she said.
“At the end of the day, we go home, take a shower, and throw our clothes in the washer. Our business is one of life’s basics as almost everyone drives a car and they will probably need air or new tires We are open because we have work to do and people need this service,” she added.
One of the unforgettable images after Super Typhoon Yutu hit Saipan was the 2-mile car line of customers waiting to reach the window of Star Water Co. in Garapan. “We did not close then because we prioritized our customers and we certainly cannot close now during this pandemic because people still need us. Whenever there is a crisis, the community can count on us,” said Star Water accounting clerk Michelle Galanza.
“We have a fleet of 10 drivers and two back-ups and the first week we had a COVID-19 case on island, half of them did not report to work. But they immediately returned to work after that to answer the need of our customers to deliver much needed drinking water for their families,” she added.
Working under a strict protocol, Star Water drivers are no longer allowed by management to enter homes to bring the gallons inside the house. Instead, they leave them by the door or gate and they must always wear a face shield, mask, and gloves. “They also have extra water and soap in the truck so they can wash their hands after accepting cash payment from customers and practice social distancing,” Galanza said.
“I want the whole CNMI community to stay strong and may we all work together to spread awareness and not the virus.
“…Aside from us, the front-liners that provide service, I feel like we are all heroes because we are all fighting not to spread and stay away from this virus,” she added.