Meet some Windsor-Essex youth on the front lines of the pandemic

·4 min read
Essential services and workplaces have stayed open throughout the pandemic, with youth among those front-line workers. (Jaison Empson/CBC - image credit)
Essential services and workplaces have stayed open throughout the pandemic, with youth among those front-line workers. (Jaison Empson/CBC - image credit)

The part-time job is a rite of passage for youth, but those working their first jobs amid the pandemic have had a vastly different experience from other generations.

Over the last year, teenagers working the front lines in customer service have had to manage COVID-19 protocols, handle stressed out customers and deal with concerns about catching COVID-19 themselves.

They're also waiting longer than other groups to get their vaccines.

Essential workers, including in retail and food-service settings, are eligible to get COVID-19 shots as of this week, but the rollout is limited to ages 18 and up. The Ontario government has announced that youth 12 and up will become eligible in a few weeks.

To get a sense of how youth working essential jobs have fared throughout the pandemic, CBC Radio's Windsor Morning invited a panel of three teenagers to talk about their experiences.

LISTEN: Youth workers join CBC Radio's Windsor Morning:

Grace Trueman is a cashier at a Windsor grocery store. Recently, she said she's seen the best and worst sides of customers.

Grace Trueman, 18, a Grade 12 student at Maranatha Christian Academy in Windsor, works part time as a cashier.
Grace Trueman, 18, a Grade 12 student at Maranatha Christian Academy in Windsor, works part time as a cashier.(Submitted by Grace Trueman)

"You have those customers who are just super patient, and they know that some things are in short stock and everyone's going through a hard time and they're super gracious about it," she said.

"But then you also have the customers who are obviously stressed about the pandemic and are taking that out on cashiers and frontline workers who are just doing their best."

Grade 12 student Valessa Antunes, who works at a coffee shop in Leamington, also sees a wide range of behaviours from the public. She recalled one customer who pulled up to the drive-thru and yelled at her because they were out of a specific doughnut.

Valessa Antunes, 17, a Grade 12 student a Cardinal Carter Catholic High School in Leamington, works at a coffee shop.
Valessa Antunes, 17, a Grade 12 student a Cardinal Carter Catholic High School in Leamington, works at a coffee shop. (Submitted by Valessa Antunes)

Levi Morand, a Grade 11 student in Windsor, has two jobs — one stocking shelves at a supermarket and another scooping ice cream.

Levi Morand, 17, in Grade 11 at Riverside Secondary School in Windsor, is also working two jobs.
Levi Morand, 17, in Grade 11 at Riverside Secondary School in Windsor, is also working two jobs.(Submitted by Levi Morand)

He recalled being at the grocery store for a shift during one of the early days of the pandemic, when people were in a mad rush to buy essentials, such as toilet paper and water.

"Absolute chaos," he said.

In her job, Antunes said she sometimes worries about the possibility of exposure to the virus, but it's a matter of being careful.

"I don't want to put my family at risk."

Trueman expressed confidence in all the precautions in place at her workplace. She said that as a teenager, it can be uncomfortable having to tell adults to follow the COVID-19 rules like proper masking.

Youth vaccine rollout

On Thursday, the provincial government announced vaccinations for those 12 and up would start the week of May 31 using the Pfizer-BioNtech shot.

Given the tight supply available, the province has set up a three-phase vaccination rollout strategy outlining who's eligible for vaccination based on factors such as age, health and occupational risk.

The trio expressed understanding why youth had not previously been eligible for vaccines.

Still, for Morand, there's a bit of frustration too.

All of us front-line workers, we've worked a large majority of the pandemic without the vaccine, and really what it comes down to is, everyone has their turn. - Valessa Antunes, Grade 12 student and front-line worker

"The elderly come in to shop, and if I have it, I don't want to be risking giving it to them."

Antunes, 17, at one point tried to get a vaccine, but was turned away due to her age.

As for Trueman, she has turned 18 and has an upcoming appointment. She hopes front-line workers under 18 are eligible as soon as possible, but said everyone will get a chance.

"The way I kind of see it is, all of us front-line workers, we've worked a large majority of the pandemic without the vaccine, and really what it comes down to is, everyone has their turn. Everyone's going to get it eventually but we just have to go down the ranks and wait for it."

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