For 18-year-old Luz Angelica Gomez, the reality of the global pandemic hit soon after the statewide shutdown. That’s when she lost her job at the Peppermill Reno.
“We didn’t even get a notice,” Gomez said. “I was on my weekend off, and they were like, ‘Hey, we’re shut down until further notice, don’t come in tomorrow.”
She had no time to process all the new changes. Even though she has learned how to manage her emotions in the past, she said her sudden job loss and uncertainty about the future was stressful. At the same time, she felt that she hadn’t been prioritizing her mental health.
Gomez was now one of the 18.9 percent of unemployed Latinos in the United States this April. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this percentage was the highest rate of unemployment compared to all other racial or ethnic groups.
This statistic could be explained by the amount of Latinos in the leisure and hospitality workforce. Since they make up 24 percent of this industry, they were especially affected when the leisure and hospitality sector experienced the largest amount of job losses after the shutdowns in March. On top of that, even those who could keep their job were at higher risk of contracting the virus since businesses in this industry (like restaurants or retail) typically require close contact with the public.
Because Gomez was a former hospitality worker, she found it extremely difficult to find similar jobs during the shutdown. She said that her job options were already limited due to having issues with her back, but it became even more difficult to find work. She got a job at a warehouse, but she had to quit after a couple months because it caused her back problems to worsen.
She wasn’t able to receive unemployment benefits either. She filed for unemployment after the Peppermill Reno closed, but she said she was denied because of issues related to the length of her employment. Since she was declared a dependent on her mother’s 2019 tax returns, she also didn’t qualify to receive the stimulus check.
All of these circumstances made it especially difficult for Gomez and her boyfriend. When the shutdowns happened, they were living with her boyfriend’s dad and planning on moving out on their own together. Now, with limited income, they had to focus on paying rent and taking care of themselves and their pets.
Though, with more businesses opening during phase two, Gomez expressed some optimism for the future. Both she and her boyfriend have been interviewing for many different jobs recently, and hope to rejoin the workforce soon.
Employed, but still stressed
The pandemic hasn’t only been stressful due to unemployment issues. Those who have continued to work have had to deal with the fact that they are at higher risk for infection. Rosey Lopez, an assistant district manager and general manager for Wendy’s, hasn’t missed a day of work since the shutdown began. Since Wendy’s was considered an essential business, she has been able to continue working her typical 16 to 18 hour shifts.
Even before the pandemic, her positions came with a lot of responsibilities. As an assistant district manager, she oversees multiple Wendy’s locations in the area. As the general manager of one of these locations, she is responsible for leading 19 employees. She said that keeping up with all the COVID-19 updates and enforcing all of the new changes in procedure have been a challenge.
“It’s been a stressful pandemic,” she said. “The employees complain and say ‘Hey, you’re not giving me any hours,’ and then another one’s complaining because [they’re worried about getting sick]…As an assistant district manager and general manager, I have to try and keep it as [calm] as possible.”
She has also had to deal with COVID-19 scares throughout the pandemic. Just this week, one of her employees indicated that a family member had tested positive for the coronavirus. Lopez then had to inform the entire staff of this, which has left everyone on edge.
“All of us have been working with [that employee], so at this point, it’s kind of [scary],” Lopez said. “She says she has a sister that’s got corona, so now what’s going to happen?”
Situations like this have made Lopez especially diligent about preventing the spread of COVID-19 at home and at work. She makes sure to clean her house and car thoroughly multiple times during the week so that she doesn’t take the infection home to her 2-year-old daughter. At work, there are frequent, mandatory cleaning measures in place. As someone in a leadership position, she said she felt an increased responsibility for keeping others safe.
“Whatever we touch, it’s going to be touched by you,” Lopez said. “Whatever happens to you, it can possibly be from us.”
Help during a crisis
With the pandemic bringing on a lot of stress for so many people, local health facilities like the Community Health Alliance (CHA) can be of huge help for the community, especially Spanish-speakers. Since 80 percent of its staff is bilingual, it can provide many medical, dental and behavioral health services in Spanish and English.
These services are offered at affordable rates as well–even for those who may be uninsured or under-insured. CHA uses a sliding fee scale, so the price someone pays is based on their income and family size. In addition, they have discount programs and flexible payment plans available. Those interested can fill out an eligibility application to see what they qualify for.
Patrick Rogers, Director of Behavioral Health Services at CHA, explained that despite having to provide some health services remotely, the transition to telehealth has been smooth for the most part. In fact, he said that since transportation was an obstacle was an issue for some patients, remote appointments were a welcome addition to CHA.
But, even though they were maintaining their patient numbers, they saw a shift in what was affecting their clients.
“People that hadn’t ordinarily experienced a lot of stress in their life before are starting to experience it,” Rogers said. “And it’s affecting their health.”
He emphasized the importance of maintaining one’s mental health, especially right now. He said that since stress contributes to all medical conditions, it’s important to manage stress by having a good diet, exercising and meditating. He also suggested mindfulness and progressive muscle relaxation, two techniques CHA teaches to patients.
Rogers said that even with social distancing measures, it’s important that the public know their devotion to quality healthcare hasn’t changed.
“Even though our community has closed down, and with all the uncertainty of what’s happening, [patients] can still get good quality healthcare from providers that are compassionate and empathetic and dedicated to continuing to treat residents of our community,” he said.