Many people in Orange County’s workforce have been on the job, day in day out regardless of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Now a year and a half into facing COVID-19, we take a look firsthand at the people who support the community across health care, industry, public safety and food.
A day to reflect on the role of workers in our economy couldn’t be more appropriate this year. Here we honor the Orange County workers who every day have shown up to work despite the pandemic.
And while Orange County workers are struggling to stay safe, other people are still struggling to find work.
Orange County’s preliminary latest unemployment in July was at
6.3% down from the high of 10.7% last August, still double what Orange County saw pre-COVID at 2.8% February 2020.
Here, we honor some of the people who work every day for Orange County.
Racine Taylor, 60, an Environmental Services Caregiver at St. Jude Hospital never imagined she would be suiting up in protective gear to clean the rooms of Covid patients daily, even more, be a companion to those in their moments of isolation. “I’m happy I was able to be here when the patients’ families couldn’t be,” said Taylor as she suited up in protective gear.
Taylor, who strips all the beds, sanitizes all surfaces and throws trash away that has been in the presence of infected Covid patients, cleans about 30 rooms a day. However, that wasn’t the most tasking part of the job. “The hardest thing was when patients would tell me they couldn’t breathe,” said Taylor.
Naturally, Taylor was fearful at the beginning of the pandemic. She feared bringing the virus back home to her family, but took as many precautions as possible.
Ironically, her family contracted the virus elsewhere and she never got infected.
“I have been working here for 20 years. I love my job,” say Taylor.
Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC
It has only been a year since Javier Ramirez, 43, of Anaheim has been employed with a Plexi Fab a company based out of Fullerton. Ramirez, who has never worked with Plexiglass before, was there for the surge in orders. “We have been busy since I started, everyone wanted shields to protect their businesses and some even for personal use.”
Ramirez, who works to support his family, recalls how frightening it was to work during the beginning of the pandemic and during the surges,“We were scared like any other person, but I just took precaution.”
Despite quarantine mandates and the closing of businesses Ramirez was considered an essential employee. Something he was grateful for, “I felt good and bad because a lot of people were not able to work. We don’t have all the same luck to keep working during Covid,”said Ramirez in Spanish.
Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC
Sergeant Jacob Gallacher, who is in charge of internal affairs and data release for the Anaheim Police Department, saw a year like no other. Gallacher, who is in charge of investigating police misconduct and releasing body cam footage when major incidents occur, was also put on the police lines during the George Floyd protests last summer. “The protests were challenging times. What happened in Minnesota was tragic, it was a horrible event that occurred. It rippled across the United States, so it was definitely challenging. I will be 100 percent honest, when we [police officers] are standing on a line and taking rocks and bottles and allowing people to exercise their constitutional right to protest, that’s definitely challenging.” Police officers, who have a role that requires social interaction, put officers to the test during the ongoing pandemic. “Covid presented a lot of operational challenges. It was a new way of adapting. Masks are great for Covid but when it comes to robbery, the suspect is wearing a mask, it is difficult to identify. It brought some challenges.” Even more, Gallacher took preventative measures when he would arrive home—leaving his uniform in the garage. “When everyone else was social distancing and staying away we [police officers] needed to continue to respond to the needs of the community, go out and render aid and go investigate crime, within close contact” says Gallacher, “a lot of people passed away and got very sick due to covid and I think that ran through the minds of everybody in law enforcement, because we wanted to be able to go home and see our families.” Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC
Antonio Napita, a mechanic at Nepita Auto Service -his family-owned auto shop for 30 years located in Santa Ana- said he was fortunate to not have any significant drawback to his business ever since the start of the pandemic.
“We have no other option,” said Napita. “We have worked full-time the entire time without any drop yet.”
Napita views his job as presenting opportunities for his family and it gives him satisfaction to provide those opportunities for them. While business has been good, he did mention that some of his older clients have died during the pandemic.
Credit: OMAR SANCHEZ, Voice of OC
Udy Ikpa, manager of Tribute Coffee House located in Garden Grove, said that his business has been significantly impacted by the pandemic, especially when his overall business earnings reduced by over 50% when the lockdown first occurred last year.
He said his coffee shop has been able to keep it’s doors open through promoting on social media and through online orders via delivery apps such as UberEats and Postmates. However, commission fees charged to restaurants -which can reach as high as 30% depending on the delivery app- have dripped into their potential earnings.
“For a small family-owned business, it’s hard,” said Ikpa. “I’m building something for my family that can sustain them through education, (provide) housing, and whatever else they want to do.”
Credit: OMAR SANCHEZ, Voice of OC
Ilda Trujillo, cook, server and cashier at El Pollo Ranchero restaurant in Santa Ana for 23 years, was on unemployment for about four months before returning back to work after the first lockdown last year.
She said the most difficult aspect of working at the restaurant during the pandemic was adjusting to a new system of health & safety protocols to prevent the spread of the virus. Business was slow and money was tight when the restaurant first reopened but it’s improved slowly ever since.
“Before the pandemic, I think we didn’t value what we had,” Trujillo said. “We didn’t value our jobs or the people around us. I wasn’t affected by any loss in my family, but I know a lot of people out there have.”
Credit: OMAR SANCHEZ, Voice of OC Related