New York, NY – Eddie Quezada, an executive board member at Local 338, has experienced many changes over his 32-year career in the supermarket industry — but he never saw anything like the hysteria that took place at the start of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s been a modernization of the industry in the way technology has evolved, but at the end of the day, it’s people buying food to take home,” Quezada says. However, when the president decided to take the virus seriously “one day and had a news conference at 9 p.m. on a Wednesday, the next day everything kicked into high gear and the panic shopping started.”
Trump’s announcement about the virus in March led to 10 days of business doubling its sales, according to Quezada, a Stop & Shop produce department manager in Suffolk County.
“It caught us a little bit off guard,” says Quezada, a father of two. “Under the pandemic and the fear, it hit us pretty hard.”
Quezada’s daily routine used to be placid — watching his daughter go off to middle school, getting a cup of coffee, and driving to work with his 22-year-old son and employee in tow. But at the end of March, Quezada’s health suddenly went downhill.
“I got sick from COVID-19 at work to the point it shut me down for two weeks,” Quezada says. “Physically I was not in good shape. I lost 25-pounds in those two weeks. I had a fever for eight days. I couldn’t eat!”
Although outdoor dining has brought some relief to the workers at his store and business has slightly normalized, as New York gets closer to a Phase 3 reopening that is set for July 6, Quezada has become a proponent for hazard pay, especially after his harrowing experience with the coronavirus.
“I feel like even today, there’s a possibility of people going to work and getting sick,” Quezada says. “Until the hazard is lifted to the point we are not wearing masks anymore, that to me will indicate that the hazard is over. But we are still at risk of getting sick, so the hazard pay should continue.”
In March, it took Quezada three days to realize that there was nothing wrong with his crumb cake coffee, which started to taste weird, but that he had begun to exhibit one of the first signs of COVID-19 — a loss of taste.
“At that time, there was no enforcement of masks, no social distancing in stores, no one-way aisles and no plexiglass, so I got sick when the influx of business started,” he says. “I threw out my coffee and kept saying to myself ‘what did 7-Eleven do to my coffee? Did they get a new brand it tastes horrible? So I threw it out.”
On March 31, Quezada left work 90-minutes early after becoming feverish then overwhelmed by chills. The following day he took a nap that ended up being 14-hours long. Then he started to lose his appetite for food.
“I couldn’t even drink water because of my taste buds and couldn’t eat due to nausea. I just wanted to puke food out,” said Quezada. “There were body aches and after that, all the symptoms hit me at once.”
Quezada initially thought he had food poisoning, but after two days of symptoms, it clicked that it might be COVID-19, and he immediately told his kids to quarantine away from him in their rooms.
Quezada didn’t exhibit problems breathing, so he was not permitted to go to a hospital, but his union stepped in and directed him towards an urgent care center to get tested.
On April 8, Quezada tested positive for the virus, but his symptoms had also started to subside.
“With the union’s help I was able to secure a test after I contracted the virus,” he says. “It was at a time when the test was hard to come by.”
Quezada feels fortunate that he didn’t give the virus to his children, but he believes that had Trump responded earlier to the pandemic, he wouldn’t have contracted COVID-19.
“I wish they had started a little sooner with precautions,” he says. “As a COVID-survivor, I would wish they had implemented the masks, the social distancing and the plexiglass earlier.”
Quezada is happy that businesses in New York City are reopening, but he hopes customers stay responsible.
“I want to support my local restaurants,” said Quezada. “It has taken the pressure off of our industry, but we are not out of the woods of us getting sick. We can still get sick with customers being in the store. Everyone, so far, has been wearing a mask — but sometimes ,they haven’t respected the social distancing at our location. They are still adjusting to the six-feet rule.”