Monday, September 25, 2023

Balancing the life of an essential worker and college student

March 1, 2021
Feb. 21- East Lansing- Mitchell Page standing outside of the Target he works at on Grand River.
Feb. 21- East Lansing- Mitchell Page standing outside of the Target he works at on Grand River. —
Photo by Jillian Felton | The State News

Casi Hudak does not get much sleep anymore. 

After clocking in 12-hour shifts as a certified nursing assistant in the stroke unit at McLaren hospital, she usually gets a couple of hours of sleep before she has to turn around and fulfill her duties as a student.

“I mean, we do our best,” said Hudak. “But it's definitely tricky to work 12-hour shifts and do school and keep up on homework and try to get enough sleep and stuff.”

The human biology senior is one of many MSU students that have had to balance a daunting workload due to the COVID-19 pandemic and their responsibilities for school as a college student. 

For many, the past year has been a blur of zoom meetings and email chains for work and school while staying home from class and work due to the pandemic.

However, there are still a number of students that had to continue to work in-person and navigate the dangerous waters of human interaction during a deadly pandemic that has claimed the lives of over 500,000 Americans this year. 


“Initially, when the pandemic hit in March, I definitely was more scared, I guess, of being at work,” said kinesiology junior Madeline Reilly, who works as a certified registered nursing assistant at a hospital in her hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. “I came home when classes went virtual, and then pretty much started working as soon as I could, and we had a lot of patients come up with COVID.”

Students work in all aspects of the market as essential workers, including healthcare, retail and hospitality services, and on-campus to help keep MSU’s campus and their community functioning and protected from the virus. 

For many of the students, working in-person has been an escape from the stress and confusion of virtual classes, and are happy to be able to leave their house at all. 

“I found last semester, especially, it just was really difficult to concentrate on online classes and keep up with that sort of work,” said comparative cultures and politics senior Mitchell Page, who works at the Target on Grand River Avenue. “And in a lot of ways, working in person, though it is stressful sometimes, is kind of a nice reprieve to be able to go out and be relatively social, all things considered.”

Students working on-campus echoed that sentiment, saying that MSU has done a good job of not overworking them and allowing them time to focus on school and work respectively. 

“It makes their life easier because it means if you plan your schedule, you can probably do classes the days that you're not working, and then the days that you're working, you don't have any schoolwork to do,” said finance senior Pius Mithika, who works as a student supervisor at the service center in Case Hall. “So online classes actually have made it easier for me.”

The pandemic has taken a toll on student workers’ mental health, even if working in-person has eased the stress of virtual learning for some.

“It's been challenging at times,” said Page. “You know, I'm naturally a pretty social person. I love interacting with people and I find myself now hesitant to get close physically to people. I make judgments about people when they come into the store, and whether or not I should interact with them because I'm seeing if whether or not they look like someone who's flouting the guidelines and I should avoid them.”

Reilly said that she has seen this affect everyone that is an essential worker, not just her.

“I definitely think it wears and tears on the health care workers more than people notice and see,” said Reilly. “It gets exhausting having to take all the precautions, of course, we're so willing to do it, but all the precautions for all the PUI's, and then the like legitimate positive tests, it just gets exhausting. And I've definitely seen that health care system I work in exhausted by the pandemic.”

Packaging senior Carsen Rawles, who works in the service center in Holmes Hall, said he remains hopeful that everyone will continue to be diligent with health and safety protocols, especially on-campus.

“I think that's really all you have to do is remain hopeful in the situation,” said Rawles. “And I know it's difficult to do when there's no really set timescale or no really end in sight as of right now, but I think you just have to remain hopeful and that there will be more vaccines and numbers will continue to go down.”

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Mithika said that he feels protected from the virus and said that Michigan State has ensured that they are safe while working. 

“When it comes to preparation and protection for the employees, MSU has really tried their best,” said Mithika. “I feel like MSU is doing more than what people out there, you know, our employees and students, out there are doing because when they come, for instance, with the desk, there's no contact between me and the person that I'm serving.”

Students have still had run-ins with COVID even when taking all of the necessary precautions to stay as safe as possible.

“In August, or something like that, I got COVID from a few guys in the residential halls I was living in,” said Mithika. “And, well, it was really challenging because you have to stay alone for 14 days, for 10 to 14 days. And I mean, nobody really knew what to expect, because you have news saying how people are developing complications, even after recovery and so many other things. But for me, I think I went through it pretty smoothly, I had symptoms, or pretty much the basic symptoms like coughing, sneezing, fever and I went through it for 10 days.”

Reilly also contracted the virus while visiting campus in August after avoiding contracting it while working at the hospital all summer.

“I followed all the guidelines. I'm on the swim team so I have to be safe. We were in pods, and somehow I ended up contracting it,” Reilly said. “I couldn't believe it, working in the hospital for like five months, I guess, from March to August, and I didn't end up contracting it, and then I go back to school and I get it.”

Reilly said contracting COVID made it difficult for her to focus on school while experiencing the symptoms of the virus, including brain fog.

“I never lost my taste or smell and never ran a fever as far as I was concerned, but one of the worst symptoms I experienced was brain fog,” said Reilly. “Like they say, when you get COVID, you're just kind of disoriented while you have it, and I definitely was. I would wake up in my place in East Lansing and just be confused and not really know where I was. It was really hard to focus on schoolwork that week, and I like to study a lot.”

Reilly and Hudak said it is frustrating to see other students that are not essential workers continue to ignore health and safety protocols, especially as healthcare workers. 

“If you're not working in the healthcare field, you don't get to see firsthand the people that are struggling with their health, or even the older patients that are confused and they don't understand why they're in a room by themselves,” Hudak said. “...I know a lot of people think that COVID is not as serious as it is.”

Page said it is discouraging to see his fellow Michigan State students come into Target each weekend getting party supplies while he is at work.

“Specific to East Lansing, I'd say it's been kind of discouraging to see my peers come in on the weekends clearly getting ready to go out to parties and stuff,” said Page. “And, you know, we're working in a grocery store to make sure people have everything they need and some people are still flouting the guidelines because they just want to party, which I understand, but also it's like, come on, we all have to sacrifice. So in that regard, it is a little discouraging, especially when it's people our age.”

Mithika echoed Page’s thoughts, saying that he is confused by the people that still ignore guidelines despite the ravaging effect that COVID-19 has had on society.

“As someone who has had COVID before, I would say, it's not a good situation to be in,” said Mithika. “And not just for us, because I got well, but that doesn't mean the next person next to me that gets exposed will get through COVID as well as I did. So, yeah, COVID is real. I mean, we just have to make sure we are not selfish, we can try and see, even if you are healthy and we feel like even if you get COVID you can get through it, it might not be the same case for the next person. So let's have everyone play their role. The more we work together, the easier it is to get back to normal.”


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