How the pandemic has changed the way we work

By Barbara Sheehan
Posted 11/25/20

While the continued impact of Covid-19 has made headlines – both for its unchecked spread and the businesses forced to close in its wake – many are finding the now nine-month-old pandemic …

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How the pandemic has changed the way we work


While the continued impact of Covid-19 has made headlines – both for its unchecked spread and the businesses forced to close in its wake – many are finding the now nine-month-old pandemic changing their lives in ways that aren’t as significant as contracting the disease or losing their business but are substantial just the same.

These are the stories of how Covid-19 has changed the working lives of people in our community.

Mount Airy resident Gene Schultz, 27, is a bartender and server at Campbell’s Place on Germantown Avenue.

Before the pandemic, he took SEPTA or an Uber to work. But since the pandemic, he stays safe.

“I walk to work now and have gotten used to it,” he said.

He plans to continue walking even when the weather is colder.

During the time when limited indoor dining was allowed, “people would come in and they want to have just a drink.” Now, he said, “They have to order food. They can’t come in and just get a beer.”

However, Campbell’s does sell to-go six-packs and also to-go cocktails.

Schultz faces a predicament that wasn’t as much of a problem before COVID. “When customers come in wearing the masks —It's hard to tell their age,” he said. “I might have to ask a 50-year-old person for ID.”

By the order of the Philadelphia Department of Health, Campbell’s is now limited to takeout and outdoor dining. He is hoping for a mild winter to encourage people to eat outdoors. But if not, heat lamps will add comfort.

Schultz hopes that after the pandemic, the city will still allow tables on the street. He likes the atmosphere outside and added

“It’s good for business,” he said.

What does he miss most about pre-pandemic days?

 “I miss having the freedom to just get up and go anywhere,” he said. “Maybe just go down to Penn’s Landing and walk around.”

He also misses hanging out with his parents.

“They are older so I have to distance myself from them,” he said.

Catherine Browne, 45, of Chestnut Hill, teaches special education at a West Philadelphia high school. Her home is a place of work and school for her, her husband and two daughters.

Like Schultz, Browne misses the close connection she has with her parents and siblings, which is risky now. She also misses the collegiality of being at work.

“We gave each other support, hugs-- with the students we would give high-fives,” she explained. “We can’t do that now.”

She has been teaching remotely since March.

“Before COVID, I woke up and went to work every morning,” Browne said. “I had the students in the classroom with me and we did a lot of hands-on activities.”

Her students need close interaction.

“For some, it was hand-over-hand instruction,” Browne explained.

After Covid forced schools to close, Browne said her school was forced to change everything.

First, the teachers had to learn the technology; then, they had to teach the students to use it.

Her students’ disabilities make online learning challenging.

“A lot of them have ADHD, and can’t focus on a screen for that long,” she said.

Some need extra services like speech therapy or occupational therapy. Some students have to care for their younger siblings, who are also schooling at home.

While remote learning has definitely brought challenges, Browne sees improvements that will carry through to her work post-Covid. She can now use technology, such as Google forms, that will make her job easier.

Her students have seen a benefit, too.

“Now there will be a Chromebook for every student—that didn’t exist before,” she said, “The students could use the computer but they didn’t need to. Now we know that this is a valuable skill for them.”

Chestnut Hill resident Paul Cillo, 26, who has served as the school minister for Our Mother of Consolation (OMC) Parish School for the last two years, added another role during the COVID pandemic. He is now also the Pastoral Associate for Youth and Young Adult Minister, working with students between 8th and 12th grade who attend many different schools.

To start the project in July was a challenge, Cillo said, “but also a blessing.”

The challenge was to bring together teens to form a community where there was none before. But the advantage the pandemic had was that traditionally busy high school kids suddenly had more time to reflect and engage.

“Because of the pandemic, their schedules opened up,” he said. There was a lot of energy and interest among the teens, who are “just looking for an opportunity to get together.”

The intended purpose of the youth group is to build a sense of community, initiate service activities, and provide opportunities for faith sharing. But for the time being, Cillo said, “we realized we needed to focus on building community and supporting mental health.”

Cillo recruits parent volunteers to help with the outdoor events, such as a hike in the Wissahickon or an outdoor film screening. Safety is emphasized, with parents assisting to take temperatures, maintain social distance and keep track of attendees for contact tracing.

Cillo also has a variety of duties as the school minister, including teaching religion to each class in the school. Since OMC has been in a hybrid model since school began in September, Cillo said he has never been busier.

“It is more work because we have a population at home and in school,” he said. “I feel like I am doing everything twice.”

A positive aspect of this experience has been that both school and parish staff have become comfortable with the use of technology such as live-streaming or Zoom sessions.

“We learned that we can use technology to preserve the things that we are doing, such as liturgy, graduation, or the May procession,” Cillo said.

Still, he hopes that after the pandemic the students will be also able to put away technology, “to simply be together and share our faith together person-to-person.”

What does Cillo miss about the pre-pandemic times?

“I miss the opportunity to do hands-on service with people without being afraid,” he said.

A marathon runner, he also misses being able to compete in a race.

“For me, the enjoyment of it is in the crowd of people running with you or cheering you on,” he said.