The Next Normal: BYU’s essential workers share experiences, permanent changes they expect

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BYU student Katherine Ferrier takes a selfie at her job as a CNA. Ferrier is a pre-nursing major who is currently living and working in California and now wears a plastic face shield at work in addition to her regular mask. Ferrier says she feels supported but wishes people would take the virus more seriously. (Katherine Ferrier)

Editor’s note: This story is a part of a series that explores the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and how things have changed on and off campus.

The BYU campus is almost completely shut down, but a few essential services are still up and running as the university’s essential employees navigate changes. Students working at home for the summer in essential roles may also be doing their jobs a little differently — possibly in a permanent way.

BYU library communications manager Roger Layton said the Harold B. Lee library has been taking special precautions to ensure the safety of their essential employees, and a few of these changes might end up sticking around permanently.

One of these changes is increasing the number of individual study rooms. Layton said they’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm for the individual rooms, and he’s interested to see if there will be a big push for the individual rooms to continue after the pandemic.

Other parts of campus have not had to make as many changes. Bradley LeBaron, director of the BYU Student Health Center, said the facility has been lucky to keep functioning mostly the same.

“It’s been a real pleasure to stay open and serve the students and the staff of the university. That’s why we exist and it’s our pleasure to do so. I think I have a great staff of professionals that were considerate of one another and considerate of those that had higher risk,” LeBaron said.

The health center has been able to remain open without having to furlough any employees, and has even taken in some extra workers from the Provo MTC health clinic.

The Oak Hills Pharmacy, located inside the health center, has also been able to remain open during this time, though manager Jeremy Hawkes said many students have been calling to ask if the pharmacy is still open.

Hawkes said he suspects that some of the simple changes that the pharmacy has made to protect workers and customers, like the plexiglass barriers at the pickup windows, will probably stick around when the pandemic is over.

“I kind of wish that things would go back to normal, but I don’t see how they possibly can,” Hawkes said.

BYU student Katherine Ferrier takes a selfie at her job as a CNA. Ferrier is a pre-nursing major who is currently living and working in California. Ferrier says she feels supported, but wishes people would take the virus more seriously. (Katherine Ferrier)

Katherine Ferrier, a sophomore at BYU who’s currently working as a certified nursing assistant in California, said not much has changed about her job besides there being an even stronger emphasis on cleanliness than there was before. She also said she’s been asked to re-use her personal protection equipment instead of throwing it away after each use because PPE is scarce right now.

Like many in the medical field, she is wearing a face shield these days in addition to her regular mask. It’s possible this extra precaution will become permanent for some medical workers, depending on their role.

Ferrier said she’s received a lot of support from people on social media with many commenting and thanking her for her service. She said she’s felt safe and appreciated at her job.

“This pandemic is a community effort and everyone is considered an essential worker one way or another as we all contribute to society somehow in different ways. I am no more valuable to society than someone else because we are all needed,” Ferrier said.

According to Ferrier, the best thing people can do to support essential workers right now is to continue social distancing and to take safety seriously. She mentioned a family friend of hers who lost a family member to the disease recently and said she wishes society in general would be more careful.

“These are people’s lives. This is someone’s dad, this is someone’s mom, brother, sister, cousin, that are at stake. It’s not just a story. It’s everywhere. And I think people need to recognize that this is serious. There are people’s lives at hand.”

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