Behind the Scenes
Vanessa Joy Domingo | Photos courtesy of the ownersWork life has radically changed for the United States workforce once the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world. We recognize the importance of the front-line workers such as nurses, firefighters, and the police. But behind the scenes are many essential workers who make sure the places we need to go to are safe for all of us.
Maria Consolacion Domingo has just reached her 20 years of working for the Department of Transportation as an Airport Custodian for Kahului Airport. She is among a team of 65 custodian employees that sanitize areas around the clock to keep people safe. They are divided into three shifts, from the early hours of the morning and ending half an hour after midnight, working to eliminate the virus’ presence. They follow deep cleaning instructions daily and wear PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) such as masks and gloves to protect themselves. Despite hotels closing, they have been working nonstop, working steady schedules. COVID-19 has strained their overall work routine. Every night, she goes to bed early so she is well-rested for the following day’s work. “It’s hard. I worry a lot because we don’t know the well-being of the people coming to the airport. I worry about my family. I wash my hands and face more often than ever before.”
Luke Cadiz also faces the same fears as another Airport Custodian at OGG. He has been there for about two years and works an early shift. “I used to be able to plan my day and make sure that the urgent work gets done first. And then suddenly, COVID-19 changed everything.” To fight the presence of the virus, they ensure all bathrooms, chairs, railings and tables are cleaned and sanitized. The airport has even adopted practices to scrub floors and clean their carpets daily. Their busy routine keeps them bustling through the airport grounds, past empty restaurants and closed stores. When asked for advice to share, he says “Don’t forget to pray and feel reassured that you’re not alone. Know it is ok to ask for help. Stay calm and be safe at all times by following safety guidelines at work.”
John Sison’s 16-year career in retail management prepared him to receive good days and bad days in stride. He has dealt with overwhelming pressure preparing for crazy Black Fridays and has adjusted to the different shopping seasons. His experience helped him adapt to the new protocols of social distancing and sanitation in response to the pandemic. Aside from safety protocols and PPE, Walmart Kahului incorporated other methods to ensure the community’s safety. “There are a lot of changes we’ve had to make. We modified our store hours and how many people we let into the store.” He recognizes many of the Maui community flocked to stores to stock up on necessities. Walmart had to enforce limits on quantities of certain products to ensure everyone in the community had the opportunity and access to purchase them. At times he is concerned about the number of customers entering and exiting the store. “We have a lot of customers going in and out and we don’t know if they are infected with COVID.” Even with the added stress, he still maintains a positive attitude. Aside from recommending the community should continue practicing safety protocols, he adds, “Treat everyone with Aloha.”
James Costales Fells carries the same aloha to work every day as a PSE Clerk for the United States Postal Service. With the threat of being exposed to the virus in stores, there’s an increase in online ordering. “We have had a lot more boxes and parcels come through the mail systems. People are ordering more online.” A common response for many different mail carrier companies was to eliminate signature requirements and encourage credit card payments or email receipts to protect both employees and their customers. Fells sees how the pandemic changes how people interact with one another but does not feel fearful. “The one thing I know is to be informed and educate ourselves. Watch the news and adhere to guidelines set by our leaders.” His advice is for everyone to “show more and compassion for one another. We can all be a tool to help this pandemic come to a halt.”
Work has also increased for Brandon Sison as a plumbing and repair contractor consultant for Allen’s Plumbing. “We’ve been busier than ever. We’ve seen roughly a 30 percent increase these past three months compared to the same time last year.” Their business has increased for two reasons: 1) The increased number of people staying at home during quarantine and 2) hotels and condominiums taking advantage of the tourism shut down to complete drain repairs and renovations that they have been putting off. Their normal workday responding to house calls consists of entering four to six residences daily. It has been worrisome and stressful for employees to enter multiple homes and not know whether families have been infected with COVID. “We advise our techs to watch for signs of sickness when entering the customer’s home. Proper PPE is always used and we keep our work areas cleaned and sanitized when we complete each job.” A common issue they have observed are clogged drains from wipes being flushed—which he advises homes to not do.
Brandon is also a food truck owner—Hafa Adai Nengkanu which he opened with his wife and friends last year in August. Despite the steady business throughout the quarantine, they chose to shut down after noticing customers weren’t maintaining social distancing or leaving the food truck area. Since re-opening in May, they’ve been busy as if things were back to normal while following County guidelines. “The proper protocol for safety and social distancing has been a great help to prevent the spread.”
Noel Salvador has been following protocols and guidelines along with his fellow park caretakers of the Parks and Recreation Department of the County. He has been with the Department since 2014, helping keep the parks maintained for the community. Since the pandemic, they’ve been required to wear masks and gloves which can be uncomfortable under the hot Maui sun. But the hardest part of his day is making his way home. “Thankfully, I’m healthy and not high risk. But I always worry when I go home because I think of my family. I worry that they might sick—and how scary would that be.” Although he wants people to be able to breathe fresh air and enjoy the beaches and parks, he does advise people should avoid heavy areas to prevent exposure to the virus. And most importantly, he adds, “Stay home when you are sick. No matter what.”
Tiare-Lani Viluan works at Hale Makua in Kahului, where keeping the virus out is top priority for their patients and residents. She has been working there for over a year as their Secretary, managing health information. “Our staff works very hard to keep everything as sanitary as possible to keep our kƉpuna safe. We have stopped visitors from coming into our facility.” To keep residents in contact with family and loved ones, they offer other alternatives such as FaceTime and holding drive-by parades. “Our activities staff also works strategically to keep our kƉpuna in high spirits by coordinating weekly events.” Viluan feels confident about the health and wellness of her family. “With a positive mindset and proper safety precautions, there is really no need for me to feed into the emotion of worry. My family and I strictly follow sanitary precautions and take responsibility to keep us safe.” Her advice focuses on self-care to get through this difficult time. “With the uncertainty of this time, the power of our mind is very important. It is very important to take mental breaks and provide ourselves with extra self-care. I feel like it is necessary to take time for ourselves as essential workers to decompress often, breathe in a safe area and ground ourselves.”
Desiree Dadiz, is a Certified Dental Assistant and has been employed for eleven years at her current employer. “My workplace was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We were one of the many dental practices that fully closed and didn’t see patients for three months.” The COVID-19 pandemic has caused Dadiz to worry about her safety. “I constantly worry for the safety of my family being that I work in an environment around dental aerosols,” she said. “I’m afraid that I might catch the virus and bring it back home to my family. My office and I are following the protocols with making sure we have adequate PPE.” All workplaces where there is a potential exposure has obviously caused stress to employees. “My advice to others currently dealing with stress and pressure is to constantly wash your hands as often as you can,” said Dadiz. “Another advice I want to give is to make sure you have the right PPE’s on while working with patients.”
Yvonne Visitacion Jenkins, a Certified Nurse Assistant at the Pediatric/ Telemetry Unit for Maui Health System used her inner strength to get through what everyone would feel is their worse nightmare. “When COVID first hit, I was extremely worried because we were not allowed to wear a mask to protect ourselves at work. This decision resulted in me testing positive.” Jenkins has daughters aged 7 and 3 and lives with her mother who was battling cancer at the time. “I was scared about infecting them. I stayed in my room isolating myself. My mother took care of my kids and with the help of friends, family, and the Hawaii Department of Health—they delivered the essentials and games to keep my kids busy.” Since her return, Jenkins expresses work conditions have been better and employees are able to wear hospital approved masks. There is still room for improvement. She hopes to see items they need are well-stocked. “At one point, we had no disposable gowns available. So, we had to use reusable gowns that the hospital washed.” At work, she found inspiration in helping others facing the same dilemmas as hers. “We ran out of hair caps to protect ourselves when we were considered a COVID unit. So, I started sewing them. Our ears were getting sore from wearing masks we had to wear, so I also made headbands with buttons. People at work started asking me for masks since they wanted to match them with their caps and headbands. Sewing has always been a hobby of mine. It’s been therapeutic for me under all this stress.” Aside from finding a hobby to deal with the stress, she’d like to share with the community to have an awareness that wearing a mask not only protects the wearer but also the people around them. She also encourages everyone to shop wisely—“Don’t hoard products because I can guarantee there is someone who really needs it.”
Being a behind-the-scenes essential worker can be a stressful experience. We face times of uncertainty and anxiety with how COVID-19 is able to change the way people interact and conduct business. Although we’ve found hobbies, home improvement projects, and ube pandesal recipes to keep us busy, I’m hoping we can go back to a time where it’s safe for grandparents to hug their grandchildren and for friends and family to greet each other with hugs.
Vanessa Joy Domingo is a graduate of Maui High School and is employed with the County of Maui—Department of Management, IT Services and Coldwell Banker as a Realtor. During her free time, she enjoys cooking and baking and eating. She has not yet tried to make ube pandesal. She does however, make an exquisite dalgona coffee.