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Local Grocery Store Manager Says Essential Workers Are Sitting Ducks In COVID-19 Pandemic

CHICAGO (CBS) -- We've been hearing concerns about the safety of the food supply during the coronavirus pandemic – and that includes the workers who handle it.

On Tuesday night, a Chicago area store manager said she and other essential workers are sitting ducks. She gave her warning to CBS 2's Tara Molina.

"It isn't what we signed up for," said the worker, who asked only to be shown at foot level. "Many of us, and many of the people I've spoken with in the industry, we feel like sacrificial lambs."

The essential worker has worked in grocery stores for more than 30 years. But it's a job that never looked like it does right now.

"While I sympathize with those that are not getting a paycheck, dying for this paycheck isn't worth it either," she said.

The store manager saw CBS 2's reports on customers' concerns about safety practices in essential businesses.

"You see a lot of the same customers two, three times a day sometimes, simply because there's nothing open and they're bored," she said.

The store manager reached out with another perspective - from the person behind the mask and plastic sneeze-guarded cash register.

"Often, a customer feels that you can't hear them with the Plexiglas, so they'll often go around it. Some don't understand what it's for," she said. "And also, what about all of the sales floor workers, warehouse workers? You don't go around with a sneeze guard."

But it's her friends and former coworkers, from other area stores, who have contracted COVID-19 and died. Others are at home assuming they have it, and they have totally changed how she feels walking into work.

"Some of them are in a lot of pain, very high fevers, not doing well, and some of the concerns are since we don't know if they have it, we don't know who has been exposed to it," the store manager said. "It could be customers, their families or even coworkers."

The message she wants all shoppers to take to heart tonight...

"We have families at home. We de-robe, just like healthcare professionals at the door," she said. "We are very scared to bring it home."

And she reiterated a point that Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. JB Pritzker have shared too.

"Stay home, save lives," she said. "That would really, truly help us."

The store manager said essential workers are having a very hard time getting tested right now – which means people could come into contact with someone in a store who ends up getting sick, but is never publicly announced as a case. She wants to see testing expanded to be available to all essential workers.

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