A UAA student recounts his experience as an essential worker during the pandemic

Colten Hester is a Junior at  UAA getting his bachelor’s in nursing. Hester is an avid fisherman and loves to spend time in his cabin.  He is also working at Starbucks as a barista and Providence Hospital as a Patient Care Tech. Hester has been working at the hospital for less than a year, but he has been with Starbucks for almost two years. With COVID 19, both of these jobs have been one and the same. At Starbucks, it is now protocol that everyone in the store, whether it be a customer or worker, has to wear a mask.

Starbucks has taken drastic measures to ensure the safety of the employees as well as its customers. Photo courtesy of CNBC.

“If we have any contact with our customers, we have to wash our hands immediately,” Hester said.

Initially in March when the pandemic was on the rise, Starbucks closed its lobby and served customers using the drive-thru. As COVID cases settled and stores started to reopen, they opened their lobby for orders. Precautions such as splitting the bar in two, were taken to ensure customers drinks weren’t contaminated.

“It made it difficult to move around,” Hester said.

At his Starbucks location, someone tested positive for the virus. Hester recounted that everyone who was working with them had to get tested, and the store was closed for two weeks.

“I think the biggest thing right now is even though Starbucks is such a big corporation I know people have been worried about not getting paid,” Hester said.

Thankfully, customers have been supportive and understanding with everything going on.

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Hester also works at Providence Alaska Medical Center as a Patient Care Tech, or PCT, in the Renal Care Unit.

“My job is to get there an hour before the day shift nurses do to get patients ready for dialysis,” Hester said.

On one shift, Hester and another PCT were helping a patient who was not in the right headspace. It was a very tall man who would wander off where he wasn’t supposed to go. Both Colten and the other PCT were around him for more than 12 hours that day. The next day the man tested positive for COVID 19, so he and five other workers in his unit were sent home.

Hester didn’t experience any symptoms, but the other PCT began to feel symptoms a couple of days after being exposed.

“We didn’t need to test unless we were feeling symptoms,” Hester said.

Regardless of not needing to test under the hospital’s guidelines, Hester decided to take a covid test. While waiting for his results, he did not work at Starbucks.

“What happens at one job will affect the other. Especially if you can’t go to one you don’t want to go to the other and spread it more,” Hester said.

Hester mentioned that employees at Starbucks were more emotional and on edge rather than the health care workers.

“The emergency room is one of the more scary places to be because someone comes in, and you don’t know if their COVID positive,” Hester said. “You gotta treat them because sometimes it’s a matter of life or death.”

Hester mentioned that the atmosphere in both places were widely different with COVID 19. When working at Starbucks, Hester noticed that people were very intense and scared. They often didn’t know how to handle their emotions. However, Providence Hospital staff were more professional and on top of their jobs but patients were still nervous.

“As health care workers we feel that we are top of it, but patients are still very worried.”

You can read more about how Starbucks has been changing their stores to adapt to CDC guidelines on their website. If you or anyone you know is experiencing symptoms of COVID 19, visit the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Coronavirus Response website to see the closest testing site to you.