Elsewhere in the country, the conversation has begun to move away from the early Covid alarm and towards something more cautiously speculative. What will life be like after the pandemic? How have our priorities shifted? But for much of the nation largely untouched by the doses of Pfizer and Moderna, it remains late 2020 in many ways.
“A lot of people here still don’t believe the virus is real – even when the hospitals are full, even if their families die,” Naughton said. “When it came to the vaccines, a colleague told me that getting them would be contrary to her belief. Another told me it contained baby fetuses and mercury. Someone else said it was designed by Bill Gates to insert microchips to track you. I said, ‘Why should he want to chase you?’ “
The conversations Mr. Naughton describes may be epidemiologically out of step, but he and thousands of others seem caught in a vortex of politics, belief, resentment and fear. A deep rift has spread in fast food restaurants, grocery stores, warehouses, nursing homes and everywhere else where frontline workers pop up every day. Workers who are nervous about the virus are at the mercy of those who are not.
“If I ask people to wear a mask or social distance at work, they get angry and tell the manager. Then I have to get coached. If you are coached too often, you will lose your job, ”said Mr. Naughton, referring to the company’s system of dealing with employee violations. (Charles Crowson, a Walmart spokesman, did not deny that an accumulation of coaching could lead to termination.)
9/27/2021, 8:03 am ET
Often hiding behind these dynamics are the stark realities of poverty and the stress of finding a poorly paid job in a high pressure situation. And so an already tense situation continues to tighten. Bitterness over masking requests, job insecurity, a rush for bottled water, vaccine policies – tensions routinely boil over in his business and beyond, Naughton said.
“That was not always so. It used to be friendlier here. It has become hostile. People are really nervous. They fight with you in the store or with each other, ”he said. “The other day a woman wanted to argue about the price of potatoes. You can even see it from the way people drive as if they had a death wish. “