It's been a year of living through the COVID-19 pandemic in Indiana. When the Stay-At-Home orders went into effect in 2020, we brought you the stories of essential workers outside of health care who have also put themselves at risk in order to do their jobs. We checked back in with them about their lives — one year later.
Juan Ruffin Sr. is a butcher at Kroger. Since we talked to him last, he said the grocery store is still busy but some things have gotten better — most customers are wearing masks and the store doesn't have to limit meat purchases anymore.
About the biggest thing that happened since we last spoke — he, his wife, and his son all contracted COVID-19 the week of Christmas last year.
Ruffin said it was hard to tell that he had COVID-19 — he didn't have a cough or a fever. He just went to work one day and started feeling extremely weak. His supervisor told him to stay as long as he could and then go home.
"It was worse the next day, I couldn't even get up," Ruffin said.
Still, he didn't have a lot of the common symptoms of COVID-19 and didn't know he had it. Ruffin said if a Kroger employee misses three days of work, they have to go to the doctor. But he said by the third day, he felt fine. His union representative suggested he get tested for COVID-19.
"But at that time, you had to make an appointment to get tested — and I couldn't get in for two days," Ruffin said.
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So Ruffin went to work on a Friday and got tested when he got off work. It was another two days before he found out that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Ruffin said he quarantined until the following Sunday, but then his supervisor called him back into work.
"And I was like, well, that's only a week that I've technically been quarantined because I worked the three days before," he said.
But his supervisor said that Ruffin was likely technically infected with the virus two days before he showed symptoms — so that was technically 14 days all together. Ruffin said that did make sense to him — he had only quarantined for nine days because he worked while waiting for his test results.
"So I said, 'Well am I supposed to go get tested to make sure that I don't have it anymore to come back?' And he was like, 'No, just come back to work,'" Ruffin recalls.
Fortunately, he said no one who came in close contact with him got the virus.
Ruffin and his wife are still dealing with brain fog — or trouble remembering things temporarily. He said they have to remind each other of things and it can be frustrating at times.
"I still bake and I'll go into the kitchen and I'll be like, 'OK, what did I come here for?' And then I'll go out of the kitchen, 'Oh, I remember now what I went for.' It happens at work too — like when I go in to grab something out of the cooler, I have to remember what I went back there for. It doesn't happen a lot, but it happens," Ruffin said.
Ruffin said, like many people who have gone through a whole year of this pandemic, his relationships have changed. He said, with social distancing, it's hard to have the camaraderie with his coworkers that he once had.
"'How are things with you?' 'How's your family?' 'How are your kids?' And it's not a lot of that because we don't get to — we don't get to interact like that as much. You know, it's always in passing now," he said. "We're used to being a family. I'm used to working with people and them knowing me and me knowing them. And that's probably the biggest difference since COVID has started."
But Ruffin said he has become closer to his youngest two children who are learning virtually from home. He even changed his schedule at work so he could be there with them.
"So I'm at home during the day and spending time with them and helping them with their virtual learning. And I appreciate it because I'm there for them to help them with those types of things," Ruffin said. "Drawing us closer together and gaining a better appreciation for time spent."
Ruffin said he still has customers that thank him for coming to work — even one year later.
"That means a lot. Because they're starting to understand that we are essential when it comes to COVID," he said.