Challenges Of Riverton's Working Class During Ebbing COVID-19 Concerns

Jun 22, 2020

Riverton has seemingly returned to normal from months of closed businesses, social distancing, and mask-wearing. This while Fremont County has the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state.

Even so, Riverton Mayor Richard Guard said that people are happy to get back to work.

"I think there's a pent-up desire to get back to what people view as their normal," said Guard. "If we are able to, and if the virus doesn't hold on, and doesn't start back up, I think we can get back very quickly."

Guard who co-owns a company in the building industry added that he believes the government went too far in shutting down businesses and forcing social distancing due to COVID-19. He said the drafters of the constitution didn't consider something like a communicable disease in the document's creation.

"The Constitution wasn't written with any clauses in it as to the Black Plague," Guard said. "But it was written to keep governments from running over the tops of individuals. They feared that much more than a medical emergency. They weren't staring down Coronas that day. They were staring down a tyrannical government."

While other business owners may be pleased to get back to work, the question of how much of a choice Riverton's workforce has in returning to work is debatable. Many because of low wages, and the inability to put money away for such an extreme circumstance must go back to work whether they are worried about the coronavirus or not.

Schmidt had difficulty wearing a mask because her regulars like talking with her and she's afraid if she had the mask on it would interfere with her tips.
Credit Taylar Stagner

Narisha Schmidt is a bartender at the Cedar Bar in Riverton. She's preparing to open up after weeks of cleaning the closed bar. She said she's lucky to be paid during the shutdown when so many people lost their jobs. Schmidt was given guidelines to safely open up but nobody is enforcing them that she's aware.

"No. Nobody is enforcing them." Schmidt added, "The Mayor he honestly said in the meeting he said be adult be responsible if you're sick stay home. If you don't want to open and you're not comfortable don't open. He's leaving it up to the business owners you know?"

One issue is that many customers aren't convinced that the coronavirus is a huge concern in their community and that can cause fights in a bar.

"One thing you learn very early on is there three rules to bartending right? No religion, no politics, and no arm wrestling," said Schmidt while tending bar. "Because all three of those things are the first things that are going to start a fight in a bar. So, I shut a lot of conversations down before they become an issue. And there was a lot of that before we shut down too."

Other concerns are drunk patrons not socially distancing and not wearing masks. But while she is concerned, she's excited to get back to work even with the potential threat. Some employees need to stay home and quarantine, which puts pressure on healthy coworkers to pick up the slack.

Mike Bailey owns the Pit Spot Convenience centers in Riverton, Lander, and Dubois as well as a tire center. Bailey isn't sure if some of his employees who had to quarantine had Covid or something else, but since they had to stay home, the business was down employees. So other workers picked up multiple shifts.

"During one week we were down ten people," Bailey stated. "So that made everyone else have to work harder for the ones that were gone. And again, that sort of stresses peoples out too."

And stress isn't good for your immune system. Heightened stress at your job during a pandemic where customer service is the expectation makes wearing a mask seem important but despite the spread of coronavirus in the county, many of Bailey's employees had issues with the mask.

"It's a customer service kind of business and so it's hard to see somebody smile or frown. Or whatever if they have a mask on. That little inter reaction gets reduced if you have a facemask on. And a lot of people had trouble with the masks so it was a little restrictive for people," said Bailey.

Another thing stressing people out is their personal bottom line. Laurence Miles is working at a fuel center attached to a local grocery store. Outside his station is a gallon of hand sanitizer with a pump. His hours used to be consistent but now his hours are reduced. Despite being trained at multiple positions with the company.

Miles helps take care of his older parents at a house they are still paying off. On top of house payments and paying off federal student loans he can't afford not to work. But he also worries about his older parents' health. Miles has his own theory as to why people in Riverton seem to not take Covid 19 guidelines seriously.

"There does tend to be a bit more of a isolation, we might be good, because we are not a bigger city," said Miles during a break. "Our lifestyle has pretty much been the same with some minor modifications."

With so much of life out of the control of the working class it's hard to see much choice for the people who must go to work. Miles admitted he's worried about a second wave but there exists a lot of uncertainty.

"We're just playing it by ear." Miles continued, "Listening to what managers and corporations are telling us. Keeping an eye on the news. We're all just in this together. Second wave hopefully it's not as bad, but I don't know. I guess we'll find out."

State health officials are planning on keeping the economy rolling, but they are urging businesses and members of the public to wear face coverings and social distance in order to avoid another closure. These measures are also to protect not only the public but those who have no choice other than to work.