20-year old Kiana Carrilo works at a H-E-B grocery store in Houston. She’s a personal shopper for curbside pick-up and spends her time shopping for customers. She says she loves her job, but once the pandemic hit, it brought on new challenges she didn’t see coming.

Scared of being sick and like just coming home and bringing that to my grandparents, it’s just like I was scared to go into work… Like, I was scared for my life, I would say.

H-E-B enforced the mask requirement mandated by the state, but she was worried about all the hours she spent walking up and down the aisles with other customers… who didn’t always stay six feet apart.

We did get hazard pay at that time, so we had a couple of extra bucks to our pay, which was nice, I guess. But... depending on the person, it’s just like, is it really that worth it to you, your life, your overall safety and mental health, like for two extra dollars?

The situation became so overwhelming, Carrillo ended up taking some time off.

I definitely had to take a mental health break because of that. Just feeling like you weren’t cared for or like at least appreciated, at least, for all your hard work. It just... insulted my like, I guess self-worth, you know like I’m a person just like you guys shopping around.

Rosine Mpozenzi knows exactly what Carrillo’s talking about. She worked as a cashier at Burlington Coat Factory for nearly half a year in 2020. She says, the rules for wearing masks and sanitizing work areas were laxed.

There were some who just came in, didn’t wear a mask, and then would go to the register... And then there were some, who would have their mask, but not have it over their mouth or nose or anything, they would just like have it under their chin or something... And it’s kind of just defeats the purpose of the whole thing, you know.

But Mpozenzi says it wasn’t just customers who violated safety protocols, she says management didn’t always follow through with the policies it put in place.

There were kind of like a row of tables on the side of the customer, that way, it was a good like space between me and the customer… I felt safer with that there, but then like after literally like three weeks, they took those tables off and it was kind of didn’t make sense.

Mpozenzi says she raised the issue with management. But nothing happened. Eventually, she just quit. And now in March of this year…

GOV. ABBOTT: All businesses, of any type, are allowed to open 100%... Also, I’m ending the statewide mask mandate.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott made the announcement on March 2nd… and a week later… Texas became one of the first states to lift all restrictions. This has folks like Carrillo worried.

The fact that they have the law behind their back is justifying… their inactions of putting on putting on a mask.

Carrilo says HEB is doing everything it can to ensure the safety of their employees… like sanitizing the store every hour and still requiring customers to wear masks. But she’s quick to add… she doesn’t think that the state lifting all restrictions was the right thing to do. She feels it puts worker’s health and safety at risk.

So when government officials do stuff like that, it’s just like it’s a joke. I mean, it’s a joke… Most of the people that are affected are people they don’t care about, which is like, you know, low-income minority speaking like those are the people most likely to be affected by all of this anyway so… These people just can’t afford to not work.

Now despite these changes, remember this. Removing state mandates does not end personal responsibility or the importance of caring for your family members, and caring for your friends, and caring for others in your community.

Personal responsibility has been central to this pandemic, yet when customers disregard this notion, Carrillo believes … it’s the retail workers that end up being impacted the most. Both mentally and health-wise. And she has this advice.

You know, have a little more compassion for other people and their health. So you’re not the only one that’s in the store. That’s really it. That’s all I ask. Like, if you could just, like, wear a mask, keep six feet, you know, that’s totally cool.”

It’s simple, do your part, acknowledge others, especially retail workers. For Annenberg Media, I’m LeeAnna Villarreal.