Elsewhere in the country, the conversation began to evolve, moving away from the early warning of Covid and towards something more speculative with caution. What will post-pandemic life look like? How have our priorities changed? But for large swathes of the nation, largely untouched by the doses of Pfizer and Moderna, it remains late 2020 in many ways.
âA lot of people here still don’t believe the virus is real – even when hospitals are full, even when their families die,â Mr. Naughton said. âWith vaccines, a colleague told me it would go against her faith. Another told me it contained baby fetuses and mercury. Someone else said it was created by Bill Gates to insert microchips to track you. I said, ‘Why would he want to follow you? ‘â
The conversations Mr. Naughton describes may be epidemiologically offset, but he and thousands of others seem trapped in a current American vortex, a whirlwind of politics, belief, resentment and fear. In fast food restaurants, grocery stores, warehouses, nursing homes and everywhere else, frontline workers show up every day, a deep schism has set in. Workers nervous about the virus find themselves at the mercy of those who are not.
âIf I ask people to wear a mask or to distance themselves socially at work, they get angry and tell the manager. Then I have to get coached. If you get coached too many times you lose your job, âsaid Naughton, referring to the company’s system for handling worker violations. (Charles Crowson, a spokesperson for Walmart, did not dispute that an accumulation of coaching could lead to dismissal.)
Draped over this dynamic often lie the harsh realities of poverty and the stress of navigating a low-paying job under a high pressure situation. And so an already tense situation tends even more. Bitterness over demands for masking, job insecurity, bottled water leakage, vaccine policy – tensions regularly spill over into his store and beyond, Mr Naughton said.
âIt wasn’t always like that. It was more user-friendly here. It has become hostile. People are really on the alert. They fight with you in the store, or with each other, âhe said. âThe other day a woman wanted to fight over the price of potatoes. You can even see it in the way people drive, as if they have a death wish. “