Although the world has experienced a major shift since the outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease), numerous employees are completing essential work to ensure the safety and well-being of human life.
Essential worker Ralph Kelly Jr. is a claims associate at a central Georgia Walmart. Serving in this position since December 2017, he took on a new role in February as a health screener. His responsibilities include asking employees a list of health questions, taking their temperature and maintaining a list of employees who are infected. He also provides hand sanitizers and personal protective equipment (masks and gloves) to employees and completes paperwork for leave of absences and health parameters. The screenings are completed daily starting with the first associate who clocks in and ends with the last associate who clocks out.
“There is no way for us to know if a customer is infected with the coronavirus. Therefore, all associates are only allowed to enter in the designated area where we do the screening. If everything checks out, they can go on about their day,” Kelly explained. He helps check 200-plus employees at his Warner Robins location.
To combat COVID-19, the Walmart management team had a meeting about how the disease would affect the community and store. For that reason, they set up a designated screening area in the store and selected a team of employees in leadership roles to serve as health screeners. Kelly, who has two years of customer service management experience, said his assistant manager approached him about the position because he understands Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA) and confidentiality agreements.
“They needed someone competent enough to do the job. That made me feel like they understand my leadership and how I can take on something like that. This goes hand in hand with the degree that I am working toward in the public health program at Fort Valley State University. Screening is just one part of it, but it can transition to something more,” Kelly said. The Master of Public Health student noted FVSU’s program prepared him for understanding the importance of HIPAA and confidentiality agreements.
Kelly said being on the front lines as an essential worker is hard during this period of distress. He works from 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. due to the high influx of employees working during that time. Although overwhelming, he appreciates working in this capacity. “It motivates me to know that I am doing something great to keep everyone safe,” Kelly said. “I can make a change no matter if it is big or small.”
Expected to graduate in December 2020, the FVSU Wildcat plans to use this experience in his thesis. He said he has learned a lot from this pandemic. “I was not aware that we were considered essential workers,” he said. “We sell the items that consumers need. It made me gain more respect for all essential workers. I have always had respect for them coming from a military family, but this put it more into perspective.”
Other adjustments for Kelly and his coworkers include Walmart’s hours of operation changing from 24/7 to opening only from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. This allows associates to stock and sanitize the store at night. The company also limited the number of customers entering the store at one time, which is determined by the square footage of the entire building. Additionally, Walmart implemented a 6-20-100 rule for all staff to follow. Employees must keep 6 feet away from one another, wash their hands for 20 seconds and have a temperature under 100 degrees.
With graduation approaching, Kelly, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from FVSU in May 2017, dreamed of becoming a doctor but plans to join the Air Force Reserve. He also aims to become a public health officer with the federal government. The Fort Riley, Kansas, native said his father and brother, who both served in the Army, showed him true leadership and the importance of helping others.