Keeping a job during the pandemic has been both a blessing and a curse for Elva Aragon.

She feels lucky to have a job. On the other hand, her job as a grocery store cashier made her sick with COVID-19 last year. She was out of work for eight weeks.

What You Need To Know

  • Grocery store workers are part of the state’s essential workers who have been working during the pandemic despite the dangers

  • The state made grocery store workers eligible for the COVID vaccine last month

  • Despite safety protocols, some grocery store workers fear getting ill on the job

"I was very sick,” Aragon told NY1. “I didn’t go to the hospital, I stayed home. I had a lot of symptoms. I had a fever, pain in my body, so cold, my breathing very short.”

Tragically, Aragon’s father, brother and sister-in-law, caught COVID-19 separately, and died. But she had little time to grieve. She had no choice but to come back to work once she was well.

“No, because my husband, my daughters don’t have jobs. Only me. Everybody is out in this pandemic because the jobs, they closing,” Aragon said.

Aragon has worked at the City Fresh Market for 14 years. Even though the management follows all the protocols, Aragon comes to work each day worried she could get sick again. She also has diabetes, a condition that puts her at greater risk of serious complications.

“Yeah, I’m afraid because, you know, it’s a lot of people here. We touching a lot of money, we take transportation, bus, train. It’s very hard.”

Grocery store employees like Aragon have been working throughout the pandemic. Many of them are immigrants like Aragon.

“People should really know who works hard in this city and they should believe that COVID exists and they have to be careful,” said customer Mary Lymberopoulos.

Ten workers at the store contracted COVID-19. Like Aragon, they have recovered and are now back at work to support their families.

“It was hard, but we survived and we’re together — most of the team is here,” said City Fresh Market Administrative Manager Margarita Rivas. “We added extra people because we need it. We’re here for serving all of the community of Astoria.”

Last month, the state expanded eligibility for the vaccine to grocery store employees, in recognition of their essential work. Aragon is scheduled to get her first dose next month.

When asked how she would feel once she’s received the vaccine, Aragon responded without hesitation. 

“Oh, safe. Really safe. I really want to,” said Aragon.

She has a message for those who don’t want to get vaccinated.

“Yeah, I want to everybody because some people are asymptomatic, so they don’t know they have it. Some people don’t believe, but I believe.”