Reopening California: Mixture of excitement, worry as people brace for return to work

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- After months of sheltering-in-place, it seems many who spoke with ABC7 News are ready to get back into the workplace. People are ready to regain that sense of normalcy.

"I miss interacting with my colleagues, lunches, I miss face to face with my customers," San Jose Resident John Pierce said. "I'm ready to go back to work in a safe environment, and also maybe change some of my behavior- working a little bit more from home and reduce my carbon footprint a little bit more."

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Even with the excitement, there is also clear concern.

"My day job, I work in an office. So, it's a little bit more closed in," David Marrufo said. "So, just precautions have to be taken."

"Like a lot of companies around here, it's very international. So, we have a lot of people that are coming off- normally, maybe not now- but normally coming off planes from Asia or Europe," Richard Riecker shared about his job. "So, it's certainly a concern, but I think that we will have social distancing in our office and we'll observe normal precautions and wash hands and those kinds of things."

"Until there's a vaccine, no one is fully secure," resident Eric Allegakoen told ABC7 News.

However, he's excited to return, "Obviously, being locked at home for the two months has been hard- particularly for the kids as well. So, we're all looking forward to getting back."

There is overwhelming hope the last two-and-a half-months have encouraged people and companies to reduce risk.

"I'm confident if we can return, they'll set it up in a safe way," Julie Vennewitz-Pierce said. "But, I would work from home more often than just the previous, maybe once a week."

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Many anticipate strict social distancing, staggered schedules, constant hand-washing and face masks will be part of the workplace. All would offer visual proof of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's a balancing act and I think we all have to take a deep breath," Santa Clara University Psychology professor, Thomas Plante explained. "We've got to find a way to live our life with this situation, as smartly as we can, knowing our own particular risk factor of age, and health, and family and all of that."

He said there is a number of factors that can shape someone's mental preparation to return to the workplace.

"It probably depends on the nature of their work. It depends on whether people are an introvert or an extrovert, or whether they really have had a significant loss of income and so forth, and they're worried about that," Plante said. "Certainly, and people that I've talked to- my own patients and colleagues and so forth- some people are chaffing at the bit to get back to work, and some people are very fearful to get back to work."

He added, "Even if health precautions are followed, all it takes is one bad exposure and you've got a problem."

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Additionally, Plante added, "Some people love being at home. Some people maybe tend to be more introverted, or maybe they don't like their job to begin with, or maybe they're not really fond of their co-workers, what have you. Or they may feel a little worried because they feel like it's hard to maintain the health precautions in the nature of their work."

However, he reminds we're always balancing risk and benefits in any situation.

"We have to think that we're going to be living in, hopefully a post-pandemic or a post shelter-in-place world, and there's risks and benefits to that world," Plante said.

He admitted there will be lasting impacts of this shelter-in-place period, directly related to the coronavirus pandemic.

"We've seen this before. People who lived through all the big national, global traumas: The Great Depression, World War I, World War II, the Spanish Flu, the Vietnam War, 9/11," Plante shared. "Moving forward, that's probably a whole generation of people that are going to be pretty obsessive about hand-washing. They're going to feel uncomfortable shaking hands or hugging people and so forth."

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ABC7 News asked Plante about his personal feelings about returning to the workplace. He answered, "I have to admit I'm ambivalent, and I think that's true for a number of my colleagues. I'm ambivolent because the whole Zoom-thing and teaching classes from home, talking to patients through my phone or other platforms, have worked out very well."

He admitted, "I am nervous about going back on the college campus. We have students from all over the globe who may or may not have behaved in appropriate ways, and because of my age, I'm in the higher risk group."

"That makes me a little nervous. So, I think we're all trying to balance this thing and trying to figure it out," he said.

In all the uncertainty, there's no doubt things will be different.

"I think at the end of the day, we're all going to have a certain degree of anxiety about going back," Plante added. "And I think that's normal, and it's expected and I would encourage people to talk about it."

Plante encourages people to seek out various resources and outlets, if there is any uneasy feelings or anxiety about the eventual return to the workplace.

Labor attorney April Glatt of Chauvel & Glatt says that these businesses that are reopening need to have safety protocols in place. Not only to protect employees and patrons but to protect themselves from lawsuits. "I wouldn't put it past a lot of plaintiff attorneys to determine what nonce or loophole they can find."

In Fisherman's Wharf, the crowds are getting larger and more and more businesses are opening up.

At Cioppino's they've been doing to-go orders for about two weeks. We asked general manager Mia Harriman about her concerns when it comes to safety protocols, especially when the dining room opens. "It's challenging, but at the same time if this is what we have to do to get back into business, then this is what we have to do."

Harriman feels as though her staff will have an upper hand when it comes to meeting safety protocols. Hygiene, sanitizing, and disinfecting has been a focus of theirs for some time.

Glatt has already seen lawsuits involving reopened businesses filed in other parts of the country and expects the same to happen here. She says employees, patrons, and anyone else who visits an establishment must feel safe first and foremost to minimize problems.

"There's a California labor code that addresses whistleblower scenarios and you need, as an employer, business owner, or restaurant owner opening up, you need to take these complaints seriously."

Glatt recommends that every employer seek legal counsel before they reopen, saying that just as the situation regarding COVID-19 is changing, so are the legalities regarding it.

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