Ed Pilkington’s first month back at JBS has been a whirlwind. He’d recently been hired back after a 10-year gap, but two weeks into his new position, he tested positive for COVID-19.
“We all heard about different cases that were popping up, people that were going home and testing positive,” he said. “I never thought I would get it, but I did.”
Pilkington works in maintenance — housed in a separate building from the rest of the plant — and with only five workers on each shift.
“When he first started, we knew COVID was out there, we knew that there was a chance he could get it,” said his wife, Shellie Parker. “He’s 62, and we are pretty healthy. So that’s why we thought ‘well, we’ll take our chances.’ And look what happened.”
He felt nausea, congestion, fatigue. But because he never had a cough or fever, Pilkington went back to work after being tested before he started experiencing symptoms. He said none of his team members tested positive.
It was a similar story for Lee Murray’s family.
Murray’s son, Ed Cancino, works from home with his wife. Ed and Sharesa had been practicing social distancing, but they decided to hold a small, family barbecue and invited Ed’s parents and stepsister over to celebrate his 33rd birthday on May 24.
The next day, Murray started feeling sick.
“And then my husband started getting the exact same symptoms, which was just uncontrollable shivers, feeling like you have a fever, but there’s no temperature,” Sharesa said.
He eventually got a fever, and then it broke, making the family hopeful that the worst had passed. And then Ed Cancino lost his sense of smell. And on June 5, he was admitted to the hospital because he was unable to keep fluids down and struggled to breathe.
Sharesa never had to go to the hospital like her husband, and their 8-year-old daughter was asymptomatic, but she said the experience’s mental taxation was almost worse than the sickness — a sickness she described as the worst she’s ever felt.
“There were nights when I wouldn’t sleep because I’d just be staring at my husband making sure his breathing was OK,” she said. “I was afraid to go to sleep because I didn’t want to miss anything, and he had a few nights that were the same, where he couldn’t sleep because he was scared my breathing would stop.”
On days where the two could barely move, they turned to Ed’s parents for help, as they were also positive but hadn’t been as affected by the virus.
“This thing doesn’t care how old or what kind of shape you’re in, or anything like that. It just affects everybody so differently,” Sharesa said. “You don’t know what symptoms you’re gonna get, and they can’t really do anything for you, because there’s no cure. The only thing they can try and do is to make the symptoms a little less uncomfortable, but honestly, it doesn’t really work. Tylenol, Ibuprofen, it doesn’t touch this.”
Similar to the Cancinos’ parents, the virus didn’t affect Pilkington or Parker to the point of needing hospitalization, but the crushing fatigue was the same.
“On Sunday, I lay down for a nap,” Parker said. “I slept for three hours, woke up, then two hours later — I think it was six at night — laid down again. I didn’t get up again ‘til six o’clock the next morning.”
The next day she was tested, and while it came back negative, she and the family physician are convinced it was a false result. And like her husband, she didn’t have the fever or cough most businesses ask about before admitting employees back to work.
“Even though they check your temperature every morning when you walk into the plant, there’s more symptoms than that,” Pilkington said. “I think a lot of people are working even though they might have a symptom or two, just because they need the money.”
Though Pilkington has been able to reach his supervisor to give updates, human resources has been a different story. When he calls them, the phone rings, and rings, and rings.
“I’ve heard there’s a short term disability, which is like 60% of your wages, but then we hear that you get 100% of your wages,” he said. “But we don’t know. Nobody’s ever answered that question. I guess we’ll know tomorrow when we look at our back bank statement.”
The Cancinos won’t have a similar struggle since they work from home. And though Ed’s six-hour hospital stay will cost them at least $1,000, they have insurance. Though the fatigue lingers and they still get winded easily, Sharesa said they are feeling a little better each day.
But the most frustrating part is hearing so many people say “I wish we could catch it, and get it over with and not be scared of it anymore.”
“Trust me, you don’t, you don’t want it,” she said. “To be honest, I kind of felt like that, too, until I got it. And my husband got it and now I would say the complete opposite. Just don’t get it.”