Aleja "Lee" Plaza is home caregiver in Los Angeles. This is her story.

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The coronavirus pandemic has upended the lives of American workers — especially those in "essential jobs" who continue to go to work in the midst of the outbreak — including nurses, pharmacy technicians, flight attendants, grocery store employees, and caregivers. InStyle spoke to women in these fields about what their day-to-day life looks like right now, their concerns for themselves and their families, as well as how those of us staying home can help. 

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Aleja “Lee” Plaza, a home caregiver at a nursing home in Los Angeles

Plaza, 60, works in Los Angeles, where most non-essential businesses, as well as schools, have been closed. A "stay in place" order was issued as of midnight on Thursday evening, Mar. 19. Plaza is a mother of four and a member of the Filipino Worker Center, an affiliate of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA​​​​​​). 

Everybody calls me, “Lee.” I'm 60-years-old and I've been a caregiver for six years. I’m a registered and certified nursing assistant and licensed home health aid in the state of California. My job involves assisting my clients with their activities of daily living like feeding, dressing, and personal grooming. Right now my client is a 98-year-old bedridden woman who has dementia. She also has a hip injury. She is hard of hearing, and she needs total care. She used to be in a nice home, but recently she was transferred to a nursing home because of her situation. [She doesn’t have] children and her husband is dead. Her only family is her niece, but since last week, when President Trump declared a national emergency, family visits [have been] totally banned.

My normal working hours start at 6:30 in the evening and end at 6:30 in the morning. So, 12 hours overnight. I usually get to work by bus but sometimes I do take Uber, or my sister will drive me there. Of course I’m apprehensive about the coronavirus. I wear a mask even on my way to work. When the virus started [getting worse], I had a bad experience on the bus because there’s a stigma when you wear a mask. An elderly lady told me, "Hey, you have the virus? You have the virus? Why are you riding the bus? Take her away." She meant the coronavirus. But I had to wear the mask. I mean, it's airborne. You never know. [As of Mar. 17, the CDC says the novel coronavirus is transmitted "between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet)," as well as via droplets, and contaminated surfaces.]

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At work, some of my coworkers have had panic attacks because they are so paranoid. And some just stayed at home because they don't want to be exposed to the virus. But when you stay home, it means you don't have a salary — no work, no pay. Some people might not get the virus, but they get sick of work being tiresome psychologically. [Worrying about not] having money because you don't have work, especially when you have dependents way back home waiting for you to send money every month, it makes you more vulnerable. 

I live in an apartment with five housemates including my sister and other care workers. We practice social distancing, and, of course, we wipe our surfaces with wipes. Wipes are running out [and so are] paper towels and toilet paper. So we just wash our hands with dish soap and water. 

For me, I have to be strong. My family is  dependent on me. I have an 85-year-old mom, and I don't want her to get stressed [about me] if I get infected with the virus. And [I have to support] my children way back home [in the Philippines]. I have four kids, two boys and two girls. They are also affected by this virus because it's worldwide. It's not only here. Plus I have to pay my rent here. I have to support myself, because I am a single mom; there is no husband to take care of me. 

I would be devastated [if I were unable to work] because I cannot find another job [right now]. No jobs are available. You could work in a restaurant, but restaurants are closed. You could work in offices, but offices are closed. Where would we go?

As a member of the Filipino Worker Center, an affiliate of the National Domestic Workers Alliance [NDWA], we're trying to do our best to raise funds for others who don't have relatives here and don't have another community. For me, I have a sister who is here to help me. I have friends in my church. But for other domestic workers, we're trying to raise $4 million to be able to help about 10,000 domestic workers. We call it, “the care pack,” which will be shared to other affiliate organizations all over the country. I would just like people to know that, in this time of crisis, we have to be strong for each other. 

For more information on on the NDWA’s care fund, visit domesticworkers.org/coronavirus-care-fund

Follow our series on essential women in the fight against COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic is unfolding in real time, and guidelines change by the minute. We promise to give you the latest information at time of publishing, but please refer to the CDC and WHO for updates.

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