The weather this year has been a friend to local farmer Ernest Wusstig. It's "this coronavirus," he said, that's adding wrinkles to his sun-weathered face – most of it still covered with a silvered beard.

"I don't want to get sick," said the 71-year-old. "If I had a choice, I probably wouldn't be out here."

Health officials have said people over 60 are more susceptible to developing more severe symptoms if they catch the virus and develop the respiratory illness COVID-19. Wusstig is also has Type II diabetes.

"I keep saying that I hope I don't get it, because if I get it – I got diabetes and I'm old," he added.

Wusstig is among the thousands of Guam workers who continue to work in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. For him, and many like him in the private sector, there is no differential pay for possible exposure to the virus. Moreover, if they don't work, they don't get paid at all. 

Dominic Jose, a gas station attendant, makes the point: "I have to work because I have to eat."

Jose and others are grateful they are healthy and able to work and earn a paycheck, particularly in the current economic landscape where so many people, particularly in the tourism and service industries, have no jobs.

Still, even with masks and gloves, as well as other measures his employers put in place to protect workers from the virus, Jose admitted, "It's scary."

He's taken measures to protect his elderly mother, whom he used to visit every day.

"I'm sad that I can't visit my mom," he said. "The government says you have to pretend that you have it so, ... I don't go visit her but I call her. But it's not the same. I miss her."

For many employees who continue working it's a daily faceoff with the possibility of catching the virus. They show up to work so that residents are able to purchase food, supplies, gasoline or face masks; or get medical help at local clinics; or cash a paycheck and pay a bill at the bank.

Twenty-six-year-old Myka Paras, who has just two months on the job at a Shell gas station, said she's grateful her employers started taking precautions early. Such as setting up the plexiglass barrier that protects both her and her customers at the register counter, and requiring patrons to wear masks.

She takes extra steps to protect her son when she goes home.

"I don't touch anything," she said. "I shower and change before I hug or see my son – because it's for his safety."  

Employment breakdown

According to Guam Department of Labor statistics, there were roughly 49,950 private sector employees as of March 2019, which is the most recent employment report online.

The breakdown of private sector jobs includes:

• Agriculture: 360

• Construction: 6,760

• Manufacturing: 1,340

• Transportation and public utilities: 4,370

• Wholesale trade: 2,300

• Retail trade: 12,920

• Finance, insurance and real estate: 2,530

• Services (hotel and others): 19,340

Guam DOL Director David Dell'Isola has said his department estimates 38,000 people will file for unemployment benefits. He has said most of the applicants will likely be those who have lost their jobs, along with many others still working but with fewer hours. DOL is working to set up that program so private sector workers can get some sort of funding to bridge the time between jobs.

The governor also has urged small businesses to apply for loans and other federal aid that would allow them to stay afloat and continue paying their employees. 

'I still need to make a living'

Standing by his pickup truck near the Guam National Guard Readiness Center on Route 16 in Barrigada, Wusstig, the farmer, said he's been watching as fewer and fewer cars pass by.

"In the past, it's the storm ... or not enough rain, or too much, that affects me," he said, shaking his head again as he talked about "this coronavirus" and the "shutdown." Sales aren't going too badly, considering most people are staying at home, he said. The weather's been cooperating. And the harvest is good, he said. In fact, in just another couple of weeks or so, he'll have to go out with his family and pick another 4,000 pounds of corn.

He knows people have talked about a total shutdown of the government and businesses to eliminate any spread of COVID-19.

He doesn't agree. 

"I've been watching the news every day," he said. "It looks like there's ... not a lot of new cases."

Plus, he said, pointing to the passing motorists, "these people, they come to buy corn but they're also buying other stuff they need."

He said if the private sector shuts down, where will people go to get what they need?

Moreover, he added, pointing to himself: "And what am I going to do? ... I still need to make a living."


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