‘I Can’t Stay at Home’

Billy Yulfo has worked at Zabar’s, a gourmet grocery store in Manhattan, for 17 years. He worked his way up from cashier to assistant manager. When the coronavirus pandemic hit New York City, he had to grapple with a new identity: that of an essential worker.

“I can’t stay at home, because I have two kids,” Yulfo says. “I won’t get paid if I don’t work, so I have to work. I have to put my health at risk every day out of necessity.”

In a new documentary from The Atlantic, Yulfo invites us into his daily life at Zabar’s—a changed universe characterized by constant anxiety. “You can’t go anywhere and not think about it,” Yulfo says. “You can’t go to the bathroom and not think about it.”

Yulfo lives in a one-bedroom apartment with his wife and two young children. He worries about taking the virus home; if he falls ill, he will have nowhere to isolate himself.

While filming at Zabar’s, several employees told The Atlantic that a fellow grocery-store worker had died from COVID-19. Union Local 338 confirmed that the employee had worked at Zabar’s for 32 years.

Zabar’s declined to comment on the death.

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