Casey Rebecca Nunes got her shots at the coliseum. Credit: Amir Aziz

In mid-February, Casey Rebecca Nunes drove from San Francisco to the Oakland Coliseum—not to buy tickets for the up-coming Oakland A’s season—but to receive her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Nunes, who was born and raised in Oakland, is an essential worker who has held customer-facing jobs in restaurants before and during the pandemic in Oakland and San Francisco. Working in the food service sector, she experienced situations where she felt customers and delivery drivers weren’t always mindful of the need for safety, and the risks restaurant workers have faced.

Last month, Nunes received her second dose of the vaccine. She also accepted a new job at Orangetheory Mid-Market in San Francisco as the studio manager, where she will have the ability to enforce COVID safety guidelines for members of the gym. She will also have more time to devote to her side business, Broke Bitch Sauce, which makes, packages, and sells a multi-purpose soy vinaigrette. 

The Oaklandside spoke to Nunes last week about what essential workers have faced during the pandemic. The interview has been condensed for clarity. 

Why did you decide to get vaccinated?

It was another way for me to express that I care about public safety and the common good. Yes, I feel a little bit more secure now that I’m fully vaccinated interacting with the outside world, but it’s also for other people. That being said, I’m not just walking around without a mask, saying “I’m vaccinated! Everything is fine.” It is just knowing that I have that extra layer of protection for myself and for the community around me.

You worked in the food industry throughout the pandemic. What was that like?

I quit my job three weeks before COVID hit. I was the executive chef at Media Noche for almost three years. Then, three weeks later, COVID hit and I was unemployed for five months. I was doing consulting work for Reem’s and able to work from home. And then towards the end of it, I was helping Reem’s as a baker at the Mission location. I was going out to bake once a week. In July, I got hired at Smitten Ice Cream in Rockridge.

Summertime was really busy. I would have people come in and not wear masks and they would try to argue with me. I would have to tell them that they couldn’t come in without a mask and had to wait outside. It was pretty rare, mostly everyone was cool about it. Rockridge is one of those neighborhoods where everyone “gets it,” and they are doing their part. I would say, it was mostly delivery drivers, that’s who I really had the issue with. It was a mix of experiences. It wasn’t just us at the shop serving guests. We were giving the ice cream to a third party to deliver to you. We don’t know what’s happening between the shop and the customer’s house. You just have to trust that everybody’s on the same page. But I definitely had some interactions with drivers who refused to wear a mask, or refused to comply with the rules that I had in place to keep people safe.

Essential workers were among the first groups who were eligible to get vaccinated. How did you find out that you qualified, and how did you get an appointment?

A friend of mine who’s a bartender at Lucky 13 in Alameda posted on Facebook that there were available appointments at the Coliseum. I was getting off of work and I saw the post, and clicked on the link. I kept refreshing the page and finally was able to book an appointment.

I felt like I was like gaslighting myself into feeling like I didn’t deserve to have it, even though I was out there serving people food. Also, I had seen friends of mine prior to that, who were not essential workers, or were unemployed, or just at home the whole time working remotely, and I saw them getting vaccines, and I would get really kind of annoyed. It was hard not to feel annoyed because I kept being like, “I don’t want to be scooping ice cream in a pandemic right now.” I was feeling unsafe but, here we are. I started to feel resentful. But then, I read this article talking about how you deal with vaccine envy. The mentality of, you know what, maybe they can they skip the line, and that sucks, especially for those who are most at risk, like, the elderly, those were in nursing homes, all those folks. But, at the end of the day, the more the merrier. I tried to elevate the mentality of “at least you’re doing it.” So I got the appointment and it was four days later. I was able to book both Pfizer doses.

What was the process like at the Coliseum?

Super easy, boom, boom, boom. When I went to get the second shot, I guess they were waiting for another shipment, so it was a little bit delayed. I didn’t get it till an hour after my appointment.

Everyone who I interacted with at the Coliseum was super helpful and friendly. The energy was a little infectious. I rolled my sleeve, and I have all these tattoos. Everyone’s like, “oh I guess you’re not afraid of needles.”  I was like nope. The tone was very light hearted, but everyone’s really focused. Everyone was so positive and being like, “thanks for doing your part.” It was a really good experience to have been vaccinated in the Oakland A’s parking lot where I have had so many good memories like tailgating and going to games. I was actually strangely emotional.

Did you have any side effects with either dose?

Twelve to 14 hours of low-grade fever, chills, tension headaches that lasted for three days. And then I was tired. For the second dose, I scheduled myself off from work for two days. So then, I got the second one and, immediately, I was cold within 10 minutes. I was driving home with the heater on. I had muscle aches and nausea and three smaller, shorter fevers. 

I got my second dose on a Tuesday. I quit Smitten Ice Cream and the mass shooting in Atlanta happened all on the same day. On that Wednesday and Thursday, I had a lot of things to process. I was extra drowsy, so I tried to be unconscious as much as possible. And then I woke up on Friday feeling physically perfect but emotionally drained.

Azucena Rasilla is a bilingual journalist from East Oakland reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.