Game X Change in Dyersburg, Tennessee
Game X Change in Dyersburg, Tennessee
Photo: Game X Change

Instead of providing stores with adequate sanitation supplies (or simply closing them outright) in response to the covid-19 pandemic, Game X Change corporate felt it best to send employees what amounted to a chain email full of bogus prevention tactics. Their advice includes gargling vinegar, drinking lots of water (to “neutralize” the virus in the stomach, you see), and utilizing sunlight to remove it from clothing, all of which are practices that have been thoroughly debunked by medical professionals.

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Game X Change employees spoke to Kotaku last week regarding concerns over how the company is handling the ongoing covid-19 pandemic caused by a novel strain of coronavirus. Workers said the regional video game retailer, which operates over 100 locations throughout the southeastern United States, remained open despite local authorities calling for the closing of nonessential businesses. Game X Change also failed to provide stores with the supplies necessary to safeguard the health of both its employees and customers.

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In an email sent to Game X Change staff on Tuesday and provided to Kotaku by employees who wish to remain anonymous, vice president of retail operations Mindy Kent shares a list of coronavirus safeguards that, she says, was provided to her by a registered nurse in Louisiana. (Kent has yet to respond to Kotaku’s request for comment.) While it does include a few common-sense instructions, such as advising workers to scrub their hands for 20 seconds to kill the virus, most of the claims made in the email are completely unsubstantiated.

“Take a sip of warm water every 20 minutes bc [sic] this keeps your mouth moist and washes any of the virus that’s entered your mouth into your stomach where your gastric juices will neutralize it before it can get to the lungs,” reads one tip. This was debunked last week by Dr. Faheem Younus, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Maryland.

“Gargle with an antiseptic and warm water like vinegar or salt or lemon every day if possible,” states another. Both the World Health Organization and Johns Hopkins University have labeled this a myth.

“If you cannot wash your clothes daily, hang them in sunlight which also helps to neutralize the virus,” the list continues. Again, the World Health Organization says this is bullshit, albeit with a little more tact than me.

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“Try to avoid eating and drinking any cold things,” says a fourth guideline, but Harvard Medical School warns this is just more misinformation.

“Experts suggest doing this simple verification every morning: Breathe in deeply and hold your breath for 10 seconds,” the email concludes. “If this can be done without coughing, without difficulty, this shows that there is no fibrosis in the lungs, indicating the absence of infection. It is recommended to do this control every morning to help detect infection.”

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Like all the other erroneous advice, this can be easily disproved with a simple Google search. Dr. Thomas Nash, an infectious disease specialist at New York Presbyterian Hospital, told Reuters that this self-check doesn’t rule out the presence of covid-19. Asymptomatic carriers of the virus can still be contagious, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which makes this particular rumor quite dangerous if someone were to, say, continue working just because they could hold their breath for 10 seconds.

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The day after the publication of Kotaku’s original story on Game X Change’s response to the covid-19 pandemic, an employee took it upon themselves to email owner Grant Wetherill a lengthy, anonymous message begging him to take more action. The email, which Kotaku has acquired, lays out the severity of the situation with statistics on infection and death rates in states where Game X Change is present, like Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

“Some of your employees have families at home they need to be worried about,” the anonymous email reads. “They may already have children at risk of sickness, some have infants on the way, and some of us even personally have or knows [sic] someone close with auto-immune disorders—which are some of the people who are extremely susceptible to contracting the COVID-19 virus. This is almost a guaranteed fatality. Is this something you condone? Just for the store to earn a few extra dollars at the end of the day?”

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Wetherill’s response to this employee, provided to Kotaku by other Game X Change employees, seemed more preoccupied with the tone of the original email and the anonymity of its sender than in providing the support his employees so desperately sought. Wetherill did not respond to Kotaku’s request for comment.

“I can’t do anything to address your concerns if I don’t know who I’m talking with,” Wetherill’s reply reads. “I can tell whoever you are that I spend lots of time in my stores. Even though I have Parkinson’s Disease and Asthma. Plus I’m 56 years old. So don’t lecture me on risk. I’m here if you want to be an adult and talk to me.”

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The covid-19 pandemic has illustrated what was already the reality of the working class in the United States: Its only function is to grease the wheels of capital. This is an untenable travesty that has been normalized. But now, with a deadly disease breathing down the necks of workers every time they clock in, Game X Change leadership is showing both an ignorance of the situation and a seeming disregard for the people who actually make their business profitable.

I’ve heard rumblings that Game X Change locations in Texas could close as early as tomorrow, but what kind of damage have they already potentially done by remaining open these last few weeks? And why did it take so much pressure for leadership to finally do the right thing, assuming that the stores do indeed close? Apparently, the opportunity to squeeze just a few more bucks out of a workforce that’s scared and begging for a bit of empathy was too much to resist.

Staff Writer, Kotaku

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