Following the global panic surrounding government-mandated stay-at-home and social distancing orders in response to COVID-19, another contagious disease started popping up in headlines and on social media posts: monkeypox.
While scientists have known about the virus for decades and it hasn’t reached anywhere near the same levels of transmission as COVID-19 has, several harrowing images of its symptoms have reached millions of folks online, getting people seriously worried. This worry has unfortunately translated into serious misunderstandings and unfortunate social scenarios for those with skin conditions like eczema that are not contagious and have nothing to do with monkeypox or any other pox-like illness.
Now, a TikToker by the name of Seema (@seemasamkaran) is going viral after uploading footage of a verbal altercation they had with a manager at a Five Below retail location who purportedly refused to check out her items. The reason? Seema says the manager told her that she has “monkeypox and [she] need[s] to leave the building.” Seema indicates in a caption for one of the clips she uploaded about the incident that her keloid scars were confused by the manager as monkeypox.
@seemasamkaran @Five Below ♬ original sound – Seema
In the now-viral TikTok, Seema follows the manager, Tonya Potter, around the store, who tells the TikToker while she’s being recorded that she was mistaken and apologized for her error. The Five Below employee appears frustrated that the woman keeps following her around the store and recording her, even talking to another Five Below worker and expressing again that she said sorry for mistakenly thinking Seema had monkeypox.
Potter informs her co-worker that “she’s not cashing [Seema] out” despite what seems like the other Five Below employee attempting to simply let Seema purchase an item. The manager calls other customers to go ahead in line in front of Seema as her co-worker apologizes to Seema, stating that she “has to follow” the manager’s directives as the woman is the “shift leader” at that time.
As this is going on Potter attempts to call someone else, presumably her workplace superior to inform them of the situation, but no one is answering at that time.
In a follow-up video, Potter finally gets someone on the phone and explains the situation again, saying that because she thought Seema had monkeypox she had asked her to leave the store. When she realized she was wrong she apologized but says that Seema began “cussing” at her. Potter wanted to refuse her service because of her swearing.
@seemasamkaran part 2 @Five Below ♬ original sound – Seema
The woman on the other end of the phone call is on speakerphone and can be heard saying that Potter should call Mall Security or the local police department if she continues to refuse to leave or “is threatening” Potter. The manager thanks the woman on the other line and then proceeds to take out another phone to begin placing a call to the local police department and relays to them the situation again. When the officer on the other line begins to ask for a description of Seema, Potter describes her clothing and describes Seema as “Guyanese.”
Seema says that she isn’t Guyanese, to which Potter replies, “Yeah you are,” before giving more physical descriptions of the woman, calling her keloid scars “burns on her face.” She then adds, “she’s either Guyanese or Indian.” When Potter tells the officer on the phone that she told Seema she was “sorry” Seema said that this is untrue, that all the manager said was that she had monkeypox and she had to leave the store.
After that, Potter began looking up the phone number for mall security.
In a third video, Potter is recorded placing a call to mall security as her co-worker continues to cash out other customers ahead of her. She also showed off the keloid scars on her face, two of which were situated on the lower parts of her right and left jawline.
@seemasamkaran @Five Below ♬ original sound – Seema
TikTokers expressed their outrage over the incident, stating that Potter was in the wrong for blatantly assuming the woman had monkeypox, saying that if she was honestly concerned that a customer could have the skin condition then she could have handled it in a more mature fashion, maybe front-loading the ask in a politic way or inquiring into the nature of what the scars are. Others said that before assuming the keloid scars were monkeypox, she should’ve educated herself by searching up what monkeypox looks like in the first place, but the majority of folks believe she was just being ignorant or using her position of authority to bully and harass a customer.
Seema revealed in an update that she was contacted by a Five Below district manager who says that they not only saw her videos, but clips from other customers and people in the store pertaining to the situation. As a result, Potter was allegedly fired.
@seemasamkaran Replying to @laura_munoz81 update on five below #keloidwarrior #love #strong ♬ original sound – Seema
There have been instances of businesses “warning” their employees about monkeypox, telling them to keep an eye out for the disease, mainly airlines. There have even been flight attendants who claim to have caught the virus from passengers aboard their flights. As of this publishing, there are currently 26,577 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the United States.
The Daily Dot has reached out to Five Below via email and Seema via TikTok comment for more information.