The term essential worker has become an interesting subject. To be essential means absolutely necessary. As for workers, this ranges from grocery store clerks to gas station attendants, postal service, of course, health care and fire safety. The list of essential workers is long. As well, the list of infections to essential workers is equally long. But why?
What are we missing here?
I had a quick talk with Tommy A about his job with the MTA. When asked about being an essential worker, Tommy explained, “I don’t feel essential at all.”
“This feels more sacrificial to me,” Tommy said. He explained that not everyone wears their masks or takes the same care as other people. “It’s a sad thing,” said Tommy. “What are you gonna do,” he said. “People don’t want to wear their masks.”
Usually, our talks both begin and end with either a hug or a handshake. However, masked and protected, social distancing led us to bump elbows instead.
There are others too in healthcare for example. They work long hours and complicated schedules. One source told me about their experience as a nurse at private hospital in Patchogue, Long Island. The nurse explained that supervisors were pulling people from different departments without proper experience, legal or not, and sending them to emergency room situations and Covid rooms without the proper protection. “When the reports leaked out to News 12 Long Island, the hospital denied the claims,” reported the source. The nurse explained the administration sent out a memo to all employees informing them that no one is permitted to speak with anyone from the press. “I need the job,” explained the nurse. “As it is, the managing nurses have cut hours to anyone that questioned them.” “This is like a war-time hospitalization except the wounded are contagious and the supervisors don’t seem to care.”
Is this what it means to be an essential worker? Or was Tommy right and sacrificial is more accurate? The list of essential workers in hazardous situations is ongoing. There are reports of police officers and correctional officers that have been infected. Consider the jails. Think about the homeless shelters. What happens there?
At a time when vigilance is mandatory, we need to be extremely clear on the plans we set in place. We need to keep ourselves clean and virus free to the best of our ability. But how can we do this?
In uncontrollable times like now, the best we can do is work to minimize our risks of infection.
Social distancing is working. Cleanliness is also a powerful strategy. But what happens when others around us lack the same attention to details? This is where the questions begin.
How can we ensure our own safety when others do not consider the same precautions?
In fact, how can we secure our plans when there are others that do not believe there is a problem in the first place?
Taking opinion out of the conversation; instead of focusing on the virus at hand and while considering our plans to create “The new normal,” we can focus on basic health skills to navigate away from the possibilities of transmission or infections. First and foremost; understand your surroundings and know your crowd. Create a “Clean” place for yourself. Find a spot where you can keep your things and breathe at a level of comfort. Consider this your “Home base” wherever this may be.
Another precaution to avoid the spread is simple. Stay home if you feel sick. Or at minimum, at least stay away. Understand that a body’s tolerance and resilience is unique. Our body may translate viruses differently.
Even simple colds translate differently. Some suffer less and others struggle more. This has been proven — especially now in the middle of the pandemic. The virus processes differently, in which case some get well and others do not recover at all.
Aside from reducing the risk of infection, there needs to be a plan to reduce our levels of stress. These are not simple times by any means. Anxiety and depression is moving in an upswing. Put simply, we need detailed plans to calm our tensions. This is another reason why self-care is essential.
There are those in mourning and dealing with the loss of loved ones. Understand this. Also, understand that words do not replace the loss of a life. Everyone is entitled to think, feel, and believe in whichever way they choose. Therefore, now is not the time to create a political or religious conversion. Otherwise, carry wipes. Keep cleaning supplies handy. Cover your face. Wash your hands as often as possible. Create a safe, clean environment wherever possible and allow your self-care plans to replace nervous thoughts with positive actions.
Times are tough. It would be inaccurate to believe that we are alone. The truth is we are all essential. Everyone is hurting; even the ones that don’t believe that Covid-19 exists. Ben Kimmel is a proud member of IUOE Local 94, as well as a Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Certified Recovery Coach, Certified Professional Life Coach and Peer & Wellness Advocate. Ben can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.