Thank You to Our Unsung Heroes: Essential Workers During the Coronavirus Pandemic


Violeta Pekar

Through her piece, Violeta Pekar ’22 illustrates how isolated our world feels and how simple human contact can pose a great danger at the moment. “Every time we go outside, we are putting ourselves and our family at risk. However, essential workers do this everyday to keep us functioning as a society and help others in crisis. I would like to thank everyone, especially the medical workers on the front lines, for all they do for us,” said Pekar.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has witnessed the reality of human nature through the selfishness of those who refused to stay home, the greed of those who hoarded vital resources, and the hostility of those who put the blame on others. However, the world also experienced the heart of essential workers. Every day, they selflessly risk infection and save the world as they brave the front lines against an invisible enemy. While the majority of us stay in isolation, millions of essential workers work overtime to keep our world turning.

Thank you to doctors and nurses. Even when risk of infection is at its greatest, they still rush into hospital rooms when they hear the frantic beeping of the heart monitor. They work around the alarming lack of resources and dangerous hospital overcrowding to help as many people as possible. During such a bleak time, hospital workers see the worst, yet they stay strong for everyone else. Now, they are even tasked with comforting suffering patients, some of whom pass away in the arms of a nurse instead of those of their families. We are grateful for their sacrifices, for there are hundreds of thousands of people who would not have recovered without them.

Thank you to retail workers. Often working at minimum wage, they continuously restock materials on shelves that clear out fast. They work in stores overcrowding with panic-stricken customers. With the amount of unintended contact they have with strangers, they are put at high risk for infection. We appreciate their dedication to come to work every day as prepared as they can be given the apocalyptic circumstances.

Thank you to pharmacists. As the number of infected continue to rise, pharmacies are busier than ever before. With more people worried about having COVID-19 and unable to get tested, they rush to local pharmacies, putting pharmacists at high risk of coming in contact with the coronavirus. Even in big-name pharmacies, like Walgreens and CVS, employees are at a lack of gloves, masks, and cleaning supplies, which leaves them unable to sanitize their own facilities. Despite lack of equipment, their efforts to provide allows them to care for the community even at its lowest.

Thank you to first responders and disaster relief organizations, who continue to keep the world safe while we isolate at home. When a 5.3-magnitude earthquake shook Zagreb, Croatia on March 22, 2020 and a series of tornadoes struck Iowa on March 28, first responders jumped to save those trapped under the rubble. Disaster relief organizations, like the American Red Cross, rushed to provide the displaced with emergency resources. Even with COVID-19 exposure causing understaffing issues, they are still eager and ready to help wherever they can. At times of global crisis, it is the noble work of first responders and disaster relief organizations that give us one less problem to worry about.

Thank you to transit workers. Subways and airports are among the hardest places to sanitize, especially during this pandemic, which places transit workers at risk of falling sick. As the homeless continue to pack into train cars, subways become a breeding ground for the coronavirus. In New York City alone, at least 50 MTA workers have died of COVID-19 and hundreds more have been infected. Among the infected are Michael Brantley and Ray Reigadas, MTA train operators, who returned to work after catching and recovering from the coronavirus. Despite knowing about the high rates of infection, the deaths of their colleagues, and the lack of preparedness by the MTA, these workers continue to operate and sanitize the subways, which in turn prevent major cities from collapsing.

Thank you to sanitation and postal service workers. Every day, they walk among deserted streets to take our trash and deliver our mail. Their jobs put them at constant risk of infection from touching unsanitary mail, trash, and other packages. Despite policy from the Postal Service that workers must be informed when their colleagues have tested positive, many workers are notified days after, if even at all. David Denton, a mailman at a processing plant in Long Island, said that throughout the entire pandemic, none of the workers have been informed about positive cases by supervisors, despite hearing about several cases. With a lack of masks, cleaning supplies around the country, and communication, these tenacious workers have still traveled on their daily routes from house to house, since day one. 

Thank you to restaurants and food banks. As unemployment rates skyrocket, many are left unable to provide for their families. They rely on food banks and the generosity of take-out-only restaurants for food. In Harlem, Joseph “JJ” Johnson, the owner of Fieldtrip restaurant, closed his restaurant only to open it back up to deliver meals to local hospitals and children’s shelters. Through the care of Johnson and his employees, the Harlem community is kept active and nourished. In addition to food banks and restaurants, food services from the Department of Education provide for hundreds of thousands of low-income New York City students with three meals a day. The good-natured effort of restaurant owners, employees, and volunteers all over the world keep students and adults alike from starvation. 

While the rest of the world safely watches the pandemic play out through their phone screens, essential workers put themselves at risk to provide for the public. Oftentimes, they even put their families at risk. They have to worry about bringing an infection to their own families, with some choosing to social distance themselves from their grandparents, parents, siblings, spouses, and even their children. Furthermore, despite being “essential” to the world, many workers are unable to afford health insurance with their minimum-wage jobs. Even today, they struggle to live off their jobs. It takes a lot of strength to sacrifice so much for strangers they have never met, yet they still continue to care for these strangers, selfish or selfless.

It is important to recognize that although this pandemic shakes the world, it is because of the essential workers that we will be able to bounce back and once again resume our daily lives. “Like everyone has been saying, they work so that we can stay at home. Their job is to care for the people, and our job is to make it easier by staying at home,” said Kathryn Le ’22.

From New York City, we applaud all of our heroes for everything they have done. Every day, they perform their duties with a dedication that we can only aspire to have.

It is because of essential workers that we will be able to bounce back and once again resume our daily lives.