The pandemic has really upended our way of life in the United States. It has also created a whole new field of workers. The “essential workers.” Essential workers are the providers of services that we could not go without.
A lot of us are not fully aware of exactly who are essential workers. Most of us know that doctors, nurses, and other health care providers are essential workers but there are many more professions out there that weathered the storm for us. Making sure that we acknowledge the people that risked their own health to ensure we got what we needed is important.
What Are Essential Workers?
We are just about a year into the pandemic and most of us have adjusted to the new normal. Initially, many states were on strict lockdown orders, just short of Marshall law. Restaurants were closed to in-person dining, movie theaters were shut down, businesses were shuttered, and schools were suspended for in-person instruction.
During these early days of the pandemic, the phrase “essential worker” was coined, as in “if you are essential, you can be on the road after the curfew times” or “if you are essential then your business can stay open.” Up until the pandemic most of us never really considered what essential services were, and there is still a lot of confusion around who are essential workers.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, you are essential if you perform any duties that are essential in the support of the infrastructure of the community. But that is not the only definition out there that designates who is essential. It seems that each state has similar but variant descriptions of who is essential.
The pandemic required some tweaking to the list of exactly who is essential in times of crisis. Some of the essential workers you likely already guessed like the doctors and the nurses but there are other people that work in a hospital setting that typically get zero thanks that make it possible for the doctors and the nurses to do their job. The house cleaning staff at the hospital, the IT people at the hospital, the administrators, and others all keep the wheels turning so that healthcare providers can do their job.
It takes a lot of people to make our lives possible. We know that bringing food to our tables takes an army of people, from the farmers to the processing plants to the truck drivers to the clerk at the supermarket. All of them play vital roles and they are essential. However, are we really paying attention to the vital role of those that are essential-have played in helping us get through this mess? Are we thanking people enough for risking their health for us?
The Food Chain
Pretty early on agricultural workers, supermarket workers, processing plants, and others were told they are essential, and that they did have to report to work. Unfortunately, there were outbreaks in several meat processing plants early on as well. Many people got sick and some did not make it. It is just about a guarantee that anyone that works in the food supply chain did not take on the job to become a hero, but these people really have been heroes. While those of us that can stay home did, the food industry supply people trudged to work. While we complained about shortages, people in this industry fought for their lives.
Everyone that works in the food supply chain that feeds our families from the farmer to the forklift contractors that load the supplies put themselves at risk because they are essential to our health and welfare.
While many restaurants shut down during the early days of the pandemic, some switched gears and became a take out restaurant. Restaurant workers are essential. In that vein delivery services are essential. When you use GrubHub or one of the other apps that person that picks up your food they are considered essential.
Gas station attendants are also essential workers. Without gas stations being open, where would we get the gas for our cars? Over 50% of Americans have no access to public transportation and rely solely on their personal vehicles to go to work. Privately owned vehicles are the only way most Americans can get around. No one really thinks about how important that clerk at the gas station really is.
Grocery clerks are essential and are taking a huge risk working with the public, some of who just refuse to wear a mask. Are we acknowledging the risk that they are taking and their heroic actions? Probably not the way we should. A little gratitude and encouragement can go a long way. At the very leas,t wear a mask to help keep them safe. Encourage family and friends to do the same.
Behind-the-Scenes Workers That Are Essential
Every truck driver that hauls food, goods, and supplies is an essential worker. There are plenty of people that work behind the scenes. You may not run into them every day but without these people, we would not have running water, power, supplies, and more.
Any person that works with public transportation is also essential. Behind-the-scenes engineers, traffic controllers, and road crews are all essential to the infrastructure that we depend on. Electric companies are essential, which means so are all the people that work for your local electric company. They go to work every day to make sure your power stays on and by doing so elevate their own personal risk of getting sick.
Water company workers are essential as well. Someone has to test the water in the water treatment plants. Other essential workers behind the scenes are those workers that work in logistics. Warehouse workers, carriers, and other workers make sure your goods get to you.
There are a lot of people out there that really deserve our respect and our thanks. How about a shout out to the U.S. Postal Service? Mail service was never interrupted throughout the pandemic because of the illness. The old saying associated with the postal service “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” has to add a little something about deadly pandemics. The postal service kept it moving. Other couriers like FedEx, UPS, and DHL, all continued with their deliveries, working harder than ever, as more people shopped online instead of in person. They should each get a thank you.
Professional Service Providers
It is not just those that support our food chain that is essential. There is a wide range of professionals that are essential as well. The courts closed for a little while, but they quickly found a way to get back in business, which means lawyers are essential. Lawyers can meet with clients using technology like Zoom, but they still have to do plenty of things in person in court.
People still have to have a defense, people are still being arrested, houses are still being bought and sold, and the attorney is the one that handles all of those needs. Pharmacists and pharmacy techs are essential. They fill our prescriptions, they are essential.
Mental health counselors and therapists are essential. They provide drug addiction treatment (sometimes in residential settings where there is a tremendous risk of catching COVID 19), they help people navigate mental health issues, and frankly have become more essential now than ever before.
What about the people that work incongruent living facilities. Study after study has shown that assisted living, nursing homes, and other congruent settings are very high-risk places to work. These are essential workers that are helping the most vulnerable members of our communities.
How about school teachers? While many schools adapted to remote learning and are still doing remote learning, some states went back to in-person or a combination of in-person and remote. School teachers are essential and they are taking a risk by being in the classroom.
Funeral home workers are essential, and sadly, they have become more essential now than ever. Anyone that works in a funeral home is essential workers from the director, the clerks, to the people that dig the graves, all of them are essential. They are working hard to keep up with the surge in deaths and as they do they are risking their own health.
Essential Workers That Take Care Of Your Home
Roofing contractors, plumbers, electricians, and other people that provide care and service to your home are essential. Without these skilled tradespeople, the “infrastructure” of our homes would fall apart.
When you think about it, it makes perfect sense that these jobs would be essential. What would someone do if they needed roof repairs but the roofers were only doing virtual visits? Clearly, that would be a problem. Some repairs just cannot wait and are essential to our safety.
For example, plumbing contractors are the people that deal with septic and sewer line issues. A backed-up sewer line is not only an inconvenience: it is a health problem. Recently, the University of North Carolina Charlotte found out exactly how essential plumbers can be when four ground floor dormitories were flooded with waste from a broken sewer pipe.
People that provide auto services are essential, too. We need our cars, they make sure that they are able to stay on the road. These important skilled trade people help keep us safe and keep our structures in good condition. It makes complete sense that they are essential. Unfortunately, we may not be giving them the thanks that they deserve.
It Isn’t Easy Being Essential
Many of us that must work from home might be thinking it can’t be too bad being an essential worker. At least you get to go out in the world, but the fact is, the grass is not greener on the other side.
Child care is sparse right now. While childcare workers are essential, those daycares are brimming right now, and they have to stick to strict guidelines. Many essential workers found themselves facing some real childcare issues. Let’s say that you have a school-age child that is normally in school for the chunk of your shift at work. At least you can rely on afterschool care until you get home. Enter the pandemic. Now your child is home learning remotely but you are an essential worker that has to get to work every day. All the daycares are at capacity. Exactly how do you manage that situation?
How about the fact that most essential workers are not making anything extra for taking the risks that they are taking? That’s right: most people that are essential are making the same amount of money they were making before they were considered essential. While authorities have repeated over and over again the best thing to do is stay home to protect your health, essential workers have to go to work.
Many essential workers for a long time did not have the proper personal protection equipment. Their jobs were not set up to protect them in the early days (thankfully, it seems that most places of business have policies in place to protect workers) and they watched as their co-workers got sick.
At the very least we should acknowledge the sacrifice that these people have made for the greater good of our society. The stress and additional strain they had to deal with while many of us were able to stay home and binge on Netflix, and heaven forbid have to deal with our families. This has been a tough time for all of us but nowhere as tough as it has been for those unsung heroes that keep our country moving forward every day. The best ways to thank them? Where a mask. Stay home. Order out. Donate if you can. We’re all in this together.