The Essential Workers Who Were the Unsung Heroes of 2020

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Did the woman who sold me a package of face masks in a Manhattan pharmacy back in April save my life? Maybe. She certainly risked hers.

As this pandemic has raged, most of us have stayed home as we were instructed to do by our governors and mayors. We’ve worked from our beds, we’ve watched Netflix, we’ve baked sourdough boules. We did yoga classes on our phones. We rode bikes that went nowhere. Some of us learned to knit. We’ve ordered food. Some of us learned to cook. We were bored. We’ve missed our parents and sometimes grandparents but we were on the whole, safe.

Not so for a large chunk of the American population. “Essential workers” were lambs sent to slaughter by Donald Trump and his no-nothing Republicans. “Essential workers” are the people who bag your groceries, grill your hamburger, farm your strawberries, deliver your mail, fill your prescriptions and drive your bus. Without these people, there is no food order, no bread to bake, no coffee to drink.

These people weren’t able to Zoom into the office. We were able to stay home because of the tasks that these “essential workers” performed outside the safety of their living rooms. These people suddenly found themselves on the front lines of the pandemic. Unlike the equally essential and more widely acknowledged “frontline workers”—doctors, nurses, hospital staffers—they thought they were signing up for relatively safe and undramatic jobs only to end up risking their lives every time they left for work.  The Trump administration didn’t order any federal mandates protecting these workers and so these “essential workers” went to work completely unprotected by their government. Thousands of essential workers have gotten sick; probably hundreds have died.

Trump ran on selfishness, on “America first” and building a wall on the Mexican border. The whole ethos of Trumpism is “screw everyone else.” And perhaps that’s why he’s done such a horrendous job with the pandemic—and now the vaccine rollout. Viruses are contagious; this particular virus transmits through tiny microscopic droplets in the air. We all breath the same air. There isn’t special air for people who don’t believe the virus exists. There is no “you” or “me” in a pandemic. If you want to stay safe from the pandemic, you have to keep the people around you safe, chiefly by wearing a mask. Trump’s refusal to acknowledge this, his ignorance and his selfishness, particularly in the waning weeks of the presidential election, when he blamed the coronavirus for his lagging poll numbers, has resulted in the deaths of approximately 350,000 Americans.

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