We must do more to protect our essential workers
OpinionGuest Columnist

We must do more to protect our essential workers

Our country should regard COVID-19 essential workers similar to trained military professionals and offer a benefits package that represents their obligations and risks.

Dorit Sasson
(Photo by Anna Tarazevich via Pexels)
(Photo by Anna Tarazevich via Pexels)

With the threat of a renewed coronavirus outbreak, essential workers are now needed more than ever on the front lines, and every day our essential employees risk their lives to protect ours. Our nation has a responsibility to protect the health and financial stability of these heroes and their families.

As the wife of an essential worker, I deeply understand the risks that these essential workers face every day. They are trapped in what clinical social worker Rachel Rosen refers to as a “psychological malaise” — a condition stemming from fear of exposure. They are asking themselves, “Have I already been exposed to the disease? Will I need to take a COVID test? Is it possible that I could die from complications? What will this mean for my family? For my job?”

Because it’s difficult to adequately measure the risks, especially in grocery store environments, it’s even more necessary to require close monitoring. Establishing a “good neighbor policy” triage system of checking in on each other is what’s needed right now to create a sense of community. This cost-effective, easy-to-implement strategy begins with management asking their employees daily, “Are you okay? Is there anything you need?”

Embracing the notion we’re all in this together will, I hope, create a stronger sense of community, especially in retail and medical environments where workers may be trapped in their feelings of loneliness due to the stress and fear of potentially being exposed to the disease. But all too often, these vulnerable workers end up “playing it safe” for fear of losing their jobs. Establishing an “I’ve got your back” communitywide system could be great news for mental health, as statistics documenting the second wave of rising mental health issues suggest that we are not handling stay-at-home orders well. A recent case study at the Florida State University School of Medicine found that “the feeling of increased social support and of being in this together may help limit increases in loneliness.” I look forward to what future studies of those companies who decide to implement such “good neighbor policies” might reveal.

Our government needs a better understanding of essential workers — from retail to medical establishments, and particularly those in customer-facing roles — and the risks they face. Emerging research shows that these workers are five times as likely to test positive as their colleagues in other positions which raises the question of whether essential workers potentially exposed to COVID-19 can manage coronavirus-related health impacts in their own lives. Already, many of them are at an economic disadvantage, generally earning lower wages and carrying less health-related insurance.

Because of their high risk of exposure, our country should regard COVID-19 essential workers similar to trained military professionals and offer a benefits package that represents their obligations and risks.

There are those essential workers who strongly feel that at the end of the day, all companies really only care about is increased efficiency and revenue. But as we’re hoping for favorable outcomes with the vaccine rollout, our human supply chain is breaking and crumbling. We are not talking about keeping up with the supply chain of toilet paper or wipes. If anything, after a renewed coronavirus outbreak globally with more than 1 million reported deaths worldwide, this pandemic will have exposed the fragility of the human supply chain system.

Our essential workers are the heart of our global economy and ecosystem and without them, our retail, grocery and hospital systems would not exist. Since our essential workers risk their lives every day to protect ours, the right thing for our nation and individual companies to do is to speak up for them and show how much we care about them right now. PJC

Dorit Sasson is the author of the upcoming memoir “Sand and Steel: A Memoir of Longing and Coming Home,” and an SEO/author branding strategist for Micro Publishing Media. She lives in Pittsburgh.

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