How are NY’s essential workers doing?

Medical personal leaving the emergency room at NewYork-Presbyterian on Wednesday.
Medical personal leaving the emergency room at NewYork-Presbyterian on Wednesday.
Mary Altaffer/AP/Shutterstock
Medical personal leaving the emergency room at NewYork-Presbyterian on Wednesday.

How are NY’s essential workers doing?

Not great.
March 19, 2020

There are growing concerns about the welfare of essential workers during New York’s COVID-19 crisis. 

Essential workers and businesses are typically determined by government agencies that assess what work is integral to keeping things running. This can vary from state to state but health care workers, law enforcement, public transportation employees, pharmacists and grocers typically fall under this category in New York. However, you may be surprised to learn that construction workers are also considered essential. 

While these essential workers are necessary to keep the state running, they, especially health care workers, also face the risk of increased exposure to people that have contracted COVID-19.

There have already been numerous reports that the state’s health care workers are running out of masks, gloves and goggles that help prevent them from catching COVID-19. Because these supplies have become extremely limited, health care workers are now reusing face masks that they would typically discard after seeing each patient. Currently it is unclear whether or not reusing masks makes health care workers more susceptible to contracting the virus. 

“The health of health-care providers had not gotten as much attention,” Dr. Eugene Grudnikoff, a psychiatrist at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, wrote in an op-ed for the Daily News. “Yet this resource is most vulnerable, most difficult to replace and in need of aggressive protective measures.”

New York City’s law enforcement has also worried some who fear that it isn’t doing enough to protect its employees. New York Police Department officers have been told to show up for work even if they’ve been exposed to a person who has COVID-19, unless they begin displaying symptoms of the virus, even though one can be carrying coronavirus and contagious for days before showing symptoms. That means police officers could be currently giving coronavirus to each other and to other New Yorkers. It’s not clear why they aren’t testing all the cops who come into contact with coronavirus patients, so that they could sideline those who test positive. So far, four Fire Department of New York firefighters have contracted the virus.

Transit workers, bus drivers in particular, at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have asked about enacting more protections to lessen the risk of contracting COVID-19. Bus drivers have asked to have fare collections suspended – to create more of a distance between riders, having riders enter through the back entrance of the bus, create a protective shield around the drivers and give the drivers the right to limit the bus’ capacity to 50%. The MTA has said that it is considering these requests.

“We are on the front-lines and they want to keep us on the front-lines so hospital workers, nursing home staff, first-responders and others can get to their critical jobs,” Tony Utano, president of the city transit union, told the Staten Island Advance.

Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
is City & State's web reporter and social media editor.
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