For the past two winters, which coincide with the two worst COVID-19 surges in Ohio, I have comfortably lived inside my house. Here, I listened to the wind howl, the snow driven to the ground, and knew there was nowhere to go, people to talk to only over the phone or on Zoom, and thought about how I was warm, not hungry, had the internet and TV, and was safe here in my house. Not only safe from the storm, but safe from the virus.
Living alone, keeping the house clean and the cats happy, going out only for grocery pick-up, talking to family and friends on the phone and by email, plus a few hobbies and favorite TV shows, I had plenty of time to think. And so, I thought a lot about the people who were keeping me safe, warm, and connected often at their own peril. They are now my heroes.
Of course, the top of the list are medical personnel who had to deal with the pandemic as first responders. As of middle March, the Ohio COVID website says over 100,000 health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19, about 4% of all Ohioans who have tested positive. I wonder what percentage that is of all health care workers, and how many got that “on-the-job” tending to sick Ohioans. I can’t imagine what courage it takes to enter a hospital every day to tend to the sick, knowing that it is a risk to one’s own life and perhaps, family. I saw their haggard faces on news reports and Ohio Health Department public service announcements and read about their first-hand accounts. Of course, they are our heroes during this pandemic, and should be at all other times as well.
That Ohio website does not list the impact of the virus on other professions, but, both winters, I pondered my safe environment and wondered who else has made this safe and warm environment possible. Who else faced the risks of entering out into the public, risking catching the disease, risking their health and their family’s health?
So, first, I realized I had reliable electricity, natural gas, water and sewer that never faltered. I had continuous internet and cable service, and trash pick-up and mail service, not to mention mostly on-time delivery from Fed-Ex and UPS. I had reliable banking services and was able to receive my retirement checks and pay my bills without interruption. There was gasoline at the pump for those few times I needed to fill the car up.
The folks that got up every day, went outside to their jobs to ensure the utilities flowed, the mail was delivered, the packages got sorted and onto trucks, and made sure the IT systems that power banking and the internet and online shopping, not to mention all my communication needs – emails, webpage , phone calls, radio and television stations, and more, were working. These people face the dangers every day and my personal conveniences were not disrupted.
Then I thought about the folks at the grocery pick-up service, and all the people who supported those bags loaded into my car’s trunk. The farm workers, the slaughterhouses, the processing people and packagers, the warehouse workers, the truck drivers, the shelf-stockers, the cashiers, the “personal shoppers.” They all made it possible for me to cook my own meals, eat what I wanted, and feel safe. Again, these unknown people made my life possible.
I also realized that there were EMTs, police officers, firefighters and the military folks who also kept me safe. They were there, always, doing their jobs day in and day out. They were not afforded the luxury of sitting on their couch, warm and safe from the virus. A Department of Defense report as of March 2, 2022, said over 380,000 military personnel have contracted COVID-19, and 93 have died. While those numbers are lower than the rates in the general population, these people went out and did their duty. In addition, 35 military dependents died, 412 civilian employees died, and 139 contractors died of COVID-19.
As of January 2022, 483 law enforcement officers have died of COVID-19, including 16 in Ohio. I can’t find similar numbers for firefighters, but again, they did their duty while I cleaned the litter box and washed the dishes.
And then there are the teachers and other support personnel. I don’t have children or grandchildren in school, but I do have a grandniece and grandnephews there. As of Feb. 24, 2022, at least 1,283 active and retired K-12 educators and personnel have died of COVID-19. Of those, 439 were active teachers, and so many more have been sickened doing their work. Of course, that does not touch the extra burden teachers faced in quickly developing online classes for their students, the stress at watching students succeed or fail the online sessions, and the realization that some students were not thriving at home in front of a computer screen. I think of the creativity teachers employed to find innovative ways to keep students interested and learning, the fear of failing their charge, the joy at success when it happened. And then they all returned to the classrooms and the school busses and kept it all going.
There are many others. Repair men – I had to have my furnace worked on one cold January 2022 morning, and the workman wore a mask for me. So did the pharmacy people where I can use the drive-up window for my prescriptions. As did the veterinarian for my cats. My lawn service guys continued into the fall of 2020 and started up for the summer of 2021. The pet food store dutifully brought my purchase to my trunk each week. And the restaurant cooks and staff who prepared the take-out dinners I took home to eat.
I think of the volunteers who staffed the food distribution sites for those families not as fortunate as I am, and those who staffed the volunteering testing sites and then volunteer vaccination sites to give service to others. There certainly must be any number of government and non-profit organizations who served the less fortunate – the homeless, children in need, cancer hospitals, group homes, rehab centers, nursing homes and more who continued to serve people’s needs. Even more, there are those who took care of sick family members at home – who struggled to keep other family members and themselves from getting sick while tending to those who were.
I also think of the scientists and researchers who developed the vaccines and medicines, who traced the illness, who studied (and are still studying) the impact on our lives. My social security checks kept coming, the government sent out checks to help folks, farmers mostly kept planting crops or tending to livestock. I am sure there is a category of workers, or more that I am forgetting or am not aware of.
I know people suffered and continue to suffer and struggle in health, finances and personal relationships because of the pandemic. Nearly one million people in the United States have died because of the pandemic, and over 37,000 in Ohio, and we should grieve every one of them. Nothing can diminish the anguish of those families. But even for them, and for the rest of us, our living conditions could have been so much worse and would have been if not for the heroes.
I got fully vaxed last April, and boosted last November, but have an underlying condition. I am incredibly fortunate. To all those who helped keep me safe and warm and fed during this pandemic, and to those who had to go to a workplace to fulfill their duties to others, or who served their own family, and anyone who kept things from getting worse, the only thing I can offer is my thanks and an acknowledgement of those who are now the real heroes.