By Lisa Edwards / Herald Forum
Over the last 18 months, covid-19 has shifted my thinking and definition of the “essential worker.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, I prized the individuals who delivered food and stocked shelves at grocery stores. Who knew that toilet paper, flour and sugar would be such hot commodities? I was also inspired by the health care workers who, every day, risk exposure to covid-19 while providing care to the sick. From those standing outside in the rain to administer drive-through covid-19 tests, to those racing to stabilize those who were infected, every health care worker has had a role and has also been affected.
After about 18 months of the pandemic and with the latest surge of infections hopefully peaking, we are just beginning to understand the impact that the virus has had on our workforce. I now realize that there are numerous types of “essential workers,” including those who labor on behalf of others to perform their job duties.
In June 2021, the American Psychological Association released the results of their pandemic survey that found 1 in 4 essential workers (25 percent) has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder since the start of the pandemic. The report found that essential workers have dealt with an array of stressors from having to self-isolate from loved ones to witnessing the effects of the virus first-hand. More than 70 percent reported that they could have used more emotional support. As a result of the pandemic, health care employers are experiencing significant staff burnout and turnover.
Every day, firefighters and law enforcement officers also risk exposure to covid-19. A tracking system launched by the International Association of Fire Chiefs reports that since the outbreak, more than 33,000 emergency medicine and fire service workers have been exposed to the virus and nearly 20,000 have been isolated or quarantined.
Labor Day, the annual celebration of the social and economic achievements of American workers, was a great opportunity to thank those who provide the essential services that we all enjoy every day. But every day provides a new opportunity to thank the numerous essential workers who contribute to our prosperity, safety and well-being. Let’s recognize their daily sacrifices and thank them for their tireless service.
Lisa Edwards is superintendent of Verdant Health Commission, Snohomish County Public Health District No. 2, serving Brier, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Woodway, Bothell and the unincorporated south county. For more, go to verdanthealth.org.