New York Essential Workers Share Concerns About Working During Covid-19 Pandemic

Many employees including healthcare workers are risking exposure to covid-19 in their own workplaces. Photo by Online Marketing on Unsplash.

By Neasha Shuler, Howard University News Service

New York Venerada Pagan is a mother and health care provider. Due to covid-19, she lost her current job and was rehired for another position at the same company. In one day, she went from unemployed to “essential worker”. Despite the drastic changes and growing coronavirus cases, she was still expected and required to show up for work everyday..

In late March, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo curated a list that would identify some workers as “essential” during the global coronavirus pandemic.

Essential workers and businesses are determined by government agencies. They decide which workers are integral to the community and what businesses must remain open for the safety and welfare of the public. Since the outbreak of covid-19, businesses and workers who were considered non-essential, were ordered to work from home.

At the top of his list are essential health care operations which include the following: hospitals, walk-in-care health facilities, home health care workers or aides for the elderly, doctors and emergency dental, nursing homes, residential health care facilities, among others.

Many employees are  risking exposure to covid-19 in their own workplaces. While most of these occupations require face-to-face interaction, some have questioned whether all essential workers are equally prepared for health consequences. As shown in the graph, disease exposure tends to be higher for low wage workers. Comparatively, almost 45 percent of high wage workers must  work in close physical proximity to others.

Even when a good number of healthcare practitioners, nurses, doctors and therapists earn higher wages, millions of other essential workers do not.

Dr. Ravichandran Veerabadran, an in-house physician at Pinnacle Multicare Nursing & Rehabilitation Center knows how important it is to be an essential worker during this time.

“I am concerned about the safety of the family because I may carry this virus to them. So that is a bit concerning. My other concern is for my own safety, however, it is my duty so I need to do it,” he said.

Working in the healthcare profession, the exposure to the virus is extremely high. He goes on to explain how covid-19 is affecting the day to day operations at the nursing & rehabilitation center he works for.

“The only problem is, corona causes a huge problem for health care workers because they still have to protect themselves all the time,” said Dr. Ravi. “A lot of us become sick and it decreases our workload. So instead of ten nurses on the floor, now we only have five nurses. Then the patients are still there and they have to be taken care of so the nurses who are working have to work double and that puts a lot of stress on their bodies”.

Bay Park Adult Day Health Services is a branch of Pinnacle Multicare Nursing & Rehabilitation Center located in the Bronx, NY. Venerada Pagan, a mother of four, worked there for four and half years until they recently terminated her services due to coronavirus. She was hired for another role to help with the shortage of nurses on the floor. Since she was brought in to help, she is now an essential worker for the time being.

“Unfortunately right now being at work I have a little anxiety. They closed schools, I have children. They closed my job. I sat there and I felt lost, I really felt lost that day. I’ve cried. I’ve gone through so many emotions. People are suffering right now. But I’m trying to help out the community, the ones who were in my program, as well as the seniors here that are suffering. I just share my contact and try to bring as much peace as possible,” she said.

Jennifer Reed is a nurse at Pinnacle Multicare Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. She works on the 10th floor and is hands-on with many elderly patients. Reed finds working as a nurse in the health care system during this time as very challenging. Not only are people dying of the virus, medical attention still needs to be given to people with other health problems.

“Not everybody has covid, many other patients have other problems. They have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, back problems, all kinds of problems and they all need to be taken care of. So we can not lose sight that most of the other patients have serious problems they can die from.”

Reed goes on to say, “one thing our government could have done is once they knew about this contagious virus happening in China, then they should have put a stop to all international travelers from coming into the country. It could have prevented so much.”