Every night, from 7:00pm to 7:02pm, it begins. There’s hooting and hollering, whistling, horn-blowing, the banging of pots and pans, beeping from passing cars, and even a parked car backfiring over and over and over again. Interrupting the sirens of ambulances, these are attempts by the residents who are advised and able to stay home, to support those who are not.
Timed to coincide with the evening shift change at hospitals, this noise-making is specifically a salute to our nurses and doctors and other medical professionals who are risking their lives to save lives, and dying at alarming rates. But other, less visibilized workers are also on the frontlines and face equal if not greater risk. These other essential workers outlined herein point to the ills that are foundational to our existing society while also illuminating future directions that, if taken seriously, promise to better protect us all going forward.
New York City is the epicenter of the unprecedented public health crisis spanning the globe right now. As we enter our 5th week (according to city government), emerging narratives and analyses highlight the predictably uneven nature of the crisis. For example, the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD) spatialized data from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to show that “high rates of positive COVID-19 cases are concentrated in neighborhoods where many of New York’s frontline service workers reside.” These neighborhoods are also disproportionately communities of color, and characterized by high rates of rent burden, revealing the ways that COVID-19 are amplifying existing inequalities.
ANHD defines frontline service workers broadly and in line with New York State’s definition as “an aggregate of workers employed in… Healthcare Support, Food Preparation and Serving, Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance, and Transportation and Material Moving Occupations.” This includes the persons checking you out at the grocery store and restocking the shelves, preparing your meds for pickup at the pharmacy, packaging your FreshDirect orders at the warehouse, whipping up and delivering comfort food from your favorite restaurant, maintaining transit options and continuing to clean public spaces for those of us who still need to move around, and more.