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Are you essential?

Who is essential? What services are essential?

In times of disruption and crisis, these are questions we have to wrestle with as a society, and the recent statewide stay-at-home order highlights just how many people and services are critical to keep society functioning.

Right now, there are retail workers, gas station attendants, restaurant workers and a whole host of others who are risking their own personal health and safety to provide services deemed essential for society to continue functioning. It’s a bitter irony that many of these same workers are some of the lowest paid in our society, often lacking benefits such as health insurance and paid time off.

Of course, there’s no break in times of emergency for first responders either. Rather, law enforcement, firefighters and EMTs are expected to be at the ready to answer calls for help from the public, not knowing if the person they’re going to save might pass along a potentially deadly virus. Many of them, by the way, are volunteers.

More than anyone else, however, nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers are truly on the front lines of the current crisis. Every day, they go into work and stare down a horrific virus that has so many of us staying home. That is true courage.

Those are but a few examples, and these “essential” employees, from the gas station attendant to the nurse, are the true heroes of this pandemic. In normal times, it’s easy to take the work they do for granted. In some cases, the payouts from unemployment would be more than the paycheck they take home at the end of the week. Go figure.

The working class heroes deserve better, both in the respect they receive from the public and the compensation they get for the work they do to keep America going. Think about that next time you venture out from home for essential services.

Perhaps a “Thank you” is in order. At the very least, treat the people who are working for the public with respect and dignity. Don’t take actions that put them and their families at risk by going out if you’re sick.

Maybe when all is said and done with, we’ll learn, as a society, to be a little bit more appreciative of the “essentials.”