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Essential workers in Florida hope for relief in new year

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While Americans grew more divided over politics in 2021, frontline essential workers toiled on to hold the nation together.

Lauded as heroes but often not treated as such, nurses, first responders, teachers, farmworkers, commercial drivers, and other essential workers shouldered the load to keep goods, food, health care, and education available through both the pandemic and tense political times.

The Phoenix has stayed in touch with Florida nurses and other acute-care workers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, reporting as they worked countless hours of overtime, hundreds volunteered to administer vaccines and COVID tests at mass sites, and as many suffered from burnout, grief, and harassment.

Thousands of nurses around the nation contracted the disease themselves, especially when personal protective equipment (PPE) was scarce, and hundreds died of it, according to the National Nurses United, a labor union. Some felt forced to leave the profession for their family’s sake or their own.

Deborah Montgomery, a registered nurse in Palm Beach County since 2017, told the Phoenix this week that she and other nurses long for better days in 2022.

“For two years we’ve been on the front lines of this pandemic without proper support, protection, or pay,” said Montgomery, a member of 1199SEIU, Florida’s largest union of healthcare workers. “Staffing shortages and other pressures have always been an issue in our health-care system, but the pandemic has deeply exposed these weaknesses.”

Montgomery said people and institutions must learn lessons from the pandemic, including the value and cost of maintaining robust healthcare systems, the necessity for more workers to be trained in the field, and the public’s obligation to do its part to control infectious diseases.

“We need employers to protect us, pay us, and respect us,” Montgomery said.

“We need the governor and state government to stop playing partisan political games with this pandemic. In the hospitals, we’re trying to save lives, while so many of them are just chasing votes and soundbites.  And where are they and what are they doing during this huge new surge of COVID? We’ve seen nothing.”

As it stands now, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 58,013 new COVID-19 cases in Florida, based on Dec. 30 figures. That’s the highest number of all states and the District of Columbia, with one exception — New York. That state includes 62,105 new cases — a combination of New York City and New York state figures. Overall, the big numbers are attributed in part to the new and highly transmissible omicron variant.

Surges in infections typically are followed days and weeks later by a surge in hospitalizations and deaths, although epidemiologists suspect omicron may prove less lethal than previous strains.

Montgomery urged all eligible people to make full use of COVID vaccinations and boosters, for their own health, protection of others, and safety of the healthcare workers, she said, “are barely hanging on.”

“We need the public to take this seriously, too. It’s so smart and easy to get vaccinated, get boosted, wear a mask, and take the simplest of precautions to protect everyone you love,” she said. “Willingly misinformed behavior isn’t some noble show of freedom. It’s selfish, deadly, and it’s crashing our health system.”

To read the entire article on The Florida Phoenix, go here.

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