BC, DC and AC — The heroes rarely mentioned

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As a journalist, one of the things I do without end is talk to people. One of the things I’m noticing is that by the time all is said and done with this pandemic, there may be some who will reckon time in terms of BC, DC and AC — Before Corona, During Corona and After Corona.

And like many of the numerous people I speak with from home each day while doing my job, or when speaking with friends or family, there appears to be some type of fascinating time warp occurring During Corona, where days run together, or vanish altogether. It’s as if we’ve all been dumped in some kind of enormous sensory deprivation tank.

That is not to say there is an absence of clarity in the mix. And it’s within these DC days that a few things continue to strike me as equally interesting as the time warp itself.

One of those deals with a large group of people who are on the front lines of the pandemic. These people are not those in healthcare or public safety, all of whom are clearly going above and beyond, and providing excellent healthcare and public safety services in their communities.

Beyond those, I’m thinking about some of the others who, by virtue of their jobs, also serve today on the front lines of society — coming in contact with hundreds, if not thousands of people each day. They are rarely mentioned in the media. During the days of Corona, I think it’s feasible to conclude that these folks are exposed to far more people each day than practically any other group of workers.

Many among this group of workers, especially during the initial times of the pandemic, have not had personal protective equipment (PPE) to wear when they did their job, yet they are no doubt exposed to those among us who are, or have been, either symptomatic or asymptomatic, along with those unaffected by Corona. And as more information about the Sars-CoV-2 virus emerges, we continue to understand that there are a great many people who are asymptomatic, along with those whose symptoms are mild — many of whom are and have been out in the community since the beginning, including in the few businesses that are open.

The workers I’m thinking about work in that small number of businesses that have been open. Full-time or part-time, many work for comparatively low wages, all while putting themselves at risk for us.

This group of people, who could realistically number over 1,000 in this county alone, provide a service that is critical to our survival. They are the employees who work at Publix (five in Fayette), Kroger, (four in Fayette) Aldi (two in Fayette), Walmart (two in Fayette), Sprouts, Ingles, Fresh Market and others, not to forget Costco and Sam’s Club across the border where many of us shop.

They are the employees of the grocery stores where we all shop, where we have to shop in order to feed our families. Grocery stores can hardly be shuttered without risking a compromise to civil society. Think about it. Imagine what panic would ensue without being able to buy food.

And so there they are, stocking shelves, wrapping meat and produce and checking us out at the register, working on our behalf, and often without a full complement of personal protective equipment. Given the sheer volume of people they see each day, maybe grocery workers should be wearing HazMat suits.

Before Corona, who considered they played such a vital role in society? During Corona, the role they play to enable us to sustain our very lives and the lives of our families is unmistakable. And do any of us make any of the grocery workers a mask, or bring them a cup of coffee or a meal to say thanks for the job they do? I hope so.

And After Corona, I hope our local governments and our communities will remember them and the service they provided while so many of us sheltered at home, and made the occasional trip to the grocery store to be served by the heroes who are rarely mentioned.

[Ben Nelms has been reporting on local governments and news in general of the Fayette County area for The Citizen for 15 years.]