EDITORIAL: Praiseworthy: U.S. workers have earned appreciation in pandemic

Today is National Employee Appreciation Day. If anyone deserves such appreciation this year, it’s our nation’s workers, who have kept our communities fed, supplied and served, and kept our economy from collapsing amid the extremely trying conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has been a year since the global viral outbreak prompted officials to order businesses closed and ask everyone to take safety precautions. Even with those precautions, the disease has hit some 29 million Americans, killing 520,000 of them. Texas, and the Rio Grande Valley have been hit hard, with nearly 2.7 cases and 45,000 deaths in the state. More than 127,000 cases have been reported locally, with more than 4,500 deaths.

Of course, many businesses had to stay open; society can’t function without them. People have to eat and keep their homes equipped with the basic necessities. And so millions of people braved the risks and dutifully stayed on the job.

All deserve our appreciation.

Tops on the list are our healthcare and front-line workers who fought the deadly disease one patient at a time. With each person they carried in their ambulances and treated in hospitals, they exposed themselves to the virus and risked passing it on to their family members when they went home. Indeed a significant proportion of our COVID-19 cases, and deaths, affected our nation’s healthcare workers.

Many workers found ways to work from home, although for many it required the unexpected purchase or upgrade of home computer equipment. They included educators, who did their best to continue teaching our children remotely. Special mention belongs to school cafeteria workers, who continued to fix meals for the students, then stand along the street in all sorts of weather to hand them to families as they drove by.

We also thank the many workers who toiled at stores, restaurants and other businesses keeping our communities fed and supplied. Those who braved the recent ice storms in order to serve those who had lost power at home and couldn’t cook their own food deserve special appreciation.

The need for such workers is obvious, which is why officials labeled store and restaurant workers as essential during the pandemic, waiving travel restrictions that might have affected their ability to get to work. It’s unfortunate that their essential status disappeared when officials began prioritizing members of our community when scheduling who should receive COVID-19 vaccinations first.

Nor can we forget those who lost work because business closures erased their jobs, even if only temporarily. Those job losses created financial burdens for many people who still had to pay the bills and suddenly had to seek funds, or forgo many expenses, in order to stay solvent. We hope that the easing of restrictions next week enables them to return to work and rebuild their normal lives.

It’s been a trying year for everyone, but even though we all were asked to restrict our public activities, many had to take their chances and continue going to work every day. The communities they serve needed them.

And although it will never be said as much as it should, our community owes our workers an abundance of thanks.