They answered the call: Our health care workers, our People of the Year

Photo by Todd Maisel

The army of doctors, nurses, lab technicians, orderlies and other health care workers of New York City were called into duty like never before not long after the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the five boroughs was detected on March 2, 2020. 

We can think of no greater group of individuals in this city to honor, and we urge you to join us in applauding the frontline healthcare workers of New York — our People of the Year for 2020.

Why should they be honored? Because they answered the call when New York needed them the most.

They answered that call despite the dangers of the rapid-spreading virus with its debilitating and lethal effects. 

They answered that call at a time when no vaccine was available, and no one had an effective treatment for those suffering the most from the illness.

They answered that call as more and more patients filled their hospitals in the dark days of March and April. 

They answered that call at a time when they did not have all the necessary supplies to treat patients and protect themselves while doing so. 

They answered that call even as their colleagues would fall sick to the contagion themselves, and too many of them died as a result. 

They answered that call even while enduring the emotional trauma of losing patients to COVID-19, and serving as the final link between those patients and loved ones unable to see them in person but were left to make their goodbyes via cellphone or computer.

Photo by Todd Maisel
Nurses at Interfaith Medical Center clap at 7 p.m.Photo by Todd Maisel

Countless health care workers in this city, as they took on this virus, sacrificed so very much of themselves personally. They took great pains not to bring the virus to their loved ones in any way.

Many stayed away from loved ones in the groups most vulnerable to contracting the worst symptoms of the virus. Some even isolated themselves in hotel rooms and other places to avoid bringing the contagion home. 

They missed holidays, birthdays, weddings, funerals, other family rites of passage because duty called, the lives of New Yorkers hung in the balance — and they answered it with every fiber of themselves.

Not since the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001 has the city witnessed and appreciated such sacrifice. On that day of tragedy, it was the phalanx of police officers and firefighters who ran into the World Trade Center, at risk to themselves, when everyone else was running out; though the attack cost 3,000 lives, tens of thousands of others were saved through such heroism.

The COVID-19 pandemic wrought incomprehensible devastation on our city during the first wave. Now, amid the second wave, the frontline healthcare workers find themselves sacrificing themselves once more to save lives as more patients enter their hospitals, clinics and offices. 

They keep running into danger as the rest of us socially distance, mask up and look to keep away from it. That is the very definition of heroism.

In the days of spring, New Yorkers began holding a public salute at 7 p.m. each night to thank these special people for stepping up in our defense. It was a small gesture of gratitude from a grateful city that will forever be in their debt. 

So, too, is this honor from all of us to all of them.

The struggle against COVID-19 is far from over, and the new vaccine offers hope that the end is finally in sight. But we can find some comfort knowing that between now and the end of the crisis — and long after the pandemic is but a painful memory — these heroic men and women stepped up to do their job, care for the sick, comfort the dying and heal this city.

We applaud and thank all of our frontline healthcare workers for the sacrifices they’ve made. And if you’re looking for the best way to honor them, there is but one answer: stay safe. 

Mask up. Keep socially distant. Get the vaccine when it is available to you.

Let’s do all that we can to thank and protect our healthcare heroes — because they answer the call.

Photo by Todd Maisel
Rueters file photo

More from around NYC