These are the people who make our city great even when a pandemic isn’t raging, and they’re also the ones who have gotten us through one of the toughest times in our nation’s history. They certainly deserve a parade. But it must be more than a performance of support. This recognition must come, also, with a delivery of robust resources — and not just in New York City.
Essential workers across the country need the American public to step up to make sure these workers’ efforts will stick.
The pandemic made clear that New York City is a fragile ecosystem, and that we depend on each other to stay healthy and live well in this dense city. We need the people who stock our grocery store shelves, who care for our young and tend to our ill, who teach our kids, and who create spaces for us to connect and eat and drink and learn and enjoy.
In other words, a ticker-tape parade for essential workers is great, but well-paying jobs, expanded affordable housing and universal child care, for example, would be more genuine expressions of support.
In this sense, it’s bizarre to see New York prepare to celebrate Covid heroes while not taking the necessary steps to protect them — and all of us. Indeed, with Covid restrictions lifted, maskless indoor activities are back in full swing, with the city gently requesting — on an honor system, basically — that unvaccinated people continue to mask up, including at the ticker-tape parade
“Mask and distance if you aren’t vaccinated” is very obviously not going to work. Why on earth would the leaders of New York City and state imagine they can count on the very people who have made clear they don’t care about the wellbeing of others to take steps that would protect that wellbeing?
Why is the city inviting them to the party?
If we want to honor our essential workers, the number one thing we can do is get vaccinated. And if the city wants to protect those essential workers — and all of us — it needs to take what will be controversial steps to do that:
For starters, don’t make masking a trust-based exercise. New York could enforce mask rules for everyone for essential indoor activities like grocery shopping and subway-riding, while also requiring proof of vaccination in order to engage in unnecessary but pleasurable and unmasked activities like eating inside, going to a concert or attending a sports event (the city could allow exceptions, and require masks, for under-12 kids and people with health issues).
If you are able to get vaccinated and don’t want to, that would still be your choice — but that choice can’t entitle you to go to a Yankees game, eat at Balthazar, see “Hamilton” on Broadway or spend the day at the Met.
A collective salute to our essential workers is well deserved and likely even cathartic, and the New Yorkers who helped us all survive this plague have a whole lot to celebrate. But truly honoring their sacrifice demands much more than a parade on Broadway.