By Ryan Spelts
As we prepared for this June publication, we had to face the reality that this June would look much different from June in past years. Many of the community events that make the summer so exciting and wonderful have been cancelled or seriously altered to hopefully keep our communities safe. Things are different, and we had a chance to reflect on some of our everyday heroes who have been called upon to face a challenging landscape of new work regulations, schedules, and realities. Some businesses and jobs were deemed essential, meaning that they were asked to keep working while others were asked to stay home. To me, as a small business owner, I knew my business was essential to my family and to my employees and their families, but it wasn’t essential to help society continue to function during a scary time. I respect and honor all professions and believe that each of you reading this are essential; however, I also have a sister who is married to a doctor. He was in a meeting early on with a man who had returned from Italy and had no symptoms. He was diagnosed a couple days later as positive for COVID-19; he immediately had to inform everyone he had close contact with that they could be infected. This put hundreds of people at risk, including my brother-in-law, who was put in quarantine. He was quarantined in his own house with his wife and three children. What a scary situation: I didn’t have to face anything nearly as frightening. We know that many of you faced these unnerving situations, and we honor you for being the brave and the strong. We are grateful for you!
Last month, we wanted to highlight the positives of the pandemic as many were required to stay home or had to make a new workspace at their home. It changed our routines and made things a little hectic with kids. However, the porch pictures we took brightened our moods, and new ways of communicating for work and with family added some joy to an otherwise dark time. We noticed our kids were less stressed, more kind, and overall easier to get along with (yes, we have teenagers). At the same time, we started to look around our community and look at those people who have been most impacted by the pandemic and who had to rise to the occasion to meet our community’s needs. To us, they are heroes. Maybe they are not masked in leotards and capes, but heroes nonetheless. This is by no means a comprehensive list of the heroic people and professions we have in our community, instead, it is just a sampling of how the virus has impacted many of your friends and neighbors.
We started with the medical community, since they are on the front lines of this battle. Interestingly enough, the medical industry was, for the most part, very slow during the first part of the pandemic; not the COVID-19 task forces at hospitals, but almost any other medical sector was slow and somewhat scary for workers, many of whom were furloughed or laid off. Some who had the proper qualifications were reassigned to be part of the task forces for testing for and treating COVID-19 cases.
Imagine going to work each day having to face a major communicable disease that is raging across the globe. You are the one who is front and center. You work at the place where the sick come to find help and hopefully not to spread the disease. These women and men were, and still are, faced with a seriously scary scenario. On the other hand, they also had to worry that those who had other medical problems and who were not willing to come to the hospital or doctor’s office for fear of the disease. An emergency room administrator at Ogden Regional Hospital said her own family member didn’t come into the hospital until two hours after chest pain began, putting him a risk of death by heart attack. This administrator said that people are so scared of dying due to the coronavirus, that they might die from a different problem.
In reality, hospitals and clinics are some of the safest places in our communities. Dr. Candice Smith at Tanner Clinic says that they immediately implemented drastic changes to protocol. Some of these changes will stay in place, even after the scare of the pandemic eases. For one, when someone is sick and comes to the clinic, they are asked to stay in the car and a technician will come and diagnose or administer a test to them in the parking lot. This keeps the sick and healthy separated. That way, someone who is in the clinic for a wellness visit or a non-communicable problem isn’t exposed to someone who might have the flu or strep.
As you might imagine, regulations have long required that hospitals, medical centers, and clinics be very clean and sanitary; however, they are even more vigilant and have put extra guards in place to make sure the centers are clean in order to help the healthy stay healthy. They say that, actually, now it is safer to come in than it ever has been before.
Another front-line industry is the paramedics and firefighters. These brave men and women are out there facing the unknown every day. I spoke with the Roy City Fire Department and asked how things have changed for them. They said that, at first, there were way less emergency calls because people were staying home. Far fewer car accidents and other emergencies were happening. Things eventually picked back up, and new regulations were in place for firefighters. There were already some protections in place, but more protection is now required.
Interestingly, I happened to pull up just after a car accident happened in Ogden. I was at the light when the paramedics pulled up, and I waited for them to get situated. I watched as the firefighters got out of the truck, pulled off their hats, put on masks, then put the hat back on, and then gloves, before they could approach the accident. Those few seconds of delay, though necessary to the safety of the emergency professionals, could be scary for an injured person. It is the new reality and necessary to keep one another safe.
Another industry that has been greatly impacted by the pandemic is the Crisis resources like the YCC Family Crisis Centers. There has been a significant increase in demand for their services but a significant decrease in funding. Many foundations have redirected their funds towards the virus battle, leaving crisis centers short on funding. However, the great increase in stress during a time like this creates many situations where abuse can happen. Margaret Rose said that they have been there 27/7, answering the call to help prevent and protect those who are victims of abuse. People may be home more, out of work, and kids are out of school. This, combined with the fear that is natural when someone faces the possibility of getting a deadly disease, is the perfect storm for abuse. The employees at these centers are committed, and as one center director said, “Hope hasn’t been canceled here!”
We also know that food has been somewhat of an issue for many in our community. There was the natural response of some to go and stock up on groceries and supplies. There are others who didn’t have the means to do so and were then faced with a job loss, even if it was temporary. Food became a struggle. Grocery stores were deemed essential, and these workers didn’t get to stay home. Some quit their jobs out of fear of catching the virus at work, and stores were faced with record shortages in workers, yet record-smashing demand for their services. One Wal-Mart director said that he had hired 90+ people in the past two months.
The good thing is that food was available. He said that, though food was flying off the shelves, they were receiving 6-8 trucks every day. They would stock the shelves as quickly as they could and then repeat the same thing every day. He also noticed that kid’s entertainment items were in short supply. Trampolines, sidewalk chalk, and bikes were impossible to keep in stock because everyone’s kids were home and in need of entertainment. He would get a truck with 100+ bikes on it, and they would be sold in a day or two. All this was happening as workers faced down the fear of a rapidly spreading disease.
As communities grappled with making sure that there was food available, one local company set up a food exchange. Advanced Armor, with offices in Ogden and productions facilities in several places in the US, converted a local warehouse into a food exchange called the Tri-City Exchange. They receive donations and give food away for free. With several hundred visitors a day, people come to get much needed food, they ask that people bring something in exchange, even if it is a bag of noodles. The exchange is still open, and someone can take what they need or drop off donations.
Another group helping out are food service professionals at our schools. Some would call them “Lunch Ladies”, we call them heroes. The schools are giving out hundreds of meals per day. At Weber High School, they were providing 1,100 meals per day. Many of the vehicle occupants are in tears when they are given the food for their families. These are people who have never in their lives needed help or assistance, and yet, due to layoffs at their jobs, don’t have the food they need.
The Syracuse Child Nutrition Workers, AKA Lunch Ladies, have played their part in getting food into the homes of hungry students as times have changed. The work has changed quite a bit for them over the last few months. When students started online work from home, they started serving meals to go. This means instead of dishing up a plate and handing it to a student, the lunch ladies needed to find ways to package the food so it could make it home without ending up all over the back seat of the car! This requires a lot more work at the hands of the lunch ladies. “It’s a different way of serving than what we’re used to,” one worker said. The crews work together to prepare the meals, package them, take them outside, and hand them to families as they stop by. It doesn’t matter if it’s sweltering hot or rainy and cold. These lunch ladies are out there doing their best to serve their community.
Many of them say seeing the kids is the most rewarding part of their job. They really appreciate all the gratitude that is expressed from kids and their parents. These meals come at zero cost to families who might be struggling to make things work financially, and the lunch ladies see the difference a couple free meals a day makes on stressed parents. The highlight of the day for the workers and kids seems to be when the kids pick up their food each day.
Large manufactures have also been impacted. Locally, we have Petersen Inc., one of the largest small businesses in America. Petersen Inc. is a world class advanced manufacturer, and a precision machining facility located in Ogden, Utah and Pocatello, Idaho. They provide services to the nuclear, aerospace, defense, entertainment, and mining industries- just to name a few. With each industry being impacted by COVID-19 differently, Petersen Inc. has made many safety-related changes to proactively protect their employees, families, clients, and the community. The changes better facilitate social distancing and ensure that employees work in a clean environment. Examples of Petersen Inc.’s focus to encourage social distancing are staggering breaks and shifts, minimizing the amount of people in a centralized area, implementing “work at home” standards for office personnel, and enforcing the 1 rider per vehicle policy. To keep areas clean and safe, daily cleaning responsibilities have been increased, new access areas have been opened to the plant that require zero touch to enter, and supervisors have been provided disinfectants to clean each work area and tooling throughout the day. As the global landscape continues to change due to this pandemic, so will Petersen Inc. change to ensure they are providing a safe environment for their employees while striving to exceed their customers’ expectations.
An industry that impacted our publishing company is the banking industry. With our small business, we were quite worried about what the impacts of this virus meant for us. We watched with bated breath as the house and senate grappled with how best to help businesses survive this unprecedented time. We filled out multiple applications for relief funds, which were subsequently changed because of the regulations coming down from elected officials. When they finally asked us to reach out to our financial institution directly for help with the Paycheck Protection Program, we called Wasatch Peaks Credit Union. Wasatch Peaks has typically closed 5-10 business loans per month during normal times. They have 3 employees in that department. During the crisis, with the PPP loans, they had to borrow 8 to 10 staff members from other departments to help them close 300 loans in about 30 days. They worked long, grueling hours. I received emails from their department, often at 11p.m., regarding details of my loan. So much for banker’s hours! Wasatch Peaks said their motivation to work so hard came from the desire they have to help local small businesses keep their doors open and their employees paid. We have all heard of many large businesses getting PPP loans. Wasatch Peaks was here to help our community’s small business get PPP loans and assistance that they needed.
They also made the decision to offer Credit Union members additional COVID-19 assistance programs. No-fee skip-a-payment, payment forbearance, and low-rate personal loans where possible.
Finally, we talked to some local teachers. Some would think that their job had become easier. Stay at home, hold a few zoom calls with the kids, and just take it easy. Melissa talked to one of our children’s teachers and she said: “It’s like we’re all in our first year of teaching. We’re all in the same boat. No one to look to and learn from. It was hard coming up with ways to help parents teach without overwhelming them. The hardest part is not being with the kids and seeing them. It’s been a lot more work than teaching at school and not working one-on-one with them I miss my kids, teaching them without being with them. My advice to parents: do your best and what you can. You don’t want to get to the point where your kids hate it. Help them feel safe and like everything is going to be ok. Make the learning fun.
There are many more of you who would easily fit into these categories of being heroes, and we thank you. This is crazy. Our world came to a virtual stand-still, yet these heroes were as busy as before, and, in some cases, much busier. Today, things are looking better and better. Utah has been thankfully much less impacted than places like New York. We are slowly coming back to life. I don’t like traffic, but, for the first time in my life, I am grateful to be slowed down a bit by more and more of us on the road again. We are grateful to be part of your life and to take a small role in helping bring attention to these wonderful women and men who have so long been heroes in our lives.