By Margarita Restrepo
Nearly 215,000 dead of COVID in our country. The number is staggering, but it doesn’t surprise me. As a hospital cleaner in the largely immigrant city of Everett, Massachusetts, I’ve spent most of 2020 watching Trump let thousands upon thousands die of COVID-19.
Now, COVID has caught up with President himself—this virus doesn’t discriminate. But catching COVID hasn’t humbled this President, nor made him a more responsible leader. Instead, he risks the lives of everyone around him while telling us we shouldn’t fear COVID-19.
But we should fear COVID-19. We should fear how many more lives will be lost, how many more families will be torn apart, how many more jobs will be lost. We must turn that fear into action by voting Trump out of office in November and electing Vice President Joe Biden as our next President.
If you’re not feeling the same kind of urgency as I am, let me paint a picture for you: from one day to the next, Everett Hospital, where I work, went from relatively quiet to flooded with mostly Brown, Black, and immigrant patients dying of COVID-19. Often, these patients were unable to talk anymore, but their eyes pleaded with us, saying, “Please don’t forget about me. Please don’t leave me alone.” They were then shuttled into their own rooms, and the doors closed.
This was starkly different from pre-COVID times, when patients were often surrounded by family and friends. Before the pandemic, I would chat with the patients as I went about my work day, but now all they saw was a sea of hazmat suits before being thrown into isolation. COVID had stripped us of our humanity.
Much of the time, a few days later, these patients were whisked away in body bags after dying alone, their families left unable to say goodbye or even gather for a funeral in their honor.
As someone who came here from Colombia so many years ago in search of a better life, it’s painful to watch members of my own community suffer so acutely, to know that they probably share similar life stories to mine, and that the better life they sought upon coming to United States is ending so tragically. It’s heartbreaking knowing that we have a President in office who has done everything he can to demonize hard-working immigrants like us, and it has led directly to these deaths.
Perhaps these patients were frontline workers like I am, and they caught COVID-19 at work—the majority of workers serving customers at grocery stores, cleaning hospitals, delivering restaurant orders, or caring for our elderly at nursing homes are Black, Brown, and immigrant people. All too often, these important jobs are low-wage, non-union, and lack health and safety protections— a matter of life and death these days. I’m lucky as a union worker to feel safe at work, with adequate PPE, but many hospital cleaners don’t have the same level of protection. This is an issue every American should care about—if hospital workers and other essential workers don’t have proper PPE, patients and the general public are at heightened risk too.
In order for us to get control of this terrible disease, we need a President who will guarantee that all workers have the PPE they need to protect themselves and others. We need a President who won’t take to Twitter to say he’s going to shut down stimulus talks until after the election when so many businesses are suffering and so many are out of work. We need a leader like Vice President Biden, one who believes in science and truth, in boosting the economy by supporting workers, in immigration reform, in protecting our communities’ health. We need someone who wants to unite us around fighting this pandemic, not someone who spreads dangerous misinformation. We need someone with a track record of fighting for working families through years in public office, not a reality TV star who cares only about himself.
The suffering, pain, and death I’m seeing needs to end. Our communities need compassion and support so we can heal together. This is the only way we’ll get through this unprecedented time. We need a return to the America I believed in when I immigrated here so many years ago—one of inclusion, opportunity, and equity, not of fear, exclusion, and racism.
Electing Biden as our next President is a matter of life and death for all of us. I hope you’ll join me in fighting for our country, in honor of all those we’ve lost.
Margarita Restrepo has been a cleaner at Everett Hospital and a proud member of 32BJ SEIU for 20 years.