With a new outbreak of COVID-19 returning to the New York City region, our first responders, front line health care providers, and other essential workers are once again confronted with a crisis that threatens their lives and families.
We must never forget their personal sacrifices to carry us through the pandemic, often at the risk of their own health and safety.
Honoring those contributions means a lot more than clapping at 7:00 PM every day.
It means securing key resources – health care and compensation – for essential workers who have contracted COVID-19 and have died or are still suffering from complications, and their families.
Thousands of essential workers have already passed away from COVID-19 complications. And the long-term health risks are still unknown.
We have an opportunity to learn from the example of an earlier health crisis that continues to impact thousands of people: the 68 types of cancer and dozens of respiratory diseases afflicting people exposed to Ground Zero toxins after 9/11.
Initially, some officials at all levels of government refused to acknowledge this serious threat to 9/11 first responders and survivors.
I know from personal experience representing NYPD Detective James Zadroga, who died about five years after 9/11 from severe respiratory disease.
We fought tirelessly for compensation for Detective Zadroga and his family, overcoming opposition from officials who failed to recognize the increasing obvious health risks of exposure to Ground Zero toxins.
Only after nearly a decade of advocacy was the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act signed into law in early 2011 – and later expanded in 2015 and 2019 – permanently guaranteeing health care and compensation for the entire 9/11 community.
Today, we have a responsibility to provide support to a new generation of heroes – the firefighters, police officers, emergency medical responders, and health care providers – among many essential workers whose efforts allowed our communities to survive the pandemic.
Only a federal health care program and compensation fund covering essential workers throughout the United States, rather than a patchwork of state and local programs, will offer comprehensive relief for essential workers and their families.
We cannot afford to wait a decade or more to provide help.
Workers who are still struggling to breathe and spouses and children who have lost a partner and a parent simply cannot afford year after year of delay in accessing assistance.
The development of effective COVID-19 vaccines indicates that the pandemic could end within the next several months.
Until then, we should continue to follow the safety precautions recommended by public health officials, including wearing a mask, washing hands frequently with soap, and avoiding indoor gatherings with people from outside our households.
Faithfully observing these guidelines will save many lives, particularly among essential workers whose jobs expose them to higher risks.
We will never forget the millions of people who answered the call and returned to work day after day to protect their fellow Americans.
As we draw closer to the conclusion of the pandemic, we have a duty to protect them.