As much of the country has been sidelined with shelter-in-place restrictions, waste workers have stepped up to continue services despite the risk of COVID-19.
The Washington Post uploaded a video April 1 showing how sanitation workers in Washington, D.C., are continuing service while trying to stay safe on the job.
“Our people are no different than anybody else. They’re no different than the police officers or firefighters—they’re putting themselves out there to potentially be exposed more than the people who are staying at home,” Chris Geldart, director of the city’s Department of Public Works, says.
Despite the city’s best efforts to diminish worker risk by providing personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves, outfitting trucks with sanitation products and advocating for keeping truck windows open to circulate in-cab air whenever possible, there is only so much that can be done to limit exposure.
“I pray nobody gets sick, but we’re out there. They want you to keep 6 feet distance [between people], but in the truck, there’s not 6 feet of distance [with three workers]. We just have to make sure we keep each other [healthy], and if one of us is sick, don’t come in—spare the next person,” Octavia French, a city sanitation worker, says.
In the video, waste workers acknowledge that while the threat of the virus is a major concern, they are committed to fulfilling their responsibilities to manage the city’s refuse during these uncertain times.
“I mean, right now, it’s scary. It’s more responsibility because you never know if you’re going to be sick, but it’s a job we got to do,” Jose Vasquez, a crew chief for the city, says.
The video is available on The Washington Post's website.