Essential workers keep Alaska going

More than 32,000 Alaskans filed for unemployment this March, as the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way of life for many. Citizens no longer gather for events of more than 10 people, physically eat at restaurants or go to school in person due to the “hunker down” mandate. The businesses and employees that are considered essential keep this new normal going for the state.

The State of Alaska issued a state-wide mandate to close nonessential businesses on March 11, with a tentative revaluation date of April 11. The mandate was extended until June 5, as of April 15. Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz reminded Alaskans of the realities of the current pandemic during an Anchorage Assembly meeting on April 14.

Jazlyn Hardee, a UAA nursing major, is considered an essential worker as a certified nursing assistant at an assisted living home in Anchorage. Photo courtesy of Jazlyn Hardee.

“We do not anticipate being in a hunker-down mode for very much longer, but as we confront the reality of what it takes to manage the city’s response to a pandemic, it is going to take an ongoing effort. The pandemic will not disappear when the hunker down order disappears,” Berkowitz said.

Grocery stores, postal workers, banks and medical facilities are among the essential businesses that are still open and running. These employees keep Alaskans fed, deliver their packages, keep finances running so that bills can be paid and help save lives. Joseph Insinnia is a teller at Northrim Bank and works daily to help Alaskans manage their money during this uncertain time.

“They won’t close our bank and we have to keep working. It’s strange, of course, to work during a pandemic, but we have to adjust since we are essential workers,” Insinnna said.

To ensure the health and safety of their employees, essential businesses have implemented protective face mask requirements and other measures to slow the spread of the virus. Even with the extra precautions in place, however, Insinnia never forgets about the risks present when he is at work.

“We only let people into the bank if they have an appointment and it limits the risks. [COVID-19] is always in the back of my mind, though,” Insinnia said.

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Adults over the age of 65 are among some of the hardest hit by COVID-19, according to The Centers For Disease Control, or CDC. Deaths of senior residents in nursing homes and long-term facilities due to the virus have surpassed 3,800 in the U.S., according to an analysis of case data conducted by The New York Times. These establishments have workers that risk their health on a daily basis to take care of their patients.

Jazlyn Hardee is a certified nursing assistant at an assisted living home in Anchorage, as well as a nursing major at UAA. Being aware of the importance of her job is what keeps her going to work, she said.

“At times it can be difficult, but they still need someone to take care of [these patients], to help them. Workers may be able to stay home, but for my residents, that is their home,” Hardee said.

Jori Reynolds-Dovell is the overnight master control operator for KTBY. She worries about how her household could be affected by her continuing to leave for work.

“Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it. Knowing I could be the reason someone in my house catches COVID-19 scares me,” Dovell said.

Hardee tries to remain optimistic despite the threat of infection present at her work.

“I enjoy working with all of my residents, as it gives me a sense of joy seeing that I made a difference in their lives,” she said.