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Andrew Pallotta: Navigating Uncharted Waters

As the coronavirus threat continues, we find ourselves in uncharted waters. Our lives and our communities are at a standstill. People are losing their jobs at unprecedented rates. And, of course, our friends and neighbors are becoming ill and some have passed away. None of us have lived through anything like this.

And yet, during these challenging times, we’re also seeing deeply moving and inspirational stories.  Ordinary people are stepping up during these extraordinary times to do selfless and heroic acts of kindness and bravery. 

We see educators helping implement social distancing guidelines by pivoting to remote learning practices at the drop of a hat. We see them helping out families in their communities by handing out food and equipment. And, we see them lifting the spirits of families in isolation by organizing rainbow hunts and parades.

We see essential employees like pharmacy and grocery store workers, bus drivers and public safety officials putting their lives on the line to ensure the rest of us have what we need to survive this crisis.

We see home health aides putting themselves at risk to go into people’s homes to ensure they have the care they need.

And, of course, we see healthcare professionals rising to the challenge in ways none of us could ever imagine. We hear them describing hospitals and nursing homes as war zones. We see them volunteering to leave their families and travel to the hardest hit parts of the state to lend a helping hand. And sadly, we see too many of them falling ill and even succumbing to this awful disease — even as they work to save lives. 

As we navigate through these distressing times, I’m proud to lead a statewide union that represents educators, and tens of thousands of health care workers and other professionals, serving on the frontlines of this war.

Right now, nothing is more important than protecting the health, safety and well-being of all citizens.  This is particularly important for healthcare workers.

That’s why we at NYSUT launched our Healthcare Heroes campaign. You can join using the hashtag “Health Care Heroes” by posting a photo or a note of thanks to health care workers, on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

We’ve already purchased and distributed 55,000 surgical masks and 20,000 surgical gowns. Learn more at www.nysut.org/disasterrelief

And for other ways to get and share useful information, visit www.nysut.org/coronavirus.

Finally, while it may not seem like the most important issue facing us right now, the coronavirus pandemic also underscores the importance of filling out and submitting your 2020 census form. Why? Because billions of federal dollars — including health care funding and emergency resources — are allocated based on census data.

If we don’t get every New York State resident counted, we stand to lose funding for the critical supplies our health care providers need. And that could put us all at risk. In fact, as this pandemic shows, it could mean the difference between life and death.

Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the more than 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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