Overlooked: COVID-19’s high toll on “invisible” essential workers

Our heroes: Ayesha Noor (left) and Deepak Sharma on duty at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. They look after the hospital security and do all the patient watch with their team members and peace officers. (Photo by Raghav Chanana/The Press)

Working under the stresses of COVID-19 affected the mental health of frontline and essential workers. While the focus has been on doctors and nurses, other staff also plays a vital role in fighting the virus.  Security guards, cleaning staff, and delivery drivers worked throughout the pandemic, with the impact of their exposure to the virus receiving little attention and recognition.

Deepak Sharma and Ayesha Noor work as security guards at, respectively, the Alberta Children’s Hospital and the Foothills Hospital in Calgary. They both worked continuously throughout the pandemic.

“It doesn’t matter if the patient has COVID-19 or any other disease, we have to respond and look after them,” said Noor.

If any patient is out of control or trying to escape, the security team has to tackle the situation. Peace officers get involved when the situation gets out of hand.

“In the beginning, I was only the screening guard and then I got training for the special unit watch, and it was so stressful at that time,” said Sharma.

Sharma was on the COVID-19-unit watch and it was hard for him, in the beginning, to work efficiently in that situation.

A study published in the Human Resource Executive indicates that 88 per cent of workers reported experiencing extreme stress over the pandemic. Among those reporting pressure, 62 per cent noted losing about one hour daily in productivity and 32 per cent lost two hours per day because of COVID-19-related pressure.

Noor says that she was afraid that she may get infected with the virus every time she worked.

“I was very scared at that time, even when I got slight COVID symptoms,” she said.

Each sniffle meant that she took time off work to go for a COVID test.

“I was so stressed even when my results were negative hopefully,” said Noor.

According to research from KFF, people working during the pandemic are more at risk for poor mental health, including experiencing generally high levels of uncertainty and fear.

People working in health services, in whatever capacity, were the most affected by the situation because of their potential exposure to people infected with the virus.

An article published by PMC indicates that work environment viewpoints play a vital role in directing the mental health and well-being of individuals confronting this pandemic situation. Mental health is affected as people are always surrounded by a feeling of fear, which results in tensions and later anxiety, both of which negatively impact mental health.

“As a security guard, we have to deal with a lot of difficulties and it was very hard at the start of the pandemic,” said Sharma.

Also, among those most at risk of being exposed to COVID-19 were janitors, housekeeping and office cleaning groups.

Shivam Aggarwal, an employee at Bee Clean Company, says that cleaning services were the most demanded service at the start of the pandemic.

“It was risky to work as a cleaner in pandemic but someone has to complete the work right, if I don’t do it, someone else will,” Aggarwal said.

Before he got vaccinated, Aggarwal was conscious about his health and stressed about getting affected by the virus.

“Even though it was risky but we were making really good money, our contractor was getting a lot of calls at that time and our whole team was working overtime even on the weekend too,” said Aggarwal.

As the experiences of Aggarwal, Sharma and Noor illustrate, the mental health of the pandemic’s invisible essential workers requires more attention and support.

Deepak Sharma on duty at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. He and his team look after the hospital security and do all the patient watch with peace officers. (Photo by Raghav Chanana/The Press)
About Raghav Chanana 5 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Raghav Chanana is working as a writer for The Press during the 2021 academic year.