For many of us the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic registers in awkward new work-from-home arrangements and the struggle to keep our cooped-up kids productively occupied.

The fact is, those on the front lines of this health crisis would likely switch roles if they could.

Most workers in local hospitals unlike medical workers elsewhere in the country, believe they have adequate protective gear and capacity should cases surge in rural Pennsylvania.

We are grateful for the preparedness and wish them continued safety.

Another group of people putting lives on the line to serve the rest of us amid this epidemiological war, however, don’t enjoy such reassurance. Those are the retail workers who man the registers and stock the shelves as panicked shoppers flock the aisles to lay in supplies. While public health experts tell us that social distancing is the best way to protect ourselves and halt the coronavirus spread, their work puts them daily face to face with strangers who carry no warning signs of where they might have traveled or whom they might have contacted.

These vulnerable workers, too often taken for granted, deserve our thanks and respect, always, but also our full support and care should their jobs make them sick.

For many, pay and benefits are likely not commensurate with the risk they face. An analysis recently published on politico.com found the nation’s approximately 3.6 million cashiers earn about $22,430 a year and top the list of most at-risk workers during the pandemic.

With so many small businesses shutting down under government order, large-scale grocery chains and retailers, deemed essential services, are hiring to meet a surge of demand.

It is only right and welcome to see such companies, including Walmart, Target and Amazon, boosting pay for workers who make their operations and profits possible.

Local companies are following suit. According to the Tribune-Review, Giant Eagle will offer $10 million in bonus pay to its employees, and western New York media outlets have reported that Wegmans is giving its workers a temporary $2 an hour raise amid the crisis. The company also said on its website that it has enhanced its disability pay policy and created a job-protected voluntary leave program.

Whether it is by company action or a congressional bailout, any gaps in the health care safety net for these workers must also be cinched given the dangers they face to serve others.

This experience throws into high relief the value of their labor to our economy and way of life.

Erie Times-News

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