Essential Workers | We salute them!

By Danae Jones

In this edition we shine the light on our essential workers, or the people many are referring to as the “Heroes of 2020”.  They are the people who’ve been rolling up their sleeves since this global pandemic began to keep our community safe, our loved ones alive and our bellies full in what are extraordinary times.

Since February, essential workers have been busier and under more stress than ever before.  Doctors, Nurses, School Teachers, Bakers, Butchers, Farmers and Military personnel have been shoved into the spotlight and forced to fight a war like no other, a biological one.  One that is continually referred to as “unprecedented.” Despite the unthinkable times, there’s been an army of hard-working men and women keeping our community safe, comforted, fed and watered, and they continue to fight the good fight without seeking an ounce of praise. Our essential workers are worn out after more than six months working around the clock, but you will not see one of them complaining.  There is no end in sight as they’ve all been told until there’s a vaccine, it’s a matter of getting on with the job and doing their bit to get us through to the other side.

While our essential workers continue to show up day after day, and deliver at a time when it is needed most, they are not immune from all the uneasy feelings many other Australians are facing.  They too have felt the fear, the anxiety, lost loved ones, been unable to attend funerals or weddings of family and friends, and they’ve suffered all the same woes just like every other person on the planet.  The only difference, they’ve had to continue to deliver under the pressure.  You see, they too are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents and partners.  They too want this to end, and some days they could quite easily drop in a heap and give up … but that’s not an option for any of them.  As a country we are relying on them, and they more than anyone know it – after all, that’s what drives them to get out of bed each day and soldier on.

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“Like everyone, I had serious concerns for my personal health and that of my family. I was also worried about the community in which I normally work. We are certainly not out of the woods in Queensland and the ongoing concern of all our health has an air of uncertainty.  But I have witnessed the health response first-hand, and I am confident that any response will continue to be well managed,”

Senior Constable, Emma Dunlop of Cairns Police

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“At Cairns Private we have continued to birth during COVID.  The babies never stop when things like COVID occur, so we’ve been trying to make our hospital and our consulting rooms as safe as possible for Mums and babies to feel that they can continue to receive the medical care and the midwifery care that they need through this time,”

Dr Elizabeth Jackson, Obstetrician & Gynaecologist – Cairns Private (Ramsay Health)

New job titles have been created overnight, new legislation adhered to and a whole new way of doing things with very limited lead time to prepare.  When you witness them in action, it’s leadership at its finest.  They have no time for corporate strategy or months of preparation and planning, like us, they are living press conference to press conference, just waiting to see what goal posts will be shifted next and what challenge they may need to tackle for the day ahead.  It’s a willingness to step up and do whatever it takes to get the job done – it’s courage.

“My normal role is as a Community Beat Officer at the Manoora Police Beat. I am now exclusively on the COVID team.  Each day we are obligated to meet all incoming flights into Cairns and screen passengers. Sometimes that means screening 14 flights and up to 2000 passengers a day.  It is challenging but thankfully most arrivals are compliant and understanding,

“Pandemics are thankfully very rare. Certainly none of the police contingent involved (in the COVID team) have had any experience in combatting a pandemic, so I have learned new legislation and operational requirements. With all the health directive changes, it has been challenging,” said Ms Dunlop.

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“Prior to COVID-19 I was working at sexual health, and then we were asked to set up a fever clinic overnight, we’ve now set that up as a drive through fever clinic,”

Donna Gehan, Nurseat Cairns Hospital (CHHHS) Fever Clinic

Schools across the country have had to learn a new way of teaching, and children a new way of learning.

“I think we really had to reinvent how we did things which was a bit of a challenge.  But we were really all about journeying together and being in it together.  You know we’re all about learning, so we really had to put our money where our mouth was and model that for students as well.  So staff were learning were learning, students were learning, parents were learning, and so we had to learn all of this together – a new way of doing things,” said Wayne Wood, Principal, St Mary’s Catholic College.

In Far North Queensland, in many respects, life has continued to function with as much normality as possible. We have been spared the horrendous death tolls experienced in places like the US, UK and Europe.  In fact, because we’ve been spared the worst of it so far, experts say, the level of complacency that has emerged in our local community is frightening, and people need to be vigilant regardless of our cities low case numbers.

For those on the front line, their message is very clear, it’s up to each and every one of us to follow the Chief Medical Officers advice and just do our bit so we can all get through this as unscathed as we possibly can.

“Social distancing is a mandatory requirement. It’s as simple as that.  I would encourage all people to please practice social distancing and personal hygiene,” said Ms Dunlop.

“Complacency is what’s going to make this reoccur.  Being a tourist town we really do need to be mindful of the risk we have with visitors coming to the region, so therefore continuing safe social distancing, using hand sanitiser, the avoidance of large crowds and gatherings also is really important,” said Dr Jackson.

The toll it has taken on some in our community is often not reported and our local doctors say the impact has been far reaching both mentally and physically.

“Fertility has been a very interesting space, unfortunately initially we had to cease fertility with very short notice. And there were a number of patients who were quite significantly affected by that.  Fortunately not too long into the restrictions that were placed on fertility, it was sort of cherry picked from the category 3 procedures to be able to continue, which was really wonderful for many women that needed that assistance to fall pregnant.  The number of people affected by it was quite significant all around Australia,

“It’s been really distressing for most people to be honest, to have that social distancing with their family, their friends, when they have their baby, that joyous occasion is somewhat interrupted by the need to be in hospital and apart from close family members in the lead up to birth,” said Dr Jackson.

The mass devastation and upheaval this global pandemic has brought cannot be ignored, but there are more than a few silver linings that have arisen along the way.

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“Learning has an opportunity for change, and I think we were catapulted a little bit into that different way of doing things, I think we learnt some really interesting things that I don’t think we’ll throw away, so I think that journey’s been good, but it’s also a real sense of coming together around learning.  I don’t think we’ve ever seen parents be so engaged in learning as we have seen them through COVID, and I think there’s also that real appreciation for the work teachers do as well and how hard it is sometimes, and I think there’s that relationship between home and school that has really come together around this period,” said Mr Wood.

Principal Wayne Wood

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And for those young people wondering what the future holds and whether there’ll be any jobs left at the end of all this, our essential workers would like to remind them of a few professions that until recently had become a forgotten occupation. Baking is just one profession making a big comeback.

“If you’ve been at home cooking during this pandemic and loving it and you think you’ve got it in you to do a baking apprenticeship or be a pastry cook, look into it because it is a good trade to have,”

Sibby Scarcella, Baker, My Village Bakehouse

And to those in business struggling right now, this local baker has a simple piece of advice to help keep you trading.

“Like I say to my staff, customer service, quality of product, and personal touch.  Those three keys are what make people keep coming back,” said Mr Scarcella

And as for the attention they’ve all received through CityLife Magazine choosing to showcase them on our cover in this edition …

“Personally I’m a nurse who feels very humbled to be in this profession.  I really enjoy my job, I really enjoy helping people and trying to get them the best help that I can.  I certainly didn’t seek this limelight, it’s not me, but we have all pulled together, we all need to pull together to get through this,” said CHHHS Fever Clinic Nurse, Donna Gehan.