Has America already reached its limit on celebrating essential workers?

'Heroes' last only as long as they serve a purpose

A garbage can.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

Heroes work here. I see those words everywhere when I take my cabin-fever-alleviating walks around Queens, the epicenter of America's epicenter. The signs hang on the fences of assisted living facilities, on the doors to hospitals, and, though they're lacking in my grocery store's windows, they wouldn't be out of place there either.

In the past month, New Yorkers have celebrated the essential workers that keep America's largest metropolis functioning — not only the doctors and nurses on the front lines, but the transit employees who are dying at alarmingly high rates, the grocery store clerks who ring you up behind plexiglass shields, the janitors and sanitation staff who do invisible work without proper PPE. We have had multiple airplane flyovers in celebration, light show tributes on the Empire State Building and, most memorable of all, we observe a nightly five-borough-wide applause of gratitude and thanks. But as the country begins to slowly — and, experts say, unwisely — reopen, the essential workers we've spent weeks valorizing as selfless heroes are now at risk of fading once more into the background.

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at TheWeek.com. She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.