Why does Oregon not care about its frontline workers getting vaccines?
A year ago traffic stopped. Crowded rush hour buses were suddenly empty. The city got so quiet that in downtown I could hear birdsong over the roar of the bus’s diesel engine.
While many Portlanders got used to working from home when the pandemic started, me and other TriMet bus operators kept showing up to work. We kept driving buses for the other essential workers and for our community, through the summer protests, the tear gas, the wildfire smoke, and as traffic picked up again.
Why is it now, when the world is coming back to normal, when buses are more crowded than they were a year ago, are the state’s transit workers forgotten by Governor Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority’s vaccine rollout? Bus operators have been on the frontlines, face to face with our community for the past year, helping people make trips essential and not so essential. We never stopped working in public when the commuters disappeared from our buses, yet in Oregon, we are not scheduled to be eligible to get the vaccine until May 1.
If I was a Washington resident, I could get vaccinated right now. Yet as an Oregonian, I can only hope that I do not catch Covid-19 and spread it to my family or passengers on the bus while I wait for May 1. And as I watch friends in other states, many the same age as me, or people I know who work from home or are retired, get the vaccine, I get more jealous and frustrated at how Oregon has forgotten its frontline workers.
When folks first started getting vaccinated, I understood nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers were more important than me. I saw the mental toll being cooped up inside had on relatives who lived in nursing homes and when they were vaccinated, I celebrated. When teachers got vaccinated, I was happy because I know our state’s children need school. Yet, as I see many people who have the option and ability to stay at home get vaccinated while I wait for mine, I become more frustrated.
Frontline workers never had the option to stay home. The buses kept running because essential workers, many of whom rely on the bus, needed to keep going to work. Essential workers like me have worked with the public this whole year. We had to face people who refuse to wear masks, and folks who are obviously sick but were still out and about, and we did it with nothing more than a cloth facemask and sometimes some hand sanitizer.
If we were so essential a year ago, why is it not essential for us to receive the vaccine now? I am trying to be patient for the vaccine, but why are we forgotten now when leaders were so eager to call us essential workers “heroes” through their zoom screens a year ago?
It’s been an honor through all of this to serve my community and to get folks where they need to be. The bus oftentimes felt like the only normal thing on streets that looked anything but normal. However, while I feel good serving my city, I am upset that once again essential workers like me are asked to sacrifice ourselves, while other states are doing more to vaccinate their workers.
Oregon needs to speed up vaccinating its bus drivers and other essential workers before it is too late, before we become sick, become disease vectors in our community, or we die from Covid-19. I don’t need to be called a hero, I just want a vaccine now.