© 2024 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sanitation Workers Around The Country Worry For Their Safety Amid Coronavirus Crisis


Essential workers are risking their health every day during the coronavirus pandemic to make certain that the rest of us have what we need - medical attention, food, safety and trash removal.

CINDY NEUROTH: Nobody thinks of the garbage man. Like, we always say, you know, nobody notices us until the garbage ain't picked up, and then they notice us.

SIMON: That's Cindy Neuroth, who owns a garbage collection business with her husband in Sioux Falls, S.D. She, her husband and their son and one other driver haul trash from homes five days a week. She says the coronavirus pandemic has made her anxious about doing her job.

NEUROTH: You don't know who has it, who doesn't because nobody calls up the garbage man and says, oh, by the way, I'm sick - don't pick up my garbage. You know, it's always on the back of your mind because - with telling people to stay home and, you know, people are off work because businesses are closed. We are getting more garbage and even the recycling end of it. People are at home. And they are cleaning. And, you know, they're doing a little bit of remodeling work. And, you know, kids are out of school. So they're at home. And they produce more garbage. So for us, you know, we're picking that up off the ground because it doesn't always all fit in their can.

We do use our hands, and you try not to touch your face, but you get dirt in your eyes - we go out to the landfill - so you rub your eyes. You try not to. Garbage hauling is - the situation is totally different than other places because we're in and out of a truck. I mean, if you were to wear gloves, you'd have to change your gloves every time you hauled the garbage - you'd have to throw them away - put a new pair on because if you're getting in the trucks, you're touching everything with the gloves that already been contaminated. Let's say you take your gloves off - then you got to wipe everything down. I mean, it's just I haven't figured out a way, and I don't know if anybody else really knows how to do it. I guess, in our case, there is no sure way of protecting us. But, you know, everybody needs a paycheck and everybody needs to work. So it's kind of a hope and pray you don't get it and - your drivers or anybody you know.


NEUROTH: For our customers - we have asked them if they could at least bag and tie their garbage, and try to keep everything contained in a bag and have it in their cans. We are picking up the garbage off the ground - Kleenexes and paper towels and things like that. If they would bag and tie, that would be great. Leave the lids closed, so that way we just wheel the can over and dump it with the truck. And it wouldn't blow away. And it just would make it a lot safer for us.

SIMON: Cindy Neuroth of Sioux Falls, S.D., talking about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected her job and the jobs of other sanitation workers across the country. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.