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They're still working. They're still healthy. But they're still scared. What the past six months have been like for Chicago's essential workers

By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

CHICAGO - When the streets emptied of people six months ago, a new class of heroes emerged.

They were the drivers, grocery clerks, janitors and others who braved the early unease of the pandemic to show up for work, exempt from the state's stay-at-home order because they were deemed too important.

Home health aide Adarra Benjamin, 26

Many people have grown lax about disinfecting every last object that comes into their home. But Adarra Benjamin, a home health aide and personal assistant with elderly and disabled clients, has not let down her guard.

She still wipes down every grocery item before leaving the store and sprays the bags with disinfectant, vigilant about keeping the virus away from the people in her care as well as the home where she lives with her mother.

"The fear and caution are still there," said Benjamin, 26. She, her family and her clients have not contracted COVID-19, she said, but a friend who works at the post office, and another who works at a day care, have.

 

Benjamin, who takes several buses and trains to reach her clients' homes, said Chicago Transit Authority rider limits imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus have made her feel safer. But she said she isn't getting enough support from her two employers - a home health agency that pays $14 an hour, after Chicago raised its minimum wage, and a state agency that raised its pay to $14.50 thanks to contract negotiations. Through her union she has been fighting for more personal protective equipment and hazard pay.

To her surprise, Benjamin has felt a shift in her relationships with some of her clients, who have become so isolated by the pandemic that she is their only connection to the outside world. One client in particular, a 20-something woman with an intellectual disability, has had a difficult time comprehending the changes to her routine. They take walks together.

"Our relationships have grown deeper because now I see you have that dependency on me," Benjamin said. "I've grown closer than I've ever thought possible in such a short amount of time."

CTA car servicer Bennie Hill III, 41

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