As we honored our fallen soldiers in church services and cemetery visits this Memorial Day weekend, it seems only fitting that we remember, too, health care workers lost this past year battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

We may not personally know the names of any or where they lie in final rest, but as surely as any soldier in any war they gave their lives that we may live.

More than 3,600 health workers — from physicians and nurses to nursing home and care center staff — are known to have perished in the first year of the pandemic. Likely, the total was much higher. 

Though 3,600 is a small fraction of the 575,000 deaths nationwide, the mortality count is just part of the story.

The website reports the stress of COVID has one in four health workers wanting to change careers. 

“Nurses and doctors don't work alone,” the website reports. “A lot of other people — from EMTs and lab techs to medical assistants, nurses aides, and orderlies—are putting their lives at risk.”

The same source notes 7 million Americans hold down low-wage jobs assisting doctors and nurses, providing direct care to individuals, and handling food, housekeeping, and janitorial services. Most are women, and about half are either Black or Hispanic.

They’re all soldiers in the war to defeat COVID — one life at a time.

Though I didn’t personally know any health workers who succumbed to COVID, I am well aware of the cost to those who contract and survive the virus. My daughter, a health care aide in an area high school, nursed herself and her family through bouts with COVID, went through multiple quarantines, and faced the day-to-day stress of testing students and telling parents their children had to stay home after positive tests. Her role was not the same as an emergency room nurse, but the stress and exposure were equal to that of any frontline worker.

It is only by the grace of God and strict attention to CDC protocols that many of us have not lost loved ones to COVID-19. It is incumbent on us, too, to remember those who have.

Even if we don’t know them by name, just as we remember unknown soldiers, let us also say a prayer to honor those who have paid the ultimate price in this ongoing war against an insidious and unseen viral enemy.

Copyright 2021, James E. Hamilton; email Read more of his works in Ozarks RFD 2010-2015, available online or from the author.

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