Parents in essential services speak out about their fears of being on the frontlines

How are moms and dads in essential services putting measures in place to protect their families?

While most parents are at home navigating the balance between homeschooling, snacks and working from home, spare a thought for parents who are on the frontlines, risking their lives to keep South Africa safe during the coronavirus outbreak.

Parenty spoke to some parents in the essential services fields, who fear for their own lives and those of their families. Many of these parents have had to put measures in place including sending their children to stay with relatives to prevent infecting their own spouses and children.

Many parents in the public sector have chosen to remain anonymous:

“I’ve been scared in life but right now I’m petrified. Being a public servant is something to be proud of but at this point of uncertainty, all I want is to be a mother to my 12-year-old daughter. The Covid-19 pandemic keeps me wondering if I’ll come back home from work [as] another addition to the stats or [if I] will continue being ‘mommy’.” – Anonymous, public transport staff

“I’ve got two kids seven and four, both boys, and my wife is also currently 28 weeks pregnant. We’re having another boy and as a family, we’ve made the decision that she should move out and move in with her mom. She’s looking after the kids and staying with her mom and I’m now staying at home alone.

But, until it arrives, it’s quiet and it kind of feels a bit artificial, but I know it’s coming and I’ve known what’s coming since January and its gonna hit us hard. I’m working in a private hospital and in terms of who will be better placed to face this challenge, I think both public and private sectors have strengths and weaknesses. In terms of  government hospitals, even though they may not have an oversupply of resources, their strength is that they have hierarchical structures and everyone knows what they should be doing whereas in private hospitals there are resources but there is also a lack of coordination.” – Dr Peter Smith, anaesthetist

“What makes it worse is that I feel like the very people we are trying to serve are taking us for granted by failing to comply with what the government has implemented. Basically, I feel like my sacrifice will be in vain while all I really want to do is be in quarantine with my daughter.” – Anonymous, public transport staff

“It is really difficult to wrap my head around this. We have been handed sanitisers and gloves, but no masks. We interact and are in contact with hundreds of customers every day. How do we know who has the coronavirus and who doesn’t? The saddest part is that I leave my children and elderly parents at home to go to work. I feel unsafe because I am not sure if I will bring this thing back home or if I will be safe.” – Anonymous, essential services staff

“I have started being more vigilant about my hand hygiene in particular when at work. I now examine all my patients with gloves on and wipe my stethoscope and pen clean throughout the day. If I have to come into contact with a suspected Covid-19 patient, there are protocols in place with regards to the personal protective equipment I have to wear. I make sure I follow these instructions very carefully. I have also started being more careful before I enter my home after a shift. I now undress in the garage and place all my work clothes into a plastic bag to be washed. I take a shower and wash my hair before I come into contact with my family. I also keep my personal belongings in the car.

I am trying really hard to keep a routine going at home. We plan our meals and activities for the week and go from there. I am making sure that we keep a healthy body and mind at home. It’s important to plan because it helps us stay focused and hopeful. We need to take care of our mental health at a time like this, especially now during the lockdown. I may not be able to plan the next few months but I can plan for tomorrow and tomorrow we will have a good day!” Dr Carmen Briner, Emergency room doctor 

“I am firstly proud to know that I am able to help essential workers get to their designated places of work. It is an honour to be in a role like this. It has afforded me the opportunity to serve and I know that, because of the work I do, nurses are able to get to hospitals to assist doctors, and retail workers can get to different stores to help citizens. At the same time, I am very scared knowing that we are fighting an unknown virus that is invisible to the naked eye. It’s scary because you never know if and how you will contract this virus. All we can do is plead with South Africans to adhere to the rules set by the government and stay home so that the relevant people can fight this virus.” –Anonymous, public transport staff

“I have sent my daughter to live with her father to ensure she is safe. She broke down the other day while we were voice noting because we were both worried. My daughter is asthmatic, and this is a huge risk to her and her health. Between her dad and I, we figured he is safer to live with. Her school is continuing online and we’ve had to develop a program to work with her on the phone. I can’t physically facilitate a lot. It’s scary for us as health workers when we see how the numbers are escalating and I am sitting here waiting for the tsunami to hit but we are not panicking as essential staff because we cannot panic.” – Dr Mpume Zenda, gynaecologist and obstetrician 

“I’m a traffic officer and am also a single parent. I’m part of a specialised group of traffic officers so I often have to travel out of the province for work and I leave my two children with my sister who lives nearby. My children are teens so I guess it has always made leaving them easier. But with this coronavirus, it is completely different because it’s something that the world has never faced. It has no cure and even scientists are discovering new things about it every day so it’s unsettling to leave the house and face it when everyone is staying home, especially seeing that I’m leaving kids at home. We do have protective equipment like the face masks that we get at work but I must say the mask is really tight and uncomfortable. You almost can’t breathe with it on but you keep it on because you can’t afford to take a chance of not having it on.” – Anonymous, law enforcement 

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