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A sanitation worker’s fears about collecting trash during the pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the phrase “essential workers” tends to bring to mind first responders and hospital staff. But a key function of American society is collecting garbage to keep our communities clean. PBS station WTTW in Chicago is producing a series of conversations about individuals’ pandemic experiences, and they share the story of sanitation worker Sammy Dattulo.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    When you think of essential workers during this pandemic, typically, first responders and hospital workers come to mind.

    But a key function of society is, of course, picking up our garbage to keep our communities clean.

    PBS station WTTW in Chicago is producing a firsthand series of conversations with individuals affected by the pandemic.

    Sanitation worker Sammy Dattulo says that his job is as essential as ever.

  • Sammy Dattulo:

    The police officers can't stop doing what they're doing because of this virus. The fire department going to stop putting out a fire because they're worried about catching this? No, they are not going do that.

    And we can't stop doing what we're doing. We have to do our job. It's just like the first responders. We serve. And now we're protecting, because, if we don't get their garbage, they got all this bacteria. And people can get infected by that.

    I take pride in my job, I love my job. I can't wait to get up in the morning and go to work because I love my job. And what is great about — the best part about my job is, is, the day goes by so fast.

    You know a certain place you need to be, like, say, for 8:00. Well, if I'm not at that place at 8:00, I'm behind.

    It's a fun job. I mean, and I get paid for it.

    Now, all of a sudden, you got this virus. You have got to be careful. It's not like you just go out, and you have no care in the world and just throwing garbage in. Now you got to worry about what you touch.

    I am so vulnerable to it, because you got water in the hopper. You got — there's human feces in there sometimes, diapers. Today, I got splashed what water. I had to get — immediately run, get my Clorox wipes and wipe my face.

    You get that splashed in your face, you have got to make sure you got hand soap or hand sanitizer to wash your face, because you get it in your mouth or your eyes or your ears, that is why you have to keep washing your hands.

    When I'm working, now, I'm not realizing it. Even though I got my gloves on, I'm touching stuff with garbage, and I'm touching my steering wheel again. Well, like, I'm good. But we're — not supposed to be taking my gloves off. Touch the steering wheel. Oh, touch my face. Now I'm infected.

    You have to take extra precaution now, because this is — I can take this home to my family. I got a 4-year-old grandson that is there. And I don't want to get him sick. I couldn't live with myself.

    My biggest fear is catching it. That is my biggest fear, because I am up in age, and I am working on my retirement. Could it affect me if I can't work again? And what happens if it affects my lungs, where I can't breathe like I used to?

    Yes, it is scary. Am I scared to go to work? Yes, I am. I am not going to lie. But if they don't have someone to take their garbage, what are they going to do with it? They really rely on us.

    It's — just do my job. I got to do it. It is something I have to do. It is something I have to do.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sammy Dattulo, we appreciate you and every single sanitation worker out there. Thank you.

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