Essential.

Portraits of — and thoughts from — Colorado’s essential workers.

START

Larry Hughey

Bus operator

Larry Hughey, 56

Bus operator

RTD bus depot in Denver

Why did you come into work today?

The general public needs us to get them around, through town -- shopping, hospitals.

What do you want people to know or think about?

Washing hands, keeping safe distances -- 6 feet apart. Even in the future when lockdown is lifted, we all have to be together on this -- it’s not going to go away.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

My daughter and son. They are on the front lines right now. I gave some of my masks to them. I gave my (face) shield to my oldest daughter.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

When I get home I strip out of my clothes in the garage. All those clothes go into a sealed hamper. Then there are two buckets, one with soap and a little alcohol and the other a rinse. I give myself a birdie bath inside the garage before I even enter the home. Before I go inside my wife takes my temperature. Then I go inside and take another full shower.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Diamond Fernandez

Registered nurse, COVID-19 unit

Diamond Fernandez, 24

Registered nurse, COVID-19 unit

St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood, seventh floor

Why did you come into work today?

These patients need a doctor and a nurse who they can talk to as a friend. I can go in and see them -- a friend.

What do you want people to know or think about?

About two weeks ago my grandfather passed away from COVID, so I put myself in their shoes. This is serious. Be grateful for what you got. Live every day to your fullest. Have no regrets for anything.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

Trying to make it through this time myself. That’s my main goal right now.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

Emotionally realizing how it effects everybody. Have to stay positive through everything.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Kevin Cervantes

Masonry assistant

Kevin Cervantes, 18

Masonry assistant

JL Melton Construction job site in Denver

Why did you come into work today?

We struggle a lot with money and we need to provide. We have to work.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

The outcome: Where this is going, what’s going to happen tomorrow, or the day after that?

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

School. I was in school. This is my senior year. I went from waiting for prom… it was taken away in a matter of hours.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Kenya Miranda

Caregiver

Kenya Miranda, 43

Caregiver

Porter Place Retirement Community in Denver

Why did you come into work today?

First of all, it’s my responsibility. Second, I’m thankful to God to give me life, to breathe, to come here and take care of my residents.

What do you want people to know or think about?

That life is wonderful. Whatever you do it is always good to put a smile on everything that you’re doing.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

Perseverance because perseverance is something you need to have your dream come true And be tolerant, as well.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

We are all working together more now. I encourage my kiddos to wear a mask and not get so close to me. Before we used to hug each other every day. Now, no hugs.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Ron Dowd

Package car driver

Ron Dowd, 47

Package car driver

Along his UPS route in Englewood

Why did you come into work today?

To provide for my family -- food and put a roof over their head. The country -- they depend on us right now. There are many people depending on what we do on a daily basis

What do you want people to know or think about?

We do have essential items on our trucks every day -- medication, medical supplies. (He regularly delivers food for someone who needs to be fed through a feeding tube, for example.)

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

I’m ready for this to be somewhat over.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

For me, thankfully, no really big changes right now.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Officer Williams

Police officer

Officer Williams, 30

Police officer

Brighton Police Department headquarters

Why did you come into work today?

I’m still doing my job, still helping the community. Us being here shows that we still care about the community

What do you want people to know or think about?

Just know that we are all in it together. Just be smart and prepared. Your health should be your priority.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

I’m not any different: stay healthy, wash my hands.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Krista Riemer

Paramedic - field trainer

Krista Riemer, 43

Paramedic - field trainer

Denver Health Paramedic Division, outside the paramedics garage

Why did you come into work today?

I have three kids I have to support. To help the community and work hard. We deal with adverse situations all the time, this is just another one.

What do you want people to know or think about?

Keep thinking about the appropriate time to call 911 because it effects everyone around them.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

Getting back to normal. Getting my kids back to school. Isolating people brings out a lot of unintended consequences.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

The different protocols we have at work now. Gowning up, PPE for every call as opposed to getting out and doing our thing.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Haley Midzor

Barista

Haley Midzor, 26

Barista

Whole Foods Market store in Denver

Why did you come into work today?

This is my first job after I was challenged by illness and unable to work for years. I dreamt of the day I’d be able to take care of others instead of being taken care of. I’m grateful to show up for my community. I came to work today because it’s a privilege to have a job and I want to be here.

What do you want people to know or think about?

I hope people will think about who they want to be on the other side of this. We all benefit from a kinder, more patient and appreciative world.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

Change is never ending and ever evolving. It’s up to me to roll with it and say thank you for this great adventure.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Darlene Collins

Case manager

Darlene Collins , 54

Case manager

St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood

Why did you come into work today?

I love my job and I love helping people. You know, I have to support my family, but it’s a strange time.

What do you want people to know or think about?

The seriousness of the situation, this disease, this illness. I’ve sent people to skilled nursing facilities and some of them died that otherwise would have returned home and lived their lives (because they got infected with the virus).

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

I worry about how we are going to stop COVID. I worry about bringing it home to my family.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

People are dying alone in the ICU,


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Pilar Anich

Administrative assistant to patrol commander

Pilar Anich, 54

Administrative assistant to patrol commander

Brighton Police Department headquarters

Why did you come into work today?

To do the payroll and go through the mail. We have subpoenas (that come in the mail). I had to come in and make sure we aren’t missing anything. (A missed subpoena could lead to an officer not being alerted and a case being compromised, she explained.)

What do you want people to know or think about?

People are not taking this seriously. We all potentially can have it. It’s something that has to be taken seriously.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

When are we going to have a cure for this? When are we going to feel safe again?

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

Our lifestyle has changed because of fear. Not being able to celebrate my grandson’s birthday -- everything is put on hold.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Nick Dibiasi

Paramedic

Nick Dibiasi , 31

Paramedic

Denver Health Paramedic Division, outside the paramedics garage

Why did you come into work today?

With EMS, it doesn’t change even though we have a pandemic. This is the job we signed up for.

What do you want people to know or think about?

I want them to know that although COVID isn’t talked about now (as much), it’s still out there. Still be cautious. Be aware of our hygiene.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

There is thought about my son. He has asthma. Don’t bring it to my wife and her parents. Is there going to be a normal after this?

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

Just staying indoors more. Buying groceries once every two weeks.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

William Mercado

Bus operator

William Mercado, 36

Bus operator

RTD bus depot in Denver

Why did you come into work today?

I still got a family to support.

What do you want people to know or think about?

Honestly, the homelessness. It’s becoming an RTD issue rather than a city issue. (He worries that homeless people who become ill don’t have a place to shelter-in-place, and that some will stay with different groups of people, split up and use the bus as transportation, potentially spreading the virus.)

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

Just keeping afloat. Keep the kids safe.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

Worrying that I’ll end up getting sick just coming to work. I don’t even want my kids to come by me -- until I’ve been scrubbed down, changed clothes.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

William Bellows

Carpenter

William Bellows, 54

Carpenter

JL Melton Construction job site in Denver

Why did you come into work today?

I lost my (previous) job (because of COVID). I needed to fill the plate.

What do you want people to know or think about?

We are not invincible … anyone.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

How long I can keep working here?

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

My whole life has changed.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Dr. Gina Soriya

Emergency department physician

Dr. Gina Soriya, 47

Emergency department physician

St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood

Why did you come into work today?

To take care of my community

What do you want people to know or think about?

In times like these, it really brings out the best in people. No matter what role we have in society we can always do something to help our fellow human beings.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

The mental health of our community trying to get through this. There are so many people who are really suffering right now.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

Decontamination routine: Showering and changing before I go home. Then showering and changing again once home. Making sure any item of work doesn’t get in the home. I don’t say “Hi” to my family until after I shower and change at home.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Richard Ives

Security shift supervisor

Richard Ives, 65

Security shift supervisor

St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood

Why did you come into work today?

When once you work in a hospital you understand the importance of what we do every day. If I don’t come in there’s no leadership. The officers need to know what to do. We release the deceased patients from the morgue. We keep order and the nurses and staff safe.

What do you want people to know or think about?

I don’t know if people know how important this whole staff is until they need it.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

The COVID matters. I have a 25-year-old family member on a ventilator right now.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

How we shop. My wife has COPD. I worry about bringing it home to her. We get tested every day -- she checks her temperature two times a day.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Sofia Silva

In-store shopper

Sofia Silva , 26

In-store shopper

Whole Foods Market store in Denver

Why did you come into work today?

I came to work today because I value my job and this amazing opportunity. I really like everyone who works here.

What do you want people to know or think about?

Treating each other with respect and kindness will always be more productive in the long run.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

I’m seriously impressed by the warm welcome and kindness I’ve received from the team members at Whole Foods Market.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Matthew Ludtke

Paramedic

Matthew Ludtke, 33

Paramedic

Denver Health Paramedic Division, outside the paramedics garage

Why did you come into work today?

I enjoy the challenge of this work.

What do you want people to know or think about?

They could consider talking to their neighbors while maintaining a safe distance.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

My friends and family. It’s kinda tough sometimes being away from them.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

Moving here because of the job. Three months later the entire world shuts down.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Officer Moleski

Patrol officer

Officer Moleski, 35

Patrol officer

Brighton Police Department headquarters

Why did you come into work today?

I like my job. I have to be at work because I’m the new guy. To maintain some semblance of normality in my life.

What do you want people to know or think about?

This is going to take time for our society to adjust to the new normal. Have a dose of understanding. It’s new territory for us as well.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

I’m trying to figure out what that new normal is going to look like down the road. I don’t know what to expect.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Katy Spott

Emergency department charge nurse

Katy Spott, 33

Emergency department charge nurse

St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood

Why did you come into work today?

My team is what brings me back to be there and work with the patients. We are closer than ever now. We couldn’t do it without each other.

What do you want people to know or think about?

That this is serious. It is changing constantly. If people can be as fluid as possible and stay up to date with the recommendations.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

What’s next, really. Some of my shift recommendations have changed hourly. My next thing is going to be what’s coming next.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Joe Maes

Bus operator

Joe Maes, 77

Bus operator

RTD bus depot in Denver

Why did you come into work today?

It’s the normal thing I do. I don’t take off any time.

What do you want people to know or think about?

People should know that with this virus, people should take care of themselves. With the mask, you’re protecting yourself but also others.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

I’ve always taken care of myself.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Nate Esquibel

Police corporal

Nate Esquibel, 33

Police corporal

Brighton Police Department headquarters

Why did you come into work today?

Because it’s my job. It’s not golf, we don’t just go out when it’s nice out. It’s no different than every other day.

What do you want people to know or think about?

It gets frustrating when the government asks things of people, respectfully, and they don’t apply it to themselves. They just blow it off. Just be respectful.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

When is it going to get back to normal?


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Chelsea Marshall

Registered flight nurse, Flight For Life

Chelsea Marshall, 34

Registered flight nurse, Flight For Life

St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood

Why did you come into work today?

I have the best job. Flight For Life is the best job I’ve ever had.

What do you want people to know or think about?

I hope that if the sensation burns out on this, that people still carry over lessons, specifically infection prevention. How socially intertwined everybody is.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

Balancing everything -- the intricacies from work to shifting to make sure my home is a safe place for my children.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

Having two or three pairs of scrubs, spare shoes… Not seeing people -- family and friends.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Peter Hynes

Architect and developer

Peter Hynes, 47

Architect and developer

JL Melton Construction job site in Denver

Why did you come into work today?

This is a project that this community desperately needs -- so we don’t stop.

What do you want people to know or think about?

We all have our part to play. We are not serving ourselves, we are serving everybody else.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

The safety (of our team). We have had countless conversations at 9 o’clock at night -- do we stop or do we go?


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Nicole Grinager

Registered nurse, seventh floor COVID-19 unit

Nicole Grinager, 25

Registered nurse, seventh floor COVID-19 unit

St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood

Why did you come into work today?

This is the hardest week I’ve had. The previous day we had a death. I came in because I wanted to support my team and help my patients.

What do you want people to know or think about?

Now, more than ever, is a time for compassion and empathy. Now is the time to sit in that discomfort and reflect. You have to make yourself uncomfortable to experience empathy.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

That people are dying alone. I got in his room (the patient she mentioned before who died the previous day) with minutes left in his life and was able to get his wife on the phone -- a Zoom phone call. It was the most stressful moment of my life so far. I’m really sorry but you have to say goodbye right now.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Ian Tolbert

Bus operator

Ian Tolbert, 44

Bus operator

RTD bus depot in Denver

Why did you come into work today?

So I can get paid.

What do you want people to know or think about?

We are taking quite a bit of precautions. If you are out and about wear a mask. The only thing that I can control is what I do myself.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

When is this curve going to go down so we can go back to full strength? I’m worried about the economy.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

Working less. My wife has a compromised immune system and I don’t want to bring it back home to her.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Alyson DeChristefero

LPN supervisor

Alyson DeChristefero , 31

LPN supervisor

Porter Place Retirement Community in Denver

Why did you come into work today?

Because my residents and coworkers depend on me and I value them.

What do you want people to know or think about?

This is a very trying time for everyone, so try to be kind and spread positivity everywhere you go.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

Protecting our residents here and our staff. Everywhere we go, like grocery shopping or anywhere, you can get the virus and could bring it here to the building. That’s something I have anxiety about.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

I used to go to the gym every morning before work and can’t now. I can’t see my family.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Debbie Poe

Bus operator

Debbie Poe, 37

Bus operator

RTD bus depot in Denver

Why did you come into work today?

I used to ride the bus so I understand how hard it can be to get somewhere when you don’t have transportation available to you. I like to be here, they (the regulars) are waiting, they are expecting me.

What do you want people to know or think about?

Everybody needs to be safe, wear your masks. You might have it and not know. It’s scary to me. The person you contact with -- they might not be OK. They have family who might not be OK.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

Trying to be safe and clean. I’m trying to stay safe as possible.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

I’m home schooling my son now and working 6 days a week. Being a single mom, home schooling my son and caring for my mom -- it’s overwhelming. A million things to do and I don’t have time to do them now.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Victor Rodriguez

General construction

Victor Rodriguez , 52

General construction

JL Melton Construction job site in Denver

Why did you come into work today?

Because I need money. If I don’t come to work, I can’t put food on the table.

What do you want people to know or think about?

We are working hard.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

The virus. I think about all the people who are dead, not working because of this disease.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

RethaMae Querta

Housekeeping and environmental services

RethaMae Querta , 50

Housekeeping and environmental services

St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood

Why did you come into work today?

To help others out and to help the hospital.

What do you want people to know or think about?

This is not all fun and games. I see a lot of people dying and I still see people out and about playing. This is life and death.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

The changes are really hard. I’m used to people coming into work and now their offices are empty.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

The socializing. I loved going out to eat. I’ve lost like 7 pounds. I take the bus so I can’t go through drive-thrus.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Taryn Moon

Registered nurse, seventh floor COVID-19 unit

Taryn Moon, 27

Registered nurse, seventh floor COVID-19 unit

St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood

Why did you come into work today?

What gets me out of bed is my passion for helping people. I love working with new patients every day.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

I’m just ready for it to be over. My roommate has left for months. She doesn’t want to be at home because I work with COVID patients. I can’t see my family because I work on a COVID-positive floor.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

People are coming together more -- they are nicer.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

David Day

Construction supervisor

David Day , 53

Construction supervisor

JL Melton Construction job site in Denver

Why did you come into work today?

We are making 38 beds for people who need a place to go. I need to make a living, too.

What do you want people to know or think about?

I want people to just follow the guidelines. When they tell you to stay 6 feet away from everyone, stay away, stay away, stay away.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

My daughter. I worry if this is going to… (He went to a lawyer to draw up a will at the beginning of the lockdown because he was still out working.)


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Zak Lieberman

Paramedic - field trainer

Zak Lieberman, 33

Paramedic - field trainer

Denver Health Paramedic Division, outside the paramedics garage

Why did you come into work today?

Two good reasons: One, take care of our family and provide for them; two, I have a moral duty to the community -- a duty to serve. I signed up to be a provider to the city and county of Denver.

What do you want people to know or think about?

Our individual actions impact us all as a whole. It’s important we work together.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

My family. When I will get to see my parents again? When will it be safe for them to see me?

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

Not day to day, but how we think about time and place in relation to our families. It feels isolating having my family live out of state.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Michael Krull

Critical care technician, emergency department

Michael Krull, 32

Critical care technician, emergency department

St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood

Why did you come into work today?

I love helping people. I found a calling to that at an early age. I try to be a better person than I was yesterday.

What do you want people to know or think about?

As humanity as a whole, we are all in it together. Being patient and knowing that this will pass. We’ll have a better tomorrow once we get through it.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

Getting the education out to the public and having leadership be transparent. Getting the information to people will help relieve anxiety and stress and fear and stigma.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

This will change the way of life as we know it. It will change our personal life. We are all going to learn to be a little more patient. Our new normal is going to change.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Jessica Melton

Construction project manager

Jessica Melton, 36

Construction project manager

JL Melton Construction job site in Denver

Why did you come into work today?

Because a lot of people depend on me being here -- not just people, but other small businesses, too.

What do you want people to know or think about?

There’s no backup. If we don’t work, we’ll go bankrupt.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

The safety of my employees. What if he gets sick and dies because I kept the job open?

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

A lot more stress and a lot more worry. The moral dilemma has been the biggest impact.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Josias Lambert

Seafood team leader

Josias Lambert , 40

Seafood team leader

Whole Foods Market store in Denver

Why did you come into work today?

I came to work today to be with my team and encourage them to continue the excellent work they are doing.

What do you want people to know or think about?

That each day they wake up to realize that it is a chance to make the world a better place and to never lose hope.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

The biggest thing on my mind right now is instilling hope in those around me.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Dan Candeleria

Emergency department registrar, patient access

Dan Candeleria, 38

Emergency department registrar, patient access

St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood

Why did you come into work today?

Every day is important. The doctors and nurses are on hold until we can perform our function

What do you want people to know or think about?

It’s important to appreciate whatever people do. Everybody’s role is important, from the clerk at the gas station to the neurosurgeon. Everything that everybody does is important to keep the train running.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

I want to do the right thing, but staying away from the places I like to go is hard. Get back fishing.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Natasha Wehrle

Paramedic

Natasha Wehrle, 42

Paramedic

Denver Health Paramedic Division, outside the paramedics garage

Why did you come into work today?

It’s my job. I love what I do. I love my job.

What do you want people to know or think about?

Just following the stay-at-home order. It’s keeping people who could get really sick healthy.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

Taking care of my kids. (The pandemic will) make a huge impression on kids later in life.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

The routine I took for granted. Just going to the grocery store, you really have to contemplate what do I need, what don’t I need?


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Jennifer Lewis

Produce buyer

Jennifer Lewis, 27

Produce buyer

Whole Foods Market store in Denver

Why did you come into work today?

I came in to work today because it's the right thing to do, my team members depend on me. But more importantly, I came in to work today because I still can.

What do you want people to know or think about?

We should all consider what we've learned about ourselves and our society, and how we can allow these lessons to shape our futures.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

What can I do to make things better?


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Becky Stanek

Operating room nurse

Becky Stanek, 28

Operating room nurse

St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood

Why did you come into work today?

To help other people. I know that there are people out there that still need help. They still need us and we still have a duty to come into work.

What do you want people to know or think about?

Take it seriously.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

Family. Making sure they are safe. My hometown didn’t take it seriously and (her dad) is being tested for it.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

A daily changing game at work. Procedures change daily. Every morning it’s something different.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Carolyn Driscoll

Radiologic technologist

Carolyn Driscoll , 55

Radiologic technologist

St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood

Why did you come into work today?

It’s exciting to come to work and be part of something big and to help people get through it.

What do you want people to know or think about?

This is everyone against this virus. It’s about us as an entire community, entire society.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

Keeping myself healthy and my family healthy, plus my two cats.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

Wearing masks all the time. It’s not pleasant to wear a mask an entire shift, and then out and about when you go to the grocery store.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Monce Portillo

Sargent - patrol supervisor

Monce Portillo , 34

Sargent - patrol supervisor

Brighton Police Department headquarters

Why did you come into work today?

It's my part to do, to help the world right now.

What do you want people to know or think about?

I know it’s going to get better. What I can focus on is what I can control. It is important for the individual to focus on what they can control -- look at the positive.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

I have a 6-month-old daughter at home right now, so it’s scary to think for her now, but it’s going to be neat to think down the road … after this is over.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

How we are doing the job -- how we interact with the community. It’s not as personal. I’m a hugger, so now you don’t hug. You don’t even shake hands now.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Tara O'Brien

Registered nurse, seventh floor COVID-19 unit

Tara O'Brien , 32

Registered nurse, seventh floor COVID-19 unit

St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood

Why did you come into work today?

I am a new grad, nine months into my nursing career. It’s what I live for. Even on the worst of days I go to bed and come back with a smile. This is what I’m meant to do.

What do you want people to know or think about?

Take care of each other. We all have good days. We all have bad days. We all have strengths and weaknesses, but the only way we can get through things is if we work together.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

What our new normal is going to look like? Will this be a new normal?

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

Isolation. I live with my parents and sister. Even within my own house, I pretty much stay in my room. I know I’m being exposed on a regular basis. I could be a silent carrier and not know it.


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Seth Goldstein

Registered nurse, seventh floor COVID-19 unit

Seth Goldstein , 25

Registered nurse, seventh floor COVID-19 unit

St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood

Why did you come into work today?

I’m one of the weirdos who feels best when I’m helping people.

What do you want people to know or think about?

This isn’t a flu. People should try to stay safe. This is an opportunity for camaraderie.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

Days I’m working: When I’m worried about my own fear, it’s easier to make the work just work. But right now it’s important to concentrate on the human interaction. Being a human being to whoever is in the bed.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

I miss the social interaction the most.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Chelsea Paul

Physical therapist - rehabilitation

Chelsea Paul , 28

Physical therapist - rehabilitation

St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood

Why did you come into work today?

I come in everyday for my patients. I am honored to work with them. They have gone through the most traumatizing experience of their lives so it is our job to get them back to living their lives in a meaningful way.

What do you want people to know or think about?

I want people to know this is real. We are not choosing to be on this front line, but we made a commitment to our patients.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

Always my family. They are very far away from me. I’m more worried about them, than myself going into a COVID unit. The patients are isolated in the truest form. Completely alone except for the contact they have with us.


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Paula Stephens

Chaplain resident, spiritual care

Paula Stephens, 50

Chaplain resident, spiritual care

St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood

Why did you come into work today?

I’m a Buddhist chaplain. I feel like the role of a chaplain at this point, is to bear witness to the suffering as well as the compassion. There is something really important. Doing this work here is cultivating the seeds of something good that will come from this. We can’t skip over this.

What do you want people to know or think about?

There is grief in all of this. We are all grieving this deep loss… of feeling grounded.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

I really do worry about how as a culture we are going to grieve this experience and integrate that experience in our lives.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

How I interact with people This social distance really feels sterile. I’m not a touchy-feely person, but I recognize the value of human touch and connection -- to be able to put a hand on someone’s shoulder.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Alli Leitz

Registered nurse, seventh floor COVID-19 unit)

Alli Leitz, 26

Registered nurse, seventh floor COVID-19 unit)

St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood

Why did you come into work today?

That’s a tough question. We are doing something good here. You feel a sense of responsibility to them to go in and support them.

What do you want people to know or think about?

We can’t stop focusing on this. Even though we are opening up, there are still risks. People still have this infection.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

It changes from day to day. For a long time it was PPE. Then safety of my family, the safety of other people.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

It’s very difficult emotionally. It brings out a lot of emotions even unrelated to COVID, but everything is related right now. I don’t want to put multiple people at risk.


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Julie Arellano

Operations captain, Denver Paramedics

Julie Arellano, 34

Operations captain, Denver Paramedics

Denver Health Paramedic Division, outside the paramedics garage

Why did you come into work today?

To support the front-line paramedics.

What do you want people to know or think about?

I’m impressed by the way people have stayed home. Make sure people are contacting us at the right time -- not being afraid to call if they need us.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

Worrying about everyone coming back out. We are at a place that could go a couple different ways. Really poorly, and a lot of people get sick again. Or it could go really well. I don’t think we can go back to where we were previously -- at least not right away.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

Having a kiddo home and out of school. Changes with PPE. Changes with calls.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Julie Sanders

Community services officer

Julie Sanders, 56

Community services officer

Brighton Police Department headquarters

Why did you come into work today?

It’s my job for one. I’m here to make sure the public is safe and the animals are safe.

What do you want people to know or think about?

Lately I see people putting animals before people. Be clean and protect yourself. If someone doesn’t have a smile, you can give one to them -- it’s free.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

To make sure that my granddaughter, son and mom are OK. And if there is something that I can do to help them.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

Losing a very dear friend -- that was a very heartbreaking thing. (The friend died because of COVID.)


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Shalom Shinkut

Caregiver

Shalom Shinkut , 34

Caregiver

Porter Place Retirement Community in Denver

Why did you come into work today?

Because I love my job -- and I’m so happy I’m healthy -- to help other people. No one is (allowed) to come visit their family, so they really need to see people. I’m happy to come here helping and talking with them (the residents).

What do you want people to know or think about?

I want people to not be panicked or scared. Just follow what the doctors say.

What’s the biggest thing on your mind right now?

Put my trust in God. That’s first thing. Safety and protect myself.

What has been the biggest change to your life because of COVID-19?

I can’t see family because the don’t live here.


ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Who is essential?


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I am an editorial and commercial photographer and in one week in March, all of my work was either postponed for months or canceled for the year. My roots are in photojournalism, and so I felt compelled to try to fill this professional void by creating a body of work to capture what we all were experiencing as the COVID-19 pandemic swept through and upended our community and economy.

Signs of gratitude for grocery store workers and delivery drivers are chalked in the streets by children, and neighbors stand on their front porches each evening at 8 to howl in support of these and other essential workers. I, however, wanted to see and document people who are not asked to participate in the national discussion about the coronavirus or pandemic policies, and yet put themselves in harm’s way to keep doing their work as doctors, nurses, caregivers, grocers, cops, builders and bus drivers.

I wanted to give them a voice, to share their stories and articulate something that maybe we didn’t know.

I asked two friends who are ER doctors if they thought this work could be done safely, and if they felt it would be worth the time sacrifice and increased risk for health care workers to be photographed. They gave positive feedback and helped craft a safety protocol that I used to minimize risk to both me and the people I photographed.

Time was tight for each portrait session and there was no reporter or assistant with me. I set up my camera on a tripod (this also assured I would not wander too close to the subjects) and equipped it with a remote. I had printed the questions on sheets of paper and would trigger the camera as I wrote down their stories.

All of the portraits were taken during lockdown for that community, beginning on April 15 and finishing on May 5.

I hope that this work will be looked back on in 50 or 100 years in the way we now look back to the Depression-era photography work created for the Farm Security Administration. Perhaps it will remind us what we collectively went through, or will be used to teach new generations what these men and women were actually thinking during this upheaval. But right now, I hope these portraits inspire you to be kind to one another. To see the woman working in the grocery store, or the bus driver or police officer, as a fellow human going through this, just like you.

— Matthew Staver


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