COVID-19 frontline worker spotlight: Niki Thomas

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Every year, The Classic publishes the Introducing Project for the graduating class. Per tradition, each post features a member of the Class of 2020, offering a more in-depth look into the seniors’ defining moments and sentiments. With the coronavirus pandemic bringing an abrupt end to the school year and cancelling events such as prom and graduation, the Townsend Harris community has found creative ways to maintain bonds while social distancing. In addition this year’s seniors The Classic has decided to include a series of profiles on the frontline workers of our school community (parents, neighbors, alumni, friends of the school) in this year’s Introducing. Their heroic work deserves memorializing as we reflect our time during the pandemic in the years to come.

With COVID-19 quickly becoming a global pandemic, millions of Americans are ordered to stay at home in an effort to contain the spread. While many are quarantined at home hoping for a return to normalcy in their daily activities, frontline workers are continuously putting themselves at risk, with potential exposure to the virus and long work hours, to serve the community.

Niki Thomas, the mother of senior Shannon Thomas, works as an emergency medical technician (EMT) for several different hospitals including Flushing Hospital Medical Center, NYU Winthrop, and Maimonides Center. On a day to day basis, Thomas answers 9-1-1 calls, going to patients’ homes and bringing them to the hospital if necessary. “We provide intervention in a pre-hospital care setting, whether it’s to stabilize a limb, put them in a better position, give them certain medicines, or take them to the hospital if needed,” she said. 

“Before the coronavirus pandemic, some days [at work] could be considered less hectic but from the beginning, it has been insane,” she explained. “Now we are extremely cautious about what we touch, who we talk to, how far we talk to them. I can’t even give my patients a hug if I wanted to.” During such difficult times, most of her patients and their families are fearful. “I watch my patients helplessly knowing there isn’t much I can do. [They] are terrified of the unknown,” Thomas said. “We are ill-equipped and not prepared as a nation to fight something so unexpected.”

Thomas has been taking precautions to keep both herself and her family safe. “I clean as usual, but now I clean almost everything I touch or I wear gloves,” she said. “I see my parents but only from a distance.”

With Thomas working long hours to and from the hospitals, her family worries for her safety.  Her daughter Shannon said, “Even though I have become quite used to her working many hours during the week, it’s much harder knowing the danger she is in when she goes to work now… The hours she is working and what she has seen have clearly affected her sleep schedule but I know she is most definitely strong enough to handle it.” 

Her son Paul Thomas Jr. expressed that having his mother working as a first responder has helped to increase his awareness of the situation. “I did not see the coronavirus as a huge deal from the start… my mom told me how bad it was looking.” he said. Although he believes that his mother has not been severely affected by this crisis, “there are just things she has experienced in this time that inevitably will get to your head, no matter the amount of mental fortitude one has,” he said. 

After the pandemic passes, Thomas hopes for everyone to remember the good in those that took part in the solution, from your neighbors to the janitors, to the truckers, to the EMS, to the nurses, to the doctors, and so many more. “To frontline workers, keep protecting yourselves and your family. Thank you for your constant service. And for the people at home, who feel like they are going crazy, I appreciate you staying home, stopping the spread of the virus, it will be over soon,” Thomas concluded.

Art by Amanda Renzi, Editor-in-Chief.