SubscribeAvailable Now
Tiffany Buskirk. Photo courtesy of Zachary Lau

Reasons to Love Denver: Frontline Workers

With much of the city at home during the pandemic, essential employees entered an uncertain world to make our food, deliver our packages, and protect our most vulnerable. We asked three such workers to tell us about how their lives have changed.

 •  

Tiffany Buskirk

Mail carrier, U.S. Postal Service
Customers on my route were scared. They’d be outside playing or working in the yard, and when they saw me coming, they would run inside. They’d spray down packages and—I never thought I’d see this—disinfect mailboxes. One house attached a bottle of hand sanitizer to the mailbox. You get a lot more thank-yous right now, too, but I’ve always loved my route. I took it over last year after my predecessor died of cancer. He was just one of the most generous, kindest people ever. It was his example that inspired me to do something for the graduating seniors on my route. I kept seeing all these signs for 2020 graduates and thinking about all of the memories they and their families would miss. What could I do? Well, I decided to send each graduate a card with $20 inside. I think it cost me $300 total. But it’s OK; I’m an essential worker who still gets a paycheck, plus I had my stimulus check. I was lucky.

Nicole Ehrhart
Director of the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging, Colorado State University (CSU)

Photo courtesy of Colorado State University

The state was missing a lot of cases by only screening for fever and cough, which isn’t going to protect vulnerable populations. Still, when [CSU professor Greg Ebel and I] started testing asymptomatic workers in skilled nursing centers, we expected low rates. What we found was about a 14 percent positive rate—shocking, even to us. First, we felt an urgency to get people to understand that this was something that needed more attention and funding. It was frustrating because we knew rapid deployment would be critical. But as our data grew, we got more street cred from policymakers. [Based on the results, Governor Jared Polis expanded the testing program from five to every nursing facility in the state, which house thousands of patients.] That was so gratifying. What started as a homegrown project that we had to pay for ourselves turned into a huge state-funded initiative that is going to save a lot of lives. What’s also encouraging, and an area I think deserves more attention from the media, is that because of this global problem you have all the best scientists in the world putting their heads together. That’s never happened before. Ever. Innovation is occurring so rapidly. We know 1,000 times more than we knew six weeks ago. In six weeks, we’re going to know 10,000 times more. We’re doing the best we can with the tools we have. But more tools are coming.

Eric Gotta

Regional manager, Snarf’s Sandwiches

Photo courtesy of Snarf’s

At the start of this thing, we had to furlough 25 percent of our hourly workforce, so salaried employees like me had to spend six days a week in the restaurants. I was worried—I really was. The not knowing. I saw the numbers growing every day, and I started to think about how many people I interact with, especially managers who are going to different stores. Fortunately, our customers are so loyal, and there’ve been lots of generous people. One guy bought a bag of chips and left a $20 tip. We still see people not wearing masks, who after six weeks of this are still frustrated that they can’t just come in and order. Honestly, I was against masks at first too; they’re hot and impede our ability to communicate on the line. Now I realize people will be wearing masks for a long time. I feel like a social outcast not wearing one.

What We're Reading

Newsletters

Keep me up to date on the latest trends and happenings around Denver. 5280 has a newsletter for everyone.

Sign Up