March 24, 2021

Essential Worker, Janitor Dennis Osborn Reflects On One Year Of COVID-19

Original story from   IPBS-RJC

Article origination IPBS-RJC
Like people across the country, janitor Dennis Osborn said he never could have expected being in this pandemic for a whole year.  - Provided by Dennis Osborn

Like people across the country, janitor Dennis Osborn said he never could have expected being in this pandemic for a whole year.

Provided by Dennis Osborn

It’s been a year of living through the COVID-19 pandemic in Indiana. When the Stay-At-Home orders went into effect in 2020, we brought you the stories of essential workers outside of health care who have also put themselves at risk in order to do their jobs. We checked back in with them about their lives — one year later.

Like people across the country, Dennis Osborn said he never could have expected being in this pandemic for a whole year.

“You kind of wonder if it's ever going to go away — and what happens if it don't go away?” he said.

Osborn is a janitorial contractor who works at Eli Lilly in Indianapolis. When we spoke with him last summer, his main concern was bringing COVID-19 home to his wife Yavonna and his dad. Both of them have cancer.

Because they’re both high risk, Osborn said he hasn’t been able to see his dad much at all — including for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Unfortunately, Osborn’s father still got COVID-19 around the holidays and was in the hospital for a week.

“It becomes more personal when it’s somebody you know, like my dad. And he came out OK — we're thankful that he did — but there's a lot of people that we know that that died from this,” he said.

Osborn said he’s proud of working at Eli Lilly which might have made the antibiotics they gave his dad.

He said the pharmaceutical company has guidelines posted to help keep people safe, like capacity limits. But because those weren’t necessarily made with him in mind — he said working around them can be frustrating. One gowning station, for example, only allows three people inside at a time.

“So I have to go out and stop my job, and go outside and wait for them to come through there,” Osborn said.

Osborn said he still hasn’t seen any kind of hazard or essential pay for working in-person through this pandemic. Right now, he can’t afford health care.

“I still don't feel like I'm essential. I feel like I'm replaceable, expendable,” he said.

Osborn’s union, SEIU Local 1, is working on a new contract to help get more pay for workers.

Osborn said he’s more concerned about his personal safety now than earlier in the pandemic. 

“There's new strains coming out and it's kind of — actually kind of scary,” he said.

Osborn said he feels like people are being less careful now. He sees people at his local gas stations walk in without wearing masks. He said he’ll probably get the vaccine.

“But we can't rely on the vaccination alone. We still have to use common sense,” he said.

Indiana Public Broadcasting and Side Effects Public Media collected stories about what's changed for Hoosiers in the last year. 

Contact reporter Rebecca at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

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