France’s caregivers have been on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19 for over two months.
Their commitment is often praised by authorities and political leaders, who say that without their courage and efforts, many more lives would have been lost.
But what are their routines really like? Euronews spent a day with one of these “invisible heroes”.
Cécile Aime is among France’s thousands of health workers providing essential care for the handicapped and the elderly in this time of crisis.
And she says that her mission – to care for and protect – has never been harder to execute.
“I am not afraid of getting sick (with COVID-19),” Cécile told Euronews. “My biggest fear is to be sick and not present symptoms and to contaminate someone for whom this could be way more serious.”
Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, household workers like her have been grappling with the uncomfortable idea that they may be carriers of the virus – even if they don’t show any symptoms.
For that reason, Cécile has taken a number of precautionary measures.
“I have masks that I change with each client. And I don’t get too close – unless I need to, and then I wear gloves and a gown. The days I work, I don’t go to shops to buy food in order to limit the number of people I come into contact with to a strict minimum each day,” she explained.
Putting safety first
Cécile works for France’s leading provider of personal and household services. Oui Care has 18,000 employees and had to develop a new organisation to operate under when the first COVID-19 cases started appearing among beneficiaries.
The company split teams into those who only tended to patients tested positive for coronavirus, and teams who only worked with “healthy” clients, to try to avoid cross-contamination.
“Because we accompany the elderly and the handicapped, during this COVID-19 crisis we must continue these actions because these people need us in their daily lives. They need us to help them get out of bed, wash, get dressed, eat… and so we must continue to intervene,” Guillaume Richard, the company’s CEO, told Euronews.
But Richard said the company had a duty to put the safety of employees first.
“Between protecting my employees and accompanying my clients, I’ve made my choice – I protect my employees. So when we don’t have personal protective equipment (PPE), we inform the regional health agency, we inform the local authorities, and we tell them we cannot intervene. So either they have the PPE to give us and we will be able to carry out our work, or they don’t have them and we won’t intervene.”
A decision that can be heart-wrenching for caregivers for whom the work is “a calling”, said Richard.
Among the nearly 250,000 people killed by the COVID-19 pandemic across the world are many caregivers who represent a lifeline for the elderly and for people with disabilities.
These “invisible” workers have been rediscovered as essential parts of society during the crisis. The question now is whether their efforts will continue to be valued once the pandemic is over.