‘We Just Went From Being Very Conscious To Ultra-Conscious’: A Day In the Life Of A Sanitation Worker During COVID

Work hasn’t slowed down one bit for Anthony Paolicelli, a sanitation worker whose route takes him through Lower Manhattan. If anything, the increased number of people hunkering down because of COVID-19 means there’s more work, not less. 

“Since people are home now more often, the weight of the garbage has gotten a lot heavier,” Paolicelli (above, left), who’s been working for the Department of Sanitation for the last 16 years, told the Downtown Alliance. “I handle it, and let me tell you, I can feel it.”

Other than that, Paolicelli’s day-to-day has remained pretty constant throughout the course of the pandemic. Sanitation workers have to be extra-attuned to health-related safety precautions, with or without a deadly virus on the rampage. “Working in the environment that we work with,” he said, “which is pretty much waste and refuse, we’re pretty much worried about germs and disease all the time. We just went from being very conscious to ultra-conscious.”

Paolicelli’s work day begins at 5a and finishes before most New Yorkers even wake up — which means he has seldom come into contact with people while on the job. Those he has interacted with, however, have shown a renewed appreciation for sanitation workers, who perform a difficult but essential task in the rain, snow and sleet, and during lockdown. “They have really come out and thanked us for the job that we’re doing,” he said. “That’s happened a lot more now, and it makes us feel really, really great.” 

Paolicelli also noted that New Yorkers have been even more conscientious about keeping cars from blocking access to garbage areas, and for generally helping sanitation workers do their jobs more efficiently. 

Still, there are ways New Yorkers can continue to help. “We just ask that people properly dispose of their PPEs using their trash and their waste bins, and not just leave them on the street,” Keith Mellis, chief of the New York Department of Sanitation, told the Downtown Alliance. “That would be beneficial.”