For many, 2020 served as a crucible, a test of will and dexterity. Perhaps more importantly, the dark and stormy cloud that was the past year served as a catalyst that coaxed the best of humanity out of us.
With reflection on the 12 months, it does not take Herculean effort to identify the people who had the greatest impact on our existence, during moments when we were at our worst. Without question, it was those men and women who showed selflessness, courage, endurance, and compassion.
We are often mistaken in thinking that the default of the human condition is to be altruistic, to abandon ego and rest our faith in the greater good, but in reality, it is easier to believe in these ideals than to live up to them.
It is for this reason that we acknowledge that special consideration must be placed on those who risked their lives when we needed them the most.
The essential workers who stood out during the heart of the pandemic to ensure that life as we knew it retained some semblance of normalcy, be it the gas station attendants or supermarket cashiers, media personalities or sanitary custodians, they all had their part to play.
The frontline worker, who we could so easily overlook in the past, suddenly became our saving graces; custodial staff ensuring that our surfaces were clean and the security personnel who now double as temperature monitors and sanitizing attendants.
But we cannot soon forget our frontline health care workers. With little known about the COVID-19 virus, they were expected to care for and treat the infirmed during times where the correct equipment for their safety were still not available.
They looked beyond their personal safety and the potential risks to their loved ones so that the prospect of the patients’ recovery was even brighter with their care.
We must applaud the efforts of the Emergency Medical Service, who were often the first faces those in dire need of help saw during the past year.
Rightfully so, 2020 was designated at the Year of the Nurse by the World Health Assembly and it would not be a more fitting title.
The dedication, resilience, poise and drive of these medical personnel is embodied in nurse Soria Dupie-Winston.
She was an impactful voice in 2020 who not only aided in the care of individuals affected by the novel coronavirus, but served as an advocate for other nurses as the head of the Antigua and Barbuda Nurses Association.
Dupie-Winston was fearless as she demanded adequate equipment and compensation for those she represents and her firm but reassuring cadence during her numerous interviews helped to drive home the new realities of living during a pandemic and preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
We also cannot forget the major role that Chief Health Inspector Sharon Martin played in the year that passed. Though soft-spoken and unassuming, Martin brought years of experience to Antigua and Barbuda’s COVID-19 response.
She told Observer that dealing with a health emergency with which the world had no prior experience was the greatest challenge of the last 10 months.
“Especially knowing you had people to protect and to work hard to get that information out to people,” she added. “It wasn’t easy dealing with people because they saw it as us forcing these rules on them, so it was a challenge to convince them to change their behaviour.”
During the 2020, Martin had dustups with government officials over her role in the COVID-19 pandemic response, but she was not daunted.
“I know that as a public health inspector of over 39 years, the public was most important, so I didn’t make anything side-track me… I remained focussed,” she said.
Martin, who preferred communicating with people on the community level, as she would put it, “touching people and making connections”, said she pushed forward and sacrificed her personal time “because if we lose one person, we will lose too much”.
The chief health inspector said she was “very happy” to be recognised for her work.
Philmore Mullin was also an unsung hero.
As the head of the National Office of Disaster Services (NODS), Mullin is often the authority on natural disaster preparedness, but the COVID-19 pandemic presented a new challenge as a health crisis.
While the Ministry of Health was responsible for the medical protocols, the coordination of security personnel, to include the Defence Force and the police was largely driven by the NODS.
Mullin was quick to engage the government to operationalize the National Emergency Coordination Centre that allowed for the coordination of multiple agencies involved in security and safety.
He said pandemics like the Covid-19 virus are situations, “that you plan for but hope you never have to deal with, but it’s always in the back of your mind”.
Mullin said 2020 has taught him many lessons and will help to inform the future. Among his hopes for the future is to have more counselling services available to residents in time of disaster.
The personality of the year is not often an accolade, but an acknowledgement of impact.
In any other year, the Barbuda Council and the Barbuda People’s Movement and their fight for environmental protection, among others, could have stood out for this highlight.
For 2020, a year that called on us all to be extraordinary, it was the frontline workers who shone the brightest.