Each morning at 4 a.m., 40-year-old Angel LaSanta drives his automated side loader from Springfield neighbourhood to neighbourhood, collecting household waste as an employee of the Department of Public Works.
He then takes it to the incinerator in Agawam just over the river from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
However, if the trash can is too full LaSanta will leave the cabin to clear-up any spillage. This is risky even pre-pandemic. He told MassLive that there is always the possibility of being stuck with needles, having the remnants of diapers fall on him and other unsavoury elements that residents throw away. Using sanitiser, thick gloves and a mask as precautions are vital.
Now he worries of contracting COVID-19, and possible spread to his son who has cerebral palsy.
Each shift, LaSanta will safeguard himself by sanitising the cabin, driving alone and using alcohol wipes and sanitiser liberally.
Occasionally, residents will want to ask questions or wish a good morning but he makes sure to keep his distance.
“Hazards can come from anywhere,” said LaSanta casually. “Residents of Springfield can blow off on you. People in the past have even taken out a gun and threatened some of the drivers.”
Whether a disease or an irate customer, it has become second nature for LaSanta to stay ahead of the game by taking precautions to avoid any issues.
The Department of Public Works released a statement addressing “hot loads” that were collected and subsequently tripped radiation sensors at the disposal facility. The incident occurred twice within a week on Oct. 29 and Nov. 5. City officials said that the cost of decontaminating the vehicle and finding suitable grounds for disposing of radioactive materials cost taxpayers $5,000.
The precautions that LaSanta takes is also one of the many reasons that his workload has increased since the beginning of the pandemic.
According to the National Institute of Health, sudden lockdown and fear of the virus lead to the intensification of single-use products and panic buying.
A study, published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, found that the average U.S. household wasted 31.9% of its food. The total annual cost of the wasted food was estimated to be $240 billion or $1,866 per household. The data came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey and included 4,000 households.
Household waste has been increasing year-over-year prior to the pandemic, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. With many now working remotely, residential waste and recycling have now doubled locally.
“The routes have gotten bigger because there’s a lot of houses, a lot of developments,” LaSanta added.
At 10 a.m. on Nov. 30, a nurse called to tell LaSanta of the positive result that had come back from the lab confirming the worst. He had the virus that has killed so many across the world.
Two days after Thanksgiving, LaSanta was experiencing issues with breathing and the next day went to get a COVID test at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield.
On the day of the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamila Harris, the number of Americans that died in under a year as a result of COVID outnumbered American soldiers deaths in the entire of World War II.
Between 1941 and 1945, over 291,500 American service members died in battle, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. A further 113,842 members of the military died in service during the war, making it a total of 405,399 deaths of service members over the four-year period.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated on Jan. 21, 409,072 people have died of coronavirus in the United States.
Over two million people worldwide have succumbed to the virus and its effects and LaSanta is all too aware of the severity of the diagnosis, not for himself, but his family.
His son, Alexander, is always at the forefront of his mind and when he received the call from the nurse, this was more of a concern. Due to his diagnosis of cerebral palsy, Alexander is especially high-risk.
In addition to his worry about his son, his 71-year-old mother was staying at his house to celebrate Thanksgiving.
The CDC defines cerebral palsy as a disability caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain and is a group of disorders that affect an individual’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture.
“To be honest, it was terrifying and confusing,” LaSanta confessed about his experience contracting the virus. “I was wondering how I got it.”
After hearing the news, LaSanta took to a bedroom at the rear of his house in Forest Park and there he stayed for over two weeks in quarantine. Food was brought to his door and occasionally his 16-year-old son would joke by spraying Lysol into the doorway.
“I prayed to God that if it had to happen, let it happen to just me,” LaSanta recalled thinking. “Don’t let it touch my family.”
Some that have cerebral palsy are at a higher risk if they contract COVID due to their difficulties accessing information, understanding or practicing preventative measures and communicating symptoms of illness, according to the CDC.
“Patients with chronic neurological conditions, such as cerebral palsy, may be at a higher risk of serious infection if they get COVID-19. These patients should, therefore, take extra precautions to minimise the risk of infection,” said Cerebral Palsy News Today. “In addition to the general preventive measures listed above, they should avoid crowds and non-essential travel and stay at home as much as possible.”
During the time LaSanta was confined to the room, the rest of the family went to get tested and were thankfully found to be negative for the virus.
LaSanta’s wife, Edid LaSanta took over all the chores, as well as her own as well as the care of Alexader. LaSanta spoke of her fortitude and her resilience to the situation they were in. He said that she is a constant source of positivity and strength.
“Coming into the house and not knowing I had it, it really devastated me because my first thought is on them,” confessed LaSanta.
A couple of days after speaking to MassLive, LaSanta was able to get his first of two vaccinations.
Although he now feels that he can relax a little more, even with the vaccine coursing through his veins, the risk of passing the virus to others is still a worry.
Division of Infectious Disease Specialist at Baystate Medical Center Amanda Westlake explained to MassLive that the mRNA version of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 is different than the more traditional vaccines that contain either weakened viruses or purified signature proteins of the virus.
She said that the mRNA vaccine contains a genetic code that produces a viral protein. Once injected, a person’s muscles will translate the code into a viral protein that mimics coronavirus and gives the body’s immune system a chance to adapt and prepare for the possibility of contracting COVID-19.
LaSanta was qualified to get vaccinated as a part-time auxiliary officer.
Frontline health care workers were the first in the state to be vaccinated, followed by residents and staff of long-term care facilities and first responders.
Massachusetts is on track to enter Phase 2 of the state’s vaccination timeline on Monday.
Residents 75 years and older are the first priority group in Phase 2 followed by residents 65 years and older, individuals with at least two comorbidities that make them high risk for COVID and/or residents and staff of low income and affordable senior housing.
Public works employees are among the more than a million residents who qualify in Phase 2 due to their occupation and are expected to be eligible to receive the vaccine this spring.