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New York Daily News | July 7, 2021

‘We’re celebrating ourselves’: Pandemic’s unsung heroes honored in NYC ticker tape parade for frontline COVID-19 workers

By Brittany Kreigstein, Maggie Flahive and Larry McShane

The city’s unsung pandemic heroes swapped the darkness of COVID-19 for the sunshine along the Canyon of Heroes at a rousing Wednesday ticker-tape parade where New Yorkers cheered the selfless workers’ inspiring courage and commitment.

An array of night-shift nurses, volunteer charity workers, teachers, transportation employees, cops and other “Hometown Heroes” marched in the footsteps of Yankees star Derek Jeter and South African leader Nelson Mandela, their joyous walk up Broadway a welcome change from the long hard road spawned by the arrival of coronavirus in March 2020.

“We are out here celebrating ourselves,” said Michelle Medina, who turned out with two fellow respiratory therapists from Mt. Sinai Hospital. “It took a village, a team to be here today — and we are just here to appreciate everyone and celebrate everyone who has been on this team.”

Grand marshal Sandra Lindsay, director of nursing at Northwell Health in Queens, rode in a vintage convertible at the head of the parade. Lindsay, the first U.S. recipient of a COVID vaccine last Dec. 14, beamed at the folks lined up along the parade route.

“Thank you, New York!” she shouted while waving at the crowd on the sidewalks of Lower Manhattan. And the people responded in kind: “Thank you!”

Kathleen Liggio, 63 an investigator with the city Medical Examiner’s Office, noted she and her colleagues worked long hours under the city’s radar during the length of the debilitating health crisis that killed more than 33,000 New Yorkers.

“We don’t get or look for recognition,” she said. “But we were there, we work hard, and I feel this is a day for us, too. We should all be recognized.”

Liggio was overwhelmed by the sight of fellow frontline workers assembled on a sweltering morning with temperatures climbing toward 90 degrees. The parade featured 14 floats and 10 bands in the first such celebration since the U.S. Women’s soccer team was honored in 2019 for its second consecutive World Cup victory.

“This is not even a once in a lifetime thing,” said Liggio. “Many people don’t (ever) see this. When you think of all the greats that have been through the Canyon of Heroes, this is unbelievable really.”

Mayor de Blasio traveled near the front of the parade on a hospital workers float, while former NYPD Capt. Eric Adams — the Brooklyn borough president and Democratic nominee to replace the incumbent — marched and greeted the honorees.

GOP nominee Curtis Sliwa was also in attendance as the NYPD band played some appropriate marching tunes: “God Bless America” and “Stand by Me.”

Some of those lining the parade route represented essential workers who couldn’t come out. Lorna Amato came to honor her daughter Tressia, a 17-year veteran nurse who saw the ravages of the pandemic up close.

“I came out here today to celebrate her,” said the proud mom. “She’s been working for the last year and a half, 14 hour days, and she’s still getting patients … It took a great toll on her, but she had and has a wonderful attitude.”

Denise Palmer of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East recalled following in the career footsteps of her mother.

“My mom has worked for 30 years,” said Palmer, a five-year union veteran. “They are the real heroes, they were on the front lines. We are here to celebrate and just be grateful.”

But the day was not without contention, as an assortment of first responders — including the FDNY union — announced they would not join in the event recognizing their heroic efforts. District Council 37, representing 150,000 frontline workers, said the majority of its membership would boycott, as did members of the FDNY’s EMS paramedics and emergency medical technicians union.

A few random firefighters turned out despite the boycott.

A pair of protesters toted “PAY EMS” signs, referring to an ongoing dispute where those city workers remained on the job without contracts since 2018 while working for a starting salary of $35,000. And Transit Workers Union members marched with signs asking for hazard pay as they remembered their 106 colleagues lost during the pandemic.

“New Yorkers and our elected officials must never forget how transit workers continued to move this city during the pandemic despite the dangers to themselves and their families,” said TWU Local 100 president Tony Utano.

The boycotts failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the participants and their supporters as multi-colored confetti shot from cannons wafted down from the blue skies above Broadway.

The Lower Manhattan marchers included a contingent of funeral directors, who went through an unprecedented dark stretch where thousands of bereaved families lost their loved ones.

“It was overwhelming,” said John Heyer, 38, of the family-run Scotto & Heyer Funeral Directors in Brooklyn. “Never seen anything like this. We went from doing 10 funerals a week to doing 15 a day … It’s a sigh of relief. Our business is back to normal, which is a good thing.”