Last spring, New Jersey emergency room nurse Maritza Beniquez saw “wave after wave” of sick patients, each wearing a look of fear that grew increasingly familiar as the weeks wore on.
Soon, it was her colleagues at Newark’s University Hospital — the nurses, techs and doctors with whom she had been working side by side — who turned up in the ER, themselves struggling to breathe. “So many of our own co-workers got sick, especially toward the beginning; it literally decimated our staff,” she said.
By the end of June, 11 of Beniquez’s colleagues were dead. Like the patients they had been treating, most were Black and Latino.
“We were disproportionately affected because of the way that Blacks and Latinos in this country have been disproportionately affected across every [part of] our lives — from schools to jobs to homes,” she said.
Now Beniquez feels like a vanguard of another kind. On Dec. 14, she became the first person in New Jersey to receive the coronavirus vaccine — and was one of many medical workers of color featured prominently next to headlines heralding the vaccine’s arrival at U.S. hospitals.