Within the span of about a month, we seem to be living in an entirely different country. 

As the global COVID-19 pandemic has spread throughout the United States, the situation is impacting everyone in ways many of us could not have predicted as recently as last year. 

Passover and Easter were practically canceled — at least as we normally celebrate them. Many of us are sheltering in place. Industry events have been canceled months out. Candy factories have been completely shut down. Everyone is wearing a face mask. About 16 million Americans have filed for unemployment, shattering any previous records. 

And we have come to realize just how incredibly dependent we are on the frontline (and often low-pay) employees we take for granted. It turns out it’s the factory workers, the delivery truck drivers and the grocery store clerks who truly make this country run.

Some states have even specifically classified grocery store employees as emergency workers, as many companies give them hazard pay. 

I doubt many of those employees thought they would ever be putting their lives on the line to do their jobs. None of them signed up for that.

And at the same time, I doubt many of us ever realized we’d be asking them to. And for those in the candy industry, they are literally serving us on both sides — putting food on our tables, and making sure confectionery products are still being sold.

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway — we owe a massive “thank you” to these employees. But we also owe them more than that. We owe them higher pay. The proper protective equipment. Good health insurance. And lots of paid time off to recover from the stress of working under these conditions.

We also owe them the kind of respect typically reserved for healthcare workers and police officers. Because they are just as vital to our society, and these days, facing just as much danger at their jobs. 

Of course, frontline, low-wage workers have always been a vital part of our economic model. They have always put food on our tables and kept America running. It’s just that before we could still pretend that everyone else was just as vital.

But we have no excuse not to know better now. I just hope we never get so comfortable that we find a way to forget.

Because the thing is, we aren’t living in an entirely different country. We’re just seeing our own country with new eyes.