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Highlighting the work of unsung ICU cleaning crews

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Southeast Europe bureau chief Elena Becatoros and chief photographer Thanassis Stavrakis, both based in Athens, Greece, highlighted the critical and underappreciated work of cleaning crews maintaining COVID-19 intensive care units.

The idea for the story came to Becatoros as she watched workers in full protective gear making beds in the hospital across the street from her home. She and Stavrakis then spent months navigating the health care and governmental bureaucracy to get access to a hospital where AP had shot photos early in the pandemic.

Stavrakis was eventually granted access to photograph cleaners in five of the hospital’s ICUs, and Becatoros was allowed up to the door from where the ICU was clearly visible. All the cleaners they spoke to were eager to tell their story, giving voice to a group of laborers who have remained out of the public eye despite taking similar risks as doctors and nurses while preventing the spread of the virus inside hospitals.

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