AMERICAN FORK, Utah (ABC4 News) – Everyday at 5:45 p.m., rain or shine, you can find Mike Matthews on the sidewalk of the American Fork Hospital. Why? Matthews is simply applauding the American Fork Hospital healthcare workers as they change shifts at the hospital. A small act, but one that Matthews hopes makes a big difference.
“Every healthcare worker will say the same thing: ‘Every time we hear a little honk, it’s nice to know that a member of the American Fork area of Utah is thinking about us for a second'”, says Matthews. “That’s what makes me happy. It makes me feel more connected to the community.”
The daily effort of cheering on the healthcare workers originated in New York City during the city’s worst stretch of the coronavirus pandemic. New Yorkers would take to their balconies and cheer for the frontline workers every night, a nightly event that got branded as #ClapBecauseWeCare throughout the country.
Matthews lives in New York City and came out to Utah about 10 weeks ago to help his parents who were having some health difficulties. Although he didn’t mind escaping the city for a bit, he did miss the unity the nightly cheering created throughout the city.
“It was an amazing experience and created a lot of unity across the city. And I loved it,” Matthews recalls.
Matthews, whose girlfriend is on the front lines of the pandemic as a nurse in New York City, says that while a place like American Fork, Utah hasn’t been hit as hard as a place like New York City, he wanted to do something to still thank the healthcare workers in Utah.
“When I came out here, one of the big things that I missed was the unity in New York City and the appreciation for the healthcare workers,” Matthews says.
So, in an effort to bring the New York City unity and spirit to American Fork, Matthews decided to go to the American Fork Hospital seven days a week during the nurses evening shift change to let them all know how appreciated they are at this time.
Posters, cowbells, and a ‘honk meter’ for cars who pass by are all included in Matthews’ daily venture. Sometimes it is just him and his mom standing on the sidewalk encouraging healthcare workers as they leave the hospital. But most other times, up to 30 people join them in cheering on the nurses from the American Fork Hospital sidewalk.
After cheering the healthcare workers on every day for the past ten weeks, Matthews and some others in his group have begun to form relationships with some nurses, especially the ‘COVID Crew’ who are the ones outside in the parking lot administering the COVID tests all day long.
“We have become really close with the COVID Crew,” Matthews says. “We discuss how they are doing and how we are doing and have become quite close to them.”
Matthews created a ‘honk-meter’ to keep track of how many honks drivers give in support of the healthcare workers as they drive by the hospital. If at the end of a week the honk-meter is more than 3,000, Matthews and his group provide lunch to the COVID Crew the following Monday. Costa Vida even heard about the American Fork #ClapBecauseWeCare efforts and has donated lunch to the COVID Crew.
Matthews heads back to New York City this week but isn’t worried about whether or not the cheering will continue saying, “My parents love it. I honestly think that they aren’t gonna let this stop anytime soon. I think this will go on every single day.” He goes on to say, “Anyone that wants to come join us, please do. It’s hot, but it’s short. It just makes you feel really connected because you are celebrating a group of people who are working incredibly hard right now.”
While Matthews doesn’t know Utah very well except from his time as a student at Brigham Young University, he says, “I am going to have a hard time going back to New York because the 7 p.m. cheering has died down because our coronavirus numbers have been down. But it will be hard for me to leave because of these amazing connections with the American Fork healthcare workers.”
“I hope the healthcare workers feel loved. Regardless of if they are directly treating COVID patients or not,” Matthews says. “Little honks, cowbell rings, just for 15-20 minutes a day, just little reminders to let them know that people are thinking about them, I think it goes a really long way.”