E.E., 32, a mental health worker in Fremont, CA

Numbers are rising. No one knows anything about it. Where it originated. How it spreads. With the little information they have; they are frantically trying to contain it. There’s a shelter in place order. Everyone is in a frantic chaos.

This is COVID-19, the pandemic that has changed the world as we see it.

This is my story of how the pandemic has affected me as an essential worker in the mental health field. I had recently just started my job as a social worker in the city of San Francisco in late February. Shortly after there was news about this new virus that no one knows about that was spreading globally. Being the risk taker I am I still proceeded to my planned trip overseas in March. Little did I know coming back was a lot harder than expected. Borders were closing. My plane ride home was canceled. As the virus was spreading globally, it was making it harder to find a way back home. At last I made it back to the US. It’s already mid- April and, after 14-days of quarantine, I was excited to finally get back to work and meet all

my new co-workers after being gone for about a month.

There was a shelter in place order globally, so there was not a soul in the streets. Being an essential worker I still had to ride on the empty BART trains to work every day praying to God that I would not get this virus. I was hearing that at the clinic I worked at we were running short on supplies (i.e. hand sanitizer, mask, PPE). My anxiety was rising as we started to run out of protective gear and I was reusing a disposable mask going on day 5 already.

At the end of the week, I’m getting messages from my manager saying that I’m going to be deployed the following week. Me being new, I had no clue what she was talking about; she had even told me that this was the first time the city has had deployment like this. Soon enough, I am finding out that the city has taken measures to contain COVID-19, including setting up Isolation and quarantine sites for those who are either positive or waiting for their test results with no place to quarantine. I was the social worker that would be working at one of the sites they had set up to support those who had behavioral health needs instead of my regular job. This news put me in a state of heightened concern as I would be in close vicinity to people who had tested positive.

As I went into the assigned site, the chaos was all around, as this was the first time the city had set up something like this. Every week there was a new protocol as they were trying to find a way to make this work. I was getting different messages from different people on how I was supposed to help run the site for behavioral health needs. I was juggling this new role and managing the chaos from both co-workers and the people that were staying at the sites. I slowly became that person that calms everyone down. You can imagine: as newly deployed people, their anxiety is through the roof, and everyone wanting to take charge only results in more chaos.

Weeks later, I’m hearing news of the killing of George Floyd by the police. Riots are happening outside the streets of the job site. People who are quarantining at the job sites now want to join the protest. I’m here trying to convince them to stay quarantined as they are COVID positive. The stores that have been closed due to this shelter in place order are getting looted. The streets are filled with glass and angry protesters. We’re keeping the site doors locked for safety. As far as I was concerned, at that point it was all about getting home safe. It started taking me a couple hours to get home, as I was now also dodging the riots.

My deployment finally ended in the summer, and I am back to my regular job. I am grateful I I’ve been able to help others while also not getting COVID-19, and I am happy to finally having a chance to know my team and start working with clients.

[submitted on 8/8/2020]

Life in Quarantine: Witnessing Global Pandemic is an initiative sponsored by the Poetic Media Lab and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford University.

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