By Kallista Mirobel
As Governor Ron DeSantis prepares to fully reopen the state of Florida in spite of the surging number of cases in the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of workers across Florida who have already been on the front lines of the virus’s first wave brace for yet another one as the death toll worldwide numbers over 600,000. While the economy slowly twists its gears back into motion in spite of the toll the virus has already taken, we’ve asked a few workers who have been directly impacted by the response to COVID-19 to tell their stories of the pandemic and the conditions on Florida, the national epicenter of the virus at the moment.
Iris, a shift leader for a regional retail chain, spoke briefly on the state’s response to the outbreak since it began: “The country failed its citizens and waited too long to take action and the action they took wasn’t enough. The whole country should have been shut down for a month when everything first happened, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation if it did.” In Europe where measures like this were taken, like Italy, COVID-19 active cases have plummeted, while in the US we reach new highs each day.
Alex, a former apprentice electrician before the outbreak, described their experience in more detail when asked how the pandemic had affected them personally” “I was laid off from my job because of it. With 11 other people. And now I’m working part time, I got sick with the cold, or with something that wasn’t COVID beause I didn’t have a fever or anything. I mean it’s possible that it was COVID, but I haven’t gotten my test results back because the [system] is so congested.”
As the Trump administration and Governor DeSantis continue to impede proper reporting of the virus statistics in an effort to speed back into reopening the country and the state, the effects of their meddling are felt by those who are most at risk of being exposed to virus. Reporting on the convoluted and difficult process to be tested for COVID-19, Alex said, “It’s been at least 7 days, I still haven’t gotten my results back. Trying to get a test was very difficult, because they only let you schedule a test a couple of days in advance. So I had to watch the CVS website after midnight to get an appointment two days in advance, and they would book up pretty quick. The ones at Centracare and AdventHealth were cancelling people’s appointments I guess, going on priority. So sometimes COVID tests would be pushed back. And when I called them they told me to stay home because I didn’t have a fever. They just said don’t come.”
Finally, Sara, a retail worker who came down with a case of COVID at the beginning of the outbreak offered shared an extended narrative of their experiences with the virus, and the lonely, helpless feeling that came with its most severe symptoms.
“I tried to come in but I could barely breathe. My body ached like no flu I had ever had before, my stomach was so inflamed that I couldn’t eat.
At the time coronavirus wasn’t publicized that it was already in the US, so when I went to the ER, I assumed it was flu and strep- until I tested negative for both. I could tell the doctors and nurses were all acting different, they knew it was coronavirus. They gave me the highest doses of antibiotics they could, promethazine, anti-nausea, anti-diarrheal, anything to ease my pain. Unfortunately- none of that worked.
For 3 1/2 weeks I could barely walk, breathe, eat. I lost 12 pounds and endured the most pain and misery of my entire life. I have a genetic mutation that makes me immunocompromised- it makes it very hard for my body to fight off illness and even process my vitamins properly. My body was barely hanging on. I remember not even having the strength to cry. All I could do is pray to God, the universe, anything out there to please take away my suffering.
It was so lonely, I quarantined away from my family, my boyfriend, my best friend for weeks because of how fearful I was that they would ever have to suffer like I did. Even after my “flu-like” symptoms went away my breathing is still affected to this day. I lost my sense of smell and taste for weeks after. I don’t breathe like I used to and often get out of breath easily. I’m terrified of ever getting sick again, which makes it difficult on my anxiety to go to work or go out to stores.”
Reflecting on where things went wrong in Florida, Sara identified willful ignorance and overconfidence as chief catalysts in the Florida disaster: “The virus is incredibly contagious, so it is no doubt that if people return to their normal routines they will be susceptible. I think people were getting antsy being in their house for so long. They felt since stores were reopening they could get together with their friends and colleagues again and it would be fine. All it takes is one person who has the virus, whether they are asymptomatic or not, to transmit it to you. The ripple effect starts and you give it to someone else. In early February I caught the virus from my coworkers. It wasn’t long before our whole office had to almost close down due to everyone being deathly sick…”
“Some of them would never recover. I saw tons of people lose their jobs, their money, their lives crumble. I pray for the people of the world and that we can all heal from this. It breaks my heart.”
This ignorance caused immediate and real human tragedy, and Sara reckoned this during her own sickness and financial difficulties. “I remember thinking that I didn’t want anyone to know what this felt like, but thousands of other people were sick like me. Some of them would never recover. I saw tons of people lose their jobs, their money, their lives crumble. I pray for the people of the world and that we can all heal from this. It breaks my heart.”
Since beginning to reopen bars, beaches, and other entertainment venues after their original closing, DeSantis has repeatedly shrugged off the increases in numbers, grossly attributing them to minority workers in the agricultural industry, prison inmates, and even simply testing people more. Many on the ground, however, disagree with the Governor’s dismissals, having seen first hand what such a lax pandemic response looks like for the rest of the population. To Iris, “Reopening for memorial weekend and the state as a whole taking action.” was responsible for the surging number of infections. Alex also noted, “I think the fact that people can’t get out of work, and exposing themselves; the fact that people are gonna have to go to schools now and they don’t have a choice in it.”
Alex went on afterwards, speaking frankly about whether the state reopened too soon. “Yes, We are now the world’s epicenter for COVID-19. Cases are rising every day, they’re going to open schools, and everyone’s going to get sick. A lot of people are gonna die from it. Teachers, students, and their families. All within months or weeks of each other, someone could lose their mom, their dad, their grandparents, aunts and uncles, just imagine that kind of loss.”
Sara added, “I think the state assumed that people would still try to stay home as best they could and quarantine. But unfortunately tons of people haven’t made any effort to stay home or even wear a mask. Wearing a mask is just courteous to the elderly, diabetics, pregnant women, people who have all sorts of problems that make them more susceptible. People need to remember we are fighting a VIRUS! Let’s think in terms of human rights, their right to life. To be protected. They didn’t ask to be immunocompromised and they don’t deserve to be locked away in their homes for months on end.”
In words that echo the sentiment of many of the “essential” and “non-essential” workers across the country, Florida workers share common anxieties over what the next several months have in store. Since Capitalism’s ethos is driven by its profit motive before the sanctity of the lives of their workers, more and more businesses are deciding to move forward in spite of the human toll their actions take moving forward. While many business owners are desperate to restart their means of survival, the people who make up the foundation of their survival find fewer avenues to avoid the economic pressure. For those who have been infected by the virus especially, the common sentiments of the effects of COVID being over-exaggerated or outright false aren’t just ignorant, but actively harmful.
Worldwide, millions are still reeling from the impact of the pandemic, like Sara, Alex, and Iris. From heads of state to the poorest of every nation, there are few who could honestly testify to being wholly unaffected by the growing crisis. While we brace for another wave in America while other nations tepidly move forward passed the initial outbreak, it’s crucial we remember the impact that the ongoing crisis has on those who risk their health and lives at the lowest echelons of society. As Alex poignantly said, “It’s involuntary, the spread of the virus, it’s a result of capitalism. Covid and the response to it is a symptom of the disease.”