I spend my days delivering useful resources to the COVID+ in Los Angeles and here’s why. My routine is to wake up, mask up, and lead my dog, Pep, out of our apartment’s back alley door, cutting through the adjacent building’s driveway to avoid the downtown LA crowds. And then I begin to think.
“Oh, shit. I want a coffee! Philz is on the corner. I could order on their app and no-contact pick-up, right? Yes, I’ll grab a latte.”
But also, “Where is that man’s mask? Why are all of those kids walking in a group? Pep, take a dump so we can get out of this fresh hell.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, this is how every morning began. I followed up by scrubbing my dog’s paws, washing my hands to the sweet melody of the Happy Birthday song which, forget that song, and sanitizing the hell out of my keys, cell phone, and mask. Totally normal. Dreadfully this was 2020 and has transcended into 2021, unfortunately. So I have had to do a gratitude check-in many times.
I have been blessed to have a job throughout this time. I had a moment to escape my DTLA studio to housesit my friend’s lovely home but, also, I had questions: When would I see my friends again? Travel? Go into the office? Have sex? You didn’t ask but, as a single woman, I left 2019 vowing to only have sex with someone who wanted a committed relationship — Ha! If only I had known what 2020 would’ve had in store. In my upcoming book, Rules for a Pandemic, I’ll have an entire chapter called — “Single ladies, keep your benches full!” — but that’s another article.
If I’m honest about my early days in the pandemic it can be summarized simply — Avoid crowds, bake, kill the germs, work out, stay alive, reminisce. But yet, I ended up with COVID.
After millions of infections, hundreds of thousands of deaths, witnessing New York buckle and then rally, while also watching the past presidency deny the virus, contract the virus, and receive the most exclusive treatment–I still got COVID. And after Mayor Garcetti closed everything — then re-opened restaurants, bars, and gyms while giving confusing and frankly, cowardly non-mandatory directives to Los Angeles, I still got COVID. Then after our lawmakers proved time and time again that the economy was more important than human lives and failed to take a single beat to mourn the loved ones we’ve lost, you guessed it — I got COVID.
I can’t be sure where I got it. Elected officials let community spread spiral out of control. As someone who lives alone, avoided group activities, diligently wore my mask, and maintained six-feet of distance, I’m guessing I got it at the veterinary hospital where I had to put my dog Pep to sleep. Or maybe the grocery store? Or out for a long run? The point is, we can stop asking people where they got it. Because unless you’re a contract tracer, you’ll be hard pressed to find a scenario where someone contracted COVID doing something wildly irresponsible, not approved by our elected officials, or that you wouldn’t engage in yourself. They had an outdoor social distance hike with a friend, they put gas in their car, they insisted on picking their own produce and braved Costco. Our representatives neglected to make firm restrictions and thus, protocols were open to interpretation. We were all suddenly expected to become empathic, rational humans. Where were the grown-ups? Governor Newsom, Mayor Garcetti that question is for you.
So, after spending nine months trying not to get COVID I found myself asking, now what? Here’s what happened after my positive test. Actually, after I burst into tears, on the phone with a friend, and panic called my mother. The Los Angeles Department of Health called to contact trace, five days later which is a routine call after having a test. However, what surprised me was that the call came FIVE DAYS AFTER being tested. Thankfully I had health insurance. So in those five days I called my doctor who asked if I had an oximeter? Tylenol? Vitamins?
I was instructed to drink lots of fluids, make sure I was eating, and stay active or COVID could settle in my lungs. “Get an oximeter and monitor your O2 three times a day. Go to the hospital if you’re short of breath or, say, feel like you’re having a stroke,” my doctor instructed. I bought everything he told me plus a little more. I had food delivered. All in all, my first week sick, I spent $500. Millions of Americans are currently at risk of eviction, the government waited months to pass a stimulus, and pre-pandemic 40% of Americans could not afford a $400 emergency. My friend Nicole said it best, “if you get COVID, the government should give you a freaking gift.”
Well, they didn’t. But Nicole was right. If the government was going to let us get sick, we deserved something, in exchange. So, with help from my friends Lucia Tran and Cleo Brooks, we founded Pep Packs. A mutual aid effort dedicated to delivering a package of potentially useful goodies to Angelenos in need, the moment they got a positive test. If the government was going to leave everyone hanging — we wanted folks to know they had community support.
We consulted medical professionals (thanks Brad and Stephanie!) to determine the best items to include. And we moved forward hoping, at the very least, that no one sick would feel alone or strapped for resources and that, at best, someone silently hypoxic might use the oximeter and know to seek treatment.
With the help of individual donors, neighborhood councils, in-kind corporate donations (Lyft, Nuun, Goodr, Gu, Art of Tea, Green Goo), and volunteers, we’ve donated to organizations with roots in at-need communities, and we’ve driven over 2000 miles from Lancaster to Long Beach to make no-contact home deliveries to individuals who request through our website. Individuals who, you should be aware, have been overwhelmingly people of color. In neighborhoods that feel as if they’ve been forgotten– not Beverly Hills, or Brentwood, or Pacific Palisades. A startling reminder that Governor Newsom and Mayor Garcetti are so far removed from their most vulnerable constituents– which, quite frankly, is not OK and must be rectified.
As our requests exceed 50 packs per day, the SoCal Kids Museum has generously offered to be our fiscal sponsor, allowing further donations to be a tax write off for donors. We’ll continue to help for as long as we can during this terrible surge in LA. Honestly, we’re providing a service LA should cover — especially after awarding a multi-million dollar contract to Curative, whose tests have proven to result in a high percentage of false negatives.
This is month eleven and I’ve finally figured out how to pandemic. My routine has changed. I’m still social distancing, sanitizing, and hand washing (though now to “Take it to da house!”) — but I’m done simply reminiscing. I’m over complaining about what I can’t do. I’m through hiding myself away in fear and waiting for our elected officials to step up. I’m doing my best to be active because it has become shockingly clear that we have to take care of ourselves and each other. This pandemic has forever changed me. Forever changed us.