I’m a medical-surgical nurse in an acute care unit. I’m additionally an oncology nurse. I deal with numerous lymphomas and leukemias, the sorts of most cancers that individuals must be hospitalized for a few week whereas they obtain remedy.

I keep in mind the final time I used to be in a gathering with plenty of individuals: Jan. 27. That date simply rings in my ear, in my head. Somebody requested me, “What do you concentrate on this coronavirus?” As a result of I are inclined to stay on the upcoming doom facet, I used to be like, “Properly, it may very well be actually dangerous.” However then I assumed, Possibly I’m being dramatic. So I began to look at the LA County COVID-19 clock, a Division of Public Well being web site that tracks coronavirus infections and deaths. I keep in mind after we have been at 20 circumstances, and we’ve now surpassed 275,000.

By mid-February, I knew that this was going to be an issue. From March 3 to five, my buddy had a fiftieth birthday celebration and all of us went to Minnesota. I used to be actually scared to go. The next Thursday, the pandemic was declared. I keep in mind hugging a buddy and virtually crying. I assumed, That is the final time I’m ever going to hug any person. I nonetheless do not forget that final embrace. I don’t assume I’ve hugged anyone since.

Earlier than my hospital had strict coronavirus isolation insurance policies in place, in April 2020, I used to be uncovered to a coronavirus-positive affected person. I used to be the lead nurse that day and I needed to help one other nurse in a bloody 90-minute process. This affected person had HIV, so I had gowned up with double gloves and I wore a face protect.

The next day, I used to be about to exit for a stroll after I obtained a name from the hospital. They informed me I had been uncovered to a affected person who was optimistic for COVID-19, however they informed me I may nonetheless work so long as I wasn’t symptomatic.

I used to be shocked. The Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention (CDC) was advising that after you’re uncovered, you’re speculated to quarantine for 14 days. I had this second of feeling actually deserted, scuffling with determining the best factor to do. I instantly felt that I used to be going to be alone in it. That’s the largest scary a part of this virus: the isolation of being sick and being alone.

I keep in mind one other nurse telling me, “Simply take depart. Possibly you possibly can come again every time.” I used to be like, “What? Are you going to kick me out now? As a result of this calling to be a nurse, it’s actually true. I need to be there.” I used to be confused, upset, emotional. I didn’t know what to do.

At that time, exams weren’t available. I took a time without work, utilizing my sick depart, engaged all my organizer mates, and eventually discovered a clinic. I drove an hour and a half. I begged them to check me. They stated, “High-quality, however don’t inform your folks as a result of we received’t take a look at them.”

Then different organizer mates discovered an ear, nostril, and throat physician at my hospital who stated, “We’ll take a look at you, don’t fear. Give our quantity to each nurse on the hospital.” I gave the quantity to my supervisor and to everyone else who was uncovered. Everyone was capable of get examined.

I went to my organizing neighborhood for assist as a result of I understood that this was a political drawback. The Meals and Drug Administration (FDA), the CDC, different international locations have been making an attempt to offer us entry to testing. However with Trump, the USA was refusing assist, deciding to make its personal exams. This in the end put us far behind in with the ability to isolate or quarantine individuals. Folks ought to nonetheless get examined, however contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine primarily solely work originally of an outbreak. We’re past that now.

At first of COVID-19, it was actually chaotic; we didn’t have tight methods in place. We have been penalized for sporting masks—and nurses have been displaying up with N95s and face shields. We have been very restricted on what private protecting tools (PPE) we may have; we needed to show we would have liked them. And we’re an oncology unit—now we have to guard our sufferers who’ve weakened or no immune methods!

Now we display screen each affected person who’s admitted to the hospital for COVID-19. However for a number of months, it felt like there have been no procedures in place to guard us. I feel my preliminary expertise modified the coverage.

On the finish of June, although, I came upon I had been uncovered twice for the reason that first time. A few of my sufferers had initially examined unfavorable however began to have signs of COVID-19—fever, cough, quick coronary heart charges, and many others.—and we determined to retest them. That they had “transformed”—now they examined optimistic. I used to be additionally requested to be a part of a COVID-19 unit, and I labored there for six weeks. Whether or not you might be on a COVID-19 or non-COVID-19 unit, the hazard of being uncovered is in every single place.

Working in a hospital like mine, time and time once more, you understand that you’re underfunded, understaffed, underresourced. You understand that problems with well being and wellness should not effectively understood—that social and political situations create poverty and sickness. That is what propelled me to grow to be an organizer. I began to see how state violence maintains situations of ailing well being.

For instance, throughout COVID-19, Los Angeles has utterly deserted the neighborhood of Skid Row. There’s no meals, housing, and even clear water to clean one’s palms. In response, organizations like Los Angeles Group Motion Community have created mutual assist applications that not solely present wholesome meals, but in addition construct hand-washing services all through the neighborhood. The town has given up, however now we have not!

I’ve been concerned within the protests and uprisings round police brutality in Los Angeles, and I’m not the one one. Some docs and managers at my hospital have proven up, which is nice. It makes me really feel not alone, makes me really feel proud. I’ve been actually blissful to see on each flyer, “Masks up!” However I’ve additionally seen these rallies with individuals simply standing there and shouting. I’m like, “Simply march! Please begin transferring! Transfer by the air, open it up, take the streets. Simply unfold out, unfold out.”

Persons are keen to danger their lives, and never simply in opposition to the police and getting shot with rubber bullets and getting tear-gassed and hit with batons. They’re keen to danger their well being. It’s like, “I could get a virus that will kill me.” And that’s wonderful as a result of in opposition to all odds, we’re placing ourselves on the market. The momentum is so sturdy proper now. We’re keen to do something proper now for freedom.

Within the context of COVID-19 and rebellion, we have to embrace that this rise up is de facto about structural racism. It’s about how the Black neighborhood has been disenfranchised—from well being care, housing, faculties, land—after which managed, contained, and criminalized by the police. We’re not going to get out of this pandemic alive and protect the lives of Black individuals until these issues are addressed.

That’s why Black persons are disproportionately dying of COVID-19—as a result of every part you hear is about “COVID optimistic, COVID unfavorable.” None of it’s concerning the structural points that trigger hypertension, diabetes, coronary heart failure—all these items that make you inclined to dying of COVID-19. Structural racism is killing Black individuals alongside the police.

At first of the pandemic, I used to be seeing nurses drop like flies—go on depart, shed extra pounds. Now, we’re readjusting. I miss with the ability to hug my fellow nurse mates, as a result of we want that camaraderie. I miss not being afraid to the touch the affected person, a sort of closeness that you can have with out worry.

The job’s already laborious. It was already a disaster; it was already back-breaking. It was already a job that made you cry. However I cherish how sturdy everyone is.

Virginia Eubanks is an affiliate professor of political science on the College at Albany, SUNY and co-editor of the Digital Welfare State undertaking presently incubating within the Voice of Witness Story Lab.