Dear Friends and Family,
Last week Eric and I joined the millions of Americans who’ve received a phone call letting them know they’d been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID. Someone in our community, someone we care deeply for, someone who volunteers with us week after week, was diagnosed as positive.
While volunteering at Homies Empowerment FREEdom store all of us played by the rules. We wore masks. We wore gloves. We social distanced. We stayed outside as much as possible. But, COVID is insidious.
For the past several Tuesdays, the Native American Health Center has set up a mobile testing unit at the FREEdom store. Shoppers can pick up their groceries and get tested for COVID—all for free. The way it should be. And, after someone in our community tested positive, the Native American Health Center arranged for everyone to be fast tracked for COVID testing.
So, with no symptoms, even after six days, Eric and I went.
The NAHC Community Testing site is a semi-permanent, outdoor location in a dirt and gravel parking lot just four miles from our house. In the early summer, the testing site operated three days a week, testing approximately 300 people each day. By late August, the site had expanded to five days a week providing anyone in the area with access to free COVID testing—no insurance required, and no questions asked.
When we arrived, the line stretched around the block, not unlike the line for groceries at the FREEdom store. We moved to the end of the line and a volunteer, dressed head to toe in protective clothing—disposable green paper gown, N-99 mask, plastic face shield, paper hair covering, and blue latex gloves—asked us if we had an appointment.
We told him we were with Homies Empowerment and he led us past the people lined up on the sidewalk and through a chain-link fence surrounding a large white, Cirque du Soleil type tent.
Inside the fence, he asked for our driver’s license and, using his gloved finger, tapped our information into a large iPad. We gave him our phone numbers and confirmed we had no symptoms. And, just like that, we were checked in. While showing us to the line outside the tent, he told us they now administer 600 tests a day, five days a week, all for free.
The tent was open on both ends, like a pavilion. Inside there were traffic cones at six-foot intervals, two tables at the entrance each with a staff member and one table at the exit with two women conducting the tests. All four were dressed head to toe in protective clothing. The two testers changed their gloves every time they touched something new—whether it was the table, a testing kit, or a bottle of water.
Eric and I stood in line together, behind four women in medical scrubs. As we waited our turn, I couldn’t help but notice we were the only white people there. The people in line were BIPOC--Black, Indigenous and People of Color. The volunteers were BIPOC. The medical staff were BIPOC. When we reached the tent, Eric and I had to put six feet between us. The staff member at our table confirmed my information and handed me a testing kit. Across from me, a woman who also works with the mobile testing unit at the FREEdom store, recognized us and called out, “Hey Homies.”
I walked to the exit table and handed my kit to the tester. She opened it and showed me the swab sealed in plastic. It looks like a one-sided Q-tip—not the long swabs I had seen on TV. I felt nervous, but determined not to show it. After everything these staff members, volunteers, and medical professionals were doing for free, the least I could do was make it easy on them.
The tester showed me how far she would stick the swab up my nose and told me there would be some discomfort. I nodded in what I hoped was nonchalant, matter of fact, acceptance. She opened the package and I grit my teeth behind my Ruth Bader-Ginsburg mask. She told me to lower my mask just below my nose and tilt my head back. I did both while also clenching my stomach.
She swabbed my left nostril and I laughed.
It didn’t hurt. It tickled. She swabbed my right nostril, and I laughed some more. She laughed, too. She handed me a card with a barcode to check my results. I thanked her and left the tent as Eric stepped up to get his test.
Twenty-seven hours later, we both got our negative results and shortly after that we learned our community member was recovering.
Everyone, regardless of insurance or immigration status, should have access to COVID tests like these. The Native American Health Center is doing for the community, what I did for my daughter when she was little—making sure they are healthy, safe and loved, most important, loved.
Eric and I are making a small monthly donation to the NAHC (for non-profits small monthly donations are more useful than one large one) and, if you are able, I hope you will, too. You can do it right here.
Also, if you would like to donate to Homies Empowerment, and I hope you do, you can donate here.
Until next time, stay healthy, safe, and loved, most important, loved.