More Pandemic Life, and Light, One Year Later

Last Passover I thought the Jews might break the internet. I did not yet know that this “Zoom” thing could handle our bandwidth. Miraculously, it could and did. Some fifty relatives waved at each other from our own homes, believing surely we would be together this year.

That was not to pass. Rather than resume our pre-pandemic mass gathering, our familial organism divided into smaller cells spread across counties and states. Even so, I felt a real liberation from the narrow places of last year: for the first time in a year I was sitting with my parents inside their house, eating at their dining room table, maskless, and vaccinated. We chose to open a laptop to Zoom as our rabbi led a Seder from her home and we joined a congregational family of hundreds. She closed the Seder with “Next year in Jerusalem,” and we affirmed, “next year in Tarzana.” Even this felt like a step forward.

More signs of light? For my 2020 birthday, one month into the shutdown, my friend left a very special gift on my porch, rang the doorbell, then hightailed it to the safety of her car.

My birthday month has come around again, and last night we walked to this friend’s house, rang her doorbell and did not back up but stayed on her welcome mat. Five of us went up to the roof in time to see the sunset, and toast how far we have come; the world isn’t talking about where to source toilet paper, but vaccines! Earlier in the day, I had told my son that I sensed a light coming — though I hedged, acknowledging that my feelings could change in a day or an hour. Last night on that roof, with darkness settling over us, Christopher summarized the sentiment of the moment, saying, “I don’t know what comes next.”

We have never known what comes next. The last year has taught us that. I hold at bay the knowledge that anything could happen still, a fourth wave might crash over us and wipe out plans for summer or even fall. And it might not. I focus on the light streaming through my window right this moment, as real as anything.

Vaccine-a-Palooza

The parking lot at the Southside Church of Christ transformed last Friday into a “pop-up vaccine clinic,” stood up in minutes like a MASH unit by dozens of volunteers recruited through an innovative non-profit. What could epitomize the American moment more than this — can-do entrepreneurialism and compassion, in service of patching the cracks of a fractured, leaking healthcare system. This clinic was the creation of the Shared Harvest Fund’s MyCovidMD initiative, founded by Dr. NanaEfua Afoh-Manin to “help under-resourced communities get free testing and access to telehealth services during the Coronavirus Public Health crisis.” And now to get them vaccinated.

I met Dr. Nana, as she was introduced at the event, when she arrived and began unloading boxes of PPE and Girl Scout Cookies at the hospitality station. After every essential station for the event had been set up, she gathered the volunteers and set our intention for the day. She explained that as an ER doctor witnessing countless families needlessly destroyed by this disease, she decided she had to do more to help prevent people from getting it in the first place.

She stated her three goals for the day: Save lives (obviously). Be safe (volunteers received N-95 masks, face shields and gloves). And have fun.

Which explains the DJ station.

Upbeat music could be heard throughout the day at every station. It carried to the registration table, where volunteers navigated iPads and laptops to confirm appointments and make sure all information was integrated with the state’s record-keeping. The medical pros at each of four vaccination stations could sing along as they asked “right arm or left?” The newly vaccinated could watch the whole party unfold as they waited fifteen minutes in an observation area, watched and timed by volunteers in case of any post-vaccine reactions. Once the timer beeped, they could walk, drive, or dance their way out past the last station, named Seventh Heaven (aka the hospitality booth). There they would receive a goody bag that included one of those boxes of Girl Scout cookies Dr. Nana had provided, as well as hand sanitizer, leaflets about the vaccines, and a long-stemmed red rose. Seventh Heaven is MyCovidMD’s “signature element” and may seem like just a sweet touch, but it serves a crucial clinical role: folks leaving with a smile may just tell their friends and family, “Go get that vaccine. It was a blast.”

And, oddly, it was a blast. We cheered for each person as we brought them their gift bag, joyful that they were safer from the disease, visibly relieved of some anxiety. Indeed, I felt my own anxiety ratchet down knowing that with every vaccination we were all that much safer. We were gong to beat this. We were on our way, collectively. The DJ chose great songs, and we were in the mood to dance and sing. “This is by far my best day of the pandemic,” Christopher said. My niece agreed, summing it up, “This is the closest to Coachella I’m going to get this year.”

Vaccine-a-palooza – MyCovidMD’s volunteers get in the spirit

And yet, as uplifting as the day was, at times what struck me was a certain absurdity. This is what we have come to — a global pandemic met by a volunteer-led drive-through medical clinic with a DJ and balloons. I could not help but flash to a television news report from the UK, with its seemingly orderly appointment system, every citizen trusting that they would be cared for in due course. This pop-up clinic’s existence may be a triumph, but the need for it is an indictment.

We ran out of Girl Scout Cookies after 200 vaccinations, and had to make due with lesser goody bags. Thankfully, a local restaurant had donated 250 packaged salads, so my friend Monica grabbed a salad, dressing, and plastic wrapped fork, and bopped over to a waiting car. Projecting to be heard over the music and through her N-95 mask and face shield, she presented her gifts with sincere enthusiasm and joy: “Nothing says celebration like a salad!”

Her mouth was hidden from their view, but you could damn well hear her smile.


More about Shared Harvest Fund from its website:

“In helping to found Shared Harvest Fund, Dr. Nana has created a committed organization that works to combat socioeconomic disparities in healthcare through initiatives that advance holistic health outcomes for under-resourced communities globally.

“When COVID-19 struck, disparities in equal access to healthcare across the United States became even more apparent. Dr. Nana worked tirelessly to found the Shared Harvest myCovidMD™ initiative, in an endeavor to provide equal access to coronavirus testing and much-needed social services for the communities that would face the highest rates of mortality due to COVID-19. “myCovidMD is our tactical response to a systemically unequal public health and education system,” Dr. Nana has stated. Since its inception, the initiative has provided free pop-up community-based testing by building trust, administering tests, and tethering community members to a network of Community Health Partners (CHPs). What’s more, it has also self-funded a Student Loan Relief Fund for frontline volunteers and essential workers. The myCovidMD™ initiative has received accolades for its effectiveness in drawing the largest percentage of underrepresented minorities and refugees to testing sites seen across the country.”