Living with a paramedic girlfriend gave Rebecca a much more informed perspective upon the coronavirus pandemic than the average nightclub worker. In the third week of February, she and her girlfriend had a discussion. They knew the pandemic was going to get big. Her partner was immunocompromised. The night club was too much of a risk. Rebecca left her position, weeks before the club actually shut down on St. Patrick’s Day.
Since the day she left her job, the two of them have been surviving on her partner’s income, and it hasn’t been easy. In the state of Florida, nurses have been given hazard pay, but EMS paramedics don’t get that. They are not even considered essential workers. Fortunately, her paramedic girlfriend is blessed with a full-time contract. Many who work as paramedics are just part time and have received very little money.
Rebecca has watched as the shutdown put a lot of her friends from the club out of work. They’re struggling to figure out how to pay the bills and not be evicted. Night clubs were ineligible for PPP or SBA loans because of its “prurient and sexual nature” association, so if the clubs weren’t open, nobody was getting money. Club workers are also generally considered independent contractors, and filing for unemployment in Florida has been notoriously difficult.
The bartenders, servers, managers, and floor guys that she knew were hit hard. Many dancers moved into the black market, though. Rebecca knew tons of dancers who got invited to private parties.
If she were to return to the nightclub industry, she would need assurances of safety. Clubs have found their own ways to stay open. They have switched things around, but it has all been about the money, not about looking out for their dancers or anything like that.
“The state of Florida ended up going, ‘Oh, if you serve food with alcohol, you can be open.’ So because they didn’t say you had to be a restaurant, places were convoluted with anywhere from, ‘Oh, we can go full nude being a topless club,’ to then, ‘Oh well if we give them potato chips with a drink, we’re serving food,’ or installing a little crappy pizza oven or because cigar bars weren’t covered, they weren’t excluded from being closed. ‘Oh, we have a tiny humidor,’ putting in a little tiny one. ‘Oh, now ours is a cigar bar.’ So it didn’t really help slow the spread of the coronavirus or anything.”
When Florida started lifting restrictions, the clubs were supposed to be at half capacity with temperatures checked at the door and social distancing.
“The most I saw – I went and visited one of them – was doing a temperature check at the door, but there wasn’t anyone wearing masks there. They’re at what their regular capacity should be.”
Two and a half weeks after reopening, the clubs were shut down again. Many people in Florida complained that the officials had it out for the clubs.
“No, they see people tagging themselves in their videos — all that type of stuff posted in their social media. You have to remember there’s eyes on you. Officials see that you’ve got: here’s the time, here’s the date. We can clearly see that no one is distancing. We’re not seeing the sanitation in. You’re getting shut down; you can’t even follow going half capacity.”
But it wasn’t just the nightclubs that were loose with safety guidelines. The news in Florida tried to play the coronavirus numbers as improving to make people feel better about reopening businesses and getting the state back to normal. But her partner saw the full brunt of the pandemic as a paramedic.
“Because of who my partner is, I know what the real numbers are because we sit in on a county line. So we actually know from the transports and what they’re doing, what the hospitals really look like, what their capacities are if they’re on divert and stuff like that. So I was able to make a more well-informed opinion than the average person could just because I was privy to information that the average person really wasn’t.”
After the first set of state lockdowns, there was a huge issue with transplants from New York and New Jersey. People were moving down to the beaches of Florida to escape being locked in their apartments or townhouses in the Northeast. But it just exacerbated the coronavirus issue because they had come from an area of high infection and spread it.
Summer brought a surge of cases into Florida. Misinformation was somehow also being spread that the sun kills the virus and people could pack the beach, and all these people who had been freezing their butts off during the winter had saved their money to go to the beach. The only thing that stopped them was that a lot of hotels closed down.
The surge of cases got so bad that the paramedics were doing something called round robin, which meant that they had to contact the doctor on call just to ask which hospital they could even take their patient to. Normally, an ambulance takes people to the closest hospital, but at that time many hospitals were on divert and Covid units were overflowing.
Rebecca’s paramedic girlfriend was responding to and transporting multiple Covid patients per day. Whenever she went for a pickup, she’d fit herself with a banana suit, which was a yellow Tyvek suit with a full-face P100 mask. In the summer it was hot, but she wouldn’t go out without it.
A lot of the people Rebecca’s partner transported were older retirees and seniors in nursing homes. She saw a ton of suspected Covid patients and nursing homes that had Covid patients. It was scary. Some of these nursing homes were supposed to have Covid wards but it seemed that Covid patients could walk around anywhere and infect everyone. It took the nursing homes a while to make them safer.
Her paramedic girlfriend also saw a decrease in non-Covid calls. People with emergency issues were not wanting to go to the hospital.
“People actually have been calling less for other things until it starts affecting their breathing because a heart attack eventually will cause your heart to not pump….But then they’re still like, ‘Well, I don’t want to go to the hospital.’ I’m like, ‘But you need to go to the hospital. This is how more people are dying, because you’re not calling us and you’re not calling us sooner.’”
Both Rebecca and her partner take the virus very seriously. When her partner comes home, they have a routine. She’ll leave her boots in the trunk of the car and put on a separate pair of shoes to come in. Then she’ll walk straight into the laundry room, strip down, and take shower. They won’t have contact until everything is wiped down and put away.
Fortunately, the situation has gotten better since summer. Covid units stopped overflowing, and the round robins stopped as well. However, Rebecca’s paramedic girlfriend is concerned about the fall and especially the flu season. And for three weeks, she has still been taking more people to hospice because of Covid than she thought she would.
“Schools are opening up. We just had a holiday weekend. Clubs have opened back up, not social distancing. People aren’t wanting to wear their mask because it’s not real. Covid it’s not real. Yet, we have firefighters that think it’s not real. It’s more the worry now.”
The whole fight against masks angers them. Rebecca’s girlfriend has to wear a P100 and a full Tyvek suit every day. It’s hot. People can barely hear her. And people are complaining about not being able to breathe with surgical masks. She wants to tell them that she’ll swap hers with theirs.
Rebecca thinks that we’ve let conspiracy run the gamut. Many countries, like South Korea and Italy, have tracer apps and stuff like that. For most countries, society is looking out for the good in everyone, but not here in this country. Here, it’s only about me, me, me and there’s so much government distrust. Ultimately, selfishness combines with government distrust, and that’s why you have leaders unable to get people to wear face masks.
Her girlfriend agrees. People love to talk about freedom, but you have freedom only if it doesn’t hurt someone else or impede upon someone else’s ability to be free. Unfortunately, their freedom might kill her.
“I don’t want to die, and I go to work. I wear a full face respirator at work. I’m immunocompromised, and I go to work knowing that I’m immunocompromised, and still come home and know that my partner is completely healthy and I do everything not to bring it home. I’ve seen people that look and sound like they’re drowning. It doesn’t look fun. If you don’t do it for you because you think that it’s not real, what about your grandparents or your aunts and uncles or somebody you love? Mom. Dad? There’s got to be somebody in your life that has at least one preexisting condition that you don’t want to see suffer. I’m taking people younger than my parents to hospice because they have one preexisting condition and called. And that’s the only reason they’re going in, because Covid got them and now everything else is just too much harder to fight.”
Rebecca’s paramedic girlfriend has lost faith in the government. The leadership has pushed reopening hard at the expense of health. But the society won’t even be able to function if the economy is reopened without caring about who gets the virus.
The two point out the data. Comorbidities drastically increase someone’s risk of having a bad outcome. In 2014, 60% of the population had had one, but 42% had two or more comorbidities, whether it was obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, or something else. Some numbers suggest that it could even be 55%. That’s the majority. If the government told all those people with two comorbidities to stay home, what kind of society would that be?
Rebecca sees the extremes in America. Here in America, she says, there is this binary thinking. Everything is in absolutes. It’s either black or white. Socialism does not have to be extreme. If you support food stamps, public housing, Social Security or public works, those are socialist programs. The argument that socialized health care can’t work here because we’re bigger than the other countries doesn’t make sense. The rest of the industrialized first world has done. Why can’t we?
Her paramedic girlfriend added in, “I think personally my biggest takeaway from the whole thing is our government does not care about public health. They care about money; it’s economy over our health. They really couldn’t give two shits less about us. They want their money.”
Read another story about how a healthcare worker is learning how Covid attacks the body and soul.