TAMPA, Fla. — Every evening, I see my mom and dad sitting on the edge of our living room couch, their eyes and ears glued to talking heads on television. They watch tensions mount amid the COVID-19 pandemic as America tries to balance a public health crisis with reopening the economy.
The news is always on. Even as my mom types on her makeshift desk — our dining table — concentrated, headset on, the TV blares in the background. She’s a clinical applications support analyst and works with computers in the hospital.
But she’s not just an IT nerd. She’s also an intensive care unit nurse. She made the transition to technical work in 2008, but still picks up ICU shifts one weekend a month to keep her skills sharp.
My father, too, is a health-care worker — a respiratory therapist who works with home health patients.
Both my parents worry that if America begins reopening too soon, the nation may face another surge in COVID-19 cases and the virus may continue to spread at a rapid rate. They worry they will both get called in for service. How will that reshape our lives? And what if they fall sick?
The uncertainty is looming heavy in my house.
Already, thousands of health care workers on the front lines of this pandemic have been plunged into harrowing situations. I often get lost reading their stories, seeing the skin on their faces etched with an imprint of a mask. They stay in their garages to prevent spreading the virus to their families. Many have died in the battle. For their sacrifice, I am grateful, and certainly do not mean to compare my experience with theirs.
What I write is an encouragement of precaution, to protect the health care workers across America who have not yet been called into battle, but are waiting anxiously for the cue.
Here in Florida, more than 33,000 people have tested positive and more than 1,200 have died. Hillsborough County alone is grappling with over 1,000 COVID-19 cases. And the numbers continue to grow, yet we are working to open beaches and public pools and lift stay-at-home orders.
My parents often speak with my cousin, a doctor in Harlem, and hear his updates on the dire situation in New York. My mom weighed the idea of flying up to help but had to stay in Tampa for her job. Instead, she signed up for the reserve corps at St. Joseph’s hospital here, in case it gets worse.
Even though my mom does monthly ICU rotations, she worries her skills have become too rusty. It has been a dozen years since she was a full-time intensive care nurse. She worries she won’t be able to give her patients the best care. As a respiratory therapist, my father wonders how many patients he could potentially be assigned and whether he’ll be able to manage.
But my parents also worry about my brother and me, and what might happen if they were to contract the virus.
They study the disease, trying to understand how it affects people so differently. It’s so unpredictable and so different from what they know.
If the virus does spread more rapidly and my parents are called into battle, I know that they, like all the health workers, will do their best. They went into this field knowing the risk and they care deeply about what they do.
My dad likes to tell a story about a psychic he met once in Key West. She looked at his arm and instantly recognized him for what he was.
“You’re a healer,” she said.
I know my parents are ready to step up. But I also know this: protests calling for the reopening of the economy are premature. I wish those people would keep in mind the risk we run by trying to go back to normal too fast. Wuhan warned us. Italy warned us. New York warned us. That could be us. For the sake of my parents, for the sake of Florida, I hope it’s not.