By Lou Cespedes*
I went to Kings County on New Year’s Eve to take my COVID test. My wife took her test the day before. On New Years Day my wife got her results. She was negative, as well as my daughter. Confident, we resumed our day as normal. In the late night of January 2nd, I received my test results while I slept. That morning January 3rd, I received a positive test result. Then all hell just about broke loose.
First confusion, I did not know if I was reading the results correctly. Then, came the immediate separation as I was in the middle of giving my daughter breakfast. I was banished instantly. Then guilt and shame quickly followed. I called all my friends, the only family we share time with since the pandemic began. Their daughter was beginning in-person school that week. Then, I called my boss. We spent the day together at a jobsite a few days before my test. His wife is immune compromised, and I feared for her. Then I called anyone I’d been near that I could reach. My wife immediately got retested the same day I received my results. My neighbor friends went for their test the next day. We waited for the results a few days, all returned negative. I was relieved, stunned, and now I was becoming angry.
One problem was, I didn’t really believe I was positive. I tried to ask if I could go re-test, but New York City Health and Hospitals forbade it. Going to a City MD was risking exposing others carelessly. I tried calling for home kits, which were very cumbersome to get and ship to a lab. No one else I knew tested positive, only me. As I would call to get guidance, it seems like the world was becoming (rightfully) more restricted around me. I realized being on the “positive” side of this pandemic, how much we STILL DON’T KNOW about this virus. I would get strange and conflicting information, but at least New York Health and Hospitals was clear on one thing – STAY HOME! This was for everyone’s good, of course. Yet, thinking about someone in a situation like my own- if I had a part time or by the hour job- would I leave just to survive, even at the risk of exposing others?
As I sat alone, I recounted my steps. Where did I go? What did I touch? On what day? Did I forget to wash my hands? Was it a delivery? It was endless. I settled on two possible places where I could’ve been infected, the most likely was the Post Office on Avenue D and Utica. https://twitter.com/LouforFlatbush/status/1343633905543487494
Finally, reality set in and I mentally prepared to be very ill. I’m a 49-year-old Black-Latinx male, about 40lbs overweight. I fit the demographic perfectly, except I have no pre-existing medical conditions, and I’m fit. I waited, but no symptoms came. I was very VERY fortunate, and as the days wore on in isolation, my mind would rush into anxiety about others that weren’t so fortunate in my community. I prayed for my family, and I prayed for my friends, and I prayed for loved ones that were dying or had already died. G-d kept me, and I am grateful.
It is New York State policy that if someone DOES NOT exhibit symptoms after 10-days of a positive test, they may go about their business. Unfortunately, a policy of 14-day quarantine from the date of “last contact”, meant that although I felt fine, out of an abundance of caution, I remained isolated from my family for an additional 4 days. It was frustrating. I was constantly doing math, checking my calendar, planning my next steps, the next test, and getting ready to get my family back to our routines. Suddenly, the phone rang. It was “Test and Trace” – 11 days late! I was civil to the caller but couldn’t help thinking what an enormous waste of resources this program was. Imagine if I ignored protocol because I never felt ill and never checked my results. I was mortified by the complete ineffectiveness of the “Test and Trace” system which immediately in my mind became nothing more than an extension of 311; a public advisory placebo.
Everyday, as I worked from home, I was humbled by the thought of people that didn’t have the options I had. I knew my daughter and my wife were upstairs. I could hear my daughter crying, I could hear my wife’s exhaustion, I could piece together their entire day by listening to their footsteps above me. I was so lucky. What about those that couldn’t work from home, or those that had to go to city subsidized hotels to quarantine, or families without childcare and parents that must go out to work, while dealing with illness and remote learning at home. It all seemed so unfair and my heart was heavy thinking of parents that were separated from their kids and never got to see them again.
I still don’t know if I was ever really positive, or if I have immunity. In the end, I was no less confused, and I still have so many more questions. I think we all do.
So as this vaccine (and inauguration) roll-out, we as a society ought to be ready to demand better solutions and better support for families, for working parents, and for low wage laborers. We need better outcomes. That is essential! We also must consider the kind of leadership we need to achieve these solutions. It is so obvious we currently lack leadership in our community of the quality and coherence required in a crisis like this.
Jeremiah 15 v19-21 Twitter: @Louforflatbush
* Lou Cespedes is a Christian, Building Professional and Urban Planner, Entrepreneur, Mentor, and City Council Candidate for Brooklyn’s 45th District.