COVID cases have jumped in recent weeks, and if California were still using a tier-based system for lifting restrictions, the county would currently be in the most restrictive one (purple). Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is still planning to restart in-person instruction in less than two weeks.
Aviva Alvarez-Zakson, a world history and ethnic studies teacher at LAUSD’s Hamilton High, is anxious about going back to the job.
“I haven’t interacted with 200 human beings in a day since 2020, so that already provides a certain level of anxiety,” she says. “And then on top of that … I have really no idea what my classroom will physically look like. Am I supposed to socially distance these students? Will we have full rosters or are a significant number of our students opting for the online program?”
Alvarez-Zakson says she’s trying to stay excited, but finds it difficult when there are so many unknowns.
And she isn’t alone.
Erin McIntosh is a rapid response nurse at Riverside Community Hospital, and a local union steward with SEIU 121. She says the number of COVID patients coming into her hospital doubled over the past week or two. And this time, they’re younger. She says they’re closer to her age, in their 30s and 40s.
Vaccinated people have still been contracting COVID lately and ending up in hospitals, but they seem to be fighting it better, according to McIntosh.
“We just had an 85-year-old woman fully vaccinated who got COVID, and she was requiring oxygen. Thankfully, she made it out of the ICU and she’s requiring less oxygen, so that’s a win for us. … [Had she been unvaccinated] it wouldn’t not have been a good outcome. Almost 100% imminent death.”
While the cases and hospitalizations have jumped, we’re nowhere near the numbers we saw in December and January. But that doesn’t mean hospitals and frontline workers aren’t feeling overwhelmed.
“The mental health of our health care workers, we are not okay,” McIntosh says. “We were just barely starting to recover from that huge surge we saw in the winter, a lot of darkness and death. And we got to a point where we thought, ‘We’re gonna be okay, like maybe we’ve reached herd immunity.’ And now to hear that it’s more contagious and it’s coming back and we’re starting to actually see it, it’s definitely PTSD.”
When it comes to patients’ attitudes, McIntosh shares, “We’ve had a patient in critical condition telling us, ‘You guys are trying to kill me. COVID’s not real, I’m not going to be intubated. I’m gonna leave this hospital.’ It’s hard to hear that it’s more contagious. And if this is just the tip of the iceberg, I don’t know where we’re gonna be.”
Meanwhile, LAUSD is approaching the coming months with caution.
Alvarez-Zakson says the district has sent safety protocol information for the fall semester, including the need for testing and masks, but she still doesn’t feel completely reassured.
“It makes me feel like there is a plan, but there’s not a lot on the general sense of dread and anxiety that comes with this,” Alvarez-Zakson explains. “It’s not a very human approach, it’s a very brightly colored pamphlet. I’m not feeling held, and I’m not feeling taken care of in an emotional sense.”
McIntosh’s advice to Alvarez-Zakson for the school year ahead can be applied to employees in any in-person industry: vocalize your frustrations to your administrators, do your research, wear a mask, and try your best to keep your distance if you can.