Saviors of Humanity

Recognizing the people who are working to keep the world going

April 10, 2020

Due to the severity of the coronavirus outbreak, California enforced a shelter-in-place policy on Thursday, March 18. Most were able to comply, leaving the house only to complete the essentials like restocking food. However, some were unable to take shelter, forced to go out due to work, and by doing so risk their health every day in order to help those who needed it. Others found other ways to help, providing relief to those who need it most. This month, we decided to talk to some of these people — doctors, law enforcement officers and soup kitchen and homeless shelter volunteers, just to name a few — to see how their work helped keep us afloat during these trying times.

Fighting on the front lines

Stanford physician Radhika Kumari speaks about the effects that COVID-19 has on her work

Fighting on the front lines

Photo courtesy of Radhika Kumari

Stanford gastroenterologist and hepatologist Radhika Kumari decided to pursue a career as a physician after seeing how her aunt, who is also a physician, found satisfaction in helping and developing relationships with patients. Kumari began her career working with a private practitioner for 10 years before moving to the Stanford Gastroenterology and Digestive Health Clinic, where she currently works.

Initially, when it was reported that COVID-19 had begun to spread from China to other countries like Italy, Kumari was worried about going to work. However, she remained on guard and took all of the precautionary measures, and over time, her fear began to subside.

“I was scared to go to work because there are two fronts, professional and personal; I have to come back and be with my family,” Kumari said. “But when I started working more and more, I realized that we have it pretty much [under] good control in California. And the precautionary measures that we have been taking in the hospital started making me feel more secure.”

Because Kumari’s hospital took early precautionary measures against the outbreak, she hasn’t faced a notable shortage in supplies, something that she shared with many of her peers working in other hospitals. However, the outbreak has mandated that she take necessary actions to preserve her health, like limiting exposure to patients unless they begin to show symptoms.

With COVID-19 being there, we are providing regular care, but the patients who are supposed to come in are not able to come in because of the risk of COVID-19, so the regular care is getting affected too.”

— Radhika Kumari

In addition, the health of patients is even more of a concern because of COVID-19 risks. The outbreak has forced Stanford to reject transfer patients unless the care they need is only available at Stanford, and many patients are unable to receive regular care at their normally scheduled times.

“We are not able to get patients to Stanford for transplants at a regular time because we have to wait for their COVID-19 testing to come back negative,” Kumari said. “So these patients who are waiting to come in are dying. With COVID-19 being there, we are providing regular care, but the patients who are supposed to come in are not able to come in because of the risk of COVID-19, so the regular care is getting affected too.”

Kumari says that the biggest problem that physicians face is treating patients without permitting their friends and family members to be present and care for them.

“For example, we had a patient the other day who was pre-transplant and she was COVID-19 negative, but she had a huge infection and they had to take her to surgery,” Kumari said. “But after surgery, she can’t get up and walk, [and] we helped [her] out when she [needed] help but… there [were] no family members.”

The hospital is still in the process of addressing other challenges, including a shortage of staffing that required workers like Kumari to cover for her peers. Despite the increased risk and chaos that has been introduced to her work, Kumari explains that she has been able to remain dedicated to her work and confront cases of COVID-19 head-on. To all of the teenagers sheltering-in-place, she urges them to endure after seeing how much of an impact it has on California.

“Just hang on in there — we are trying to nip this thing, so I would just recommend hanging on for a couple of more weeks to help decrease the spread in the community,” Kumari said.

Local governmental efforts

Santa Clara County Public Health and Sheriff Departments respond to COVID-19

M SNBC host Rachel Maddow read one of Santa Clara County’s press releases announcing a COVID-19 case, which she spoke about on “The Rachel Maddow Show” as being “admirably direct” and a model for how the coronavirus could be talked about in the nation.

For Health Department Public Information Officer Marianna Moles, who has been working in the  Santa Clara County COVID-19 Emergency Response group since late January with 11 to 12 hour workdays, this was an exciting moment.

“That was a huge compliment,” Moles said. “And when we heard that, as tired as we were, it was really cool and exciting to hear that she had called us out like that, because communications people often do not get public recognition like that.”

Moles describes that preventing the spread of COVID-19 involves a huge communication challenge with rapidly changing information. Initially, Santa Clara County began by prohibiting gatherings of 1000 people or more, then reduced the limit to 100. 

However, as health officer Sara Cody was looking at the data, she realized that more drastic action was required and she called all the Bay Area health officers together. They all agreed that ordering a shelter in place for a duration of time to slow the spread of the virus would be the right action. The order went into effect on March 17 and is scheduled until at least May 3.

The Santa Clara Public Health Department is also providing information on its website and social media channels, in addition to business and other community partners.

“[We want] to make sure that everybody knows what they’re supposed to be doing and that they’re following the shelter in place order,” Moles said. “[The] Public Health [Department] is really positioned to help educate people about why shelter in place needs to be happening and why it’s important, and just how serious the spread of novel coronavirus is in our community.”

Different counties have their own jurisdictions as to how the shelter in place is enforced. However, violation of the order is a misdemeanor and is punishable by fine, imprisonment or both.

According to School Resource Officer Deputy Corey Chao, the Santa Clara County Sheriff Department is currently issuing warnings rather than citations — a notice to appear in court due to a minor offence — but he knows that other counties have issued citations for those who fail to comply with the order.

“You just kind of have to follow the rules of leaving the house because of essential purposes only: going to the doctor, getting food from the grocery store, getting gas, takeout food,” Chao said. “But it’s kind of difficult to even be out and about because everything is closed down now other than restaurants, supermarkets, grocery stores, hospitals and pharmacies … [But] you can go outside, you can walk and get exercise as long as you’re following the [rule of staying] six [feet away from] people.”

Santa Clara County is working to protect the health and safety of its people, while also trying to  ease the burden on the healthcare system.

“If I could put it into words, it’s gratifying, but it can also be very stressful,” Moles said. “It’s a new virus, so we don’t know as much about it as we would probably like to know, but we’re learning a lot still. We do know that it’s very serious, that it’s spreading. It has spread quickly across the globe. And so it’s exciting to be working in public health right now but it also can be overwhelming at times. But it’s really important work.”

Chao understands wanting to help the public. He has wanted to be a police officer since he was a young boy. He recalls seeing police officers on TV shows, admiring what they did and thinking it would be an exciting job.

“Ultimately, when I turned 23, the reason why I really wanted to become a police officer was because I’ve been here and living here all my life and I wanted to be able to give back to the community, help people out,” Chao said. “I [also] get to interact with a lot of people; I get to see a lot of different things that not everybody else gets to see.”

Moles feels that everybody in the Emergency Operations Center is dedicated and passionate about their work, and she is grateful to work with such a group during the COVID-19 response.

“I’ve seen this with my coworkers,” Moles said. “It’s a little bit of a personal passion. We’re really health minded. And I think anybody who works in public health and at the county, they have this need to serve the public in a different way than maybe you would in other sectors. So, for me, it’s about doing something for the community, and just making sure that people are informed with accurate information.”

Grocery stores during the pandemic

MVHS students who work at grocery stores discuss reasons for taking leaves of absence

Senior Jasmine Sheu wanted to continue working at Whole Foods after MVHS announced that school would be closing for three weeks, effective March 13 (the school closure has since been extended to the remainder of the school year) to have something to occupy her time. However, her parents insisted she take some time off to reduce her chances of contracting COVID-19. Sheu vividly recalls her last day at work: customers wearing masks and maintaining distance from one another, hurriedly going about their shopping. That was the day she realized the true scope of the virus. 

“I guess nobody really knew that coronavirus would get so bad,” Sheu said. “It was good that my parents made me stop working because if I kept working, I definitely think I would’ve put my family’s health at risk because I would be interacting with the public.”

Senior Neha Balasu, who also works at Whole Foods, experienced a similar situation — she initially didn’t want to take a break from work, but after seeing the magnitude of COVID-19, she grew “paranoid.” Both Balasu and Sheu have taken a leave of absence that was originally scheduled to end on April 7, but has since been extended indefinitely. Sheu explains that Whole Foods is lenient with leaves of absence for employees who are minors in the current pandemic situation. 

According to Sheu, all her coworkers who attend MVHS whom she knows of are taking leaves of absence right now. Sheu herself feels lucky to have the option to stop working, as her family is financially stable and her job at Whole Foods was merely a way for her to earn some extra money. She empathizes with her coworkers who are financially dependent on their salaries and don’t have the option to take a break from work. 

“They have to continue working,” Sheu said. “I think that’s kind of the only choice, right? It sucks. [Whole Foods] provides gloves and protection, [but] definitely not enough because there’s not much of a distance [maintained between customers and employees]. I don’t think [the current precautions] would make a big difference.”

Based on her observations from her last few days working at Whole Foods, Balasu also believes that working conditions for employees aren’t currently safe at grocery stores.

“I know from the last day that I was working, we had Clorox wipes at every check out and we wiped down anytime that we could,” Balasu said. “But that was about it from the last shift that I had. [Gloves] weren’t a requirement or anything, but most people would just have them because we wanted to.”

Sheu misses the social aspects of working at Whole Foods — she enjoyed the job as it taught her valuable life skills, like how to operate in a work environment, while also allowing her to connect with people. 

“I loved the customer interaction [aspect of working at Whole Foods] because I get to meet new people every day and they were all so different,” Sheu said. “[It was a] good chance for me to meet new people and learn new things. It’s that social interaction that we’re all craving so much right now.”

A student’s role in COVID-19 relief

Exploring how students can help with the virus’s impacts

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When junior Anusha Adira came to learn about the dire situation of COVID-19 — how in just a couple months it had sent half the world into lockdown — she was shocked. Perhaps even more shocking to her was the fact that despite the dangers of large gatherings, many of her peers continued to meet and spend time with one another. 

Having missed junior prom and other fundamental high school traditions as a result of the shelter-in-place order that was implemented on March 16, Adira understands some of her classmates’ sentiments. However, she feels that as a student, she is obligated to uphold social distancing protocols and help others to do the same. 

“I feel like we have a moral responsibility to help in any way that we can,” Adira said. “We’re fortunate enough to have access to technology and a healthcare system that can help us, while people in other places like Italy don’t necessarily have that.”

This is why when her family friend Shourish Mukherjee approached Adira about his idea to launch a local Red-Cross sponsored GoFundMe campaign called COVID-19 Relief Fund for the Red Cross, she felt motivated to help out. On her Facebook account, she posted information about the campaign, which called for donations that would be sent to local hospitals and used to buy ventilators, face masks, HAZMAT suits and other sanitation supplies. 

In addition to using social media to promote COVID-19 awareness efforts, Adira practices social distancing daily. She goes into her backyard for fresh air and tries to only buy items and groceries that are absolutely necessary. For her, it is important to be objective and calm in times of panic. 

“This is more than about ourselves,” Adira said. “When we stay home and try to educate others, we’re building our community’s strength. We’re making sure that as many people as possible are staying safe and healthy.” 

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