The Epidemic That Doesn’t Make The Papers

By: Kristina Tehrani

2/10/2021, revised 3/16/2021

          Today I stopped by the gas station and as I was browsing for my favorite bottled tea, I happened across the newspaper stand. There were two publications- The Saint Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The headlines were nearly identical. This is not a direct headline from today because I don’t recall exactly how it was phrased, but it was something along the lines of “Pandemic Rages On With No End In Sight”. As I mentioned, I don’t remember the exact wording but I DO remember how I felt reading that- depressed. I tend to not watch network news because I noticed some years ago that there seems to rarely be GOOD news; lots of death, destruction and gossip though. For the last year, the newspapers and general media has been milking the sensational nightmare of the Novel Coronavirus.

          Covid-19 began making in earnest American headlines around February of 2020. That is over one year past at this time. As of late, I have a difficulty considering Covid-19 to continue to be called “novel” because usually, the term “novel” implies “new” and often “temporary”. In early spring last year, the novel coronavirus efficiently and swiftly swept across the nation, sending probably the entire American population into a collective panic. Different people reacted differently, but I think it’s fair to say most people were terrified, or at least unusually bothered. When the pandemic came to my state of Minnesota, I reacted to it the same way I react to almost anything. I spent hours poring over research, data, studies and anecdotal accounts.

          Initially, I concluded that the virus was primarily airborne, supremely deadly, and unpredictable. The pandemic did not start in the United States; other countries had been dealing with it for weeks or months. I read studies that described the molecular structure of the virus as to be so small that it could be aerosolized and due to its miniscule weight, could take 20 minutes or so to sink to the ground. As a public health nurse, I looked to the CDC for answers. Incidentally, this is when I lost faith in the good intentions of the CDC. Their recommendations were to stay home as much as possible, wash your hands, avoid standing near others and avoid sick people. I can’t recall exactly what the recommendations were but they were saying generally “this is a symptomatic disease, and likely not airborne”. These recommendations did not seem to align with the studies I had read or any other general conclusions coming from the other countries who had been “infected” for some weeks or so earlier.

          I became suspicious of how it was that a “stay at home” mother, with some masters work in public health and no background in creating or administering a scientific study could find so much information contradicting the CDC in about 7 hours of online research. How was it that a huge organization filled with doctors, PhDs and scientists would not reach the same conclusions which the CDC later confirmed by summer of 2020? Initially, face masks were not recommended. Testing for the virus was unavailable and there was no contact tracing system in place that I was aware of.

I used to aspire to work for the CDC. Now my trust in them had wavered, to say the least. I used to accept their recommendations on most health subjects. After a year in grad school pursuing my master of science in public health, I had already been taught epidemiology. I also have a substantial background in exotic and tropical diseases due to several years working as a medical travel consultant. This novel coronavirus was not the first epidemic in the US. Not even the first pandemic. There had been epidemics and major public issues before. I did not understand the CDC’s secretive approach at all for this virus. The CDC even has an “outbreak response protocol”, which is logical, clearly stated and applies to everything from E. Coli outbreaks being traced to certain vendors to the seasonal flu. I wondered why this protocol did not seem to be occurring at any level of government health groups. They were treating Covid-19 as if all prior outbreak rules and experience were thrown out the window.

          Shortly following the (likely) inevitable spread of the virus to Minnesota, the freshman Governor of our state, Tim Walz declared a statewide emergency, which made sense at the time. However, this also seemed to cement the government’s control over everything having to do with the pandemic, which apparently was every aspect of life. Walz had just been elected Governor a few months prior to the pandemic. He ordered schools closed for 2 weeks (“to flatten the curve”) and closed most businesses with the exception of pharmacies, gas stations, grocery, liquor stores and chain department stores that sold groceries. The government endorsed reasoning behind this was “we know we’re all going to be exposed, so let’s try to minimize the entire population being sick at the same time, get our hospitals prepared so that we don’t end up with the entire population in emergency rooms at once overwhelming the health care system”. Seemed like a reasonable enough idea, although I DID wonder Well, maybe EVERYTHING should be closed for two weeks and then maybe the virus will not spread at all? However, I pushed my doubts aside since I had no decision making abilities anyways.

          However, once two weeks had passed, the emergency seemed to be either unaffected by the “lockdown” or the rhetoric changed to “we’re going to keep this at emergency level until further notice”. So two weeks became six, which then became months and now it’s been over one full year that the emergency is still at its peak or even worse. There have been constant messages by both the media and some government officials that “the worst is yet to come”. Is it though? Many people all over the world died from Covid-19, some did not die but had lingering damage to organs but many simply got sick for a week or so and bounced back.

In the spring of 2020, most people did not have access to be tested for the virus. This continued for a very long time. So, initially, most of the cases that we heard about were the severe ones- in which the patient had died or came very close to death. I had a more moderate experience. I got sick in March or April 2020. For about a week, I suspected that I was going to die. But I didn’t want to go to the hospital just in case I was wrong OR to surround myself with other sick people and catch something else that would do me in. So, I filled out a living will sort of thing, outlining where all my important documents were kept and all that, took every anti-inflammatory medication I had hoarded over the years, forced myself to eat and drink and lay in bed having mild hallucinations. After a week or two, I was feeling well enough to put trash into the trash can. From then on, I continued to feel mildly confused much of the time and had a swollen ear drum for a couple more months. It lasted all summer, really. Individual experiences with the virus have varied from asymptomatic (fairly common) to cold/flu like symptoms to death (which in the total number of infections has remained rare). So, that was my experience.

Over the summer, I met a woman who was involuntarily placed in a hospital psychiatric unit. She was in her late 60’s and had been living in a retirement home for years due to a moderate physical disability. She came to be in the psychiatric unit because after six months of isolation within the nursing home, she attempted suicide. She was not the only resident to be isolated- all of the residents were prohibited from interacting with others, both within the community and without. As far as I was told, she did not have a history significant for suicide attempts or other serious psychological disorders. She told me, “I am old, I’ve lived my life, I was lonely and I couldn’t stand it anymore. I was going crazy being alone all of the time. No visitors, no pets, no interactions with anyone. I felt like it was time to end my life”.

Would this woman have attempted suicide if she had not been isolated from nearly all human contact for several months? No. No, she wouldn’t have. Isolation is a form of psychological torture that has been used historically mainly in prisons as punishment.

Minnesotans had been experiencing an almost continuous isolation for almost a full year. More often than not, there is no in person school, people are not allowed to gather in small groups, holidays have been essentially canceled, Minnesotans are being mandated to not see anyone outside of their household, ever. The rules change sometimes, but overall, we’ve been isolated from each other. I used to celebrate Jewish holidays at a synagogue. I can’t do that anymore.

My son used to look forward to going to school to interact with other kids, now “school” is him staring at the computer for hours. He was an accelerated math student. Not anymore. He used to get services for autism. Not anymore. He hasn’t played with another child since the summer, when we would go to the playground. Not anymore, not in Minnesota. It’s too cold.

My daughter is four years old. She does not understand why she has nowhere to play. It’s affecting their mental health. It’s affecting my mental health. We used to go to the art museum. Not anymore. My kids are depressed. Schools may be opening again, but for how long? Kids are also failing in this distance learning model. All kids are being affected, but those with a lack of access to technology in addition to increased barriers to special education, barriers to sports, barriers to mental health services are particularly affected. These children are supposed to be the future. What kind of environment is this to raise healthy children??

I am concerned about the increased number of suicides in our state. I am concerned about friends I’ve lost last year to drug abuse during the pandemic. I am concerned that this is going to become “the new normal”. Violence by youth is up, I believe as a direct result of lack of structure. Many people have no way to get physical exercise as gyms have been on almost permanent lockdown since March 2020.

Governor Tim Walz has had “emergency executive powers” for over a year. Some Minnesotans are fighting it, some have already moved away, some have given up. The icing on the cake for Minnesotans is that none of these measures have been proven to stop the spread of covid-19. But these measures have been proven to destroy Minnesota- financially, emotionally, educationally, and effectively. In the course of one year, it feels as if we are on the brink of a partisan civil war. It’s past time to end the Governor’s dictatorship of the state. 

Where are the cost-benefit analysis for the mandates? Where is the public attention for kids and seniors that are so lonely, they want to die? Where is the publicity for the majority of kids literally failing school? Why are we ignoring all of this? How bad do things have to get before the real emergency is dealt with? As bad as Nevada, where youth suicide became such a problem that the government mandated schools open? The warning signs that our state is crumbling are here. Please heed them. This should not and cannot be the “new normal”. This imposed isolation is unsustainable at best and killing more Minnesotans than the actual virus at worst. We need to start healing our state before the executive branch of government completely eliminates representatives and we are in the position of seeking refuge elsewhere. I am not leaving my home state.

Published by kristinatehrani

Born a first generation American, half Irish Catholic and half Persian Jew, I like to write about a childhood mired in the chaos of never knowing where I stood. The only constants in my life have been reading, writing and a passion for social justice. I am a nurse, a single mother, a domestic abuse survivor, radical feminist and outspoken advocate for logic, public health, gray areas, and purposeful dialogue. I know entirely too much about sociopaths, autism, and medieval British history. I write under a pen name to protect the privacy of my family.

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