COVID-19 is not over: A California resident’s take on the end of San Francisco’s public health emergency – State of Reform
Deanna Giolas is a San Francisco resident living with multiple chronic illnesses, and at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she found herself stuck in Australia. Three years later, Giolas reflects on her experiences during the pandemic as a person living with Type 1 Diabetes, ADHD and anxiety, and what the end of the city’s public health emergency (PHE) and mask mandate requirements mean for her .
Giolas was visiting her partner in Australia, with plans to be there for only a month, but two weeks into her stay, Australia’s borders were closed. She continued to renew her visitor visa and stayed until 2021, but eventually returned to San Francisco to her remote position as a content manager. While she was able to get her medical supplies in Australia, including insulin, she faced additional challenges as a type 1 diabetic living in the era of a pandemic.
“It also caused me to delay my medical treatment for a long time,” Giolas told State of Reform.
While she admitted she had difficulty getting treatment in Australia, the issues continued stateside. She had to find new doctors, wait for vaccines and put off dental work longer than she wanted because she struggled to find a facility that was taking the pandemic seriously enough. She said she was concerned with facilities that did not require employees and patients to wear high-quality masks, did not have filtration systems and did not enforce social distancing between patients.
“With the removal of the mask mandate, it makes me afraid to seek certain medical treatments,” Giolas told State of Reform. “My world has definitely gotten a lot smaller.”
To this day, whenever Giolas is home with strangers, she wears N95 or KF94 masks, which give her a tight seal. She also uses enovid nasal spray as an extra layer of protection.
“I don’t eat dinner inside,” Giolas said. “I travel, but only when necessary, and I don’t take my mask off to eat and drink most of the time unless I have to.”
While there is not enough data to prove whether people living with diabetes are more likely to contract the virus than non-diabetics, diabetics are more likely to experience worse health complications if they get the virus. Serious health outcomes associated with COVID-19 include acute respiratory failure, pneumonia, and acute respiratory distress syndrome, among others. When diabetics become ill with a viral infection, there is an increased risk of developing diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA, which can quickly become life-threatening.
As the rest of the country returns to pre-pandemic normalcy, Giolas and her partner have found new ways to socialize and have fun.
“We’re at home most of the time, but whenever we hang out, it’s at a park or an outdoor patio,” Giolas said. “We feel less safe engaging in society with as many people as possible. [in comparison to] when everyone was taking it more seriously and masking and testing regularly in front of new variants that were evading testing.”
While her partner does not have health conditions that put him at greater risk for severe outcomes related to COVID-19, Giolas does. They talked about the issues and considered the possibility of long distance COVID and possible heart issues. Giolas said her partner understands and agrees that it’s not a risk worth taking, even for young, healthy individuals.
On February 16, San Francisco ended the indoor mask mandate for most indoor public spaces, and by February 28, the city’s PHE was discontinued.
“I was devastated because I’ve relied on mask mandates in healthcare settings to get medical care and get my necessary testing — just routine tests that all diabetics need once a year, or multiple times a year,” Giolas said.
According to the San Francisco Department of Public Health, masks are still required in health care settings, long-term care facilities and jail or juvenile hall. Before the mask mandate was lifted, Giolas saw most people wearing masks out of willingness to follow the mandate.
“A lot of those people have now seen the removal of those mandates as ‘there’s no more danger,’ and they’ve completely abandoned their masks,” Giolas said.
While vaccines against COVID-19 increase immunity to the virus and reduce severe health outcomes, immunity wanes, and not much is yet known about the long-term implications the virus has on individual health. Giolas also thinks the federal government and the CDC are too focused on saving the economy at the expense of public health.
San Francisco’s COVID-19 dashboard shows cases remain high, with a seven-day average of 96 new cases since Feb. 27.
From March to December 30, 2020, 24,316 cumulative cases of COVID-19 have been reported, with 254 cumulative deaths. From January to December 2021, there were a total of 69,808 cumulative cases, with 693 cumulative deaths. During 2022, 190,291 cumulative cases were reported with a total of 1,141 cumulative deaths. As of December 30, 2022, a total of 26 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported.
“It is very difficult to have hopes. It’s sad – I feel worse now than in 2020,” said Giolas. “I feel more hopeless than I’ve ever felt at any other time during this whole pandemic because it really feels like the people making the decisions don’t care…”
While continuing to take personal safety precautions to prevent contracting COVID-19, Giolas mentioned that she would feel more comfortable if testing for COVID-19 was prioritized and updated to detect new variants as well as integrated filtration and ventilation in public spaces.
“My hope – it seems remote – is that they [health and government officials] would listen and pay attention, especially to disabled voices and infectious disease experts, and people who have studied COVID and its effects, and do things like make masks health care with an indefinite term, or even turn other terms into public spaces”, said Giolas.
Giolas said she is a big proponent of collective responsibility and she believes everyone has a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable members of the community. While she worries about what will happen to her personal health if she contracts COVID-19, Giolas is also worried about those who are unable to get vaccinated.
“Between masking and vaccines, and ventilation and filtration, we could really put a significant dent in transmission and make it safer for everyone,” Giolas said. “There are so many people now who have to isolate themselves from the rest of society because it’s not safe for them. I care about their freedom.”