The declaration of Covid-19 as a worldwide pandemic has created tremendous disruption and uncertainty in daily life. This novel respiratory disease has brought the world to a standstill. The World Health Organization has put forth strict measure to help slow down and eliminate the spread Covid-19. These restrictions ask people, to stay home, wash hands, and maintain 2metre (6 feet) distance from other people. Lastly, WHO recommends that you wear face masks when are in a public settings.
In Africa, these measures have helped to keep the numbers low. However, African communities in the diaspora have been hard hit and disproportionately exposed to the virus. In America, African American communities have seen death tolls rise to numbers much higher than many other groups in the country. In these communities, the pandemic has intensified preexisting disparities such as poor access to healthcare, low wages and limited economic safety nets.
As part of preserving our culture project, Omusana Review will be publishing numerous interviews discussing the impact of this pandemic in our communities. Our first interview is with Anna Katenta, a Ugandan-American community health professional living in Philadelphia. In this interview, Anna talks about her experience as healthcare liaison for a small non-profit organization. She gives us insight as to when the Covid-19 pandemic crossed her radar and how it has impacted her personal and professional life.
What was life like before coronavirus?
Before the pandemic my routines included work, date nights, walks around Philly, and happy hours with friends. I work for an outpatient behavioral health clinic and I handle all community-based business development and engagement. In a typical workweek I had several meetings, presentations, mental health trainings and health expos. I also volunteer with Katika, a website and app for black owned businesses (shopkatika.com). The team met monthly and we planned events to support local and national businesses and foster a community engagement.
When did you start thinking that Covid-19 was something to worry about?
I typically follow news related to health equity, outbreaks and statistics, so I was abreast of Covid-19 when it was still called the Wuhan virus. In late January, I remember a conversation my coworker and I had; she was upset her clients kept prying her for information about the virus and asking her if she and her family have it… my coworker is Taiwanese. She shared with me a GIS (geographic information system) map that was tracking the worldwide spread of the virus. It definitely had my attention and I began planning for the outbreak to reach the states in February.
Personally, I know that where someone lives, works, their income and education level are all factors that disproportionately impact their health. The same applies to communities. Someone that doesn’t have access to healthy foods, regular doctor visits or recreational areas are more likely to have the pre-existing health conditions that make them high risk for dying from Covid-19. Additionally, if they are lower income, there’s a chance that they work at an essential business (like fast food restaurants or delivery service) that exposes them to people who may or may not be showing symptoms. If someone living in a shelter or assisted living facility contracts the virus then most people in that facility are at risk of contracting it. Same with grocery store and if you contract the virus, you expose it everyone you come in contact with on your commute to and from work.
How has it impacted your life now?
In March, there were about 100 confirmed cases in the county and the numbers in the surrounding counties were increasing. At work, one by one my meetings and presentations were cancelled to prevent the spread. Initially, the Governor was locking down counties one by one. The clinic provides community based service, meaning we give mental health services to community members on Medicaid and those without insurance. When the Governor announced a statewide lockdown, the clinic was deemed an essential business; my role however was not essential. I was not given clearance to work from home and rightfully so because my role is community-based. I was officially laid off on March 18th.
The first week of being home I had extreme anxiety and nightmares. I was worried about my parents, my friends and family that have young children, and myself. The nightmares continued for two weeks and I prayed, fasted and sought counseling through my employer assistance program. I also stopped watching the news because I felt like it was information overload and the rising death counts scared me.
Thankfully every day is getting better. My friends and I have group chats and see each other on Zoom and Facetime. I’m in the process of getting my groceries delivered to me so that I stay in the house, and I set a routine for myself so that I don’t sleep and watch TV all day.
What things are you concerned most about?
I’m concerned most about my family in Uganda, myself not having access to testing, being unemployed and the rush to open cities back up. I live in West Philly where there is a cluster Covid-19 cases and limited access to testing.
To ease my concerns I check in with my parents twice a week and monitor my asthma symptoms. I revise and send out my resume every day, and share on my social media the importance of not rushing to go back outside. I’m also prioritizing my mental health and indulging in hobbies I didn’t have the time to do before. I’m [also] reading She’s Still Here by Chrystal Evans Hurst. I started reading this book in 2018 with the women’s fellowship group at my church. It’s about embracing and nurturing yourself and your life, as it is right now, and trusting God will provide a better future. Additionally, each chapter comes with reflection questions and I found it helpful to respond to them on a sticky note and keep that in the book to refer back to later.
Being at home has reminded me to be grateful of everything that I have. I am thankful to be at home and for the assistance the government has provided. Lastly, I’m at peace knowing God is in control.