Phoenix vs. The Pandemic: How Valley Residents Are Taking on the Coronavirus Crisis

Photo illustration by Lindsey Kelly
As the global coronavirus crisis deepens, infecting hundreds of thousands of people and killing more than 13,000, daily life as we know it has screeched to a halt.

Kids aren’t going to school. Restaurants and stores have closed, many of them laying off workers. It’s officially dangerous to interact with other people unless they’re at least six feet away, even though some front-line workers don’t have a choice.

The pandemic has damaged every home, every industry, and every expectation of normalcy for the foreseeable future. This week, we spoke with 18 Valley residents about how they’re adjusting to our new reality. Here are their stories in their own words.

click to enlarge Dr. Joy Wolfe at her practice in Ahwatukee - ELIZABETH WHITMAN
Dr. Joy Wolfe at her practice in Ahwatukee
Elizabeth Whitman

Dr. Joy Wolfe
Family medicine physician in Ahwatukee, private practice

I have a very personal relationship with my patients. I consider the vast majority of them to be friends. I’ve known them for 20, 25-plus years. What’s happening is, we can’t see patients who are sick. We don’t have protective gear for ourselves, or them, or any other patient in the office.

We’ve also had to put off any of our patients that are elderly who need [wellness] exams. We don’t want to bring them in in the midst of all of this. There’s no guarantee, even though we’re wiping down like crazy and trying to disinfect. So to ask them to come in and risk their health, knowing they may have underlying conditions like cancer, autoimmune diseases, emphysema — I won’t do that to a patient.

Patients are angry. Some of them have a difficult time understanding. It’s incredibly time-consuming, but we educate them. Our knowledge should be shared with the patients.

I’m concerned that people will die of other things because they can’t get care. They’re missing out on medical care, whether it be for diabetes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, things that we try to manage and that we’re adamant about regularly following up on. COVID-19 is putting everybody’s health at risk on multiple levels with multiple disease states. God forbid they have something else. What if they have meningitis?

If the majority of what we do is well exams and sick visits, and we have to postpone those, we have a very limited number of patient visits. Usually, we see 16 to 20 patients per doctor, per day. Now, we see 10 per doctor, if we’re lucky. But I’m getting 50 or more phone calls per day — and you can’t get paid for phone calls — on top of what I’m doing on social media.

In private practice, it’s no work, no pay. If I take a vacation, I don’t get paid for it. We’re very, very concerned about the financial health of the practice. We’re praying that this will be resolved sooner rather than later. This could easily sink this practice, and many others.

There’s no way to predict whether I’ll get coronavirus. At 55, I’m certainly not a young person. I try to do my best to follow all of the CDC and current guidelines, but there’s no guarantee. I could go to the grocery store and get it there, just as easily as I could get it here. Unfortunately, that’s always been the role of health care providers. We signed on to that role early on.

click to enlarge Michael Pinegar - MICHAEL PINEGAR
Michael Pinegar
Michael Pinegar

Michael Pinegar
Welder and bartender at the Irish Hare Pub

I didn’t see it affecting me too much, and then a few days ago bigger cities started shutting down bars and restaurants, and I’m like,
“Oh, fuck. Something’s gonna go down.” Once I heard they shut down L.A. and New York and New Jersey, I was like, “Well, we’re in the middle. It’ll hit us soon.” And it did.

I think the mayor jumped the gun [in closing restaurants] prematurely, considering it was St. Patrick’s Day. She could’ve let us stay open till 11 p.m. or close the night out and might’ve saved a lot of people’s livelihoods. Closing at 8 p.m., I made $200 instead of $1,000. It kinda hurt a little bit.

Then, I got laid off at my day job today as a welder. A lot of our suppliers are in China, so it’s been a month-long delay to get goods in that we need to be productive. Plus, the rain just killed our timeline for installations. I don’t know if it was all the virus. Maybe just poor business planning. I’m not 100 percent sure.

I’m healthy. I’m a runner. I just finished a marathon. I’m in pretty good shape, so I’m not worried about it. I’m more worried about being a carrier for other people around me.

I obviously don’t want people to die. Either way, I understand the numbers have not been quite doubling, but they have been increasing. So I understand the concern. But most small businesses that are family-owned can’t survive being shut down for two weeks. Like, that’s a problem. What’s the human cost? Yes, death is going to be horrible if anybody catches it and succumbs to it. But how many businesses are we going to lose overnight due to this? Small businesses, they employ 10 to 15 people. Most people have their children, they have their bills they pay. And now it’s a huge chain of events that are going to happen. I feel bad for all the people who are going to lose economically to this.

I mean, I’m fucked. I had two jobs on Monday. Now I have zero jobs. I have four children. I have a truck. I have bills to pay, and they’re not getting paid now. So we’ll see what happens. I don’t have any plans. I’m going to try to find more work this weekend. I’ll take it one day at a time. I doubt they’ll throw me out tomorrow. My rent’s not due till the first [of the month]. Am I going to make it on time? I’m not. I was worried about paying my rent or my car note. Now, it seems like two things aren’t getting paid. So we’ll see what happens.

Food worker at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

I work for SSP America. Half of our workforce has been fired or laid off. Every restaurant that my company operates, we’ve shut down four or five of them already.

Hours have been cut across the board for everybody. I was working 40 hours. We’re going to be shut down today. I’m going to be without pay after today.

We got in this morning and we were told, ladies, I hate to do this to you but after today, we’re done.

But they say it’s going to be temporary and our jobs will be waiting for us after this is all done and over with. So that’s one concern taken care of.
Unfortunately I live in a pay-by-the-week apartment, so I don’t know if that emergency measure that they took last night ... [trails off]. One of my managers said they took an emergency measure last night to stop evictions and utility cutoffs if you’re affected by corona.

[Wipes eyes] Sorry, as you can tell I’m really upset about this. I’ve got asthma. The CDC is saying if you’ve got compromised lungs or immune issues, that you need to quarantine for 12 weeks. I can’t afford to quarantine for 12 weeks. Nobody can in this country.

I saw on the news last night that the airlines are asking for like $55 billion in help from the government. I’m like, Screw the airlines, how about the people who work for the airlines? Who work at the airport? Rumor has it that Phoenix airport is going to be shut down by next week, but that’s rumors.

This is the last week for the foreseeable future that we’re going to have hours available to us. I don’t know yet if I’m going to be okay. My manager told us to file for unemployment because the stimulus checks will go to those who apply for unemployment first. I figure the worst thing that happens is I apply and they say, “Sorry no,” and I’ll have to figure out something else. I know the grocery stores are hiring and stuff, so I’ll apply there, to try to have some money coming in.

My husband’s out of work. He works for Chase Field. There’s no baseball season. So he’s not having any income. Thank God we don’t have kids.

It’s scary. I’m not scared for myself or my family. I’m scared of what everybody else is going to do out there as this gets worse because it’s only going to get worse.

But yeah, once we close down today, that’s it for the foreseeable future. They’re trying to give people hours when they can, but it’s based on seniority, and I’m still in my first 90 days. Even if there were hours, I don’t think I’d get any.

I don’t have savings. I work for minimum wage. There’s no such thing as savings when you’ve got bills to pay.

click to enlarge The Moore family - ELIZABETH WHITMAN
The Moore family
Elizabeth Whitman

Robert Moore Jr. (dad)
Robert Moore III (ninth grade)
Robyn Moore (eighth grade)
Rihanna Moore (fourth grade)
Ryan Moore (second grade)
Outside Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix. The kids attend local public schools.

Robert Moore Jr.: The school is giving us lunch and breakfast. It helps out a lot, because you know, with four kids, trying to feed them all, with not much in stores, this helps out big time. We’ve been coming since yesterday. We’re going to continue to come until they have no more. [The kids] are supposed to go back [to school from spring break] on [March 23]. For the older kids, they’re actually giving them assignments. But for the younger ones, they’re giving out tips to keep their brains fresh, but they haven’t put out any curriculum yet.

Robert Moore III: The coronavirus affected a lot of my sports and my siblings’ sports, too. I play baseball right now, and I play football.

Robyn: I play basketball for Centennial, right now, for spring sports, but they may cancel it.

Ryan: I play baseball.

Robert Jr.: He plays baseball for Ahwatukee Little League, but they suspended it for the rest of the year.

Robert III: These days, we’re doing more family-oriented activities. We’re doing workouts together, playing video games.

Robert Jr.: Right now, we were going to go down to the district to get a laptop. I went down there this morning, but the lines were just wrapped all the way around the building, so I’m going to check again. But for them, for the little ones, they’ve been playing outside, but our complex has kind of limited people from coming outside. We’re in the complex over there, right next door to the school.

It’s been tough. For me, I’ve been a substitute teacher for the last two years, so I’m out of work. There’s no assignments or anything available. When you’re a sub, you don’t get paid unless you’re subbing. My wife is a state employee. She’s always worked from home, but she usually has to go visit a lot of older clients, so she pretty much will probably be working from home now, because they’re limiting all visitations.

Robyn: At first I was a little excited about school being canceled, but now I’m not excited as much because my eighth-grade promotion and our trip at the end of the year might get canceled.

Robert Jr.: The younger two were happy, because they play outside all day. But the older kids, they have friends, they have a lot of stuff going on at school, a lot of activities.

Robert III: I’m keeping in touch with friends by texting, playing video games.

Robyn: I text my friends.

Rihanna: Yeah, I call my friends.

Ryan: I talk to my friends outside.

Robert Jr: It’s been kinda boring. I’ve been putting job applications out there, but everything’s been on hold. It’s just been a wake-up call for us. We see a lot of movies, and it’s like, oh, nothing can happen in America, because we got everything prepared, and all of a sudden, everything is shutting down.

Doug Robson
Chef and owner of Gallo Blanco and Otro Café

Until a week ago, both places were looking to have our best years. Otro just turned seven years on March 3. And we’re still doing about 25 percent above the year before. Gallo is about to turn 3 and, same thing, we’re looking to grow and feed people.

Everything came to a stop. We went from the normal numbers to a drop in 50 percent to a drop of 90 percent. In a matter of three days.

click to enlarge Chef Doug Robson - BLOK STUDIOS
Chef Doug Robson
Blok Studios
The to-go businesses and the curbside, that market is going to be saturated right now. And it’s going to be impossible, except for the people who already have drive-thrus, to do well. I spoke to my staff, and my staff raised concerns that they work in close proximity — there’s still exposure with customers. I agreed with them, and that we don’t want to perpetuate the problem. So, we’re going to shut the doors down and see how we are in 15 days. If in 15 days, they let us operate again, we’ll open back up, but the reality is we don’t know. Even if I spend $20,000 on marketing for a to-go business and all that, it’s not gonna solve my model. You know? That’s just a hard pill to swallow.

We ended up having to lay off the majority of our staff. I was going to try to keep everybody on and share the shifts that were available. But now we only have one shift. After talking to them, they said, “Look, Doug. The reality is we’re going to have a lot more loss of income if we keep working here than if you lay us off.” I’m like, I can’t even imagine having to make that decision. Just a week ago I was looking to hire a new general manager because that’s how busy we were. We were looking to add more jobs. It fucking sucks.

To be honest, I think these emergency relief loans are a fucking crock of shit. Why would we want to get another loan to try to reopen and get further in debt, when we don’t even know what the future of the business is going to look like and what’s really going to come back? Everybody is going to be affected with a recession. It’s not like people’s disposable income is going to be there after this. So, for me, they gotta do better than these SBA relief funds that are not going to work for most people. Why would I take on more debt?

All in all, I think [Mayor Kate Gallego and Governor Doug Ducey] are doing their best. They’re doing the right thing by making sure they’re protecting people from dying. At the same time, after that, if they can do anything, they need to pass a regulation that landlords should not charge rent, and on top of that, making sure small business owners don’t get penalized by having to pay back whatever deferred rents are. Ducey and the mayor, they really need to step up and figure out how the landlords and businesses have some sort of relief. Our service industry was one of the highest-growing industries in Arizona.

Walgreens pharmacy technician in Phoenix

It’s been extremely stressful from the beginning. Every single day turns into something new.

This has been going on since a month ago, and at the time, when it first started to show up here in Arizona, there was nobody saying, clean up. People cough on me all the time when I’m working. I’m physically about four feet from customers — really close. If I could, I would want to be tested, even though I have no symptoms right now.

Everyone’s panicking. People don’t even want to touch the PIN pads, so I just touch them for them, because I don’t have much of a choice at this point. Oops, I just touched my face right now.

We have a lot of people that are picking up their prescriptions early to try to get ahead. Most insurances are doing an early-fill approval for everybody, so they can stay home and not go out as much. Every now and then we run low on basic medications. Like, inhalers right now — we’re out of a couple different rescue inhalers. I think they’re on back order.

Part of the reason I’m so stressed out is we’re starting this new thing where we’re 9 to 9. Usually we’re 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. All stores, like 36th Street and Thomas, they’re usually a 24-hour store, but the front of every Walgreens right now is going to be closing at 9 p.m. and opening at 9 a.m. And only 24-hour pharmacies will be able to service their customers, in the drive-thru only. The reason for that is to restock and make sure everything is totally clean.

Today’s the first day I did this. When I got in at 8, I mopped everything — the waiting area, the chairs, anything anybody would touch. Clean up and make sure everything’s ready to go. Throughout the day, we have to wipe down everything completely.

We’re not required to wear face masks at this point. We’re out of them. I think we’re ordering more, but the kind of masks that you need are not the kind you find here. The N95s, we can’t get them. So we have to work without them. The only thing we can do with a lot of sick patients is just keep our distance.

It just takes over my state of mind, especially with sick people coughing all over the place. Some of my customers are moms. Their kids are out for the year, and they don’t know what they’re going to do. I’m close with a lot of my customers.

Things have changed within the last week, to where I’m kind of scared. I’ve worked here for more than half my life. I’ve never gotten sick from anything, so I think I’ve built up a pretty good immune system. But. I’ve never seen anything like this before.

I don’t kiss my kids anymore. They’re older, they’re grown up. It’s been like three weeks, or two weeks, since I’ve actually kissed any of my kids, which is awful. If I use the bathroom or shower at home I make sure I spray everything down, so that nothing of me is there.

I don’t know if I should say this or not. There was a coworker of mine who’s been sick for a week, but he doesn’t meet the criteria to be tested. He’s been out of work for a week, because he’s that ill. He doesn’t meet the criteria, so they don’t test him. If he comes back to work, I don’t know how long you’re contagious for ... that stresses me out, too.

click to enlarge Mayor Christian Price - CITY OF MARICOPA
Mayor Christian Price
City of Maricopa

Christian Price
Republican Mayor of Maricopa (city of 54,000 in Pinal County)

Most mayors in Arizona are considered part time. My profession is as a financial adviser, so with the market tanking as well, it’s a real double whammy for me, trying to do the best both by my clients and by my citizens.

Everybody has their opinion as to how much and how far we should go. I have people of the opinion that we should shelter in place. I have people that have opinions that this is a government conspiracy, that this thing isn’t real, or I’m a small business owner and I don’t want to go out of business. As a mayor, do I pick a side? It puts me right in the middle.

You have to remember that in an emergency, the mayor rules by proclamation. You’re suspending the rules and checks and balances that government has in place to be accountable to the people. That’s something I take very seriously. I wanted to hold off on declaring an emergency until these things went from suggestions to mandate.

Now that they’ve become mandates [with Governor Ducey’s executive orders on March 19], today [March 20] I will issue a state of emergency as well. In order to keep up with the mandates, we’ll need to declare a state of emergency. For us to move quickly, we can’t have any city rules that are getting in the way. Literally everything is changing from last night to today.

I’m not afraid of getting coronavirus, but at the same time I’m cautious. I follow CDC guidelines, I keep my distance, wash my hands.

The sun will come out tomorrow. This too shall pass. This won’t last forever. We will get to the other side. The question is, when we get to the other side, what will we look like? We will be in a new reality.

I see this from two sides. There’s gonna be a lot of folks that are hurt and they’re going to have to find their new life. But we in America have an entrepreneurial spirit, to find opportunities created by this new normal, and they’re going to use these new disruptive technologies to create a new America, and I think that’s exciting. There is hope.

click to enlarge Bevan Kirby works on a customer. - STEVEN HSIEH
Bevan Kirby works on a customer.
Steven Hsieh

Bevan Kirby
Co-founder of 10/20 Barbershop

I have been a barber for like six years now, bro. We’ve been in business for almost two years now.

I just didn’t want them to shut us down. Not even me not making money, just all of us as a collective. I asked the fellas if they think we should shut down or just push the process of us being super-sanitized and clean and stay open. Those were my thoughts. We just came up with a solution that we would stay open but limit the amount of people that can come into the barbershop and mainly do appointments, you know, to keep large amounts of people out of the business. We’re trying to keep it limited to 10 people at a time, including us.

For one, we’re making everyone wash their hands when they come inside. Number two, we’re making sure we wash our hands and cleaning our tools immediately after every cut and just trying to stay as sanitized as possible. Just basing it off how things usually are, I know everyone who comes into the shop, and it’s slow. It’s not the same, you know.

Today I had two no-shows, so yeah, they’re canceling for sure. Once 3 o’clock comes, that’s usually when we get our rush. No rush this week.

We’re all independent contractors. So I couldn’t say, if they were to shut us down, how long we’d be able to maintain things without doing other things. Everybody is their own boss, here. We all pay rent and the rest of the money is ours. It’s getting scary. It’s getting scary. Yeah, it’s getting scary.

I gotta wear gloves, and I don’t like wearing gloves because I feel like it suffocates my hands. But I’d rather wear gloves than go out like out how people are going out with this virus. Some fellas, they wear gloves all the time. I just gotta get used to it.

click to enlarge Customers cleared out the pasta aisle at Sprouts. - STEVEN HSIEH
Customers cleared out the pasta aisle at Sprouts.
Steven Hsieh

Cashier at Sprouts

I’m retired. This is just something for me to leave the house and make a little extra money. I work about 20 hours a week. It’s really, really bad. Today was kinda bad. Yesterday was a very slow day. But prior to that, the last three weeks, it was terrible. We were running out of food.

People are really buying vegetables. A lot of vegetables. And cereal. A lot of rice. And eggs. Things that we just kind of took for granted. As far as the toilet paper goes, that was the thing we couldn’t understand. I mean, why are they so concerned about toilet paper?

Some of the customers come in and say about other customers, “They’re buying a lot of groceries!” My response is, “They’re shopping just like you are. Because you’re here, too.” Customers are very unkind to us, the employees, because we don’t have answers for them. It’s been really, really bad.

I’m 71 years old. I feel okay. But I’m also cautious about covering your mouth. I’ve always washed my hands. I guess because I’ve worked in retail, just being out there, just seeing customers and how nasty they are, that made me very conscious.

Especially in the grocery stores, you see people picking their noses or doing whatever, going to the bathroom and not washing their hands and just coming out, you know. So everything I buy, I wash before I put in my refrigerator. I’ve been doing that for years, just from watching other people and seeing how they are.

Sprouts has the little spray bottles when you come in, so you can clean the shopping carts, but they’re not like Costco. Costco really cleans — when customers are finished shopping, they clean the shopping carts down. We haven’t done that.

There’s no one really telling them what to do. All we have is spray bottles, so customers have to do that themselves.

Dr. Wenda Seltzer
Works at the orthopedic practice of Dr. Dana Seltzer

My husband is an orthopedic surgeon and takes calls at Abrazo Scottsdale Hospital. A lot of our patients are elderly people who fall and break their hips. They come to the emergency room, and he’ll fix their hips. Typically, those patients will go to a skilled nursing facility for a couple of weeks after they’re discharged. We see them typically two weeks after surgery to check an X-ray, see how they’re doing, look at a wound, do new orders for physical therapy.

But the nursing homes — they’re pretty locked down — are reluctant to have anybody come in or out. So we’re having to figure out ways to take care of people without physically seeing them. People go to the skilled nursing facilities, but they’re not able to come to our office, because the nursing homes don’t want anybody going in or out unnecessarily.

We have a lot of patients we’re trying to take care of, but it’s, “Can you bring us just an X-ray, can you send a picture of their wound?” Instead of being hands-on in our office, we’re trying to take care of people without them actually coming to us. It’s just not worth the risk for something relatively minor. We have patients that ought to be getting physical therapy, going to a physical therapy group, but the risk is just too great.

We’ve got an elderly patient coming in tomorrow, and she’s having a wound problem so we need to see that. But people that are doing relatively well that we’d typically be seeing back, we’re telling them, don’t come in. It’s safer if you don’t.

It’s concerning for our staff. We don’t have masks or protective gear and things like that, because that’s not the kind of office we are, and even our medical supply houses are out. We can’t get hand sanitizer, we can’t get the sanitizing wipes, and we’ve ordered masks, but they’re out of stock, even of regular masks, the ones that aren’t terribly protecting but better than nothing perhaps.

click to enlarge Dean O'Byrne, left, owner of Froth Coffee, and barista Tito Lemus. - ELIZABETH WHITMAN
Dean O'Byrne, left, owner of Froth Coffee, and barista Tito Lemus.
Elizabeth Whitman

Dean O’Byrne
Owner, Froth Coffee Roasters

We’re new owners. We stepped in here about a month ago, and we’re doing a light remodel on the inside, trying to get it done
for April 1. That’s when we’re going to open up the drive-thru. We’re going to keep this van going, probably here in the parking lot, for walk-up service.

[Coronavirus] wasn’t even on our radar. We kinda knew it was going on in China, but I didn’t really think it was going to come over here. It hasn’t affected us on the construction side, but where it’s affected us is, obviously for our grand opening, we can’t have very many people, and we can’t have anybody come into the cafe side of it.

We’re going to extend the hours. Right now they’re from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. I’m going through the hiring process. I might be one of the few people hiring. We’re going to extend our hours, we’re going to have more shifts. I actually just hired my first barista yesterday for that, and I’ll be hiring probably another eight or 10 more. But I’ve really pared back the amount of employees I was initially going to hire. I was expecting to hire 15, 20, 25.

We currently have three part-time employees. We’re looking for some local barista talent. We’re getting our equipment in right now. The sad part is, we’re going to have this beautiful cafe inside that no one can see.

For food, we’re going to do a light, quick, fast-healthy menu. It’ll be acai bowls, different toasts — peanut butter, avocado toasts — overnight chia seeds, there’ll be smoothies. Just, really quick, healthy food. Just to get you in and out. That’s going to be our menu for this. We’re going to expand the menu as we go, but I needed something that was going to be simple and reliable and easy for us, so that we can produce a lot of it quickly, because I expect, as more restaurants shutter their doors, people will start using take out and drive through. That’s really all we’re going to have, especially in Phoenix.

We’ve put out hand sanitizer, we’re all wearing gloves. We’re trying to keep our distance from customers. That’s the nice thing about the van — we’re separated by at least three to four feet. We’re taking up a few notches the general surface cleaning that we do.

This is a big deal. This is a really big deal. We’re a new business. This is our first brick-and-mortar. I don’t know how long this is going to last. We sunk all our eggs in this one basket — me and my wife, and I have a couple other partners who are more on the silent side. But yeah, I mean, I’m totally concerned, because I didn’t expect this to happen.

We’re seeing sales increase week after week, because we’re new to the area. If it was Smooth Brew that was still here, I’m sure they’d have a decline. We’re starting at zero and building our customers, and we’re seeing a general incline, but it’s not anything like I want it to be. It should be 10 times more than what we’re doing on a daily basis. But next week is a whole different ball of wax. We’re making this up as we go along, like everybody else.

Mike Hennessey
Valley Metro bus driver

Me personally? It hasn’t affected me. Between the wife and I, spraying stuff on me, and what-do-you call it, the Lysol, everything...

It hasn’t affected work at all either. I have my regular schedule. It’s been light, not as many people, because we don’t pick up the high school kids now. The high school kids that go to North High take this bus, and I do Seventh Street Monday through Thursday, and it’s been very light.

click to enlarge Valley Metro bus driver Mike Hennessey - ELIZABETH WHITMAN
Valley Metro bus driver Mike Hennessey
Elizabeth Whitman
Some guy came on my bus yesterday and said I should be wearing a mask, and he had a mask on and as soon as he got off the bus he threw it on the ground, so I don’t know what that was all about.

Valley Metro has put up the brochures talking about the dos and the don’ts, but they haven’t offered any kind of mask, or any kind of sanitizer to put on the bus. I have my own can of Lysol that I spray in this area [indicates driver seat area]. I think they could be a little more — how do I want to put it? — aware of what’s going on. Because they’re talking as a corporation. They’re part of Transdev out in Chicago, so they put everyone in one pile.

A lot of people are saying, “Why are we picking people up, why are we driving buses?” Well, we have to move the people. People rely on us to get to and from work, or wherever they’re going.

click to enlarge Dr. Amish Shah - STEVEN HSIEH
Dr. Amish Shah
Steven Hsieh

Dr. Amish Shah
Emergency room doctor for Dignity Health and Democratic State Representative for LD24

The emergency schedule is made months in advance. My shifts are booked every Saturday. With these shifts coming up, I realized if I were to continue to work in the emergency department, then I would be exposed to respiratory patients and I would take that back to the Legislature. So that’s not logical. Once we started to see coronavirus cases in Arizona, I said if I work in the emergency department I would not be able to come back. For the safety of my colleagues, it was a logical decision.

I worked on Saturday, this was six days ago. I saw a little short of 40 patients in a 24-hour shift and about half those people had upper respiratory complaints. And two or three of them were awfully suspicious for having COVID-19. I did tests on those folks. I haven’t heard back yet as to whether those tests are negative or positive.

I haven’t been working ER shifts until today. My next shift is today (March 20) at 7 p.m., and I have another shift tomorrow night at 7 p.m. in the ER. On Monday, I basically sat in front of three computer screens. I’m able to watch Arizona Capitol TV and follow along with what’s going on and make phone calls to my fellow legislators and tell them if there are points I want to make. I can still follow along via remote and follow the legislative process this way.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives actually approved remote voting. I’m very happy with their decision and I’m very proud of them for doing that and standing up for doing the right thing. Immediately, I was given the ability to vote again on Tuesday, so I immediately started voting via Skype and Zoom. This was a really important thing. It allows for social distancing, protecting members of our Legislature that are over 60 years old.

Personal protective equipment is essential for us to protect ourselves. And it is vital to protect the people that provide health care, because if one doctor or one nurse is out, think about how many patients you can’t take care of because those people aren’t there. Already in Arizona, there is a shortage of doctors and nurses. In the Legislature last year, we opted to give more graduate medical education funding. We know about this, we’ve been planning for this, but we didn’t plan for COVID-19. Nobody knew that was coming.

I’ve been talking to physicians who are all over the country. They’re my friends. And they are telling me about how they’re reusing masks and personal protective equipment. It’s extremely concerning. Ventilators are probably one of the top things we as a nation need to be worried about. If the cases start to spike and many people end up on ventilators, it won’t be enough. We’ll have an Italian-type situation where once you’ve reached a certain point of saturation, you can’t provide care for more people above that. So all those people are in dire straits because they can’t get the medical equipment they need and many people in Italy have died as a result of this. It is heartbreaking. I sincerely hope it never comes to that point. For myself, I hope that I am never put in that kind of position.

I think the chances of picking up coronavirus as an emergency physician are nearing 100 percent. I am single and I do not have children, but I do have a sister in Washington, D.C., and her husband, both of whom I love very much. My parents, who are in Chicago, I love very much. I am telling them to practice strict social distancing; specifically with my parents, I’m telling them don’t go out unless you need to. They’re both in their 70s. They have been onboard with those recommendations, which I’m very, very happy with. Personally, I feel well. I have not come down with any symptoms. Do I feel personal stress? Yes. I have friends and family I enjoy being around and I have had to socially distance and isolate. That is not very easy for me. I cannot tell you how many people, my colleagues who are Republicans and Democrats, have been calling me to check in on me. I’ve just had an incredible amount of outreach from my family and friends and this is what gives me so much hope about us in Arizona and in America.

I am serving a valuable role, in a way, that I am able to go to the emergency departments and see how things are practically functioning and then be able to relay that information to people who are decision-makers. The Legislature, we appropriate money, but we really don’t make decisions quickly or that have to do with how this crisis will be mitigated. The executive branch are the ones who are in charge, and that’s what you do during a national emergency. I am going to continue to use my role this way to try to help as best I can.

From the point of view of politicians and elected officials, they are really doing the best they can. I can’t imagine what it would be like to not be a medical person and be in the political world and having to make decisions on this. You’re getting information through a lens. I’m able to shift through it a lot faster, you might imagine. It’s interesting to watch, but overall, I’m looking at our elected officials and thinking, “Good. Good. Good.”

click to enlarge Stacey Dutton outside Tempe Farmers Market - STEVEN HSIEH
Stacey Dutton outside Tempe Farmers Market
Steven Hsieh

Stacey Dutton
Co-owner of Tempe Farmers Market

We definitely felt the impact. Our products we order from our manufacturers started to get harder to get. It was getting hard to
get items that we need for our everyday business: toilet paper, paper towels, milk, and tofu, believe it or not.

We used a lot of tofu for our vegan deli. We use it in bulk quantities. It’s been harder to order it. A lot of the products we try to order online from the manufacturer, either they have shortages, or it’s just not coming in from wherever it comes in from.

Business has gone up for certain items, but a lot of our customers have also stayed away. They’re trying to stay at home.

We keep Purell, and we’ve been encouraging our employees to wipe down surfaces with disinfectant wipes and cleaning products. We’re encouraging people to take their stuff and if they want to eat it here, to go outside on the patio. We have a small, dining room lounge that we serve food and drinks. That’s been affected and that part of our store is closed.

We have two kids at home. We have my parents, who are both in their 80s. They live in north Phoenix, so we just have not gone to visit them in the last couple weeks.