COVID-19 is not over: A California resident’s take on the end of San Francisco’s public health emergency
Deanna Giolas is a San Francisco resident who lives 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 entails for her.
Giolas was visiting her partner in Australia, with plans of being there only for a month, but two weeks into her stay, Australia’s borders closed. She continued to renew her visitor’s visa and stayed until 2021, but eventually returned to San Francisco to her remote position as a content manager. While she was able to obtain her lifesaving 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 experienced difficulties obtaining treatment in Australia, the issues continued stateside. She had to locate new doctors, wait for vaccines, and put off dental work for longer than she wished to because she struggled to find a facility that was taking the pandemic seriously enough. She said she was concerned with facilities that didn’t require employees and patients to wear high quality masks, had no filtration systems, and didn’t mandate social distancing between patients.
“With the mask mandate removal, it makes me scared about seeking certain medical treatments,” Giolas told State of Reform. “My world has definitely gotten a lot smaller.”
To this day, anytime Giolas is indoors with strangers, she wears N95 or KF94 masks, which provides her with a tight seal. She also uses enovid nasal spray as an extra protection layer.
“I don’t dine indoors,” Giolas said. “I travel, but only when necessary, and I don’t even take my mask off to eat and drink most of the time if I don’t have to.”
While there is not enough data to prove whether people living with diabetes are more likely to contract the virus than nondiabetics, diabetics are more likely to experience worse health complications if they get the virus. Severe COVID-19-related health outcomes include acute respiratory failure, pneumonia, and acute respiratory distress syndrome, among others. When diabetics become sick with a viral infection, there is an increased risk of falling into diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA, which can quickly become life-threatening.
While the rest of the country returns to the normalcy of the pre-pandemic, Giolas and her partner have figured out new ways to socialize and entertain themselves.
“We’re at home most of the time, but whenever we socialize, it’s in a park or an outdoor patio,” Giolas said. “We feel less safe engaging socially with as many people, [in comparison to] when everyone was taking it more seriously and masking and testing regularly before the new variants that were evading testing.”
While her partner does not have health conditions that put him at greater risk for severe COVID-19-related outcomes, Giolas does. They’ve conversed about the issues, and taken into account the possibility of long-haul COVID and potential heart issues. Giolas said her partner understands and agrees that it isn’t a risk worth taking, even for young and healthy individuals.
On Feb. 16th, San Francisco terminated their indoor mask mandate for most indoor public settings, and by Feb. 28th, the city’s PHE was terminated.
“I was devastated because I’ve been relying on mask mandates in healthcare settings to receive medical care and to get my necessary testing done—just routine testing that all diabetics need a year, or multiple times per year,” Giolas said.
According to San Francisco’s Department of Public Health, masks are still required in healthcare settings, long-term care settings, and jail or juvenile hall. Prior to the lift of the mask mandate, Giolas saw the majority of folks wearing masks due to willingness to follow the mandate.
“A lot of those people now have seen the dropping of those mandates as ‘there’s no risk anymore’ and they’ve fully forsaken their masks,” Giolas said.
While COVID-19 vaccines increase immunity towards the virus and decrease severe health outcomes, immunity wanes, and much is still unknown about the long-term implications the virus has on individual health. Giolas also thinks the federal government and CDC is heavily focused on saving the economy at the expense of public health.
San Francisco’s COVID-19 data dashboard shows cases remain high, with 96 current seven-day average new cases as of Feb. 27th.
From March through December 30th of 2020, there were 24,316 reported cumulative cases of COVID-19, with 254 cumulative deaths. From January through December 2021, there were a total of 69,808 cumulative cases, with 693 cumulative deaths. During 2022, there were 190,291 reported cumulative cases with a total of 1,141 cumulative deaths. Since Dec. 30th, 2022, there have been a total of 26 reported deaths from COVID-19.
“It’s so hard to have hopes. It’s sad—I feel worse now than I did in 2020,” Giolas said. “I feel more hopeless than I’ve ever felt at any other point throughout this pandemic because it truly feels like those people making the decisions do not care…”
While continuing to take personal safety precautions to prevent contracting COVID-19, Giolas mentioned that she would feel more comfortable if COVID-19 testing were prioritized and updated to detect new variants, as well as integrating filtration and ventilation into public spaces.
“My hope—it seems far-fetched—is that they [health and government officials] would listen, and they would pay attention, especially to disabled voices and the experts in infectious disease, and people who have been studying COVID and its effects, and do things like make masks in healthcare mandated indefinitely, or even bring back other mandates in public spaces,” Giolas said.
Giolas said she’s a big proponent of collective responsibility, and she believes that everybody has a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable community members. As she’s concerned about what will happen to her personal health if she contracts COVID-19, Giolas is also concerned about those who are unable to become vaccinated.
“Between masking and the vaccines, and ventilation and filtration, we could really put a sizable dent in transmission, and we could make it safer for everyone,” Giolas said. “There are so many people right now who are having to be isolated from the rest of society because it’s not safe for them. I care about their freedom.”