Photo courtesy of BigStock/nndanko
Lately, the United States, and the world at large, have been dealing with a crisis that most—if not all of us—have not experienced in our lifetimes. Since December of 2019, the existence of COVID-19—a viral respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus—has been greatly disrupting life on our planet, officially being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11 of this year.
As of April 9, over 1.4 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide, with over 87,000 deaths as a result. In Minnesota, as of April 9, over 1,100 cases have been confirmed. Aside from the obvious dangers to the physical health of the public, the pandemic has upended the world’s economy, cancellation of events, and the closure of many businesses, organizations, and schools. In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz issued a stay-at-home order until April 10 to help curb the disease’s spread. On April 8, Walz extended the stay-at-home order to last through May 4.
“COVID-19 is a brand new virus, and we are still learning so much about it,” said Shor Salkas, health equity planner for the Center for Public Health Practice at the Minnesota Department of Health. “Some of the symptoms for COVID-19 are somewhat similar to the flu, like fever, cough, and fatigue. However, many symptoms of the flu are not common symptoms for COVID-19, like chills, sore throat, aches, and headaches. With seasonal allergies, fever is not a common symptom.”
As you’ve no doubt heard on TV, the radio, or in print, most if not all public officials have encouraged citizens to stay at home, with the exception of travel for necessary activities such as buying groceries or seeing a doctor. This is especially true for those who have been in contact with someone suspected or confirmed to have a case of coronavirus, or those suspected or confirmed to have the virus themselves. In these cases, home quarantine is crucial.
“We want all of our communities to stay safe and healthy during this scary and unprecedented time,” said Salkas. “Some of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are to stay home as directed by Gov. Walz, wash your hands often and thoroughly, cover your cough, and don’t touch your face, particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth.”
According to Salkas, what’s known right now is that people over the age of 65, the immunocompromised, and those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease are the most at risk for severe cases of the disease. The same goes for health care professionals who are in environments that bring them into contact with those who have the virus.
“If you think you have COVID-19 and your symptoms are manageable, please stay home for a minimum of seven days, and three days after a fever has broken,” said Salkas. “If your symptoms escalate, call your health care provider or local clinic and ask if you should come in for a test.”
Understandably, Salkas said that the Department of Health has been working overtime to respond to the pandemic in the state.
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak happened, that has put everybody at the Health Department very much into ‘go’ mode,” they said. “A huge number of staff members are supporting a response in a ton of different ways.”
Salkas serves on the Trans Equity Council for the city of Minneapolis, and works in community outreach and engagement to educate and help the queer community during crises like this.
“I think that what we know from data available on LGBTQ communities is that that our communities are often more vulnerable due to… stigma and discrimination and inaccessibility, accessibility to health care and various other systems that don’t understand their unique needs,” said Salkas. “We know that folks in the LGBTQ community often delay care for a lot of reasons, whether [it’s] their trauma that they’ve experienced in the medical-industrial complex, or a variety of other discrimination, fear, etc., that they may [not] have trust about going to an emergency room or calling a doctor. So I think those are some real ways that LGBTQ folks will likely be impacted in that.”
The social distancing aspect of the pandemic response will be especially trying for the GLBT community.
“A lot of us count on seeing our people at a community event or going to the dance party or, going to an art show or going to the café… where you see folks or meet up with folks,” said Salkas. “This is going to be really hard, I think, in our communities and really impact people’s… mental health in a really different way than I think we’re seeing in other communities.”
Salkas said that the COVID-19 cases will keep going up for a while before they come down, as seen in trends all around the world.
“In terms of what Gov. Walz has put into place, it’s a really, really important prevention measure to keep that number of cases from going as high as it could,” said Salkas. “So what the stay-at-home order is doing is really keeping as many people safe as possible by creating less community spread.”
The Department of Health is working hard to curb the spread of COVID-19 by working closely with health care systems and similar agencies to encourage the public to social distance and maintain proper hygiene, such as handwashing.
“In addition, our Public Health Lab, our epidemiologists and disease investigators are working with folks who are positive to trace the outbreak and prevent further spread of the virus,” said Salkas. “We staff hotlines for health care providers and for the general public (public hotline is 651-201-3920, or 1-800-657-3903, and there are interpreters available in other languages) and we partner with cultural and faith-based communities to do community outreach and response, and so much more.”
After the stay-at-home order ends on April 10, social distancing will remain integral, which Salkas says will be difficult for many GLBT people.
“For many LGBTQ folks, staying home may feel unsafe, home may be a lonely place, home may be violent, and home may feel disconnected from the broader LGBTQ community,” they said. “This is a unique issue in our communities, as many of us form chosen family networks through community events, community organizations, and the unique experiences we share as LGBTQ people in this world. We encourage Minnesota-centered LGBTQ-serving organizations to continue doing the work to virtually connect our communities in this time with each other, with resources, and with crucial care that our communities need.”
For more information and updates on the COVID-19 pandemic, visit www.cdc.gov. For more information relating to the Minnesota Department of Health’s response to the pandemic, as well as resources for how to protect yourself and loved ones from the virus, visit www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to reflect the current number of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota and the world at large, as well as the extension of Minnesota’s stay-at-home order.