As a Leavenworth native that has lived in Brooklyn, New York, for 27 years, I am in a unique position to see the coronavirus tragedy from both its early onset and its later spread to less populous areas, including Kansas. As I write this, my grandmother is on lockdown in Homestead now that one of the residents is ill. I see Leavenworth residents on Facebook declaring that this is “all overblown” and “I feel fine, so I’m not staying home.”
To them, I say, I can see your future.
Here in Brooklyn, there are refrigerated semi-trucks parked at every hospital’s loading dock. They are makeshift morgues since ours are well over capacity. Funeral homes are backed up by two weeks. A new potter’s field has been opened in a city park to bury unclaimed bodies because morgues can no longer hold them until their family can claim them. And because no visitors are allowed in hospitals, victims young and old are dying alone. A friend lost his mother last week. He was not able to hold her hand, say a prayer with her or be with her as she took her last breath. Instead, he waited at home for the phone call, many hours after her death because hospital staff was so backed up and overworked.
There are bright spots. New Yorkers always pull together. My running club created a hotline for sick people who are homebound and members are running errands and making deliveries for anyone who needs help. My friend, Michelle, has organized the provision of meals for hospital staff since all of their cafeterias are closed. She is raising donations to purchase 800 meals per day for delivery to staff, providing sustenance to our frontline staff while giving local restaurants (closed now for a month) much needed income.
Since I can sew, I have made more than 150 masks for clinicians, seniors and anyone else that wants one. Friends are dropping off fabric and elastic so I can make more.
To you in Kansas, where my family still lives, I beg you, stay the course. Of the dozens of friends that have gotten sick (and one friend that has now died), none of them know how they got it. It is clear that seemingly healthy and symptom-free people are spreading it to others unknowingly. And I see lots of Kansas bravado online (“I’m not afraid of getting it”), you should be more afraid of giving it to someone else – your parent, grandparent, neighbor or friend.
What has happened here in New York, where the virus hit early and hard, will hopefully not happen in Kansas. My hope is that your leaders will heed the lessons and learn from the data coming out of New York, Washington and New Orleans. Social distancing, non-necessary travel, scrupulous hygiene and rapid testing will work to contain the quick spread and hopefully avoid overwhelming the health care system.
Hopefully I will be able to reschedule my planned trip to Leavenworth and see my hometown strong, proactive and healthy.
Christine Frietchen was born and raised in Leavenworth and is a graduate of Immaculata High School. She often visits Leavenworth, where her family still resides. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York, where she is a writer and editor.