Dear Supervisor: An Open Letter regarding COVID-19
After watching today's press conference by our Mayor and Public Health Director, I have some questions.
Dear Supervisor Walton:
I’ve been watching the San Francisco COVID Press Conferences since March 2020. I haven’t caught all of them, but enough to get the gist. Every single one, including the one today, can be boiled down to this:
We are in the midst of a global pandemic, one that is once in a lifetime, and we, good citizens, must do our part to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Well…shit. I knew that back in March when the San Francisco Opera cancelled all my art classes at Aptos Middle School before San Francisco officially closed down, which was way before the rest of the country, outside of NewYork, found itself in lockdown. I remember conversations with friends in Minnesota and Louisiana and Texas, each in a different state of disbelief at the severity and contagiousness of the coronavirus. It made me question my own diligence and caution. Yet, I persisted in staying home and keeping distanced whenever out.
Eight months in, I feel completely lost, and today’s press conference actually enraged me more. I watched our Mayor and Public Health Director say they are unsure how COVID-19 is so rapidly spreading and how each of us need to continue to do our part. It seems to me, then, that our contact tracing, testing, and policies have failed and are further failing. I guess it’s up to the individual to stop a global pandemic.
But how does a single person actually stop COVID-19?
Both our Mayor and our Public Health Director invoked a San Francisco responding to the crisis of HIV and AIDS. They talked about how San Franciscans helped San Franciscans survive a global pandemic. I am a beneficiary of the legacy of queer and trans and immigrant and poor and Black and Latinx and Asian San Franciscans fighting for and demanding a Healthy San Francisco. In fact last October, I had major arterial bypass surgery behind my right knee at San Francisco General Hospital thanks to health coverage through Healthy San Francisco. It cost me only $200. I am indebted to my ancestors who made this possible.
What was left unmentioned in today’s press conference was that Healthy San Francisco is policy, a policy fought for by the people of San Francisco when City Hall was still not responding to its needs. In fact, it was public health workers who conceived it and demanded the Mayor and Supervisors do something about the health of San Francisco. This policy is solid, too; it’s why I could afford a surgery to remove a growing cyst wrapped around my artery constricting blood flow. Policy literally saved my life.
Where is the policy to save San Franciscans?
My dad is dying of cancer, and I cannot go visit him back in Minnesota. I am fearful that I will not be able to physically see him before his cancer finally takes over his entire body. I am rage-filled that I have to sit and listen to our Mayor and Public Health Director deny knowing how COVID-19 is so quickly spreading throughout San Francisco while simultaneously telling us COVID-19 is spread through congregant settings of folx from different households. That’s the same reason I cannot hop on a plane to visit my dad.
I do see lots of folx from different households congregating at semi-enclosed outdoor dining, though. These independent structures have popped up all throughout the Mission, Hayes Valley, Potrero Hill, and other neighborhoods that still have “destination” restaurants that either get or have gotten got written up in the New York Times or New Yorker. Those businesses are still here. They are the ones who pack the sidewalks, the same ones pedestrians are trying to traverse. They are still open. They are still congregating. They are still putting their “essential” workers in harms way every minute they are open.
When will City Hall and the Department of Public Health finally recognize that if congregate dining in semi-enclosed standalone buildings outside spreads COVID-19?
On November 7, 2020, our Mayor dined at French Laundry in Napa, the same restaurant at which Newsom dined the night before. I’m sure it was a fundraiser or some other fine dining experience for a donor. Sadly, it’s to be expected.
On November 10, 2020, our Mayor said, “I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that everyone act responsibly to reduce the spread of the virus. Every San Franciscan needs to do their part so that we can start moving in the right direction again.”
I cancelled a gathering with friends outside at a perfect spot for distancing in China Basin with a working sink, wide open sky, and abundant walking paths for the Saturday after Thanksgiving because I wanted to do my part. I had taken loads of precautions because I am acutely aware of how quickly COVID-19 is spreading. I just needed some time in person with some dearly close chosen family to help transform the sadness, grief, and despair that’s creeping in from not being able to visit my dad. I chose instead to Zoom because that’s what the personally accountable thing to do is.
Who will hold our Mayor to account for not taking personal accountability?
Our Mayor also informed San Franciscans that our public bus system (SFMTA) is facing a $200,000,000+ shortfall over the next two years. We were told by our Mayor how critical buses were to residents getting to and from work, especially the ones that are essential. She then told us that our crucial public infrastructure will be cut by 18-22% on top of the cuts already sustained if federal investments don’t come through.
She didn’t say that today the San Francisco Police Union contract was up for approval at your Board of Supervisors meeting and when approved, which it was, the Police will get a raise and see no job losses even after a summer of thousands of San Franciscans demanding “Defund SFPD.”
Since you cast your vote today to approve the contract, do you believe our Police are more important than the public transportation workers transporting our essential workers?
I am at a complete loss here.
I am told to trust our Department of Public Health and our Elected Officials. I am told that you are doing all that you can with an impossible situation. I am told that our Mayor understands our sacrifice. I am told to do my part. But I don’t actually know what it is that I am being told, and I know I am not the only one.
The dissonance between the words spoken and the actions taken by those in power grows ever louder. It erodes all trust in all institutions and threatens the lives and livelihoods of San Franciscans, especially those who’ve been pushed to the gutters and margins and streets by the landowning class. The same class our Mayor dined with at French Laundry, while I sat in my apartment trying to help my mom navigate my dad’s health crisis unfolding that weekend.
How can we trust any elected official in San Francisco when our Mayor finds ways to circumnavigate her own policy in a manner similar to Trump?
I know that you will not have answers to most of these questions. In fact, while addressed to you, this letter is not for you. For I do not look to elected officials for answers.
Instead, this is for my fellow San Franciscans and comrades around the world who are also lost.
I turn to you, my neighbors and comrades, and ask that you check in on one another. To care for each other outside of any institution. To carefully listen to what Elected Officials and Public Health Officials both say and do. To evaluate risk not just for your self but imagine what risk your actions might impose on those who are already oppressed, subjugated, tossed aside, ignored.
My husband takes two buses to work four days a week to his job in music retail. Four days a week he risks his health so he can go buy records for others to enjoy. He isn’t a hero. He’s just my husband—a San Franciscan, a neighbor, a comrade. His life isn’t worth the risk of retail.
Having a roof over our head and food on our table and a life together, that is what he is risking his health for.
If either of us gets sick, at least we have Healthy San Francisco. And at least we might survive in large part because our ancestors died of HIV and AIDS and others stood to fight for them.
I hope you fight a bit harder for San Francisco.
Image description: A line drawing of a displeased looking head and shoulders with yellow eyelids and teal lips. The figure is centered against a black background. Written in hot pink lettering around the head reads, “It doesn’t have to fucking be this way!”