On her day off not long ago, emergency room nurse Jane Sandoval sat with her husband and watched her favorite NFL team, the San Francisco 49ers. She's off every other Sunday, and even during the coronavirus pandemic, this is something of a ritual. Jane and Carlos watch, cheer, yell - just one couple's method of escape.
"It makes people feel normal," she says.
For Sandoval, though, it has become more and more difficult to enjoy as the season - and the pandemic - wears on. Early in the season, the 49ers' Kyle Shanahan was one of five coaches fined for violating the league's requirement that all sideline personnel wear face coverings. Jane noticed, even as coronavirus cases surged again in California and across the United States, that Levi's Stadium was considering admitting fans to watch games.
But the hardest thing to ignore, Sandoval says, is that when it comes to coronavirus testing, this is a nation of haves and have-nots.
Among the haves are professional and college athletes, in particular those who play football. From Nov. 8 to 14, the NFL administered 43,148 tests to 7,856 players, coaches and employees. Major college football programs supply dozens of tests each day, an attempt - futile as it has been - to maintain health and prevent schedule interruptions. Major League Soccer administered nearly 5,000 tests last week, and Major League Baseball conducted some 170,000 tests during its truncated season.
Sandoval, meanwhile, is a 58-year-old front-line worker who regularly treats patients either suspected or confirmed to have been infected by the coronavirus. In eight months, she has never been tested. She says her employer, California Pacific Medical Center, refuses to provide testing for its medical staff even after possible exposure.
Watching sports, then, no longer represents an escape from reality for Sandoval. Instead, she says, it's a signal of what the nation prioritizes.
This month, registered nurses gathered in Los Angeles to protest the fact that UCLA's athletic department conducted 1,248 tests in a single week while health-care workers at UCLA hospitals were denied testing. Last week National Nurses United, the country's largest nursing union, released the results of a survey of more than 15,000 members. About two-thirds reported they had never been tested.
Since August, when NFL training camps opened, the nation's most popular and powerful sports league - one that generates more than $15 billion in annual revenue - has conducted roughly 645,000 coronavirus tests.
"These athletes and teams have a stockpile of covid testing, enough to test them at will," says Michelle Gutierrez Vo, another registered nurse and sports fan in California. "And it's painful to watch. It seemed like nobody else mattered or their lives are more important than ours."
Months into the pandemic, and with vaccines nearing distribution, testing in the United States remains something of a luxury. Testing sites are crowded, and some patients still report waiting days for results. Sandoval said nurses who suspect they've been exposed are expected to seek out a testing site on their own, at their expense, and take unpaid time while they wait for results - in effect choosing between their paycheck and their health and potentially that of others.
"The current [presidential] administration did not focus on tests and instead focused on the vaccine," says Mara Aspinall, a professor of biomedical diagnostics at Arizona State University.
After a four-month shutdown amid the pandemic's opening wave, professional sports returned in July. More than just a contest on television, it was, in a most unusual year, a symbol of comfort and routine. But as the sports calendar has advanced and dramatic adjustments have been made, it has become nearly impossible to ignore how different everything looks, sounds and feels.
Stadiums are empty, or mostly empty, while some sports have bubbles and others just pretend their spheres are impermeable. Coaches stand on the sideline with fogged-up face shields; rosters and schedules are constantly reshuffled. On Saturday, the college football game between Clemson and Florida State was called off three hours before kickoff. Dodger Stadium, home of the World Series champions, is a massive testing site, with lines of cars snaking across the parking lot.
Sports, in other words, aren't a distraction from a polarized nation and its response to a global pandemic. They have become a constant reminder of them. And when some nurses turn to sports for an attempt at escape, instead it's just one more image of who gets priority for tests.
"There is a disconnect when you watch sports now. It's not the same. Covid changed everything," says Gutierrez Vo, who works for Kaiser Permanente in Fremont, Calif. "I try not to think about it."
Sandoval tries the same, telling herself that watching a game is among the few things that make it feel like February again. Back then, the coronavirus was a distant threat and the 49ers were in the Super Bowl.
That night, Sandoval had a shift in the ER, and between patients, she would duck into the break room or huddle next to a colleague checking the score on the phone. The 49ers were playing the Kansas City Chiefs, and Sandoval would recall that her favorite team blowing a double-digit lead.
Now during shifts, Sandoval sometimes argues with patients who insist the virus that has infected them is a media-driven hoax. She masks up and wears a face shield even if a patient hasn't been confirmed with the coronavirus, though she can't help second-guessing herself.
"Did I wash my hands? Did I touch my glasses? Was I extra careful?" she says.
If Sandoval suspects she has been exposed, she says, she doesn't bother requesting a test. She says the hospital will say there aren't enough. So instead she self-monitors and loads up on vitamin C and zinc, hoping the tickle in her throat disappears. If symptoms persist, which she says hasn't happened yet, she plans to locate a testing site on her own. But that would mean taking unpaid time, paying for costs out of pocket and staying home - and forfeiting a paycheck - until results arrive.
National Nurses United says some of its members are being told to report to work anyway as they wait for results that can take three to five days. Sutter Health, the hospital system that oversees California Pacific Medical Center, said in a statement to The Washington Post that it offers tests to employees whose exposure is deemed high-risk and to any employee experiencing symptoms. Symptomatic employees are placed on paid leave while awaiting test results, according to the statement.
"As long as an essential healthcare worker is asymptomatic," Sutter's statement read, "they can continue to work and self-monitor while awaiting the test result."
Sandoval said employees have been told the hospital's employee health division will contact anyone who has been exposed. Though she believes she's exposed during every shift, Sandoval says employee health has never contacted her to offer a test or conduct contact tracing.
"If you feel like you need to get tested, you do that on your own," she says. Sandoval suspects the imbalance is economic. In September, Forbes reported NFL team revenue was up 7 percent despite the pandemic. Last week Sutter Health reported a $607 million loss through the first nine months of 2020.
Sandoval tries to avoid thinking about that, so she keeps heading back to work and hoping for the best. Though she says her passion for sports is less intense now, she nonetheless likes to talk sports when a patient wears a team logo. She asks about a star player or a recent game. She says she is looking forward to the 49ers' next contest and the 2021 baseball season.
Sometimes, Sandoval says, patients ask about her job and the ways she avoids contracting the coronavirus. She must be tested most every day, Sandoval says the patients always say.And she just rolls her eyes and chuckles. That, she says, only happens if you're an athlete.
The republicans are trying to force a bill though that removes any liability for illnesses/deaths for business that force people to work while they are ill with covid.
Holy shit what kind of country is this!?!?!? Wild. In Canada we test anyone anytime. Free testing at pharmacies or public health. Strong recommendations for testing for all hospital staff if there’s even a hint of a suspected case. Routine surveillance testing
我靠，这是一个什么样的国家! ? ! ? ! ? ! ？野蛮。在加拿大，我们随时检测任何人。在药店或公共卫生部门免费检测。强烈建议对所有医院工作人员进行检测，如果有任何疑似病例的迹象。例行监督检测。
Fun fact; I had to call around to find a place that would test me for free because I don’t have health insurance :)
Hope your case is mild and you feel better soon!
Jesus fuck those people. I have a test on Sunday but im almost positive I have covid because of my symptoms. Last time someone at my work got Covid a few months ago our boss didn't tell us until he was already out for a week and it was cuz people were asking questions. I texted every single person I work close with and told them I am sick and to get tested. Hopefully I dont get fired, two people already replied saying they will quarantine for two weeks if my test on Sunday comes back positive. Fuck capitalism man.
That's American culture in a nut shell.
The longer I spend in medicine during all this the more I realize a large majority of America's problems can be explained much more simply than I thought.
Americans are absolutely horrible fucking people that honestly do not care how horribly everyone around them dies if it means they get to save a dollar.
yeah they are pure evil
Yeah man, fuck this country. I’ve worked for minimum wage pretty much my entire adult life, and it’s amazing how entitled most of my bosses have been.
If you are symptomatic you'll still be working
We've been doing this since March.
Hospitals in Ohio have so many nurses out, that they are making them come in even if they are testing positive. WEAR YOUR DAMN MASKS!! STAY THE HELL HOME!! Those people are someone son, daughter, mom, dad, aunt, uncle, grandson, granddaughter!!! THEY matter too! So SICK of hearing “that’s what you signed up for!” No, they didn’t sign up for watching people die every three minutes. No they didn’t sign up for fighting people who are sick af but don’t want to admit they have COVID. They didn’t sign up to work this hard only to have it slapped in their faces. We were having this SAME mask argument in 1918. 1918 people!! How have we not grown from that?? I have a student that has lost BOTH of her parents and grandma from COVID! She's 10! Not yelling at anyone in here, just generally frustrated and venting.
As a nurse, it’s assumed that when we care for patients that have an infectious disease, we would be properly protected. This was never really an issue before COVID. I agree, this is ridiculous.
Exactly, but it has been brought to the public that y’all don't have enough PPE and are having to wear the same masks over and over. And I am so sorry that you and all doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff are going through all of this when people just don't want to wear a damn mask. It's so simple, just be a decent human being.
Nurses are already in short supply. I’ve heard of $7000/week offers. Yet they are still dropping out in droves.
This is why the country is dangling student debt relief in front of nurses and only for nurses.
they can't afford to do that anymore. too many nurses are walking off the job.
I think that's the thing ppl don't realize is how difficult these patients are on severity, how quickly they crash, and we are understaffed so it's unsafe.
I think you are on to something. This is disgusting how they treat the medical staff.
I'm starting to think healthcare like prisons should never be run by corporations.
I think a doctor having their own private practice is fine but all insurers and hospitals should be fully transparent non-profits.
I’m not allowed to get tested unless I have symptoms. That’s a great plan for a hospital worker.
By the time you have symptoms you’ve already spread it. You’d think the hospital would understand that.
North Central Ohio here, took 6 and a half hours in line and 125$ out of pocket to get tested last weekend. We cant afford to get tested every week, and lose 2 weeks of work quarantining every time we're exposed to some fuckwit who refuses to wear a mask.
The society still hasn't understood that scientists, doctors, nurses, teachers are more important than Hollywood actors and millionaire athletes.
we just completely take them for granted. It's a very sad moral failing
It's not just US thing. It's the same problem here in Europe. Athletes are paid milions and essential workers minimal wage.
Dude, I have lost my faith in half of humanity. I'm a healthcare worker with professional connections to hospitals all over the country. My parents are nurses, my wife is a nurse prac, my sister is a nurse, I have cousins who are nurses. They work at varying hospitals in different states. Every healthcare worker I know is struggling. Longer hours, staff dropping like flies. My sister works in a rural hospital that is filled with covid, she has stopped having days off due to her coworkers getting covid.
Yet, I see people every day saying our hospitals are empty. I can ignore your refusal to mask. I can ignore your claim that the virus is just the flu. I can ignore your claims about statistics and treatments and whatever. But when you absolutely are ignorant to reality, and have fell so deep in the hole of your fake news conspiracy theories that you think every healthcare worker in America is lying about the state they're in, you aren't wrong, you are mentally ill and need to see a therapist.
If an athlete tests positive they just sit the player and replace and/or postpone games. If a nurse tests positive an already short/understaffed unit is now one less nurse understaffed. There is no postponing a shift or the care of patients. I think my hospital would prefer not to know how many nurses are positive. If we're not symptomic we're not tested. And when we are tested everyone is very hush hush and quiet about who tested positive