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Florida Matters: 'Audio Postcards' From Coronavirus Land

The toll the coronavirus is taking on all of us can be measured in different ways. Jobs that are lost. The money troubles that come with it. The isolation.

WUSF Public Media wanted to go beyond the headlines and hear from you. Or at least those who filled out a survey form we sent out a while back to see how you're doing in these unique times.

So on this edition of Florida Matters, we're going to hear from several of those people - in their own words, via "audio postcards."

We talk with two WUSF reporters who produced the audio postcards. First, WUSF's Sarasota reporter, Cathy Carter:

Cathy, you produced two pieces on people intimately affected by the quarantine. You interviewed a musician who was unable to perform in front of people and another woman suffering from a debilitating illness whose treatment is being affected not only by a lack of medicine, but one that's affected by the political discussion going on out there. So first off, tell us why are we doing this.

Well, I think the important thing for us to do is to tell stories about people. A lot of the news when we were first starting to report on Coronavirus was numbers. This is how many people have died. This is how many people have tested positive. We wanted to bring the humanity back to some of these stories. These are real people that are affected not only by the Coronavirus, but the aftershocks, right the loss of employment, the staying at home.

CORONAVIRUS POSTCARDS: We Asked You To Share Your Stories, And You Did

Any surprises that you found out there talking to these people that you didn't really expect to hear?

You know, what I was surprised by, at first we were focusing on job loss. And it really morphed into something else, how our lives have dramatically changed in so many different ways. And I think with the folks that I talked to that have lost their jobs, or that were forced to stay at home was the optimism. "We'll get through this." "People are worse off than I am." So I really found a lot of that much more often.

One of the folks that I spoke with was a musician, of course, where the restaurants and bars closed, and venues closed. Her job immediately ceased.

Tell me how her situation has changed, if any.

Just a little bit. She has started to do some live gigs she's had to already. She has another one May 30 at the Central Cafe in Bradenton performing outdoors, but a lot of our venues are still closed.

I spoke with her recently. She said she wouldn't jump right back into a full-time performing schedule because she has a young child at home. She wants to balance getting back to work with just making sure her family is safe and not exposed too much to anything. She's still doing Facebook Live performances every Monday and Thursday and she's still doing her remote music classes for kids, which is something she didn't do before the Coronavirus. So she was able to add that new skill set to her career.

So let's move on to your other story about another woman from Pinellas County who has been intimately affected by all this. Part of it revolves around hydroxychloroquine, which has been in the news a lot lately because of what President Trump has been saying about it.

A couple of months ago, President Trump first brought up the drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential remedy for the corona virus. And this is a drug that has been used to treat malaria and is also used by patients who have lupus. A woman from Pinellas County reached out to us; she does have lupus. Her name is Debbie Butler.

And she said she really needs this drug to help her with some of her symptoms. And she was having a hard time finding the drug. Since it was in the news so much because people were starting to stockpile it; even states were starting to stockpile the drug. She shared her story of having lupus, why the drug is important to her, and how she was having a hard time filling her prescription.

Cathy, what's happened to Debbie since then?

Well, the good news is about a week after her story aired, she was able to get her prescription filled through her pharmacist. Before that, she was cutting her dose in half because she wasn't quite sure how long it would be for her to get her prescription filled. So she wanted to make sure she at least had some in her system to help her.

She did work part-time as a brand ambassador, basically handing out products and food to people at different locations. She said she doesn't think that job is going to come back anytime soon. So she heard from her friend that the U.S. Census was hiring. So she filled out an application and she actually did get hired, she will be going door to door being a census taker, and she does believe that there is actually room for advancement.

And otherwise, Debbie says she's doing very well. She's got this new job opportunity. She has the drug that she needs to keep her well and she has started to go back with her small circle of friends that hang out outside, on the beach, all social-distancing, and she's able to have that social interaction, too.

Next, we'll hear from WUSF Morning Edition host and reporter Jessica Meszaros about two of her audio postcards.

This must have touched you in several ways. I'd imagine.

It really did in different aspects. Speaking to one young woman who's a teenager who couldn't talk to her father who was on a ventilator, and you know, at the same time she's going to school online, which is all new. She has the Coronavirus. Her mother has the Coronavirus and has asthma in the home. And so to hear her story of strength and how she's taken it upon herself, to just take care of everybody. That's an amazing story. I felt very honored to speak with her and to give her a voice on our air.

This really puts a human face on it, don't you think?

It's important to give our listeners updates, but also with public radio, we're in a unique position where we can highlight these voices and, and shine the light on members of our community as public radio. I feel like it's our duty and it's such a cool thing that we can actually do that and, and we didn't even know what this would look like.

We've done this kind of emergency coverage with hurricanes before, but to do this with Coronavirus was a completely new experience because it's an ongoing, ever evolving thing. A hurricane last three days, and then there's aftereffect, but this is like we're still in it and we don't know what's going to happen. And so I think it's important for our community to feel like public radio is the place where number one, they can get those numbers and those updates and those statistics, but they can also hear those human voices that you were talking about putting that face to our community.

Jessica, let's start with your first audio postcard. This is a 16 year-old girl who was in some serious pain.

We’re going to hear fromNicole Amador.She's a 16 year old whose father, Carlos Amador of Sunny Isles Beach, was in Aventura Hospital. He was on a ventilator when I spoke with her. He's a very healthy man and he was trying to do everything for the family and be the one who would go out in public because his wife has asthma so she was high risk. And so he was going out a lot to do the grocery shopping and the errands and he got Coronavirus, and he was rushed to the hospital.

Jessica, how has her life changed since this aired in April?

Well, there's actually some really good news. This story ends on a lighter note. Nicole and her mother, Marta Hernandez both no longer have Coronavirus. And her father has come home. So he spent about 40 days in the hospital and he was on a ventilator for a lot of it and now they are a happy family and back at home.

And this is just you know, one of those things where I speak with a source. I can't forget about it. I texted her every once in a while. How are you doing? How's your dad doing? With always that little bit of fear, you know, because I'm a reporter, but I'm also a person. And when I got that text that said, "we're all good. My dad's home." I was like, Wow, there is some good news out there.

As journalists, we're taught we're trained to be detached, to be that so-called fly on the wall listening in and not to let our emotion show but this stuff really sets your empathy really high. And it's kind of difficult sometimes to maintain your distance from your source here?

The truth of the matter is, why should they talk with us about these personal matters? And I think that if we don't, as journalists, think about people and their emotions and get real with them on a real level. It's an honor to tell their stories and so I want to make sure that I am being careful emotionally, I am being present. I am being kind and respectful.

And this hits close to home for me as well. An uncle of mine passed away from complications of Coronavirus. And what I got to see from my side of the family was my cousin's. So his son's not being able to go into the hospital and not being able to speak with him and then him passing away in ICU on a ventilator. And then the aftereffect of not being able to have that funeral. And so, I think that having seen that separation that the Coronavirus creates in terms of people being home and isolated not being able to go anywhere, and then people being in the hospital and the only form of communication that you get is from the medical workers who are working to the bone, you know, so they're tired.

"So I just think that I had a personal understanding of what people who are suffering from the virus or if they know someone who's suffering from the virus. I think that sometimes there's just room to be a person."

-WUSF Morning Edition host and reporter Jessica Meszaros
So I just think that I had a personal understanding of what people who are suffering from the virus or if they know someone who's suffering from the virus. I think that sometimes there's just room to be a person.

Next up, we're going to hear from restauranteur in Manatee County, Ed Chiles. Now if that name sounds familiar, well, he's the son of former governor Lawton Chiles.

So I actually got a phone call from Ed Chiles because I was calling around asking for people who were close to Gwendolyn Brown. She was the first African-American commissioner for Manatee County. And she actually died at 68 years-old from complications of Coronavirus. And so I was speaking with Ed, who remembered her and then through that conversation, you know, as part of what's going on with all of my reporting, the question is, so how is Coronavirus affecting you. He ended up telling me that two of his three restaurants were still open for takeout at the time in April. And he was explaining to me what he was doing in terms of philanthropy during this time, how to not waste any of the extra food that was leftover, and how to keep people safe.

Because this aired about a month ago, and obviously the restaurants have opened up little. Have you had a chance to talk to Ed Chiles since then and see how he's doing?

Yes, actually, he says all three restaurants are open for outdoor seating. And he basically told me that since opening two Mondays ago, he's impressed with the level of business that he's had.


Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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