I’m going back to 505 (Parnassus Ave, emergency department), if it’s a seven hour flight or a 45-minute drive

I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in May 2020, during a global pandemic. After saying goodbyes to my roommates and friends and throwing my grad cap off during the virtual graduation ceremony, I left the vibrant city of Philadelphia. I made my way back to my small hometown in Danville, California, to start a virtual Master of Science in Global Health program, excited to meet my amazing classmates and learn about the social, economic and environmental determinants of health.

Being at home during the lockdown in California and taking classes online, I felt cooped up. I itched to find a way to respond to the pandemic. One of the course assistants in the program, Alyssa Bercasio, helped me find my way to become a contact tracer for San Mateo County. I was ecstatic to be on the ground speaking to patients, encouraging them to isolate, while directing them to resources they might need.

Working as a contact tracer strengthened my desire to study COVID-19 as part of my capstone research. It was clear that some minority groups were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and it was important to me to study these populations and why they were getting the disease. It was kismet when I met Dr. Jeanne Noble, the director of the COVID-19 response in the UCSF Emergency Department (ED).

We knew that hospitals were overcrowded, and social distancing forced more and more patients in the ED to be placed in hallways and outdoor tents. We decided to look at patient satisfaction and perception of safety during the pandemic. We aimed to understand if patients delay their care due to risk of exposure of COVID-19 in the ED and whether hallway care led to lower levels of satisfaction. The population that we surveyed were from diverse backgrounds.

I initially thought that surveying patients in pain would be an arduous and awkward task, but I have found this to be my favorite part of the project. I have rich conversations with patients about their experiences during the pandemic. Stories flow during the late nights in the ED; patients have told me about being homeless or lonely, while others are joyful for their illness being diagnosed and treated so that they can leave the hospital. I have realized that I am not only a survey collector, but also a sounding board for these patients, someone who can offer a kind ear to listen to their experience.

The research has shown me that people are far less worried about the pandemic than one might think and that they appreciate the care the doctors provide. I am far from done with this research, but my findings already show the fortitude of the city and the strength of the health care professionals in their response to COVID-19 in the Bay Area.