As the beginning of last year started, none of us were prepared for the chaos that 2020 would bring. As the world shut down and citizens were asked to shelter in place, there were those who knew it was their time to step up. Healthcare workers became front line fighters. It takes a strong person to want to step up when everyone is being asked to take a step back, but Brittani Lewis knew she couldn’t just sit by when there was work to be done. Lewis is a NOLA Program Associate for CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort), a nonprofit founded by Sean Penn and Ann Lee. CORE has been working closely with Mayor Cantrell’s office, head of the New Orleans Health Department Dr. Jennifer Avegno and others to help fight the pandemic. Lewis has lost several family members to the COVID-19 virus and felt she needed to give back to her community, particularly those members with disabilities or language barriers.
Q: What has this year meant and been to you?
A: In terms of the fight against the coronavirus, last year was a year of resilience, perseverance and reflection. Resilience and perseverance were shown from the healthcare/frontline workers who experienced many sleepless nights to not only figure out how the virus affects the body, but also how to slow down the spread of the virus. Resilience and perseverance were also demonstrated within communities nationwide to do what we can to assist the health care workers in the fight against coronavirus. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting and being grateful for what I have, as this year has proven that we can lose anything or anyone in a matter of seconds.
Q: Why did you want to work at the front lines of fighting this pandemic?
A: Sitting around was not an option for me. I come from a family that provides a helping hand to anyone who needs it, whether big or small, and that’s what drove me to work with CORE. I also chose to work on the frontlines because I saw the impact the virus had within schools. Before I worked with CORE, I worked with CityYear and worked at ARISE Academy. When the school shut down, an email was sent about one of the faculty members who passed away due to the virus. This broke my heart, and this is when I realized how severe this virus is.
Q: What can you tell us about the work you’re personally doing to help battle the coronavirus?
A: I work as a CORE registration coordinator, which entails helping patients make testing appointments, working closely with our site managers and sending newsletters to our recurring patients. I help administer tests to patients, and as one of the bilingual team members, I communicate with Spanish speakers to explain how to take the test. I also work closely with teachers who receive recurring tests each week, and after months of seeing these people each week, we’ve built a close relationship. In my everyday life, I make choices based on the advice from health care providers. At work, I make sure to wear the PPE provided, respirator, surgical masks, and gloves. Outside of work, I make sure to social distance, wash my hands, wear my masks everywhere I go in public settings and get tested every two weeks. Keeping these guidelines in mind, I educate myself and loved ones about COVID-19, attempt to debunk the myths I hear and stay relevant on what is occurring with the virus.
Q: How has the pandemic impacted you personally?
A: The virus has impacted my family, my friends and their families, all of whom I care deeply about. Between family members losing jobs, catching COVID from working, caring for sick family members, or having family members transition from the body to the spirit realm, the virus has been very taxing mentally on myself and those around me.
Q: What can you tell us about the work CORE is doing this year with the pandemic?
A: Since March, CORE has been providing free testing to communities in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago and [the] Navajo Nation. As of January, CORE has administered more than 4 million tests across the nation. We have been especially focused on serving at-risk communities, including low-income groups, communities of color, the elderly and essential workers. In addition to testing, CORE has been providing contact tracing programs and support services to help people quarantine and isolate. In New Orleans specifically, the CORE team has been hyper-focused on mobile testing to bring resources directly to at-risk communities. CORE works hard every day to ensure there is accessible and equitable testing and resources for all.
Q: Why do you do what you do?
A: I fight the pandemic because it has caused so much destruction in many lives. This pandemic has touched people from all walks of life – no matter their color, age, income or social status. What gives me hope: with destruction and devastation, there is an opportunity for something new to come, something that can be rebuilt. and protect their families.
What festival are you most looking forward to returning? Essence Festival