It started with Gobert, then it hit others hard

It started with Gobert, then it hit others hard

Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake and asked if any Native American children would be interested in attending. ‘ data-reactid=”33″>After the game, the girls tour the arena. They venture down to courtside, taking in the magnetic aura of an empty arena. Gobert emerges from the tunnel in a white hoodie and black sweats, high-fiving the girls, commiserating and snapping selfies, before posing behind a human-sized check. Gobert’s foundation, Rudy’s Kids, reached out to Girls on the Run, who reached out to the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake and asked if any Native American children would be interested in attending. 

The daughters of Samantha Eldridge, a Native American mother of two, were among the group that attended. “For many of these girls, they’re not ever going to have the opportunity to even go to a Jazz game. That was huge,” Eldridge, 40, said. “It was even more exciting that they were able to go to the bottom, to be on the court and meet a player. I know that they felt special.” 

The next afternoon, Eldridge tweeted a picture of the girls and Gobert, captioned, “Huge thank you to @rudygobert27 @RudysFoundation for inviting the UICSL (Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake), Girls on the Run to the game last night! We appreciate Rudy taking time to meet the girls & for his generous donation to inspire the girls to continue to pursue their limitless potential. #NativeYouth #GoJazz.”

Two days later, the notifications started piling up.

, Eldridge waited on the phone with the University of Utah Healthcare hotline. Her 10-year-old met Gobert and feels fine. But her 12-year-old daughter is tired, her head hurts, her throat is sore. ‘ data-reactid=”58″>While workers in hazmat suits disinfected seats at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, Eldridge waited on the phone with the University of Utah Healthcare hotline. Her 10-year-old met Gobert and feels fine. But her 12-year-old daughter is tired, her head hurts, her throat is sore. 

Eldridge finds a comment under a picture of the girls with Gobert that says, “They’re already dead.” Another poster suggests the girls could be “spreading the coronavirus.” Her girls wonder if that’s true. 

Eldridge deletes her post and advises the other girls who attended the game to delete theirs. “Knowing that some of the girls are reading this stuff online,” she said, “is just really terrifying for them.”

The next day, her daughters’ school district in Murray, just south of Salt Lake City, closes. They wonder if it’s because of them. 

Worse, could they infect their 68-year-old grandmother?  “Like many Native communities, we live in extended households,” Eldridge said. “A lot of us take care of our elders in our community. There’s no place we can send them. We’re their primary caretakers, so to know whether someone is healthy or not is huge.”

Eldridge won’t get the answers she needs. Despite meeting both CDC guidelines — being exposed to a known carrier and exhibiting symptoms — her daughter is denied a coronavirus test.  

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twice as deadly for low-income communities. The well-off are better equipped to work from home, to socially isolate and slow its spread. In marginalized communities, those changes are logistically complicated and economically crushing, with complicated solutions and fewer resources. ‘ data-reactid=”70″>The coronavirus itself does not discriminate between rich and poor, but its ripple effects do. The New York Times estimates the coronavirus could be twice as deadly for low-income communities. The well-off are better equipped to work from home, to socially isolate and slow its spread. In marginalized communities, those changes are logistically complicated and economically crushing, with complicated solutions and fewer resources. 

that measured 5.7 on the Richter scale — the state’s largest in 28 years — these communities are turning to each other for support. “This is what we’ve always done,” said Chelsie Acosta, a local activist and health teacher at Glendale Middle School. “We take care of each other. In the biggest times of crisis, that’s when our community rises up and takes care of one another and the most marginalized within our group.”” data-reactid=”71″>In Salt Lake County, throughout the coronavirus crisis, amid school closures and job losses, and after a March 18 earthquake that measured 5.7 on the Richter scale — the state’s largest in 28 years — these communities are turning to each other for support. “This is what we’ve always done,” said Chelsie Acosta, a local activist and health teacher at Glendale Middle School. “We take care of each other. In the biggest times of crisis, that’s when our community rises up and takes care of one another and the most marginalized within our group.”

“We know,” she continued, “we cannot rely on the healthcare system. We know that unless you are white, rich, privileged, how this kind of rolls out.” 

Chelsie Acosta delivers goods to Salt Lake City resident Elizabeth Montoya. (Courtesy of Chelsie Acosta)

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Four miles down the road from Vivint Smart Home Arena, on March 12, students at Glendale Middle School found out their classmates were part of the group that met Gobert on behalf of the UICSL and Girls on the Run.

The combined seventh- and eighth-grade class had spent the last week learning about the coronavirus, and watching Sanjay Gupta on CNN, Department of Health briefings and videos of hospitals built overnight in China. “That’s what I was trying to show my kids: the helpers, the resiliency,” said Acosta, who also taught English as a second language and led a Latinos in Action program that was discontinued last year.

So they aren’t surprised by the news. But knowledge doesn’t downplay the moment when terms like “being exposed” — once the subject of far-away news stories — get printed onto sheets and handed out on desks.

Glendale is a Title 1 school, receiving supplementary federal funding to meet the educational requirements of a high concentration of low-income students. The neighborhood is majority Latino, and over a quarter of residents live below the poverty line. 

Acosta has a close bond with her students. “I think as a health teacher, that lends to a very vulnerable, loving kind of safe space,” she says. In one class, Acosta draws a three-sectioned chart on the whiteboard and breaks the class into groups.

First, they make a list of questions. Second, they write their fears: “Our communities have more kids living with elders, that was a huge concern,” Acosta said. The elderly are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus. As of 2016, one in five households — 84 percent being non-white — in America are multigenerational. 

“I was like, Sam, whatever it is, always feel free to call me,” Dominguez said. “She didn’t want to make it a burden for me.”

Together, Eldridge and Dominguez exhaust different avenues — the University of Utah Health clinic, the Salt Lake County Health Department — while Dominguez relays Eldridge’s situation to a few colleagues. A friend involved in coronavirus policy-making gives her a tip: try doctors’ offices — they have more test kits.

“It just depends on …”  Eldridge trailed off. “But that’s the thing. I still don’t know what it depends on.” 

Regardless, she is relieved. The results come back negative. She worries about the girls who weren’t tested, including her other daughter. 

“They’re the ones who have to go back into the community and face peers, face any of the bullying that was happening on social media, even just people questioning whether they did have it or not,” Eldridge said. “And I feel like it would provide them with at least something that can say, ‘I was tested. We were negative.’”

Murray councilwoman Rosalba Dominguez at her home. (Courtesy of Rosalba Dominguez)

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In the meantime, Dominguez waits.

Quarantined at home on March 18 after the earthquake, she spends the day talking to her 12-year-old stepdaughter. 

Dominguez says their generation seems fatalistic. The kids at school are convinced the world is going to end somehow. She wonders if it’s because they’re hyper-aware of climate change. Either way, an earthquake on top of a pandemic strengthens the kids’ case. 

“When we stepped into these roles, we didn’t step into it thinking, ‘I’m gonna be able to help people in a pandemic,’” said Dominguez, who was elected to Murray City Council last fall. “But we are here and we are trying to facilitate people’s real feelings.”

The conversations she has with her family are the same ones she has with her constituents, eschewing her fears to make room for others’.

Dominguez tries not to think about death, approaching it with a Zen-like acceptance — your time to go is your time to go — trying to summon the ancestral strength of her mother and grandmother, both healers. In reality, she thinks about it a lot. Everyone does.

Dominguez suffers from asthma. She’s had pneumonia multiple times. She’s not feeling well. Chest pains. She tells her partner that if it comes down to it, she doesn’t want to be hooked to a ventilator. “I don’t want a tube shoved down my throat to survive this thing, because I already know my lungs won’t survive.” 

On the morning of the earthquake, people are checking in on each other online. One commenter says she is fine, but it feels like a bad movie. Another advises people to prepare for power outages by filling containers and bathtubs with water and charging their devices. “Random people have invited other people and it’s really cool watching the connections and people talking,” Acosta said. Mutual aid groups like Comunidad have organically mobilized all over the country.

Later that day, they are dispersing free medical supply kits to five of the six hubs they created around the valley for when fever inevitably strikes. Acosta runs supplies to a physically disabled group stuck in a fourth-floor apartment complex.

On March 23, Acosta decides to rest and isolate to keep her 70-year-old dad safe. On Comunidad’s Facebook group, she posts, “I would like to avoid the stores and spaces where I could be exposed or exposing. I’m still here, we are still doing this. Just shifting gears and tightening the needs and runs.” 

The next morning, she texts a friend who is organizing meals for a refugee community. She has rice and beans for them. But her friend has to work until the evening. By the afternoon, Acosta is in her car again.

She hopes we will all emerge from the wreckage with bigger hearts. “I feel like a large sum of us will become much better human beings and remember what it is to be a human helping out another human.”

Acosta’s students made her a Snapchat account. Sometimes they bombard her with stories. She records messages back, telling them everything is going to be fine. Then she puts her phone down. “I’m like, ‘Oh god, I hope we’re gonna be fine.’”



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