Eli Coughlin-Galbraith, OITO Board Member as well as co-founder and -owner along with Krista Coughlin-Galbraith of Shapeshifters (custom binder company-cum-mask makers), shares their experience receiving a non-symptomatic COVID-19 test today in our hometown, Brattleboro, Vermont.
For information on how to register and receive a COVID-19 test in the State of Vermont, go here: https://humanresources.vermont.gov/popups
"I signed up for the free VT covid testing event being done in the parking lot of our local high school, literally two minutes from my house. You do have to sign up! I got a 15-minute time slot and instructions to come wearing a mask. There were two long, open tents set up in the parking lot, and big clear signs telling us where to go. It was walk-in, I did have to park and get out of my car. There was a line of a few people, each standing about 15' apart, to get into the first tent.
Everyone directing people, processing people, and testing people had full PPE on: coverall bodysuit, gloves, mask, face shield. There was one guy in army fatigues who just had a face mask, standing by the entrance to the first tent. When I approached, he stepped back from the entrance. Everybody mostly maintained a solid 10-15' of distance, except during the actual test.
The two people in front of me did not have an appointment. The first person directing people was literally there to ask "do you have an appointment?", and when they said no, they were turned away, and started arguing. They got redirected to go argue with another person, whose function appeared to be getting people resources to register for other free tests around the state. I heard this person say that the next one was in Springfield, and though they did not yet have another testing day scheduled for Brattleboro, they fully planned to be doing this for the forseeable future and would come back around.
Of course, watching other adults argue and shout at each other ramped up the anxiety I was already feeling, so I automatically went extra-polite. The receiver was visibly relieved to hear I'd registered online, and apologized that they'd had technical glitches so she had to look at my phone to confirm that I had a confirmation email.
I found the email, zoomed in, and held the phone out. She looked from maybe 4' away and decided that was good enough! Waved me on in.
Tent 1 was registration: you head in, stand an appropriate distance away from a registration table, say your name and contact info, and get a sealed packet of Test Stuff with your name on it. They asked if I was an essential worker. I spread my hands and said "I make cloth masks?" Literally everyone at every table turned to look at me, and they were all masked but I'm, pretty sure they were smiling. I got some thumbs up.
(A personal sidebar: I sanitize my hands religiously. I sanitize my studio. I tell people to wash our masks before wearing them. But I'm not that good at repeating myself, we haven't yet printed instruction cards, and I am acutely aware that I'm touching things that people then put directly onto their faces. So. It seemed important.)
Also during registration, they asked "gender identity?" and I said, "nope! Do not have one of those" and they said "Cool!" and checked the third or fourth box on there. No further inquiries were made.
Tent 2 was testing. I was pointed at a chair to sit in, and two people approached when I sat. The person doing the test introduced herself and her assisting person, said hi, took my sealed packet of Testing Stuff, and unwrapped the sterile swab where I could see.
This thing is maybe the thickness of a mechanical pencil lead? 0.5mm. At the end is a tiny round brush maybe the thickness of a q-tip shaft, 1/2" long. But the whole swab is a decent 8" long.
I was looking at it, of course, the whole time she was telling me "okay, we need you to pull your mask down JUST over your nose, tilt your head back, close your eyes, and focus on breathing. It's going to be unpleasant!" Friends, I believed her.
She confirmed I could breathe through my nose or my mouth during this, I just had to pay attention to breathing. They handed me a tissue, said I'd need it after.
I'm a bit shaky pulling my mask down, straightening it out.
At first it just slides in, fine. But then it KEEPS GOING. i think it's like 6" straight in when it gently brushes up against a spot in my general sinus / throat situation that has never been touched by external influence before. The sensation is sort of like if you shove a Q-tip way too far into your ear, except, it's happening in that space where mucus collects, if you're really phlegmy and you're hacking up mucus to cough out.
When we were kids we called it "hocking a loogie." It's where the *hock* happens.
Anyway, that stayed there for a solid ten seconds. They had to hold it there and turn it. It was gentle. There was no pain. It did not set off any sort of reflex, I didn't twitch or react, I concentrated on breathing through my nose. Which, weirdly, did not feel obstructed at all.
Then it was coming back out and it was over. They both said I did good.
I pulled my mask back up and readjusted the wire and sat there a minute; nobody rushed me out. They were sealing up the swab in its little tube. Eventually I stood up and thanked them, they thanked me, I headed to the last person. Who handed me an info sheet and told me I'd get a call within 48 hours if I tested positive, and a letter in the mail with results if negative.
Then I went back to my car and sat there a minute and re-sanitized my hands and tried to decide how I felt about having a medical implement put straight into my Dang Face
and how this is what "widespread and frequent testing" means
and how this is probably going to happen again.
I took a bunch of breaths and decided I could do it again.
Don't get me wrong: that was unpleasant! I did not enjoy it. But it was unpleasant the way a blood draw is unpleasant, and it took less time. I got more anxiety from the people ahead of me arguing, and the army dude in insufficient PPE, than I did from the actual test.
Also the entire right side of my sinuses is cleared now in a way it hasn't been for this entire pollen-drenched hell-spring. So there's that.
I went home and changed and took a shower, not because I honestly think I was exposed to anything, but because these things made me feel better about Literally Everything. The end."
Make an appointment, get tested, be like Eli, help protect community health!
This month, as a slight departure from our typical newsletter, Ain is writing to share a personal update as a staff member dealing with illness and connection to community during this time. We are so happy to have them back! -HB
Dear Out in the Open Community,
What does labor justice look like at a small nonprofit like Out in the Open? How do we live our values and stay in community during a global crisis? These past two months have given me answers to these questions in ways I never anticipated.
On Friday March 13th, Out in the Open staff members met to discuss our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. HB (our Executive Director) and the board executive committee approved a plan that we would work remotely going forward, widen our policy to offer unlimited sick time during the pandemic, provide additional time off (outside of existing time off), and give staff members a small, one-time bonus to deal with unexpected expenses in this time of crisis.
The following week was a blur- canceling events, shifting everything online, dealing with school closures, calling family and friends all over the country, worrying. Buying groceries, learning how to clean, monitoring the news, trying to relax, adapting to each new change in our lives. Despite the fear, I took my own health for granted. I’m a transmasculine person, and I often joke that my gender identity is carrying heavy things. I wasn’t going to get sick. My plan was to be a rock for my loved ones and community.
Soon after that, I started coughing. The illness quickly progressed until I was the sickest I’ve ever been. An unshakable weight filled my chest. I was too weak to climb the stairs without stopping multiple times to catch my breath. Feeling this vulnerability in my body was scary and humbling. I felt shame about my inability to be productive. Given the political climate, I felt afraid of anyone finding out. Through it all though, I knew that I had the support of our community. That kept me going.
After a month away, I’m back to remote work now. I know that I have been lucky. I could take the time to heal without losing my income or my job- and was even encouraged to do that. I have never had access to this kind of supportive work environment before, and the majority of folks I know still don’t. Our community members with chronic illness and folks with less access to resources and medical care have long known what I experienced in this temporary way. We need to work together to ensure that healthcare is not tied to employment, that being out sick doesn’t mean we can’t pay our rent, that shame and stigma don’t harm folks further when our bodies (and minds) aren’t viewed as “able.”
I’ve noticed lately that every business with my email address seems to be sending messages like “we’re all in this together.” The truth is, we’re not. Access to power, resources, and justice have long been imbalanced and continue to be, especially in times of crisis. Black folks, Indigenous folks, and people of color know this. Trans, queer, lesbian, gay, and bisexual folks know this. Rural folks know this. Hollow statements from companies using the concept of togetherness while attempting to profit off of us does little to heal communities or individuals right now.
One reason I love Out in the Open is that we genuinely are in this together. We live at the intersections of so many identities, and we show up for each other-- for rural and small-town LGBTQ folks-- no matter what. We work to build community and support structures through all times. Experiencing the level of support I needed while in isolation made me profoundly understand the power of our community and the boundlessness of your generosity.
Thank you to the monthly sustainers, those who took the #ShareMyCheck pledge, and other folks contributing resources to keep Out in the Open thriving through this time.
Thank you for participating in and sharing mutual aid networks.
Thank you for gifting flour, making masks, posting photos of your pets and gardens, sharing #whatchawatching recommendations and LGBTQ news updates on our Slack channel.
Thank you to folks providing medical care, transportation, government services and everything considered essential.
Thank you to everyone who has been farming, teaching, working in grocery and hardware stores, facing the panic and continuing to show up where folks need you.
Thank you to those working from home, having too many video-calls, navigating rural internet service, juggling pets and/or kids, wearing business attire from the waist up.
And, just as importantly, thank you to those rural queer folks who have just been staying inside and feeling your feelings. Not responding to messages. Eating, distracting yourselves, breathing, coughing. We don’t have to be productive to be valid.
It means a lot to know that we’re all here, surviving together.
I’m so grateful for all of you.
As HB said in last month’s newsletter: The only way through this is through this together. Let’s keep going.
Onward with solidarity and tender gratitude,
Ain & Out in the Open
Director of Development and Outreach
To sign onto this letter yourself- click here.
To: Governor Scott,
Cc: Vermont State Legislature, local Selectboards
As Vermonters, we are now in a global crisis along with the rest of the planet. We thank the State and local governments that have already taken some swift action to create protections during this time. As voices from the LGBTQ, Black, POC, disabled, working class, and immigrant communities, we know COVID-19 impacts our communities disproportionately.
As a community we are being asked to self-distance and quarantine in order to save lives and bring about the end of this crisis more quickly. We know every person within our community is impacted by COVID-19, from work stoppages to sickness, to increased fear, anxiety, and isolation, and that most Vermonters want to do their part for the greater good. We also know that in order to fully engage in adequate self-distancing efforts people need safe housing, economic resources, access to health care, and critical protective equipment. We hope you will act to help keep everyone in our communities safe and able to weather this storm.
There is an ongoing obligation to continue implementing steps that will keep all people in Vermont safe during this COVID-19 crisis. We believe these actions will support the health and wellbeing of all members of our community and urge you to put them in place:
Out in the Open
The Root Social Justice Center
Lost River Racial Justice
Vermont Workers Center
Pride Center of Vermont
Dearest Out in the Open Community,
For so many of us, the world is a totally different place than it was when I last wrote you all almost four weeks ago. For so many of us, this present reality is not so different from the one we were living in February. With the veil having been pulled back to reveal even more clearly the lack of justice, equity, and access to power and resources so many of us have been screaming about for far too long. It has been a painful few weeks. And as my therapist so wonderfully reflects when I come to her saying "I am not sure I can handle this (whatever the "this" is at that present moment). She says, "You are handling it. This is part of you handling it." We are collectively handling this time even when the supports we were told existed have fallen flat and we're collectively and individually left searching for a solution.
When I last wrote you all, I was feeling a lot of grief. I am still having many periods of grieving right now but the prevailing things I'm experiencing presently are a strong desire to stand together, support each other, and love each other through this struggle and beyond the next one. It's what we as LGBTQ folks have always done and what we as rural people have always done.
It's why Out in the Open continues building community and support structures outside of the State even through the best times. So that we're already here for each other in the worst. Because in times like these, we need each other. And while we've witnessed and participated in an incredible ability for webs of support and mutual aid to spring up so quickly right now, having existing trust and relationships with folks helps immensely and allow us to come together more quickly in times like this, when we need to. The only way through this is through this together.
And I promised you all an update on or around April 6! So, with all of this in mind, we will be continuing to balance both holding community close and keeping shared public health at the forefront. Some updates:
With solidarity and love,
HB & Out in the Open