Philly social justice activist Erika Almirón discusses being tested for coronavirus

Erika Almirón, a social justice advocate in Philadelphia, worries for her family and for those in detention while awaiting her coronavirus test results.

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Erika Almirón pictured with her mother, Nilda Almirón Niz. Almirón is a social justice activist who is awaiting the results of a coronavirus test and is self-quarantining from family in the meantime. (Liliana Almirón)

Erika Almirón pictured with her mother, Nilda Almirón Niz. Almirón is a social justice activist who is awaiting the results of a coronavirus test and is self-quarantining from family in the meantime. (Liliana Almirón)

From time to time during the COVID-19 outbreak, Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn will check in individuals who live in our listening area to see how they’re coping.

On Thursday, we heard from longtime social justice activist Erika Almirón. She lives in Philadelphia and was recently tested for coronavirus.

She, like all of us, is postponing some of the things that make life fun right now … like a quinceañera party she was going to throw for her dog this month. It’s a Latin American celebration for a girl’s 15th birthday.

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Any excuse for my family to get together, we have it, you know. His name is Churro. Churro’s about to turn 15. My mom was like, “You know, that’s his quinceañera. You know … we should have a little get together.” So we were supposed to get together as a family and I was going to get him a little dog cake in the shape of a 15. But then everything happened. So we haven’t done it. So that’s gonna be like one of the first things that we do when we get back together.

OK, OK. So everyone’s not together at the moment. You’re home and you’re not feeling well. Tell me about that.

I think this is my 12th day in self-isolation. I went to Arizona about two weeks ago and I was starting to feel sick when I was down there. And I was coughing on my way back on the plane. And so I started feeling [not] that good, little bit of shortness of breath and the fever and the cough. My body started to be really achy. I’d spend all of last week calling my doctor to try to get a test because it just sounded so similar to all of the different ways that people have been getting sick.

Yeah. So you suspected coronavirus and you got tested.

It took me almost ten days from the onset of my symptoms. Personally, I was just very frustrated by the fact that even though I had all of these symptoms, my doctor couldn’t issue me a test. Eventually, Penn Center authorized my test, so I got one.

And you’re waiting for results.

I am waiting for results. They told me that it would take five to seven days for results and to stay in the house. So then, and if it came back positive, that they would call me and let me know what next steps were. There’s an online system to check on results. I haven’t heard anything back yet. Still kind of waiting around.

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And that waiting around is… how does that feel?

It’s awful. You know, I’ve been sick now for almost two weeks. Last week, there were five nights that I slept sitting up because I couldn’t fall asleep because of the pain in my chest. But I can’t go to my doctor’s because my doctor said nobody’s allowed in there with respiratory issues. So that the only suggestion now is to go to urgent care, to an emergency room. So truly awful to not know what’s going on with your body.

Some of our listeners are familiar with your voice from your work as executive director of Juntos in Philadelphia. You’re not with that organization at the moment, but you’re still doing a lot of immigration rights consulting.

Yes. Yes.

I wanted to toss something out that was in the news. There’s been discussion of having people leave detention centers so that they’re not just sort of sitting ducks, pardon the expression for … getting coronavirus while undocumented and in a detention center. What are your thoughts about that?

We have a really large detention center here in Pennsylvania. I’ve walked through it. … If there was an outbreak of coronavirus inside of York, their medical department is not prepared to handle it. People are doubled-up in bunk beds, all in one room. Everybody’s in the same room. It is definitive that people would get it. So I think it’s absolutely important that people just started getting released. Absolutely no reason for them to be behind bars. Get them home so that they can be taken care of.

Now, Erica, you also told me before we went on the air, you’re doing consulting, but you’re kind of on a sabbatical. You had run for a city council seat in Philadelphia. You did not get that seat. But this is not the sabbatical you were thinking of, being under the weather like this.

No, no. My hope is to be able to rest, and try to think about what’s next for me and have the time for reflection.

Right. I guess it’s good that you don’t have a lot of pressing things. You can get the rest that you need to get better. We’re going to try to check in with you and see if you end up getting those test results positive or negative. Maybe in the coming days or so. So we hope you’ll be in touch with us. But also the routine is so different for you right now. You know, on this self-quarantine. What do you miss the most?

I miss my family. My father’s the one I’m most worried about. He’s a lung cancer survivor. Thank God he’s been in remission for over ten years. My mother’s bilingual. My father, not so much. My biggest fear is that he gets sick and he’s in a hospital and I can’t translate for him or just be there for him … that breaks my heart.

Yeah, well, take care of yourself.

Thank you.

And we will be in touch.

Thank you. Thank you so much.

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