In the shadow of the frontlines: After testing positive for COVID, Springfield DPW employee turned to prayer; “Don’t let it affect my family”
“In the shadow of the front line” is a series documenting individual professionals who, through their work, demonstrate the courage and resilience that keeps the cogs of society in motion during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Every morning at 4 a.m., 40-year-old Angel LaSanta drives his automated sideloader from one neighborhood in Springfield to another, picking up garbage as a Department of Public Works employee. He then brings it to the Agawam Incinerator just across the river from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
An automated sideloader is a garbage truck with a mechanical arm that picks up the trash and empties its contents into the hopper without the operator having to leave the cab.
However, if the trash can is too full, LaSanta will leave the cabin to clean up any spills. It’s risky even before the pandemic. He told MassLive there was always the possibility of getting stuck with needles, dropping on top of leftover diapers and other unsavory items residents throw away. The use of disinfectant, thick gloves and a mask as a precaution is vital.
Now he is concerned about contracting COVID-19 and spreading to his son with cerebral palsy.
Every shift, LaSanta will protect themselves by disinfecting the cab, driving alone, and generously using alcohol wipes and disinfectant. Occasionally residents will want to ask questions or say good morning but he makes sure to keep his distance.
“Dangers can come from anywhere,” LaSanta said casually. “The people of Springfield can jump on you. In the past, people have even pulled out a gun and threatened some drivers. “
Whether it’s an illness or an angry customer, it has become second nature for LaSanta to stay one step ahead by taking precautions to avoid any issues.
The Department of Public Works issued a statement regarding “hot charges” that were collected and then triggered radiation sensors at the disposal facility. The incident happened twice in a week, on October 29 and November 5. City officials said the cost of decontaminating the vehicle and finding suitable land for radioactive material disposal was costing taxpayers $ 5,000.
The precautions LaSanta is taking are also one of the many reasons its workload has increased since the start of the pandemic. According to National Institute of Health, the sudden containment and fear of the virus lead to the escalation of single-use products and panic buying.
A study, published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, found that the average American household wasted 31.9% of their food. The total annual cost of wasted food has been estimated at $ 240 billion or $ 1,866 per household. The data came from the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey and covered 4,000 households.
Household waste increased year on year before the pandemic, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. With many now working remotely, residential waste and recycling have now doubled locally.
“The roads got bigger because there are a lot of houses, a lot of developments,” added LaSanta.
At 10 a.m. on November 30, a nurse called to inform LaSanta of the positive result that had returned from the lab confirming the worst. He had the virus that killed so many people around the world.
Two days after Thanksgiving, LaSanta had breathing problems and the next day he went for a COVID test at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield.
On the inauguration day of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamila Harris, the number of Americans who died in less than a year from COVID exceeded the number of American soldiers who died throughout World War II.
Between 1941 and 1945, more than 291,500 U.S. servicemen died in action, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Another 113,842 military personnel died in service during the war, for a total of 405,399 military personnel deaths during the four-year period.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Jan. 21, 409,072 people have died from the coronavirus in the United States. More than two million people around the world have succumbed to the virus and its effects and LaSanta is all too aware of the seriousness of the diagnosis, not for himself, but for his family.
Her son, Alexander, is always at the forefront of her mind and when he got the call from the nurse it was more concerning. Alexander is particularly at high risk because of his diagnosis of cerebral palsy. In addition to her worry for her son, his 71-year-old mother was staying at his home to celebrate Thanksgiving.
The CDC defines cerebral palsy as a disability caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain and is a group of disorders that affect an individual’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture.
“To be honest, it was terrifying and confusing,” LaSanta said of her experience with contracting the virus. “I was wondering how I got it.”
After hearing the news, LaSanta moved into a room at the back of his home in Forest Park and stayed there for more than two weeks in quarantine. Food was brought to her door and sometimes her 16 year old son would joke about spraying Lysol in the doorway.
“I prayed to God that if this were to happen, that it would only happen to me,” LaSanta recalls. “Don’t let it affect my family.”
Some who suffer from cerebral palsy are at a higher risk if they contract COVID because of their difficulties accessing information, understanding or practicing preventive measures and communicating symptoms of the disease, according to the CDC.
“Patients with chronic neurological diseases, such as cerebral palsy, may be at a higher risk of serious infection if they contract COVID-19. These patients should therefore take extra precautions to minimize the risk of infection, ”said Cerebral Palsy News Today. “In addition to the general preventive measures listed above, they should avoid crowds and non-essential trips and stay at home as much as possible.”
While LaSanta was confined to the room, the rest of the family went to get tested and luckily tested negative for the virus.
LaSanta’s wife, Edid LaSanta took care of all the chores, as well as hers as well as the care of Alexader. LaSanta spoke of his courage and resilience in the face of the situation they found themselves in. He said she is a constant source of positivity and strength.
“Going into the house and not knowing I had it, it really devastated me because my first thought is for them,” LaSanta confessed.
Within days of talking to MassLive, LaSanta was able to get her first of two shots. Although he now feels he can relax a bit more, even with the vaccine flowing through his veins, the risk of spreading the virus to others remains a concern.
Division of Infectious Disease Specialists at Baystate Medical Center Amanda westlake explained to MassLive that the mRNA version of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 is different from more traditional vaccines that contain either weakened viruses or purified signature proteins from the virus.
She said the mRNA vaccine contains a genetic code that produces a viral protein. Once injected, a person’s muscles will translate the code into a viral protein that mimics the coronavirus and gives the body’s immune system a chance to adapt and prepare for the possibility of contracting COVID-19.
LaSanta was qualified to be vaccinated as a part-time auxiliary officer.
Frontline health workers were the first in the state to be vaccinated, followed by residents and staff of long-term care facilities and first responders.
Massachusetts is on track to enter Phase 2 of the state’s immunization schedule on Monday.
Residents aged 75 and over constitute the first priority group for phase 2, followed by residents aged 65 and over, people with at least two comorbidities that make them at high risk for COVID and / or residents and staff of low-income and affordable senior housing.
Public works employees are among the more than one million residents who qualify for Phase 2 because of their profession and are expected to be eligible to receive the vaccine this spring.
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