Obviously, our current COVID-19 crisis brings up a lot of anxiety, even PTSD, for folks living with HIV/AIDS, especially longtime survivors. All the talk of who’s spreading it and how, the daily nationwide sickness and death toll, the dread that oneself or loved ones will suddenly take a turn for the worse, and the frequent examples of government incompetence and apathy amid a crisis—let’s face it, it’s all a little too reminiscent of a certain epidemic many of us remember too well from the 1980s and 1990s.
But the flip side of all that devastation and grief is resilience and grace, and that’s what so many folks living with HIV/AIDS—nationwide and globally—are exhibiting as we hunker down through this pandemic of indefinite length and scope. TheBody spent the past few days talking to 10 people living with HIV nationwide to find out how they’re affected and why they’re scared—but also how they’re coping, adapting, and staying connected in these challenging (and isolating) times. Send your own COVID-19 stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to stay on top of how the community is faring.
Today we check in with Columbus, Ohio, HIV prevention worker Devin Quinn, who’s angry about the (lack of) federal response to the corona crisis but proud of how his own state is managing the pandemic. Walks with his dog, big pots of multi-serving meals, and sharing funny TikTok videos with friends are helping him cope—even as he nervously dodges all those maskless shoppers in the supermarket!
Devin Quinn, 30, senior prevention program manager, Equitas Health
Diagnosed with HIV in 2012
Tim Murphy: How have you been affected by the COVID crisis?
Devin Quinn: I feel really fortunate and privileged, as my job has not been affected. It still requires me to be in the office at least three days a week, because I administer projects—including free condoms and a mail-in HIV home testing program—that I can’t do from home. But I haven’t lost any income. I know a lot of people who’ve been devastated by the COVID economic crisis. Healthwise, I’m adhering to social distancing. I was pretty good at socially isolating before this happened.
TM: How are you getting social interaction/staying connected?
DQ: I’m connecting with friends online via group chats. We’re staying really connected, which is nice. I’m using the Marco Polo app, where you and friends can send short videos back and forth—like texting but with the visual. My sister turned me onto it years ago. It’s great when you have friends in different time zones.
TM: Are you seeing anyone in person?
DQ: My roommate, and occasionally when I have to go to the office or the store. But I’m adhering to social distancing. I can’t stand it when people compare COVID to having the flu. I wound up in the hospital for week and a half with the flu once, and if COVID is supposed to be worse, I don’t want to come anywhere near it.
TM: How are you getting exercise?
DQ: I walk my dog, Henry, a boxer lab. I’m not doing any kind of exercise routine. I do projects around my house, which keeps me active.
TM: What kinds of foods are you eating?
DQ: I like to cook and have always cooked. TikTok has some really great recipe videos, and I’m trying stuff all the time. I recently made chicken tikka masala. I’m also making lots of one-pot meals, like stews or pasta or rice dishes with protein that last a couple days.
TM: What books, TV shows, music, etc. have been getting you through?
DQ: I’m a really big consumer of TikTok videos. I’ve been on the TikTok bandwagon for a long time now. I love it because it curates things you’d be interested in based on your viewing habits. People get very creative on there. I don’t think I laugh more than when I’m watching different TikTok videos. My friends and I share them, because they’re only a minute in length. It’s super addictive. TV-wise, I’ll watch anything funny, like Superstore, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Good Girls.
TM: How scared are you, on a scale of one to 10? What specifically are you scared about?
DQ: I don’t know if “scared” is the word I’d use. I’d say anxious, about a 5 or 6. Especially about the lack of federal governmental response. I feel really lucky because Ohio has been doing a pretty bang-up job, but unfortunately people are getting restless and politicizing public health, which is never a good idea. The federal response has been really terrible. It concerns me that people want to go back to normal right away. They’re not taking it as seriously as I’d like. Even my own father is hesitant to social distance or wear masks. He thinks it’s overdramatized. And he has health problems. I think people are just too quick to want to jump back into normal life because they don’t have money, and that’s partly because the government is not helping people who don’t have money right now.
TM: What is giving you hope and strength?
DQ: I think that I draw a lot of strength from recognizing that, as a society or civilization, we’ve gotten through large-scale pandemics and things like war. I also think, as a person who works in public health and is living with HIV, that this has prepared me rather well for this, to be able to know how to get through and acknowledge what I have to do. And to have a community to rely on that has also been through some serious stuff. You have a different perspective when you’ve had to navigate an illness that has the potential to isolate you socially, like HIV.
TM: What is different or similar for you about HIV and COVID?
DQ: It’s similar in terms of the aspect of people’s immediate judgment and stigma, saying, “I don’t wanna go here or there because someone might have COVID,” which is true. But they used to say that about HIV, which isn’t true. You can’t get HIV in the store from someone, but you can get COVID. I hope this will give folks a dose of reality and understanding of public health, so that in the future, things like HIV aren’t so heavily stigmatized.
TM: Tell us any other corona-related stories you might have.
DQ: Last time I went shopping in the early evening, the supermarket was packed, and nobody was obeying social distancing, so I found myself really panicked and anxious, darting from aisle to aisle to avoid people. When I was in line, it was really packed, and the employee in the center manning the self-scanners was reading a magazine whose cover said, “Coronavirus Is Here, Are You Ready?” And the only person around me wearing a mask was the person pictured on the cover of the magazine. I just had to laugh at the irony of it.