Mutual aid

It's not charity

Maybe your brother is sick. Maybe a coworker tested positive. Maybe your friend is in the hospital, or a friend of a friend died. Maybe it took the president getting sick to finally scare you.

Since August, I’ve spent my Saturdays volunteering at what is believed to be the largest testing center in the world, at Dodger Stadium, for Covid-19. We handle up to 7,500 patients a day. Six lanes of traffic slowly wind through the parking lot. The exam is a mouth swab, self-performed, with results in 1-2 days. My job is to teach people how to take it, then supervise them to make sure they do it right.

People arrive nervous. Many are tired. Some, usually men, are pissed off and combative, which is another way of saying sad and scared. Instructions for the test are offered in multiple languages and several formats – a pamphlet, on jumbotrons around the parking lot, in YouTube videos pre-supplied. Still, we’re there for a reason. It can be confusing. Some people try to swab their nose. One person tried to swab their anus.

Generally, people want reassurance. I’ve given instructions to somebody on the other end of a phone held out by a senior Asian couple who didn’t speak English; to a phone held out by a young Russian woman in a sparkling Tesla. Interactions come in two styles: people who’ve been before and don’t need help, just want to do the test and get on with their lives, and the people who need help. They listen, ask questions, ask me to watch them to make sure they don’t screw up. It’s strangely intimate. Despite the car window, my two face masks, my protective shield and gloves and traffic vest, despite the threat of contagion in hundreds of cars idling close nearby, I nearly always make a connection. Some slight amount of rest enters their face. I see I’ve helped them, and they don’t realize it, but they’ve helped me, too. I look forward to it all week.

Photograph by Michelle Groskopf for my recent GQ profile of Sean Penn. Penn’s nonprofit CORE operates 37 Covid testing sites across the country, including Dodger Stadium.

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