In last Sunday's newspaper, reporter Stacey Shepard and photographer Alex Horvath presented to readers a special report on coronavirus from inside Bakersfield Memorial Hospital. The headline summed up what readers could expect to read: "More anxiety, more sickness, more stress: Inside Bakersfield Memorial Hospital as infections surge, filling medical facilities throughout the city."
Like many of our stories about COVID-19, this report, which also included the story of two local respiratory therapists who had traveled to New York City to serve, garnered at least 85 comments on The Bakersfield Californian's Facebook page as of this writing.
I am sharing a sample, a cross section of the sentiments left there.
William Rodgers: All you that believe this is all a hoax, are a special kind of stupid.
Stevina Lea: Why is The Bakersfield Californian all of a sudden blowing up with these stories? Where were they at the beginning of all this? When people needed to know the reality and take the stay at home seriously.
Ben Juarez: Stevina Lea, information was all there, no one wanted to believe it because it would inconvenience them. Should not have to hit close to home before it's a reality.
Jimmy Norman: "Photo Gallery" 14 pics, two patients total and I can't imagine why they gave permission, mostly of one patient on a ventilator, and a normal looking ICU? Pretty weak scaremongering. Are they being given hydroxychloroquine?
Cyn Marineau: Jimmy Norman, it’s not fearmongering when they are attempting to convey the reality of the situation. The reality is you should be somewhat scared, even those that make it out of ICU have lasting damage to the body making them more vulnerable to other ailments. This is real.
Linda Alvarado: I don’t know how they find the physical and emotional strength. I’m so grateful for them. (Writing about the two respiratory therapists now back in Bakersfield after serving in New York.)
Anneliese Darling: Praying for all of my fellow nurses, healthcare workers, and our community as we all go through this struggle together ...
Genevieve Gonzales: Front line workers should have all our support that means wearing a mask and distancing.
There were many comments, but these encapsulate the main points. Let me shed some light.
Stevina, I'm scratching my head at your contention that we're "all of a sudden blowing up with these stories." In mid-March, and specifically around March 19 when Gov. Gavin Newsom issued his stay-home order, we had days and days of coverage where there was nothing but coronavirus news on our front page. (And believe me, we also heard criticism saying we were focusing too much on coronavirus. We also heard some gentle requests to find some happy news too among all the serious and dreary, and we worked to do that, too.) We also created a special section at Bakersfield.com to collect all these stories, so anyone wanting to read the latest could go to that spot.
The number of coronavirus stories per day has ebbed and flowed, for sure, but we've been covering this locally since it became a local issue. And before that, and since then, we have published stories of what's happening with coronavirus in our nation and world.
Now, the stories and photos Stacey and Alex produced for this report were the first time our reporters were granted the opportunity to go inside a hospital, onto patient care floors and into an ICU.
Trust me, you don't get to just show up and demand "let me in." This took time, and I applaud Bakersfield Memorial for allowing our journalists access to tell this story and inform readers about the gravity of coronavirus in our community.
Jimmy, we're not scaremongering! You're right that we could only show so many patients in our photo gallery online and in print. That's because the patients had to consent to Bakersfield Memorial Hospital allowing us to see them and photograph them. The patients you saw consented. And, as a side note, those patients whose condition was so grave that they were not capable of consenting were not included. It does not mean they didn't exist!
Linda, Anneliese and Genevieve, your comments resonate with me. Any day I think my job is tough, I think about the truly brave women and men — from doctors to nurses to respiratory therapists to unit clerks to dietary staff to ... everyone — who are working in any health care setting at this time. I believe what they're doing is physically and emotionally taxing, and I pray for them every day.