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Pandemic in Focus

Tucson Frontline Workers

Kathleen Dreier | Arizona, United States

“I just finished nine overnight shifts in the Emergency Department (ED), and I am two and a half months into living in an AirBnB--alone, away from my wife and ten year old daughter so I can protect them from contracting this disease. As an ED doctor whose job it is to manage, problem solve, and be in control when faced with medical crises, it is hard for me to admit that I feel vulnerable and scared when I allow myself to think of the surge we are facing now and the combined COVID-19/Influenza tsunami expected this late fall/winter.  

We aren’t even 5 miles into this 26 mile COVID-19 marathon and our overstretched healthcare team members are exhausted, calling in sick due to illness, or so emotionally drained that they need a "mental health" day to be able to face another shift on the front lines. Staffing shortages are being made even worse by furloughs of some of our most experienced staff. Inexperienced new nurses remain and are faced with caring for increasingly ill patients with less mentorship and support. Taken together, we have a recipe for disaster." -Dr. Brad Dreifuss

When the Covid-19 pandemic began to impact Tucson, Arizona in March 2020, in the span of one week, all of my scheduled photography assignments were canceled. I considered for several weeks how to utilize my photography skills, social work background, and social media platforms to support and educate the Tucson community. The portrait project was born from the desire to provide a forum for our frontline workers to share with us in their own words their Covid-19 experiences. My intention to serve our frontline is based on my intrinsic understanding of the challenges all services-related workers face even during “normal” times, including not being allowed to speak about the painful truths they bear witness to every day. I know firsthand frontline workers are often prohibited from expressing the “reality of the situation” so I encourage each person to express themselves freely. The accompanying captions are but a few sentences from the worker’s original full statement often which were several thousand words (Facebook link below). To date, nearly 60 frontline workers have been featured in this continuing portrait essay project.

I am a photographer based in Tucson, Arizona. My primary work is documenting corporate/business, community and family events. I also have a 3+ decade career as a social worker, mostly in child protection. As such, I have always been drawn to the social issues in our community and around the world, the dark underbelly of societal injustices and hardship. My work is influenced largely by Mary Ellen Mark, a visual storytelling powerhouse who had a deep heart for the human experience. Now in my 15th year as a professional photographer, studying with Ms. Mark one month before she passed has had a huge impact in developing my own visual voice.

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