From COVID to California fire season 2020: A nurse’s perspective on protecting ourselves

Nurse-Michael-Valrey, From COVID to California fire season 2020: A nurse’s perspective on protecting ourselves, Local News & Views
Nurse Michael Valrey

by JR Valrey, Black New World Media

My 90-year-old grandfather had gotten sick during the COVID-19 pandemic, and my uncle. who is a nurse, gave the family new rules that we had to follow to keep us as safe as possible from the invisible biological killer. In the past, I took my uncle’s occupation for granted. 

I soon realized in 2020 his cautious words could be the difference between life and death. I know that everyone in our community does not go to the doctor regularly, so I wanted to share some of the trusted information that my uncle, Michael Valrey, has shared with me for the benefit of the overall community. 

With Black people in Hunters Point, Fillmore, Richmond, East, West and North Oakland totally dependent on the mainstream media to teach us how to protect ourselves, I had to consult a trusted source. Currently there are over 500 fires cooking California as you read; smoke and bad air quality have compounded with COVID to create more of a health crisis that Black communities statewide are fighting to contend with. 

JR Valrey: How long have you been operating on the frontlines of this COVID pandemic? What has the experience been like?

Michael Valrey: I went back into health care on the 21st of March 2019 after being retired from it for 22 years. The reason why I remember this date is because it was the 27th anniversary of the passing of a very dear friend; he was a paramedic in Dallas during the HIV/AIDS epidemic and contracted pneumonia from an HIV+ patient he was caring for. 

So, technically, I’ve been working with COVID-19 patients since the virus reached our shores. To be more precise, in late January 2020, we had word of the virus’ spreading globally and started taking necessary precautions to safeguard and protect.

With many of my peers, I compare the COVID-19 experience with the HIV/AIDS experience, and most of them were born in the mid to late ‘90s and after, so they really can’t relate because this has been the biggest thing in their careers since they were born. You can claim SARS, which is also a coronavirus, but it never reached epidemic proportions. 

HIV/AIDS terrified the hell out of me, because for a long time we were not sure how it was transmitted or how to treat it – that took us more than a decade to figure out – and people were dying exponentially around the world. 

It was a race for all nations that had the technology to find a resolution – to my knowledge, there are no cures to viruses with the exception of death – so that was a scary time for me. I was young, and it felt like the end of the world. 

So, with COVID-19 – and I must state that the general public should not look at it this way – I see it as a very bad flu, but it must be taken seriously because this flu will affect and effect all those that do not carry genetic immunity. It is not meant to be taken lightly. Viruses have that upper hand on humanity. We don’t think it will happen to us. 

That’s the public’s problem now: They don’t take viruses seriously enough, and that is what the virus is counting on.

JR Valrey: Do you believe the COVID pandemic is being blown out of proportion by the media? Why or why not?

Michael Valrey: So, the first thing you should know is how I view the media – social and otherwise. The news media can be a great source of information, but, in order to get great ratings, they have to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and that is usually “sensationalism.” 

Just like with the HIV/AIDS epidemic, we hear about the numbers of people who have died from COVID-19, because that can’t be hidden or redacted. Individuals infected – that’s a completely different story. 

Social media has a tendency to want to make it all about race or socio-economic status. I find fault with that kind of assault also. It all boils down to “fear mongering.” When the public is afraid, they do dangerous and illogical things. 

You are not entitled, and COVID-19 will prove that to you if you think that YOU are invincible. Good luck with that battle. 

We live in a world of information technology, where thoughts and ideas can be shared at the touch of a button. But it doesn’t mean that the information being shared is correct; in fact, most of it usually isn’t. 

The best thing people can do in these times of COVID-19 is to trust the information your MP (Medical Practitioner) is sharing with you. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Arm yourself with the correct information.

The media has a wealth of information for the public, but the trick is being able to wade through all the garbage and realize that which is useful. These past few generations have been imparted with the ease of technology, and many have become complacent and have this imaginary ideology of entitlement. 

Well, the real world doesn’t work that way. You are not entitled, and COVID-19 will prove that to you if you think that YOU are invincible. Good luck with that battle. 

JR Valrey: There are a lot of reports where people had other health complications and died, and COVID was listed as the cause of death. Have you seen or heard of this? If so, why is this tolerated?

Michael Valrey: That may have been true in the beginning, but that usually happens with all epidemics and pandemics. The reason I use these two terms together is because we often confuse pandemics for epidemics depending on how the outbreak starts. 

What we need to realize is that all viruses are equal opportunity infectors. They do not care about race, religion, sexual orientation or socio-economic status. The only upper hand anyone may have is genetics … period. Wealthy people are dying from COVID-19 as well as the disenfranchised, and all of us in between.

If an individual contracts COVID-19 but also has other health issues, then mortality can become easier or quicker. There have been many deaths attributed to AIDS (autoimmune deficiency syndrome), but the truth is, AIDS doesn’t kill you. It decimates your immune system so other opportunistic infections can kill you, but cause of death can still be listed as AIDS.

What I’m trying to say is, those patients may have otherwise survived their other afflictions, but the complications with COVID-19 being on board just became too much for their system to handle. I really can’t say as to what caused certain deaths without actually caring for the patient and knowing their medical history; that would be making blanket statements, and you can’t do that with health care. 

It’s tolerated because that may have been the main or contributing factor. Without reading the ME’s (medical examiner’s) report of an actual autopsy, COVID-19 may have stood out as the perpetrator.

JR Valrey: What does COVID do to the body in the most severe cases?

Michael Valrey: Well, obviously, the most severe is death. But, in other cases a patient can experience cytokine storms, where the patient’s own immune system starts attacking vital organs of the body. A patient can also experience ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome), where oxygen levels in their blood plummet and they struggle to breathe. In short, there are many things COVID-19 can do to the human body; it just depends on the initial health of the patient and the viral mutation they may have received.

JR Valrey: How has the hospital staff been affected by the COVID pandemic?

Michael Valrey: Hahaha, many have been affected in different ways. Some have quit their jobs because of fear of contracting the virus. This is a loaded question, but I’ll answer it by way of how I determine the medical professional’s commitment. 

I feel that COVID-19 has shown the true nature of individuals who choose certain professions for status or pay – which isn’t stellar – and those who truly believe in doing good for others. If you spent two, four, eight or more years in school, and COVID-19 scares you, I think you should follow your heart and do what’s best for you. Get out of the way of those who really want to be there because you’re just taking up space. 

Like I tell the students that I teach on the first day that I meet them, “If you are not willing to sacrifice your life in order to save another, you’re in the wrong field.” That’s what medicine is all about: We don’t “do” medicine, we “practice” it; and we try to stay safe in the process.

JR Valrey: What do you think about Melinda Gates saying that Black people need to get the vaccination first?

Michael Valrey: Well, actually she said African American people should get it second; medical staff and front line individuals should be first.

Yeah OK, if that’s what she’s feeling, good for her. Maybe she’s feeling some kind of way about recent social discourse. I don’t know, and I don’t care, because even if this vaccination is offered at a deep discount or for free, you are still going to have individuals that refuse to get it, no matter what race they are because you have people that expect “herd immunity.” 

That’s not a thing! Protect yourself, and in doing so you just might protect others.

JR Valrey: How many times have you been tested? What is the process like?

Michael Valrey: I have not been tested because I don’t show signs or symptoms, but trust me; I am on “high alert” mentally. I feel that when it is my time to go, whatever takes me out, that’s my time to bid this world “adieu.” Until that time comes, I try to focus on helping those in need in any capacity I am able.

The processes are simple, but I believe the best one is having a swab of the nares (nostrils) tested. Most people don’t like it, because how often do you get a swab shoved to the back of your nose? It can be very uncomfortable, especially if you are not prepared for it. Mucosa tissue can be quite sensitive depending on its location. 

JR Valrey: Do you think social distancing can be practiced in schools, jails or prisons? As a health professional, what are your recommendations for people in these institutions? 

Michael Valrey: It’s difficult, but it’s doable. This nation would have to start by de-privatizing the DCS system and stop making imprisonment a money maker.

You’ve heard me say before that people need to start with three simple steps:

1. Wear a mask when in public settings

2. Stay 6 feet apart; that’s just a distancing zone, the virus can travel further than you can spit.

3. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with regular soap and water. It doesn’t have to be anti-bacterial because COVID-19 is a virus; there is a difference.

These three steps are a great start, people!

JR Valrey: What are the best ways to prevent the transmission of COVID?

Michael Valrey: Go live in a cave, on top of a hill, where nobody knows where you are!

Just kidding. Those three steps I gave you in the last question.

Protect yourself, and in doing so you just might protect others.

If you have someone in your home that may be susceptible, you should make a way to remove your clothing that you wore outside, clean up (shower), and put on clean clothing before you see them or are around where they can be. COVID-19 stays viable on surfaces and in the air:

  • Aerosolized virus can stay suspended in the air for a half hour before falling onto surfaces.
  • Stainless steel and plastic – for 72 hours.
  • Paper and cardboard – up to 24 hours.
  • Copper surfaces – four hours. 

JR Valrey: It has been reported that big concerts will not resume until 2022. As a health professional, do you think that is a necessary length of time to eliminate or at least contain the virus?

Michael Valrey: OK, harkening back to our old nemesis HIV/AIDS, that took over a decade to contain and control, not cure, but it also wasn’t airborne. One great thing that came out of that epidemic or pandemic is that it forced governments and even our own FDA to test and approve drugs and vaccinations at a much faster rate – warp speed compared to the ‘80s – and have medications and drugs available sooner to the public. 2022 is just a guesstimate; it’s up to us, the people, to learn how to do what’s necessary to stay healthy.

You realize that masks are not meant to keep you from getting germs from other people. They are meant for you to keep your germs to yourself.

JR Valrey: Health wise, what can people do to protect themselves against the ever-intensifying fire season that has been hitting California catastrophically every year?

Michael Valrey: Well, when fire season hits, it’s best if you have an air conditioning system so that you can keep your windows and doors shut – and stay indoors. But many of the homes in the Bay Area are older and don’t have them. 

JR Valrey: What kind of symptoms are you seeing people coming into the hospital with commonly during fire season?

Michael Valrey: The problems that usually occur during these times are mostly respiratory difficulty, with eye irritation; but these can become serious lung and heart infections depending on the health and age of the patient. 

I know this is going to sound like a PSA but, if you can’t make it in to see your GP (general practitioner) annually – at least once a year – you should make it a point to do it every five. Your health is important, and many will say. “Ohhh, I’m too busy!” But “busy” won’t matter if you’re dead. Think about it.

SF Bay View Oakland Bureau Chief JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of the Black New World Journalists Society, can be reached at or on Facebook. Visit All stories related to COVID-19 were partially made possible by the Akonadi Fund #SoLoveCanWin.