State Rep. Liz Miranda is on the mend after testing positive for COVID-19 on May 1. The 39-year-old lawmaker, who has represented the 5th Suffolk District since Jan. 2019, talked to the Reporter this week about her experience with the virus, health disparities in Roxbury and Dorchester, and the importance of community testing.
Of the 20 of her family members who have been tested, 15 tested positive for the coronavirus, she said. In the two weeks after her diagnosis, Miranda said, she had some scary days, but feels that she is “on the upswing. I'm feeling much, much, better.”
Most of her family who came down with the disease are also recovering well, she added. “My father is home out of the hospital, and back as close to normal as possible. We're taking it day by day and following protocols. Thankfully, pretty much all of us are on the upswing. I've checked in daily, and only about two family members are still at the point where they're experiencing some body aches or fever.”
In March, while she was working to support residents during the state of emergency, some of her family members began experiencing illness, Miranda said. Her father and grandmother were both sick, but tested negative for the virus. Shortly after returning home from the hospital, her grandmother, 85-year-old Maria Alves Miranda, fell ill and was given hospice care. She died on April 17.
“As a state rep, I was working hard every day, mostly dealing with unemployment issues, SNAP benefits, and food access,” said Miranda, “People were scared about not being able to pay rent, and some small businesses were closing. Basic needs were my priority, but at the same time I was working 12 to 16 hours a day. Then my grandmother passed away and had to be buried.
"It was kind of a reality check. We followed all of the protocols that were in place.” Miranda explained, “We used Dolan's Funeral home in Dorchester. We couldn’t have a priest, and only 10 people were allowed in the funeral home. That really is a moment that for most people is very disheartening: You can't bury your loved one in a normal way.”
Miranda’s grandmother was not re-tested for COVID-19 after her first negative test, she said, “so the family went to the burial, and everyone thought they would be okay.” In the midst of her family’s loss, Miranda became focused on advocating for more testing at Community Health Centers (CHCs), especially in communities that were seeing high infection rates.
"In mid-April I started to see that Dorchester and Roxbury, along with Mattapan and Hyde Park, had really high rates of infections,” she said. “However, there wasn't testing available yet in our communities.”
Shortly after her grandmother’s funeral, Miranda’s father was hospitalized a second time for a minor injury. On the way to the hospital, EMTs examined him.
“They said that they heard what sounded like fluid in his lungs,” said Miranda. “When he got to the hospital, he was tested for COVID-19, and the next day we found out that it was positive.”
By that time, several health centers in Dorchester, including Bowdoin Street Health Center, DotHouse Health, and Uphams Street Health Center, were offering coronavirus testing. “In a matter of hours, each of my family members that were in contact with my dad were able to get appointments,” said Miranda. “There were about 20 of us, so we spread across a bunch of different hospitals and health centers.”
The most significant symptom that Miranda experienced was fatigue, although she had almost every other sign of the disease except shortness of breath.
“It was very scary, a fatigue that I had never felt before. I couldn't get out of bed. Then, I had headaches, stomach aches pretty badly. I only had a fever for one day and it went quickly into chills,” she said.
"I really want to point out how important it is to have community testing, also to have information in different languages,” Miranda said. “Many people in our community of Dorchester speak a multitude of languages. It was really important that our health centers had testing because they know our people best.”
She received testing at the Bowdoin Street Health Center, and called the experience “safe and easy.” She added: “Honestly, if they had never tested my dad again, I don't think that any of us would have gotten tested because we didn't have any symptoms.”
While she’s looking forward to feeling better and getting back to work, Miranda said, she has felt the need to share her family’s experience so that people don’t feel “stigmatized," she added "We're in this together."
“The reason why I was able to speak to the Globe and other outlets like the Reporter after I got a little bit better is because I didn't want people to be … shamed and not getting tested,” she said. “We all need help. I want my community to know that just because I'm a state representative, my family wasn't immune to COVID-19 and neither was I. I'm a resourced person. I followed all the protocols, and I still got sick.”
While resting, Miranda has had some time to reflect, and said her experience has reinforced to her the importance of taking care of seniors, the immigrant community, and other vulnerable populations.
“Honestly, I feel like the rest of the commonwealth has finally understood what it's like to live on the fringe of society. For many people in the commonwealth who weren't doing well before COVID, in a matter of days their lives evaporated,” she said. “It was really hard to see how many families had never had to go on unemployment, to use SNAP benefits, or need free food calling our offices for help.”
Miranda also highlighted the importance of collecting racial data, saying, “it's important to know who is dying of COVID-19 and who's being impacted so that we can figure out how to stop the spread and get people help.
“I just want to say thank you to the community for the outpouring and sympathy of love and care that I’ve gotten,” she said. “Dorchester is one big community of people that help each other. I'm very thankful and honored that I get to represent the 5th Suffolk."
Miranda added, “I want to stress the seriousness and the contagious nature of this disease and that people should be very careful. It's nice out, so I see a lot of people out and some of them are not practicing social distancing and not wearing masks. We want to make sure that people are protecting themselves and their families.”