By Matthew Nguyen
Upon entering the community’s local pharmacy, I was cordially greeted by Jessica, a pharmacist in New Orleans East for the past thirty years. She opened the glass door leading behind the front counter, and we exchanged in light conversation as we entered a white storage area with shelves holding hundreds of medication bottles. After I sat on a green-cushioned chair in the middle of the room, she grabbed a stool from behind the silver counter; and we began our discussion on how her community was battling this pandemic.
Throughout the interview, Jessica was providing me some strong insight on COVID-19’s effect on New Orleans East. As the local pharmacist, she was very wary of the health conditions that afflicted many residents here. “Many of my customers have diabetes, high blood pressure, and other conditions”, she said. Knowing very well that COVID-19 affects those with underlying conditions most severely, she expressed reasonable worry for how her customers and the rest of this community was handling the pandemic. She then spoke about additional concerns on her customers’ personal life choices. “Many people here are also afraid of hospitals. When they get sick, they rely a lot on their pain meds at home rather than going to the clinic.” With this combination of medical and psychological obstacles, it seemed inevitable to Jessica that the East would face difficulty with the pandemic.
In addition to talking about the health of her community, Jessica also elaborated on the pandemic’s impact on her business. “Most customers would drop by here after visiting Dr. Wilson’s office a few doors down. But since the doctor’s office had to close three to four days a week during the summer, customers weren’t coming in as much”. Jessica, like many others, had to rely on her savings to keep her household afloat. “Fortunately, I had some backup income to be all right. But I know other people here did not have that”, she stated. Through our conversation, I learned that a majority of the businesses in the East were self-made, meaning the pandemic has been directly affecting the livelihoods of many residents. The popular food markets, hair salons, and po-boy shops that many owners in the East had dedicated their lives to had become barren during the summer, with some on the verge of shutting down.
Despite all these worrisome obstacles facing New Orleans East, Jessica did offer a glimmer of hope when talking about the future of this community. “We are a resilient people. We were some of the first people to come back and rebuild after Katrina. We have faced struggles before, and we’ll overcome this pandemic too”, she proclaimed. Through her passion, it appeared evident that New Orleans East was no stranger to dealing with hardship, and one of the biggest reasons this community has overcome its previous difficulties is through staunch unity. “We are a very well-knitted community. My father used to pick up his neighbor every other day to go to dialysis together. Everyone knows each other here, and we’re all like family.” Thus, despite the setbacks that the East has faced, Jessica was confident that this community was far from dead. She notes that business at the pharmacy has been steadily increasing, especially after rollout of the vaccine. The doctor’s office a few doors down has re-opened and is now taking online appointments, which has also contributed to her stream of business. Overall, New Orleans East may never have an easy path towards prosperity and survival; however, the members of this community have two powerful qualities that ensures this area’s immutable survival and continuous strive for success: resilience and unity.