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Diary From The Coronavirus Frontlines: 'I Always Worry About Going Out, Getting Sick'

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Brett Feldman, the head of the USC Street Medicine Team, checks Mico Fuller's vitals on Skid Row. (Alyssa Jeong Perry/LAist)
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Today, I spoke with community health worker Joseph Becerra, who's part of USC's Keck School of Medicine Street Medicine Team, while he was finishing his morning shift on the streets.

Becerra helps the team's doctors, physician assistants, and nurses locate patients who live on the streets, because many of them don't have a phone and frequently change locations. It's something he feels passionate about because he lived on the streets himself.

"My heart is for this, because I understand what it is to not have or to be looked down on."

He also connects patients with social services and with clothing, food, ID cards and even housing. It was always difficult work, but since the pandemic has swept through L.A. County, it's now frustratingly so.

Becerra said when he calls an agency, "either it's busy, a voicemail, or you're waiting on the phone for an hour, two hours."

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Many of his patients need follow-up care with a doctor, so his job is to make sure they get to their appointments. Now that's changed as well.

"A lot of the appointments are being canceled, because a lot of the doctors ain't in themselves."

And since many patients don't have internet or a phone, the option of doing an appointment through those channels isn't really an option.

The city's homeless population often relies on going to the ER for medical needs. But many emergency rooms are now keeping beds open for COVID-19 patients, reducing access for non-coronavirus patients whose cases are not urgent. Without that care, medical complications on the streets are rising. This puts even more demand on the street team, but also greater risk.

"I always worry about going out, getting sick and just bringing it back to my family. But then you know, it's my job. I feel pretty blessed to have a job."

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