As the COVID-19 virus ran wild through the entire United States, in a manner unprecedented compared to other countries on similar time tables, a massive chunk of US citizens found themselves downplaying the harsh realities of the pandemic. From downright calling the highly contagious virus a hoax to comparing it to influenza, a disturbing amount of US citizens have felt more compelled to push back against social distancing guidelines than to take the pandemic seriously.
As the world begins to roll out a highly anticipated vaccine, concerns and fears seem to be rising even higher about what happens next. For one photographer, something had to give.
A little over a year ago, photojournalist Go Nakamura relocated to Texas. Nakamura has taken breathtaking photos of situations all over the world that made national and international headlines, including documenting the violent protests of Charlottesville in 2017, President Trump's Inaugural Weekend in Washington D.C., and the 2019-2020 Protests in Hong Kong.
This year, however, he has visited the United Memorial Medical Center more than 20 times since May to document the largely untold burden of COVID-19 on our strained healthcare system and it's dedicated, exhausted workers.
Go Nakamura said:
"In the COVID unit, they usually have 20 beds. The first time I visited, the beds were almost full, and then as I went back over the summer, they expanded the ward so that by now, it's about 30 beds."
In an interview with Buzzfeed News, Nakamura talked about his experiences and what it was like documenting the pandemic from the Texas hospital. He had never been in a hospital like this before.
"I have to be covered by all the PPE, and there are a few rules I have to follow in the COVID ward. I cannot take pictures of things that show the patient's name.
"When I go into the COVID ward with the doctor, he asks the patient for me if I can come in with him. Many of the patients are unconscious, but those who are conscious will say no or yes. Those who say no, I wait outside."
For those that say yes, I have been strictly instructed that I should not take a picture of the faces of the patients, so every time I take a picture I hide their faces behind the devices, IV pumps or electrocardiograms.
I think if I could just show the faces of the patients it would be a much stronger photo, and much easier for me to frame. So it is a challenge."
"When I am in the COVID ward, adrenaline is pumping, and I can hold it together and focus on shooting. When I get out of the hospital and look at the pictures on the computer screen, that's when it hits me so hard."
"I have access to trauma resources through Getty, and the doctors and nurses themselves have been so helpful. The very first time I went into the nurses station at the hospital, Dr. [Joseph] Varon came to the door and invited me in, and started to introduce me.
"The medical staff were talking and laughing with each other, and I thought this is a very good environment, a fun workplace, and five minutes later, the doctor turned to me, looked directly into my eyes with a very serious face, and said we try to laugh off everything, because otherwise you would go crazy."
"I’m a photojournalist, and I am doing this job because I want the people to know what is really going on inside the hospitals. It is very rough inside. I am not a medical specialist, so I am not used to seeing the harsh stuff.
"Sometimes I want to cover my eyes, but I have to take the photo, and I want the people to know how others are struggling — of course the patients but also the medical workers. They are exhausted. Exhausted.
I think that Dr. Varon has been working for more than 260 days straight, and the nurses since the beginning of summer with no days off. They have been working so hard."
"If I can get the pictures out there, and I appreciate that many people can see these, I want to let them know what is happening inside, and what they can do to improve the situation. I want viewers to think about that."