Shantell Hutchinson has beaten stage four cancer and has every intention of surviving COVID-19. The 15-year cancer survivor is “calling” for people to be their neighbor’s keeper because, she says, surviving the coronavirus pandemic is not about people individually, but everyone they come in contact with. She hopes people begin to take COVID-19 serious and realize they have someone else’s life in their hands.
Hutchinson, 49, is immunocompromised, having been treated for cancer. She is also saddled with two comorbidities – she has high blood pressure, and last year she was placed on heart medication after she experienced extreme shortness of breath which made it difficult to breathe, resulting in her not being able to walk during that time.
“We’re killing one another by not taking it very seriously for folks like me, for people that are sick, the elderly. We are very vulnerable, and you need to take our well-being into consideration as your own. It’s the true thought of being your neighbor’s keeper,” she said.
While she is not actively taking chemotherapy, Hutchinson is one of thousands of Bahamians who are considered immunocompromised. As a cancer survivor, every year her doctors remind her to take a flu shot because of her compromised immune system, even though she’s not actively on chemotherapy.
“The day (Sunday, March 15) the prime minister came on and said there was no more school [after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed], Shantell stayed home since then.”
An employee of BTC, Hutchinson has left her home only one time since then, and that was the week of the announcement to stock up on groceries for her house.
“The good part about it is that my employer was already in the process of testing the work-from-home theory, so March 17 was supposed to be our nationwide testing of working from home. So, from [the prime minister’s] first announcement, my employer was like, ‘who can work from home can work from’, so I’ve been working from home from then. And I’ve restricted all of my traveling out.”
Her son, Ethan, has only been allowed outside of their home to play in the yard. He is not allowed to go anywhere.
“It’s two-fold – he’s young, he’s only nine, and I can’t let him go out and bring something back in; and then I can’t go out and bring something back in for both of us.”
Hutchinson has limited visitors to her house; she even had her housekeeper stay over to help her as she works from home and help with Ethan’s virtual learning – as education around the world moved from the four walls of the classroom to online learning.
“It’s a situation in which I have to be extra careful,” said Hutchinson.
Social distancing remains the best measure to reduce transmission and slow the spread of COVID-19. It is recommended that people try to keep about six feet between themselves and others if they must be out and about.
Up to press time, The Bahamas had 89 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 11 deaths, 26 recovered cases, eight hospitalized cases, 52 active cases and completed 1,485 tests yesterday. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recorded 3,525,116 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 243,540 deaths worldwide.
The first cases of the novel coronavirus were first detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. Since then, the virus spread around the world, with the United States (U.S.) confirming its first case on January 21, and the WHO declaring it a pandemic on January 30.
As the virus unfolded globally, Hutchinson said she wasn’t scared in its early stage.
“You always think it’s not going to happen here. And it wasn’t until, I think after the third death locally, that I realized we need to take this very seriously. After that, I was like okay Shantell, you need to find someone who can go to the grocery store. You need to find a way to get the normal things done that you need done, whether it’s online or getting someone to do that service for you.”
Hutchinson put herself and her family under their own lockdown.
The Bahamas was under emergency orders with weekend lockdowns for the month of April, including a five-day lockdown over the Easter holidays, as well as daily 24-hour curfews.
With thoughts of keeping her family safe, nothing enters the Hutchinson house without thorough disinfection.
“We wipe down boxes, we wipe down cans; I have two sets of sanitizers – one is the regular Lysol, and some industrial strength sanitizer I got that they say is used in hospitals – and we have the gloves and the masks. We have everything.”
She also realizes that she can’t, forever, live the way she’s currently living and knows at some point she and everyone else are going to have to go out. The BTC employee knows she may eventually have to go back into her office.
“I’m hoping that as we try to get back to normal, work-from-home becomes an option for people like me. I can come to the office one day a week and make all the necessary preparations, and then work from home. I’m hoping that as we return to the new normal, that is an option for people like me.”
Until the country returns to normalcy, Hutchinson said it is her hope that Bahamians take public health issues more seriously. She is horrified by the pictures and videos she’s seen of people not practicing social distancing.
Hutchinson said for folks like her, “We are very vulnerable, and you need to take our well-being into consideration as your own. It’s the true thought of being your neighbor’s keeper. This COVID-19 is calling us all to be our neighbor’s keeper because it’s not just about you as an individual anymore, it’s about everyone else that you come in contact with. I would hope that folks begin to take this a little more seriously and realize they literally have someone else’s life in your hands,” she said.
“The sooner we begin to recognize we need to work together as a community to defeat COVID-19, then the sooner we get out of the lockdowns, the sooner we get out of the restrictions and the sooner we bring our economy back. And until we begin to stop being selfish and say ‘this is a we situation, not a me situation’, we’re going to find ourselves in the lockdowns. We’re going to find ourselves isolated. We’re going to find ourselves with the economic issues. We’re going to find ourselves in this struggle and by ourselves. And I am hoping and praying that we begin to take it seriously so we can get back to life as normal – whatever that may be.”