In the middle of a crisis, West Hollywood Council member John Duran has been the calm voice the city needs. His daily updates on Facebook have quickly become the go-to for residents looking to navigate uncertain waters.
“I’m sitting at home,” said Duran. “I’m not a doctor or a nurse or a public heath officer, but I know how to write. I can’t do it in a tweet. I need to write mini-essays.”
Each morning, Duran updates citizens with a publicly accessible post. Each post starts with the Los Angeles County cases and death totals. As of Tuesday, those numbers were 536 and 7, respectively.
He then list updates, general information and recommendations for his readers. On Tuesday’s post he suggested that people stay home if they have mild symptoms in order to avoid exposing others and clogging the emergency rooms. When does he suggest going to the ER? “When you are having trouble walking around the apartment and can’t breathe — that’s when.”
“If I get a cough or a fever, I’m not going to the ER and demanding a test,” he said. “Why would I want to take up resources at Cedar’s when there are people struggling for ventilators?”
Duran understands that common sense updates are what people need in a desperate time. He lived through the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s and knows all to well what wading through the waters of an invisible disease can be like.
“We have to treat everybody as if they’re infected,” he said. “We are at the stage where we should assume everybody’s positive and act accordingly. That means social distancing. That means no kiss or no handshake. It means having to act differently. It means acting as if you have it and could spread it.”
This kind of basic, unfiltered information is what Duran professes people need right now. “I know historically going through AIDS that people are craving information so they can make informed decisions about risks and risk-taking. People want truth in a crisis and not spin.”
He is also looking ahead to the immediate and long-term impacts that COVID-19 might have on residents. He notes that many in West Hollywood leadership positions were around for the dark days of AIDS, including council member John Heilman and Mayor John D’Amico. “We have management in place that went through the last epidemic,” he said. “A lot of people who have been through this kind of thing before and know how to respond.”
This includes not only the impacts on health, but also the impacts on the city’s economy. “We have so many non-traditional workers, so many people in the service industry. We have so many people who are going to fall through the safety net, and we are focusing on them to make sure we have the main resources they need: food and shelter.”
“Anybody who lives in West Hollywood shouldn’t have to worry about food and shelter.”
In stark contrast to when Donald Trump was asked to address America’s fears by Peter Alexander, when the president chastised the reporter, Duran offered words of hope to this reporter when asked a similar question.
“We’ve been through this before. We’ve learned how to separate fear from fact. A cough and fever doesn’t mean we’re going to die. Eighty percent of people do get better. Just like when the doctor told me, ‘John, you’re HIV-positive,’ and I just got on it and took care of my health. The fact is more people are going to survive exposure than die from exposure.”
He also encouraged everyone to continue to practice safety guidelines and stay home.