Dr. Katurah Jenkins-Hall, co-founder of MASK UP! ST. PETE and older sister Katrina Tucker.
ST. PETERSBURG — “I thought the risk of a homeless person with substance abuse issues contracting COVID-19 was low. They live in the woods, under shelters and are not mingling in mainstream society,” said Katrina Tucker.
Tucker is the manager of WestCare Turning Point, a homeless shelter for persons with substance abuse issues. She has dedicated her life to substance abuse treatment after becoming clean and sober 33 years ago. On April 3, WestCare was quarantined for 14 days because Tucker tested positive for COVID-19.
“It was as if COVID-19 had touched me personally,” said Dr. Katurah Jenkins-Hall, co-founder of MASK UP! ST. PETE and older sister of Katrina. “When I think about my ‘why’ for working hard to eliminate the spread of COVID-19, I think of my own family and friends in 33705, 33712, and 33711,” she reflected.
Just two years apart in age, Katurah and Katrina were often treated like twins as children growing up together: named alike, dressed alike, hair styled alike.
“Though younger, Katrina always led the way,” said Jenkins-Hall. “She learned to ride a bike, swim and drive before I did. Anything involving a risk, she did it before I did.”
As fate would have it, Katrina’s risk-taking also included the early use of alcohol and drugs, which led to a life of addictions in her 20s. Today, Katrina has a more conservative lifestyle with almost 33 years of sobriety and working to help others stay clean and sober one day at a time, including homeless people.
“It was hard to believe she now would show us how to survive this novel coronavirus, one day at a time,” asserted Jenkins-Hall.
“Katrina has always been my secret hero who inspires me to be courageous. I’ve always thought of myself as her protector and encourager. ‘Let’s get that college degree! Let’s become a certified addiction professional.’ Together we worked to achieve these goals.
“When I learned she had COVID-19, my heart broke because I had failed to protect her. This false illusion of protecting Katrina from the vicissitudes of life once again reared its powerless head. All I could do was to hold space for her, and encourage her, as she mustered her courage to speak in a weak voice, reporting daily how she was doing, always exuding gratitude,” Jenkins-Hall said.
For 21 days in April, Katrina was in survival mode with fevers, indescribable aches and pain, little sleep, no appetite, little food and no energy. For 21 days, Jenkins-Hall prayed and cried for her. She held her close in virtual spaces, while forced to keep her distance.
Today, Katrina is healthy and strong again. In fact, she has returned to work and has clearly stated convictions about following CDC protocols — so much so that she volunteered to assist with the MASK UP! ST. PETE campaign. On Saturday, Aug. 15, the campaign extended its outreach into the 33711 zip code, and six volunteers from WestCare Turning Point distributed 2, 500 masks in one and a half hours on the corner of 34th Street and Fifth Avenue South.
Katurah and Katrina worked together again, this time to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community. When told she might see homeless people on the corner in need of her services, Katrina simply said, “We’ll be sure to give them masks.”
Since COVID-19 arrived in the U.S. earlier this year, the virus has sickened more than 5 million Americans and claimed at least 167,000 lives. In Pinellas County, the numbers were high enough in three zip codes to render the county in the red zone.
Thanks to policies regarding face coverings in Pinellas and outreach projects such as the MASK-UP! ST. PETE campaign, the number of new infections is now decreasing.