Anchor ads are not supported on this page.

4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

How Covid tore San Diego friends and neighbors apart

Our friends joked that they were going to dig a tunnel to our house

“I got into fights,” recalls Deanna Polk. “I got kicked out of stores so many times! It was mostly for telling staff and shoppers to mask up, or for demanding people stand six feet away from me. I didn’t care! This is my life!”
“I got into fights,” recalls Deanna Polk. “I got kicked out of stores so many times! It was mostly for telling staff and shoppers to mask up, or for demanding people stand six feet away from me. I didn’t care! This is my life!”

When the shutdown started, I was working at a preschool in Hillcrest. I can still picture my director walking down the stairs from her office above my classroom to tell us it was time to send our kids home. I was sitting in a swivel chair, reading a story to my students, who were leisurely sprawled on the rug at my feet. I heard the click of Rexanna’s shoes on the concrete stairs above. Then I spotted the top of her head through my dusty classroom window. We had heard rumors that covid-19 would shut down the schools, but I wasn’t expecting it to happen that day, and not so suddenly. But as soon as I saw Rexanna’s ponytail, I knew that I would be calling parents. Later, when those parents came to retrieve their kids, I was met with confusion and questions. Most wanted to know how long the school would be closed. “Two weeks,” I assured them — with complete confidence.

Of course, my confidence was entirely misplaced; I didn’t have the slightest inkling of the chaos to come. But I got a glimpse of it on my way home. I stopped at my local grocery store, and was surprised to find the parking lot full, with cars spilling into the lot next door. Some people were wearing masks, a jarring sight at the time. It looked like a costume, like something out of The Handmaid’s Tale. An overwhelming sense of doom came over me. I stopped hunting for a parking spot and drove home, a decision I would later regret when we ran out of toilet paper.

For those first few weeks, it seems to me that we really did present a united front. All of us were in this thing together. But as “two weeks to slow the spread” became a dim echo of the distant past, it became evident that people had opinions about covid. They also had opinions about the government’s response to it, and about the public’s compliance with that response — or lack thereof. That initial sense of community began to unravel. Soon, there were sides: the cautious and not so cautious. People began hurling labels at those with differing views: MAGAs, sheep, paranoid, grandma killers, fearmongers, the jabbed, the anti-vaxxers, and on and on. President Biden said in September that the pandemic was over, but even now, the opinions and labels keep coming, splashed all over the media, social and otherwise.

DENTED

Jessica Dent is either “not so cautious” or a “grandma killer,” depending on your point of view. Her neighbors in Mission Hills tended toward the latter, so much so that she wound up moving to East County. “At the beginning of covid,” she recalls, “I didn’t realize it would become political. It did feel weird to me that we were told what to do, that we could or couldn’t leave our homes, and that people could not come to our home. But I was like, ‘They said two weeks. We will give them two weeks.’ But those two weeks turned into much, much, longer.” Right now, we are sitting in a small Italian restaurant in Lemon Grove; Dent’s Louis Vuitton handbag is in the chair next to hers. She wears a long-sleeved white t-shirt and dangly gold earrings, and her brown hair falls just a little below her shoulders. She doesn’t look to me like an East County grandma killer — whatever that looks like.

Via social media, Dent began noticing that friends and family in other states were still gathering, while she was still stuck in isolation on the West Coast. When Mother’s Day 2020 rolled around, she decided that she was going to invite her mom over, plus her brother and his family. “At that point, my brother was still nervous [about covid],” she says. “So I had a long conversation with him. I told him, ‘I am going to let Mom make her own decision. If she wants to come to our house, she can. I feel like it has been long enough,’ He was still apprehensive, so I told him, ‘I am not going to tell her to come over. I am going to tell her, “This is your life, you can make that decision if you want to come over on Mother’s Day,”’”

Dent’s mom did come over, and the day passed without incident. That proved the beginning of Dent’s gradual departure from many of the CDC’s covid guidelines. But while Dent was comfortable resuming many aspects of her pre-covid life, her neighbors were not. To Dent, they appeared to be consumed with fear over the virus. “My family had gotten over that [fear]. We realized, ‘This is a really bad cold. It sucks if you get it, but if you are relatively healthy, you will be fine!’ We had friends in Jamul, and we spent a lot of time at their house. I feel like East County did not really feel the effects of covid tension as much as we did in the city. For me, it was very stressful, because I felt like our neighbors were judging us. Our friends joked that they were going to dig a tunnel to our house so that our neighbors did not know when we had them over.”

Dent first realized that she would have issues with neighbors after posting a video to social media “of two doctors who were voicing their concern over the level of intrusion the government had, and what they were seeing in their clinics with the patients they were treating. It was the first time that I came out as saying, ‘I oppose what our state and local politicians are pushing,’ That was when I started to get pushback from my neighbors, because I lived in a very liberal neighborhood.” One of those neighbors posted a rebuttal, in the form of an article with a differing perspective. Dent recalls seeing the response and feeling stung. It felt personal somehow. Apparently, she was right, or at least, not entirely wrong. Recalls Dent, “[The neighbor] texted afterwards and said, ‘I am sorry I sent that article. I should’ve responded to you privately. I don’t want this to come between our relationship. I love you guys.’”

Sponsored
Sponsored

Soon afterward, says Dent, those same neighbors stopped talking her, and to her husband. “They ghosted us. We just stopped hanging out. We used to have weekly and bi-weekly dinners together in our homes. I knew that they were still spending time with other people that agreed with them, and my kids were still spending time with their kids. So I knew that they were not legitimately afraid of [catching covid from] our family. I did not want to lose the friendship. I knew where they stood politically. We have always had different political values and beliefs, but we have never before let that come between us. We used to be able to talk about our differences without it affecting our relationship. Now, anyone who questions the covid narrative, suddenly is like a MAGA Trump supporter! I thought this was just a virus?” Before long, Dent noticed a chill in her relationship with other neighbors as well.

POLKED

“I got into fights,” recalls Deanna Polk. “I got kicked out of stores so many times! It was mostly for telling staff and shoppers to mask up, or for demanding people stand six feet away from me. I didn’t care! This is my life! People would get mad. They would berate me and call me a sheep. They would say I had fallen for propaganda. It was sad, especially to hear those who I agreed with politically berate me. It was coming from both the right and the left. They were in total denial. It was a hard spot to be in when I had the knowledge base and people were not accepting it.”

I am sitting with Polk in her living room in Ocean Beach. On the wall behind me, a Bernie Sanders figurine sits on a tiny folding chair inside a shadow box, sporting a disposable mask and wearing his famed oversized mittens — a miniature representation of the viral Sanders photo taken during Biden’s Inauguration. Polk is wearing a patterned peasant top and white shorts. Her salt and pepper hair falls past her shoulders, traveling midway down her back.

Within the first few minutes of our meeting, Polk lists her qualifications for supporting government shutdowns and mask mandates during the pandemic. “I have a Bachelor of Science in nursing with public health certification, a minor in anthropology, and I have a Master of Science in Homeland Security with a specialization in science and technology. I was the public health coordinator for the first online public disaster drill. I was trained by the CDC during the Ebola crisis for quarantine. So, I went into the [covid] pandemic with a broader understanding than most people. I am still horrified over how it was handled — and mishandled.” She grimaces. “We have a dumbed down society, especially when it comes to public health,” she says, letting out a lengthy sigh.

Throughout the pandemic, Polk was on a mission to counter that dumbing down with education. She voiced her concerns regularly, whenever and wherever she could: on her local Nextdoor app, in Facebook posts, in confrontations with unmasked people in her neighborhood, or via countless phone calls to local leaders. Polk believed that she needed to be vocal in order to contain the virus. In the early days of the pandemic, she was horrified to discover that her local mail carrier did not wear a mask. “I opened my door and saw he did not have a mask on. [Postal carriers] are supposed to be wearing masks! I said, ‘You need to be wearing a mask.’ After that, he started harassing me every time he [delivered my mail]. I had to get the postal manager to pull him off this route because he was threatening me. He would get in my face, and he refused to wear a mask. Some of the Amazon drivers were the same. I got busy reporting these guys because they were like Typhoid Mary. They had no idea what they were doing.”

It got to the point where the country did not look to her like the one in which she had grown up. “I love being an American,” she says. “I don’t like seeing a million Americans die, especially when we had the knowledge base to prevent those deaths, and so many purposely choose to ignore it. In America, we are supposed to be about helping each other. That got twisted around during the pandemic. It became, ‘No, I need mine! I don’t give a fuck about you! I am not wearing a mask! I don’t care if your grandma dies.’” Polk exhales deeply, as if releasing pent up disappointment, before continuing, “Back in the early part of the century, we had to put quarantine signs on houses when people had measles and stuff. But now, people get offended, or don’t want to get categorized or whatever. But it worked!”

PREDECEASED

In the early stages of the pandemic, Amy Reichert cofounded ReOpen San Diego. The organization’s website describes ReOpen as “a nonpartisan group that stands against unjustified and unwarranted coercion, lockdowns, mandates, and restrictions that harm most everyone, especially children, small businesses, people who lost their jobs, and the lowest income residents in our community.” Soon after Reichert began organizing rallies and advertising the group’s meeting and events on her Facebook page, she noticed that some of her friends and even family members stopped talking to her. “The pushback that I got initially was shocking!” Reichert recalls. “The unfriending on Facebook was rampant,” she recalls. “It hurt family relationships and friendships that I had.”

As we sit under an oversized canopy at Sheldon’s restaurant in downtown La Mesa, she tells me that the week previous, she received a certified letter in the mail from her biological father, removing her from his will. “We had a very healthy and good relationship,” she says, “but all the vicious name calling, and all the assumptions made about people who had questions and were vaccine hesitant, led to divisions. After I cofounded ReOpen San Diego, it became a one-way relationship. He never reached out to me anymore. It was me reaching out to him. In the will, it says, ‘I disinherit Amy Reichert. For the purposes of this will, Amy Reichert has predeceased me,’ Imagine reading those words out loud! For God’s sake, please don’t direct an attorney to say that a loved one is dead to you! It’s just the cruelest thing.” Reichert takes a moment to compose herself, then shrugs, smoothing down the front of her perfectly pressed navy-blue dress and adjusting the gold pendant necklace around her neck, the one that reads, “Fearless.”

She continues, “My own brother, who is a teacher, unfriended and blocked me on Facebook when I started questioning the government’s narrative. We never even had a conversation about it, yet his immediate response was to unfriend me and block me. Prior to that, there was nothing in our relationship that would have justified that. I reached out to him, and I said, ‘Can we at least talk?’ He said, ‘I don’t want to talk about it!’ And that has been the response from a lot of people. In my 54 years of life on earth, I have never seen so many people so divided.”

Another relationship causality was Reichert’s best friend, “She has been my best friend since fourth grade. She posted a meme on Facebook, basically saying if you don’t get the vaccine, you are unpatriotic and you are a scaredy cat. So I texted her and I said ‘Hey, I just saw that meme you posted on Facebook. You said that people that are vaccine hesitant like me are unpatriotic and that we are afraid of a shot. You know that is not me.’ Her response was, ‘If you don’t want to get the vaccine, it makes me think that you don’t care about other people,’ I wrote back, ‘Where do we go from here? We have been friends for 45 years. You have known me through thick and thin and you are telling me you don’t think I really care about people?’”

Amy Reichert explains her driving force for running, “My opponent called me an anti-vaxxer-ultra-MAGA. I don’t even know what that means? I have had every vaccine known to man except for the Covid vaccine. If you were to put me in any category, you could place me in the vaccine hesitant.”

Despite her personal frustration, Reichert says she understands. “[The covid vaccine] was the largest marketing blitz and propaganda campaign in history,” she says. “The reason why I can say that now is because we all know what we know now. The CDC updated its guidelines in the beginning of August, saying, ‘Because the vaccines don’t stop infection or transmission, the CDC now recommends that you treat the vaccinated the same as you treat the unvaccinated.’” As she speaks, her voice begins to rise in pitch and volume. Two men at a table nearby swivel their heads and stare in our direction. One shakes his head; the other laughs. It is clear they don’t like what Reichert is saying. She is used to that.

JABBED/UNJABBED

Back in Mission Hills, as the pandemic raged, Jessica Dent was beginning to feel more and more isolated. It didn’t help that she was one of the few people in her neighborhood who had refused to follow the first mask mandate. Then, after “we were already living without masks for a couple of months, Gavin Newsom said, ‘You have to start wearing masks again.’ I was like, ‘NO, I am not doing it!’ So, I didn’t wear a mask again. I would get some looks. I was usually the only person — especially in my neighborhood — who didn’t wear one. It felt really isolating, because I was like, ‘I am doing this all by myself! Half of these people probably don’t believe in it either, but are too afraid of being singled out. And then the other half probably think I am trying to murder their grandmother.’ I was either a monster or the only person brave enough to stand up for what I believed.” Well, not quite the only person: “Once, I was in my favorite [neighborhood] grocery store, and this guy walked past me with a mask on. I saw him again a few minutes later without his mask on, and I was like, ‘Oh! I influenced someone to take their mask off!’” Her face flushes with emotion at the memory, and her blue eyes sparkle.

Like Amy Reichert, Jessica Dent never got vaccinated. By the time Christmas 2021 rolled around, most of her neighbors had already been through their first round of the vaccine, plus a round of boosters. People on her street started hosting parties again. “I had neighbors who knew I didn’t get vaccinated, and they choose not to invite us to certain holiday events. Only people who were vaccinated were invited. It was the first time in over ten years that we were excluded from those events.” Dent’s voice bubbles with a mixture of sadness and defiance as she recalls it.

She got covid that holiday season. As she lay on her couch, miserably sick, she began scrolling Instagram. She was already following a bunch of people who were questioning the government’s response to the pandemic, but now, something clicked. “They were questioning the decisions our political leaders were making, and I was becoming really, really, fearful and feeling super anxious. It was fear porn. I deleted some of those accounts, because even if what they were saying was true, all it was doing was causing fear. At the time, I had a close friend who was talking about moving out of California, maybe even leaving the country just to get away from everything. And so, sitting on the couch, that was the first time I thought about moving. I had lived in my home for 11 years. I loved that house. I thought I was going to die in that house. But from my couch, I could see into my neighbor’s home, and my neighbors weren’t neighborly anymore, because my neighbors were terrified. I mean, it was like if you even looked at someone, you might kill them. In [Mission Hills], everyone was terrified of everyone. It did not feel like I had a community anymore. Without that community, I just felt like I needed more room. I wasn’t ready to leave California, so we decided to move east to have more space for our family.”

Before moving, Dent placed not one, but two “Recall Gavin Newsom” signs in her yard. “It really felt like a middle finger to my neighbors.”

POLITICIZED

In January of 2022, San Diego’s district lines were redrawn. Amy Reichert found herself in District 4 — Nathan Fletcher’s district. Her voice is joyful when she recalls her decision to run for city commissioner. “I remember thinking, at the time, how I had watched all those San Diego County press conferences. I watched [Nathan Fletcher] put the CEO of Sharp on as a guest and heard that CEO of Sharp say that people who don’t wear masks are killers. My opponent would say things like, ‘You are selfish and unpatriotic and you are killing your neighbor if you don’t wear a mask!’ I just thought that was completely divisive and uncalled for. So, when I found out in January of 2022 that I had the opportunity to run against him, I was like, YES!”

As Reichert lists off the things she would have changed if she’d been elected commissioner, I notice how polished she is, with her perfectly curled, shoulder-length hair and French manicured nails. She has a strong jaw line and a trustworthy face. She explains her driving force for running, “My opponent called me an anti-vaxxer-ultra-MAGA. I don’t even know what that means? I have had every vaccine known to man except for the Covid vaccine. If you were to put me in any category, you could place me in the vaccine hesitant.”

Nathan Fletcher is not the only one who called Reichert names. When I ask her how it feels to be lumped into a group that many Californians view as uneducated, she winces before adding, “For a whole group of people to be called stupid and uneducated — that sounds like a propaganda campaign to me! I would never call a whole group of people stupid, ignorant, or uneducated. Since when do you have to believe in a vaccine? It either works or it doesn’t work! Just because I have questions about this particular shot does not mean that I don’t trust doctors or science. However, based upon the last couple of years, my trust in those institutions has failed a little bit. People were just a little bit too compliant on this one!”

LAMENT FOR AMERICA, PART I

Deanna Polk lives near restaurant-lined Newport Avenue. It’s a hot spot for tourists. On weekends, the far end of Newport is often clogged with patrons waiting in a line that snakes down the street to get into Hodads for a burger. It’s October when we speak, and although she is fully vaccinated and the covid numbers are dropping, Polk still avoids the scene. “I won’t walk down Newport. It’s like Westworld meets Night of the Living Dead down there. I have relaxed a little bit because I am vaccinated. Still, I don’t go out shopping. I don’t casually go to coffee shops or restaurants. I cook most of my own food at home.”

The biggest thrill Polk gets when walking around her neighborhood is spotting people who are still masked-up, “When I go out to grocery stores or into crowded areas on the street, I put my mask on. I love to see other people doing the same. I used to be envious of the Japanese. I would always get sick after being on an airplane, but I was too embarrassed to wear a mask. I would see pictures of people in Japan wearing a mask, and I wished we would do that. We are moving toward that with a certain segment of society. I love it when I see a guy with a mask on. If you are not wearing a mask in a crowded area, that is not sexy. If they are, it shows they have brains and they care.”

Moving forward, Polk would like to see more non-partisan education on public health. She believes education will make all the difference when it comes to preventing another widespread virus. “Our country has been on a downward slide for the last 40 years. America used to be first in science, education, and health care. Not anymore. We have sunk so low. We are seeing that right now with this whole belief that our personal freedoms are being infringed! Your personal freedom should not allow you, when you know there is a deadly virus that is transmitted airborne, to go out there and be a weapon of mass destruction. That is what these people who refuse to follow these simple guidelines are doing.”

LAMENT FOR AMERICA, PART 2

As for Jessica Dent, she says a big part of her refusal to adhere to covid guidelines came from a fear of government control. “I felt that if I continued to follow these stupid mandates, and everyone just continued following the mandates that we all know are bullshit, then we were never going to get out of this space. If we do everysinglething that our lame-ass government tells us to do, we have given them more authority than they deserve. They don’t own that much of our lives, and we were giving them more and more. And every inch that we give, they take, and they are never going to give back what we have given them. I am not going to give them what I am willing to not get back.”

Looking back on the past couple of years, she says, “It sucked, and I didn’t stand up nearly as much as a lot of people did. The things I did, for me, were a big deal, because I am not controversial. For me to walk around in my incredibly liberal neighborhood being the only person in every store without a mask on, that felt super isolating. But I just could not keep following an order I did not agree with.”

Dent looks around the restaurant and lowers her voice before adding, “After I got covid, I was like ‘Really? That was it?’ I was sick for three days. I just thought, ‘That is what I am supposed to be scared shitless over?”

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Gonzo Report: House of Blues’ Voodoo Room hosts Friko and Mind’s Eye

All-ages venue gives emerging acts a shot at reaching San Diegans of different generations
“I got into fights,” recalls Deanna Polk. “I got kicked out of stores so many times! It was mostly for telling staff and shoppers to mask up, or for demanding people stand six feet away from me. I didn’t care! This is my life!”
“I got into fights,” recalls Deanna Polk. “I got kicked out of stores so many times! It was mostly for telling staff and shoppers to mask up, or for demanding people stand six feet away from me. I didn’t care! This is my life!”

When the shutdown started, I was working at a preschool in Hillcrest. I can still picture my director walking down the stairs from her office above my classroom to tell us it was time to send our kids home. I was sitting in a swivel chair, reading a story to my students, who were leisurely sprawled on the rug at my feet. I heard the click of Rexanna’s shoes on the concrete stairs above. Then I spotted the top of her head through my dusty classroom window. We had heard rumors that covid-19 would shut down the schools, but I wasn’t expecting it to happen that day, and not so suddenly. But as soon as I saw Rexanna’s ponytail, I knew that I would be calling parents. Later, when those parents came to retrieve their kids, I was met with confusion and questions. Most wanted to know how long the school would be closed. “Two weeks,” I assured them — with complete confidence.

Of course, my confidence was entirely misplaced; I didn’t have the slightest inkling of the chaos to come. But I got a glimpse of it on my way home. I stopped at my local grocery store, and was surprised to find the parking lot full, with cars spilling into the lot next door. Some people were wearing masks, a jarring sight at the time. It looked like a costume, like something out of The Handmaid’s Tale. An overwhelming sense of doom came over me. I stopped hunting for a parking spot and drove home, a decision I would later regret when we ran out of toilet paper.

For those first few weeks, it seems to me that we really did present a united front. All of us were in this thing together. But as “two weeks to slow the spread” became a dim echo of the distant past, it became evident that people had opinions about covid. They also had opinions about the government’s response to it, and about the public’s compliance with that response — or lack thereof. That initial sense of community began to unravel. Soon, there were sides: the cautious and not so cautious. People began hurling labels at those with differing views: MAGAs, sheep, paranoid, grandma killers, fearmongers, the jabbed, the anti-vaxxers, and on and on. President Biden said in September that the pandemic was over, but even now, the opinions and labels keep coming, splashed all over the media, social and otherwise.

DENTED

Jessica Dent is either “not so cautious” or a “grandma killer,” depending on your point of view. Her neighbors in Mission Hills tended toward the latter, so much so that she wound up moving to East County. “At the beginning of covid,” she recalls, “I didn’t realize it would become political. It did feel weird to me that we were told what to do, that we could or couldn’t leave our homes, and that people could not come to our home. But I was like, ‘They said two weeks. We will give them two weeks.’ But those two weeks turned into much, much, longer.” Right now, we are sitting in a small Italian restaurant in Lemon Grove; Dent’s Louis Vuitton handbag is in the chair next to hers. She wears a long-sleeved white t-shirt and dangly gold earrings, and her brown hair falls just a little below her shoulders. She doesn’t look to me like an East County grandma killer — whatever that looks like.

Via social media, Dent began noticing that friends and family in other states were still gathering, while she was still stuck in isolation on the West Coast. When Mother’s Day 2020 rolled around, she decided that she was going to invite her mom over, plus her brother and his family. “At that point, my brother was still nervous [about covid],” she says. “So I had a long conversation with him. I told him, ‘I am going to let Mom make her own decision. If she wants to come to our house, she can. I feel like it has been long enough,’ He was still apprehensive, so I told him, ‘I am not going to tell her to come over. I am going to tell her, “This is your life, you can make that decision if you want to come over on Mother’s Day,”’”

Dent’s mom did come over, and the day passed without incident. That proved the beginning of Dent’s gradual departure from many of the CDC’s covid guidelines. But while Dent was comfortable resuming many aspects of her pre-covid life, her neighbors were not. To Dent, they appeared to be consumed with fear over the virus. “My family had gotten over that [fear]. We realized, ‘This is a really bad cold. It sucks if you get it, but if you are relatively healthy, you will be fine!’ We had friends in Jamul, and we spent a lot of time at their house. I feel like East County did not really feel the effects of covid tension as much as we did in the city. For me, it was very stressful, because I felt like our neighbors were judging us. Our friends joked that they were going to dig a tunnel to our house so that our neighbors did not know when we had them over.”

Dent first realized that she would have issues with neighbors after posting a video to social media “of two doctors who were voicing their concern over the level of intrusion the government had, and what they were seeing in their clinics with the patients they were treating. It was the first time that I came out as saying, ‘I oppose what our state and local politicians are pushing,’ That was when I started to get pushback from my neighbors, because I lived in a very liberal neighborhood.” One of those neighbors posted a rebuttal, in the form of an article with a differing perspective. Dent recalls seeing the response and feeling stung. It felt personal somehow. Apparently, she was right, or at least, not entirely wrong. Recalls Dent, “[The neighbor] texted afterwards and said, ‘I am sorry I sent that article. I should’ve responded to you privately. I don’t want this to come between our relationship. I love you guys.’”

Sponsored
Sponsored

Soon afterward, says Dent, those same neighbors stopped talking her, and to her husband. “They ghosted us. We just stopped hanging out. We used to have weekly and bi-weekly dinners together in our homes. I knew that they were still spending time with other people that agreed with them, and my kids were still spending time with their kids. So I knew that they were not legitimately afraid of [catching covid from] our family. I did not want to lose the friendship. I knew where they stood politically. We have always had different political values and beliefs, but we have never before let that come between us. We used to be able to talk about our differences without it affecting our relationship. Now, anyone who questions the covid narrative, suddenly is like a MAGA Trump supporter! I thought this was just a virus?” Before long, Dent noticed a chill in her relationship with other neighbors as well.

POLKED

“I got into fights,” recalls Deanna Polk. “I got kicked out of stores so many times! It was mostly for telling staff and shoppers to mask up, or for demanding people stand six feet away from me. I didn’t care! This is my life! People would get mad. They would berate me and call me a sheep. They would say I had fallen for propaganda. It was sad, especially to hear those who I agreed with politically berate me. It was coming from both the right and the left. They were in total denial. It was a hard spot to be in when I had the knowledge base and people were not accepting it.”

I am sitting with Polk in her living room in Ocean Beach. On the wall behind me, a Bernie Sanders figurine sits on a tiny folding chair inside a shadow box, sporting a disposable mask and wearing his famed oversized mittens — a miniature representation of the viral Sanders photo taken during Biden’s Inauguration. Polk is wearing a patterned peasant top and white shorts. Her salt and pepper hair falls past her shoulders, traveling midway down her back.

Within the first few minutes of our meeting, Polk lists her qualifications for supporting government shutdowns and mask mandates during the pandemic. “I have a Bachelor of Science in nursing with public health certification, a minor in anthropology, and I have a Master of Science in Homeland Security with a specialization in science and technology. I was the public health coordinator for the first online public disaster drill. I was trained by the CDC during the Ebola crisis for quarantine. So, I went into the [covid] pandemic with a broader understanding than most people. I am still horrified over how it was handled — and mishandled.” She grimaces. “We have a dumbed down society, especially when it comes to public health,” she says, letting out a lengthy sigh.

Throughout the pandemic, Polk was on a mission to counter that dumbing down with education. She voiced her concerns regularly, whenever and wherever she could: on her local Nextdoor app, in Facebook posts, in confrontations with unmasked people in her neighborhood, or via countless phone calls to local leaders. Polk believed that she needed to be vocal in order to contain the virus. In the early days of the pandemic, she was horrified to discover that her local mail carrier did not wear a mask. “I opened my door and saw he did not have a mask on. [Postal carriers] are supposed to be wearing masks! I said, ‘You need to be wearing a mask.’ After that, he started harassing me every time he [delivered my mail]. I had to get the postal manager to pull him off this route because he was threatening me. He would get in my face, and he refused to wear a mask. Some of the Amazon drivers were the same. I got busy reporting these guys because they were like Typhoid Mary. They had no idea what they were doing.”

It got to the point where the country did not look to her like the one in which she had grown up. “I love being an American,” she says. “I don’t like seeing a million Americans die, especially when we had the knowledge base to prevent those deaths, and so many purposely choose to ignore it. In America, we are supposed to be about helping each other. That got twisted around during the pandemic. It became, ‘No, I need mine! I don’t give a fuck about you! I am not wearing a mask! I don’t care if your grandma dies.’” Polk exhales deeply, as if releasing pent up disappointment, before continuing, “Back in the early part of the century, we had to put quarantine signs on houses when people had measles and stuff. But now, people get offended, or don’t want to get categorized or whatever. But it worked!”

PREDECEASED

In the early stages of the pandemic, Amy Reichert cofounded ReOpen San Diego. The organization’s website describes ReOpen as “a nonpartisan group that stands against unjustified and unwarranted coercion, lockdowns, mandates, and restrictions that harm most everyone, especially children, small businesses, people who lost their jobs, and the lowest income residents in our community.” Soon after Reichert began organizing rallies and advertising the group’s meeting and events on her Facebook page, she noticed that some of her friends and even family members stopped talking to her. “The pushback that I got initially was shocking!” Reichert recalls. “The unfriending on Facebook was rampant,” she recalls. “It hurt family relationships and friendships that I had.”

As we sit under an oversized canopy at Sheldon’s restaurant in downtown La Mesa, she tells me that the week previous, she received a certified letter in the mail from her biological father, removing her from his will. “We had a very healthy and good relationship,” she says, “but all the vicious name calling, and all the assumptions made about people who had questions and were vaccine hesitant, led to divisions. After I cofounded ReOpen San Diego, it became a one-way relationship. He never reached out to me anymore. It was me reaching out to him. In the will, it says, ‘I disinherit Amy Reichert. For the purposes of this will, Amy Reichert has predeceased me,’ Imagine reading those words out loud! For God’s sake, please don’t direct an attorney to say that a loved one is dead to you! It’s just the cruelest thing.” Reichert takes a moment to compose herself, then shrugs, smoothing down the front of her perfectly pressed navy-blue dress and adjusting the gold pendant necklace around her neck, the one that reads, “Fearless.”

She continues, “My own brother, who is a teacher, unfriended and blocked me on Facebook when I started questioning the government’s narrative. We never even had a conversation about it, yet his immediate response was to unfriend me and block me. Prior to that, there was nothing in our relationship that would have justified that. I reached out to him, and I said, ‘Can we at least talk?’ He said, ‘I don’t want to talk about it!’ And that has been the response from a lot of people. In my 54 years of life on earth, I have never seen so many people so divided.”

Another relationship causality was Reichert’s best friend, “She has been my best friend since fourth grade. She posted a meme on Facebook, basically saying if you don’t get the vaccine, you are unpatriotic and you are a scaredy cat. So I texted her and I said ‘Hey, I just saw that meme you posted on Facebook. You said that people that are vaccine hesitant like me are unpatriotic and that we are afraid of a shot. You know that is not me.’ Her response was, ‘If you don’t want to get the vaccine, it makes me think that you don’t care about other people,’ I wrote back, ‘Where do we go from here? We have been friends for 45 years. You have known me through thick and thin and you are telling me you don’t think I really care about people?’”

Amy Reichert explains her driving force for running, “My opponent called me an anti-vaxxer-ultra-MAGA. I don’t even know what that means? I have had every vaccine known to man except for the Covid vaccine. If you were to put me in any category, you could place me in the vaccine hesitant.”

Despite her personal frustration, Reichert says she understands. “[The covid vaccine] was the largest marketing blitz and propaganda campaign in history,” she says. “The reason why I can say that now is because we all know what we know now. The CDC updated its guidelines in the beginning of August, saying, ‘Because the vaccines don’t stop infection or transmission, the CDC now recommends that you treat the vaccinated the same as you treat the unvaccinated.’” As she speaks, her voice begins to rise in pitch and volume. Two men at a table nearby swivel their heads and stare in our direction. One shakes his head; the other laughs. It is clear they don’t like what Reichert is saying. She is used to that.

JABBED/UNJABBED

Back in Mission Hills, as the pandemic raged, Jessica Dent was beginning to feel more and more isolated. It didn’t help that she was one of the few people in her neighborhood who had refused to follow the first mask mandate. Then, after “we were already living without masks for a couple of months, Gavin Newsom said, ‘You have to start wearing masks again.’ I was like, ‘NO, I am not doing it!’ So, I didn’t wear a mask again. I would get some looks. I was usually the only person — especially in my neighborhood — who didn’t wear one. It felt really isolating, because I was like, ‘I am doing this all by myself! Half of these people probably don’t believe in it either, but are too afraid of being singled out. And then the other half probably think I am trying to murder their grandmother.’ I was either a monster or the only person brave enough to stand up for what I believed.” Well, not quite the only person: “Once, I was in my favorite [neighborhood] grocery store, and this guy walked past me with a mask on. I saw him again a few minutes later without his mask on, and I was like, ‘Oh! I influenced someone to take their mask off!’” Her face flushes with emotion at the memory, and her blue eyes sparkle.

Like Amy Reichert, Jessica Dent never got vaccinated. By the time Christmas 2021 rolled around, most of her neighbors had already been through their first round of the vaccine, plus a round of boosters. People on her street started hosting parties again. “I had neighbors who knew I didn’t get vaccinated, and they choose not to invite us to certain holiday events. Only people who were vaccinated were invited. It was the first time in over ten years that we were excluded from those events.” Dent’s voice bubbles with a mixture of sadness and defiance as she recalls it.

She got covid that holiday season. As she lay on her couch, miserably sick, she began scrolling Instagram. She was already following a bunch of people who were questioning the government’s response to the pandemic, but now, something clicked. “They were questioning the decisions our political leaders were making, and I was becoming really, really, fearful and feeling super anxious. It was fear porn. I deleted some of those accounts, because even if what they were saying was true, all it was doing was causing fear. At the time, I had a close friend who was talking about moving out of California, maybe even leaving the country just to get away from everything. And so, sitting on the couch, that was the first time I thought about moving. I had lived in my home for 11 years. I loved that house. I thought I was going to die in that house. But from my couch, I could see into my neighbor’s home, and my neighbors weren’t neighborly anymore, because my neighbors were terrified. I mean, it was like if you even looked at someone, you might kill them. In [Mission Hills], everyone was terrified of everyone. It did not feel like I had a community anymore. Without that community, I just felt like I needed more room. I wasn’t ready to leave California, so we decided to move east to have more space for our family.”

Before moving, Dent placed not one, but two “Recall Gavin Newsom” signs in her yard. “It really felt like a middle finger to my neighbors.”

POLITICIZED

In January of 2022, San Diego’s district lines were redrawn. Amy Reichert found herself in District 4 — Nathan Fletcher’s district. Her voice is joyful when she recalls her decision to run for city commissioner. “I remember thinking, at the time, how I had watched all those San Diego County press conferences. I watched [Nathan Fletcher] put the CEO of Sharp on as a guest and heard that CEO of Sharp say that people who don’t wear masks are killers. My opponent would say things like, ‘You are selfish and unpatriotic and you are killing your neighbor if you don’t wear a mask!’ I just thought that was completely divisive and uncalled for. So, when I found out in January of 2022 that I had the opportunity to run against him, I was like, YES!”

As Reichert lists off the things she would have changed if she’d been elected commissioner, I notice how polished she is, with her perfectly curled, shoulder-length hair and French manicured nails. She has a strong jaw line and a trustworthy face. She explains her driving force for running, “My opponent called me an anti-vaxxer-ultra-MAGA. I don’t even know what that means? I have had every vaccine known to man except for the Covid vaccine. If you were to put me in any category, you could place me in the vaccine hesitant.”

Nathan Fletcher is not the only one who called Reichert names. When I ask her how it feels to be lumped into a group that many Californians view as uneducated, she winces before adding, “For a whole group of people to be called stupid and uneducated — that sounds like a propaganda campaign to me! I would never call a whole group of people stupid, ignorant, or uneducated. Since when do you have to believe in a vaccine? It either works or it doesn’t work! Just because I have questions about this particular shot does not mean that I don’t trust doctors or science. However, based upon the last couple of years, my trust in those institutions has failed a little bit. People were just a little bit too compliant on this one!”

LAMENT FOR AMERICA, PART I

Deanna Polk lives near restaurant-lined Newport Avenue. It’s a hot spot for tourists. On weekends, the far end of Newport is often clogged with patrons waiting in a line that snakes down the street to get into Hodads for a burger. It’s October when we speak, and although she is fully vaccinated and the covid numbers are dropping, Polk still avoids the scene. “I won’t walk down Newport. It’s like Westworld meets Night of the Living Dead down there. I have relaxed a little bit because I am vaccinated. Still, I don’t go out shopping. I don’t casually go to coffee shops or restaurants. I cook most of my own food at home.”

The biggest thrill Polk gets when walking around her neighborhood is spotting people who are still masked-up, “When I go out to grocery stores or into crowded areas on the street, I put my mask on. I love to see other people doing the same. I used to be envious of the Japanese. I would always get sick after being on an airplane, but I was too embarrassed to wear a mask. I would see pictures of people in Japan wearing a mask, and I wished we would do that. We are moving toward that with a certain segment of society. I love it when I see a guy with a mask on. If you are not wearing a mask in a crowded area, that is not sexy. If they are, it shows they have brains and they care.”

Moving forward, Polk would like to see more non-partisan education on public health. She believes education will make all the difference when it comes to preventing another widespread virus. “Our country has been on a downward slide for the last 40 years. America used to be first in science, education, and health care. Not anymore. We have sunk so low. We are seeing that right now with this whole belief that our personal freedoms are being infringed! Your personal freedom should not allow you, when you know there is a deadly virus that is transmitted airborne, to go out there and be a weapon of mass destruction. That is what these people who refuse to follow these simple guidelines are doing.”

LAMENT FOR AMERICA, PART 2

As for Jessica Dent, she says a big part of her refusal to adhere to covid guidelines came from a fear of government control. “I felt that if I continued to follow these stupid mandates, and everyone just continued following the mandates that we all know are bullshit, then we were never going to get out of this space. If we do everysinglething that our lame-ass government tells us to do, we have given them more authority than they deserve. They don’t own that much of our lives, and we were giving them more and more. And every inch that we give, they take, and they are never going to give back what we have given them. I am not going to give them what I am willing to not get back.”

Looking back on the past couple of years, she says, “It sucked, and I didn’t stand up nearly as much as a lot of people did. The things I did, for me, were a big deal, because I am not controversial. For me to walk around in my incredibly liberal neighborhood being the only person in every store without a mask on, that felt super isolating. But I just could not keep following an order I did not agree with.”

Dent looks around the restaurant and lowers her voice before adding, “After I got covid, I was like ‘Really? That was it?’ I was sick for three days. I just thought, ‘That is what I am supposed to be scared shitless over?”

Comments
Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

8 Reasons To Get Your Children A Trampoline

Next Article

Rosemarie's out to show sliders have legs in Mission Beach

A stationary kitchen turns out even saucier superstuffed mini buns
Comments
Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories Fishing Report — What’s getting hooked from ship and shore From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town The Gonzo Report — Making the musical scene, or at least reporting from it Letters — Our inbox Movies@Home — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Theater — On stage in San Diego this week Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close

Anchor ads are not supported on this page.