The Philadelphia Nurse Who Keeps Fighting for His Patients—Even After the Government Moved On

tarik coronavirus jpg

Tarik Khan

By Keya Vakil

November 2, 2020

Tarik Khan is a 42-year-old nurse in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has worked with COVID-19 patients and volunteered at testing sites and worked to help educate Pennsylvanians about the dangers of the virus.

Ahead of Election Day, COURIER spoke to five Americans who’ve been impacted by COVID-19 in one way or another. Read more of their stories here.

Tarik Khan feels alone. 

The 42-year-old Philadelphia nurse has been doing everything he can to help out during the coronavirus pandemic, describing it as an “all hands on deck situation.”

Khan works at a federally qualified health center where he helps treat underserved patients—most of whom are low-income, people of color—in the Nicetown section of Philadelphia. He estimates that a few dozen of his patients had been diagnosed with COVID-19, including some who were still experiencing symptoms months later. Like in other cities, the virus has hit Philadelphia’s Black communities much harder than white residents, exacerbating already existing inequities as it relates to health, access to insurance, and income. 

“I had one patient who had seven family members die of COVID-19,” Khan told COURIER. “Not that got COVID-19, that died of COVID-19.” 

Outside of his “day job,” Khan has volunteered at several testing sites, including running tests on staff and residents in nursing homes, which have been devastated by the pandemic. He’s also gone on local television and participated on panels to help educate the public on best practices to protect themselves and their families.

Despite doing his part, Khan feels that he and other medical workers have been failed by the federal government, due to the lack of a coordinated response to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the Trump administration has repeatedly downplayed the virus, compared it to the flu, politicized masks and social distancing, spread misinformation, sidelined scientists, and failed to provide adequate testing and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Khan said he was fortunate, because his employer prioritized safety and provided ample PPE. But others weren’t so lucky.

“The federal government should have made sure that there was an ample supply, that we followed the playbook, that we listened to the scientists, and that we prepared accordingly and that didn’t happen,” Khan said. “It’s still not happening.”

This failure has left Khan and his colleagues in the medical profession feeling vulnerable and abandoned. 

“As a healthcare provider, you’re a servant. You’re there to serve people and our country,”  Khan said. “We don’t work for the government, but to know that the agencies that should be protecting you … because you’re supporting the country—to feel that we don’t have that support, it’s a very lonely feeling and it is also a very scary feeling.”

The lack of PPE has left nurses worried about contracting the virus and potentially passing it along to their families, according to Khan. 

“They deserve better than a government that has treated this like it’s no big deal, that it’s going to go away, that it’s not that serious, that it’s more of a political thing than an actual thing.”

“They deserve better than a government that has treated this like it’s no big deal, that it’s going to go away, that it’s not that serious, that it’s more of a political thing than an actual thing,” Khan said. “We can beat this. It should be our patriotic duty to beat this virus, and it should be the duty of our government to ensure that we have as nurses what we need to protect our patients and that we have the best information coming out of our federal institutions.”

Khan had hoped that he could rely on the CDC for “unimpeachable information,” but instead, the CDC’s confusing, unclear guidelines left him scratching his head. 

As cases surge across the country, setting daily records, Khan said he has no idea what the government’s plan is, or if there even is one. He is worried that in the coming weeks and months, things will get worse than they’ve been in the US. “We’ve already seen morgues that are piling up [with bodies]. We have hospitals in some areas that have no ICU beds.” 

He’s also concerned that the failure to prepare for such a surge will once again disproportionately devastate communities of color and the most marginalized members of society, such as those in nursing homes. 

“It shouldn’t be the case that our most vulnerable don’t have protection,” he said. “They don’t have that support from the government that they deserve … We knew that these individuals would be most at risk and to know that there is no cavalry that’s there to make sure that they get the care that they need—it’s very sad.”

But as Khan made clear, no one is safe from this virus. 

“Only 10% of this country has actually been exposed to this thing, so to think that this can’t get worse is very provincial thinking,” Khan said. “If we don’t get a vaccine and if these hot spots keep popping up, this could get really bad and we could have a lot more people die of this, and it doesn’t need to happen.”

Khan still believes that the US can turn things around, but said it would require the government to change its tune and reverse course from the response thus far, which he described as “a failure of the most epic proportions.”

“Our federal government has a responsibility to protect Americans. That is the goal, whether it’s terrorism, whether it’s gun violence, whether it’s a pandemic,” Khan said. “That is the responsibility of the government.”

READ MORE: Your Coronavirus Stories: Here’s How We’re Dealing—or Aren’t


  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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