Frontline Initiative: DSPs Respond to COVID-19

I am a Direct Support Professional and I got COVID-19


Nevil Genjang is a direct support professional at Lutheran Social Services in Minneapolis, MN. He can be reached at

African man with short dark hair, dark glasses, purple button up shirt, jeans and brown belt standing with hands in pockets.

Nevil Genjang

I was hit but not scared by COVID-19. My name is Nevil Genjang. I am a direct support professional (DSP), and supporting others is my passion. I have worked in direct support for many years at several organizations. Presently, I am a Minnesota LEND fellow for 2021–22 and I study at the University of Minnesota while also working as a DSP. In April 2020, when I got COVID-19, I worked in an In-Home Services program and a crisis program. My shifts at providing direct support started at 4 pm Monday through Friday and every other weekend. These were great moments when I looked forward to meeting colleagues and persons we served. We spent a lot of time finding things to do in the neighborhood. Oftentimes, people I support spoke up about things they wanted to do, and that was really fun. We would shop for clothes or buy CDs to listen to music. 

COVID hit and things started turning around. Precautions were taken. Personal efforts were made, but it is hard to protect a DSP in a pandemic. As frontline workers, we meet so many people. We exchange materials like car seats, cars, and computers. We share rooms with many others. The risk is no less for the people we serve.

I could tell without doubt that I had the virus. Panic, worries, and desperation befell my family. I worried deep within me that I was going to die.

By 3 p.m. each day in the week of April 24, 2020, I was getting sleepy and tired. But I wasn’t alarmed yet. After all, no one at work had reported an infection, at least not that I knew of. But my symptoms started feeling like malaria, an illness I knew a lot about from growing up in my native Ambazonia, Southern Cameroon. I knew people had compared symptoms of COVID-19 to malaria, and that alarmed me. I quickly arranged to be tested for COVID-19 on April 24. Before I got the positive test result on April 27, I was already very sick. I could tell without doubt that I had the virus. Panic, worries, and desperation befell my family. I worried deep within me that I was going to die.

The implications were huge for my wife and kids. We lived in a three-bedroom apartment with barely enough space for everyone. I locked myself in a room in our apartment. I allowed no one to come in. Knowing that my kids are young, and it would be hard to follow strict instructions, we needed a second apartment. With the help of my eldest child and friends, my family was able to stay away in a second apartment. This went on for over a month. My wife returned home only to drop off food and medicine. I was left to myself. I lost my sense of taste and smell. I had strange dreams, alternating chills and sweating. I had headaches, fever, and a cough.

Every day I was sick, my wife called asking if my symptoms were getting worse. She wondered if I should see a doctor, or if she should call an ambulance to take me to the hospital. When they delivered my COVID test result, my doctor advised me to take Tylenol and stay home. That was it. But it sounded like a sentence to death row as I was all by myself. That was the standard of care at the time. I was home fighting the virus for weeks. Even when I had recovered, I stayed away from my family for two weeks. I deep cleaned our apartment. I didn’t want my family to get sick, and thankfully they did not.

Some of my family and friends in Cameroon doubted whether COVID-19 was real. This was even after a friend of mine who lives there was being buried after dying from COVID-19. I remember calling my siblings from my sick bed. I warned them to stay away, and that COVID-19 is real. I told them to please take this seriously. I was scared but did not tell them that I too may die soon.

While I was sick, my supervisor at work sent me paperwork to apply for a leave of absence. However, I’m pretty sure they did not know at that time how much power COVID-19 has over its victims. I could barely get myself to the bathroom and back to bed. Applying or thinking of applying for a leave of absence or unemployment was just an impractical thing to consider at that point. Unfortunately, I still have not been paid for the days that I was out of work from COVID-19, which was more than a month. I also spent more than my income to stay home, treat myself, and manage the spread. The scars of COVID-19 were not only the lacerations on my inflamed body, but also the financial strain and burden of debts we bear from that time. I have also had some post-COVID-19 symptoms that have remained with me after recovering. These are not infectious, and they don’t interfere with my work at this time, but I do need to continue to take care of myself. It was the right thing to do when I got COVID to stay home and recover for the sake of my family and the people I support. Through it all, there is worth and dignity in being a DSP.