Community During Covid


“Rather than stay on vacation, I decided to move back to the East Coast early, and I took a contract with a field hospital in Queens, New York during the Queens outbreak.”

– Katie CapanoFamily nurse practitioner/nurse midwife

Fighting COVID-19 on the Front Lines

Katie Capano is a family nurse practitioner, a nurse midwife, and a Burner. She currently lives in Baltimore, where she’s working at a hospital as a staff midwife, and studying for a doctorate of nursing practice and a master’s in public health.

Katie has spent the last few years volunteering for Black Rock City’s Emergency Services Department (ESD). She’s also on the event’s COVID-19 task force, one of the medical professionals planning COVID-19 mitigation strategies and health protocols that will help determine when we can return to Black Rock City.

When COVID hit, Katie was on a pause between roles. “Rather than stay on vacation,” she explained, “I decided to move back to the East Coast early, and I took a contract with a field hospital in Queens, New York during the Queens outbreak.” Because Katie is a bilingual Spanish/English speaker, she started doing double duty as a nurse practitioner, and as a translator for the sickest patients in the unit’s COVID hot zone.

“It was really difficult. It was mostly low-income people, [including some] undocumented immigrants who didn’t have health insurance… They would come to us. We were giving excellent care to people who usually fall through the cracks.”

-Katie Capano

Katie’s Burner connections, and experience in Black Rock City’s ESD, have given her hope and support during a dark time. “One of my Burning Man colleagues, Noelle Solseng, also took a contract in a COVID ICU and we were each other’s support system in Queens, which was incredible. I was super grateful to have a Burning Man contact there.

“It’s a really fun part of going to Burning Man for me, meeting other Burners who are healthcare workers. Being a medical professional in the United States, especially on the East Coast, people can be kind of rigid. It’s hard to find a safe space in my career path. Whenever I go to Burning Man, I’m like, ‘Ohhhh you guys… there are other people like me all over the country!’ It gives me a lot more hope and faith.”

Community Support During COVID

Burners know how to organize, mobilize, and make things happen on a grassroots level. Throughout a challenging year, we put our hearts and lives on the line, applying ingenuity, empathy, and community-building skills to support communities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Burners on the Front Lines of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Black Rock City’s Emergency Services Department (ESD) is staffed by skilled Burners who work as nurses, doctors, paramedics, emergency dispatchers, and beyond. In 2020 we saw members of the ESD team deployed to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic, wildfires and hurricanes, and social justice protests. Many went to New York City in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and were subsequently redeployed to other hotspots across the US.

Sourcing Essential Personal Protective Equipment

It’s no secret that many Burners have a handy supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) stashed in their playa bins. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Burners Without Borders (BWB) sprung into action with a drive to source and deliver PPE to the people who needed it most. Burners delivered thousands of N95 masks, goggles, rubber gloves, and surgical masks to medical responders.

Momentum grew, and BWB joined forces with more than a dozen grassroots databases to coalesce under GetUSPPE, which became (and continues to be) the most comprehensive database of PPE needs and offers in the US. BWB also partnered with Protect Native Elders and others to support Indigenous communities in their PPE needs.

Volunteering in Capetown’s Community Action Networks

South African Burners stepped up to lend their skills and support to vulnerable communities through Community Action Networks (CAN). More than 100 of these self-organized networks are now active in Capetown’s suburbs, where they provide everything from medical care to meals, essential supplies to food donations. AfrikaBurn community member Kevin Kgara Rack, who volunteers for a CAN in Muizenberg township, writes,

“As a member of the Muizenberg-CAN, I’ve been working on the frontlines with deep gratitude for the power of collective action in the face of crisis.”

-Kevin Kgara Rack

Fortifying Networks Through Community Roundup Calls

Every two weeks from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic through the end of 2020, Burners Without Borders hosted open meetings with the goal of organizing mutual aid. Participants presented more than 200 community projects during the calls. The Community Roundup calls allowed the extended BWB network to take their traditional disaster relief skills and expand that organizing ability across time zones and geography, leading to more connectivity and grassroots organization in the network. Because Community Roundup Calls were agile and open, participants were able to easily shift between topics, based on challenges the community was tackling.

“Through the Burners Without Borders platform, I’ve been able to work with a vast network of creatives, do-ers, thinkers, and dreamers who not only envision a better human experience, but have the tools and drive to execute on that vision.

“I’ve learned about permaculture, social work, grant writing, and community building. I’ve helped get money into the hands of artists, food into the hands of activists, tools into the hands of wizened grandmas, and shelter into the hands of those who had none.

“I’m grateful for the resilience, aptitude, intelligence, and creativity that has leaked out from that thing in the desert to my little corner of the Pacific Northwest.”

– Molly HarpelChapter Lead for Burners Without Borders, Portland, Oregon