News & Politics

I Quit Selling Real Estate to Fight on the Frontlines of Covid. Why I’d Do It Again.

"I’ve had multiple days where I was scared. When you’re helping people, the feeling is so rewarding, it overcomes anything else."

Natalee Snider, 43, is a DC real-estate agent with Compass who dropped everything to enlist with DC’s Medical Reserve Corps and Health Department.

“I’m not going to lie, I’m a Walking Dead fan, so when they were saying this was a pandemic, it was scary—were people going to be dropping like flies? I served in the Air Force; I was an information manager. I just knew I wanted to be on the frontlines. Look, a house is essential, but the actual work of real estate—if people are dropping like flies, is a realtor at the top of the list of people you need? No. I wanted to be useful.

“I saw on Twitter that the mayor announced the Medical Reserve Corps of volunteers. I applied—this was March 21 or so—and we got deployed to help run testing sites. I went every single day, and as they started opening up new sites, I was always the person who had been around the longest. Because some people got scared or could only come one day a week—some are PhDs, doctors, lawyers. So when it was time to open up the Judiciary Square site, the Department of Health asked: Could I run it? It’s so interesting—my mother told me as a teenager, ‘If you really care about something and you want to get a job in it, you should volunteer.’

“I started in June as the incident commander at Judiciary Square and became a paid employee. I would wake up at 4:45, get to the site at 5:45, walk the site—it’s a looong block—I’d talk to the police officer from overnight to make sure nothing crazy had happened. We opened at 8. We would have, let’s say, 350 to almost 600 people a day coming to get tested. We’d be there till 4:30 cleaning up. One day felt like a week. But it just felt like an honor to help all these people.

“Then in August, I joined the city’s contact-tracing force. What I’m doing now is extremely private, doing investigations and helping people get resources to isolate and quarantine. Some skills carried over from real estate: being personable, being relatable. You’re trying to get people to reveal things and do certain things so the whole city doesn’t become positive.

Photo courtesy of subject.

“I’ve had multiple days where I was scared. There have been times where I’ve had to be in real close proximity to a patient, where even in PPE I felt like I was going to get it. One time, my throat was hurting really bad. I was coughing like crazy—I was like, Oh, my God, I think I have it. But 15 minutes later when I had driven out of the area, it stopped. I think it was the pollen. Knock on wood, I have never tested positive. And when you’re helping people, the feeling is so rewarding, it overcomes anything else.

“I’ve been getting calls from real-estate clients, people thinking about putting their house on the market. I know that I’m turning away business. And I’m scared to have that conversation with my broker about when I’ll come back. This whole thing has me thinking about my future. My salary now is miserably less. Yesterday I went to Walmart and got some Gatorade—It was $1. Usually when I’d be in a rush, I’d go to 7-Eleven, where the Gatorade is $2.50, and now I’m like, never again. I look at the price of everything now. But years from now, if someone is like, ‘What did you do during the pandemic?,’ I feel like this is how I contributed.”

Don’t Miss Another Big Story—Get Our Weekend Newsletter

Our most popular stories of the week, sent every Saturday.

Or, see all of our newsletters. By signing up, you agree to our terms.
More:
Kristen Hinman
Articles Editor

Kristen Hinman has been editing Washingtonian’s features since 2014. She joined the magazine after editing politics & policy coverage for Bloomberg Businessweek and working as a staff writer for Voice Media Group/Riverfront Times.