Nida Allam made history last month, becoming the first Muslim woman elected to public office in North Carolina. But the job — indeed, the world — will be very different from the one she imagined when she decided to run for a seat on the Durham County Board of Commissioners.
The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed life in North Carolina — closing public schools, emptying university campuses and shutting down most non-essential businesses. Durham is one of the hardest hit of the state’s 100 counties. With 63 confirmed infections as of Tuesday, it ranks behind only much-larger Mecklenburg County, which has reported 104.
Allam says she ran to be part of a new, more inclusive and progressive vision for Durham — one that includes voices and communities seldom represented in local government. That mission is now more important than ever, she said.
Allam has had plenty of time to think about the future, its unknowns and her role in all of it. She and her husband, Towqir Aziz, are now at the end of their own two-week quarantine.
“After the election we went to Spain to celebrate and kind of de-stress from the campaign,” Allam told Policy Watch last week. “But that’s completely not what it turned into.”
Instead, Allam and her husband found themselves engulfed in the international panic over COVID-19. As Europe struggled with an overwhelming number of infections and the United States belatedly began to put social distancing measures in place, they were just trying to get back home.
“Our flight was supposed to come back Sunday, but after [President Donald] Trump’s press conference they started cancelling all the flights,” Allam said. “We were scurrying to find a flight back. We finally got home but now we’re under a two week quarantine. We don’t have any symptoms — but just to be safe.”
Her doctor told her the office had only five available tests and had to save them for those with symptoms, she said. As of this week, Allam and her husband remain asymptomatic — but they are taking no chances.
They are saying their five prayers a day at home, she said, as are most observant Muslims with the local mosques suspending in-person gatherings for worship.
Allam said she is not even visiting her parents, who are her next-door neighbors.
“Right now we really have to check our own privilege,” Allam said. “We may be young, we may be healthy, but who could we pass this along to?”
These are not the questions and issues Allam expected to be tackling this month. Read more