I tested positive for coronavirus. Here’s what I would like you to know.
As many of you may have read, I live in the first suburb in the United States with a massive coronavirus outbreak that was associated with community spread.
I am a proud member of that community.
Today, I intend to share how my community became the center of an outbreak, the testing process, and my (our) current reality.
An earlier quarantine
While most people in New York State began their quarantines on March 17 or thereabouts, my story begins in the first week of March, when school was cancelled on a quiet Tuesday morning (3/2).
While I shared the circumstances surrounding my quarantine that began that week, the situation was anything but normal. My older children had boarded the bus to go to school at 7:06 am. I was dressed for a presentation for my son’s class — he was going to share an incredible story about his great grandfather’s (and namesake’s) contribution to World War II. It was 7:34 am and I was readying my youngest child, my three year old son, to go with me to the same school as his older siblings, and then I’d hang around before the presentation began. (He can’t take the bus due to local politics.)
I had just put on my sneakers when I received the text:
School will be closed today, March 3. Please check your email for more information. Thank you.
How baffling, I thought. And my other children were already halfway to school by now. The buses turned them around, dropped then off, and we sat and waited. My son’s presentation never happened.
The full email explained that a member of the community tested positive for COVID-19. I later learned he was a member of my synagogue. His children didn’t even go to my children’s school; they were in high school. My kids’ school doesn’t even go up to the end of middle school (yet).
But the virus is highly contagious and little did we know the domino effect that already impacted dozens of us.
The rest of the day was full of bewilderment and confusion, because at that point, no one knew who was in the hospital. But by the end of the day, it was no longer a secret.
School did not continue the next day when it was decided that our community would need to self-quarantine. About 1,000 of us thus have stayed home since March 3.
I didn’t go shopping for essentials or groceries. Unlike the rest of the world who responded to the panic, in being first, I couldn’t.
Hopes for resuming school were quickly dashed when it was disclosed that children and their parents also had the virus.
Meanwhile, I maintained my own quarantine, spoke to the media about it while keeping the conversation on my experiences only and respecting the privacy of others, and showed appreciation to those who supported those of us who were staying indoors to keep our neighbors and friends safe.
And the stories kept pouring in. Another hospitalization. And another. Good people. Kind people. Sick people on ventilators. Not a few. A lot.
And eventually it wasn’t just locals. A friend I went to elementary school with. A forty year old dad. A medic who saved thousands of lives. Respected teachers at schools. Mentors. Leaders.
This is a virus that targets people and it doesn’t discriminate.
Dozens of people in my community have it.
Little did I know that I was one of them.
My experience with coronavirus
I would say my symptoms weren’t anything unusual. A bit of a cough here. Shortness of breath during conversations. A headache there. Some muscle pain and discomfort. A few gastrointestinal issues. A low grade temperature that never went above 100.2 (but happened three different times on three non-consecutive days. The only reason I checked my temperature at all was out of personal curiosity and due to feeling flushed, but not because of feeling ill). The symptoms were mostly all relieved by ibuprofen which is now said to be dangerous for the coronavirus.
But then I noticed two things that caused me to second-guess that this was anything normal. The first was my resting heart rate, which usually never exceeds 55 (and only on bad days) and is typically 46–50: it was a concerning 61 this time around. Thanks to historical data on my Garmin watch, I was able to compare it to the many months prior; I hadn’t had an elevated heart rate above 60 in 10 months. (Fitness can help bring it down.)
The second came from discussing our experiences within the community itself. Many who took the coronavirus test reported that they lost their sense of smell and taste right after testing. As someone who is looking to launch a personal fragrance brand, I was not willing to take a test if that were a possible outcome!
But then I lost my sense of smell and taste anyway — without the test. And I realized everyone who complained about losing these two senses was actually sick.
(Before I continue with the rest of my essay, I will call attention to the fact that while I’ve fully disclosed my symptoms, the panic on social media has caused for a ridiculous amount of “Facebook hypochondriacs” to believe that they have COVID-19. Everyone I know who has tested from social media hysteria has NOT tested positive. Regardless, just stay indoors! Any symptom isn’t worth going outside for. But stop. For the love of God, stop. You probably don’t have it. I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on TV, but I’ve fielded this question a dozen times from people all over the country. Dr. Google isn’t usually right and neither is Dr. Social Media.)
It became obvious that the testers should have come to our home after all to test for coronavirus. While I made an initial inquiry on March 3 as requested by the county itself given I was part of the initial quarantine, the Department of Health never followed up to send testers to us. For awhile, in seeing how my “early adopter” tested neighbors fared with legal letters threatening imprisonment if they dared leave their homes, I made the claim for awhile that if the testers were to eventually show up, I’d send them away. On one hand, I was super excited about their visit so I could take my own photos. And on the other, the additional isolation didn’t seem worth it.
But the symptoms gave me peace of mind especially as the rest of the community and state were beginning to take notice and mandatory shutdowns were put in place. No longer did I feel that the world was spinning without me. (This was actually brutal in the first two weeks, especially when I was on social media as I explained in this BBC interview.) It became easier for me to stomach that this was being taken seriously, that I needed the closure and clarity so that I wouldn’t be part of the problem.
That I wouldn’t be contributing to anyone’s future death.
But for awhile, I couldn’t fathom that I could possibly be a walking poisonous bomb leaving massive completely invisible destruction in her wake.
Testing for coronavirus
Many people have asked me how I was able to test. As I mentioned, it was really the Department of Health that should have gone to test me on March 6th, or maybe the 7th, or the 8th, or maybe the 9th.
Despite reporting symptoms when calling to inquire about their expected visit, when I initiated my own follow up despite reassurances that someone would eventually come, the testing team never showed.
Since I live in the one mile containment zone, which as you may or may not know was erected by New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo to quite literally contain the spread of coronavirus, we were also lucky enough to have one of the first testing sites erected at a nearby park. And so, several days into my confinement and when my quarantine was actually supposed to be over, we drove as a family to the testing site to get our test. The date was March 15.
This is significant. My last exposure to someone who tested positive for coronavirus was on March 1. Quarantines are supposed to be 14 days. I was technically already free.
I was allowed into the site to test. Not everyone is let in, from what I’ve read from many friends and neighbors who have tried to test both before and after me, but I was lucky. I should have been on a list anyway if the staff on site were to give me pushback, but they didn’t.
As you pull into the site, uniformed policemen are wearing nothing but face masks telling you that you must not ever lower your windows. You pull in further to the site and meet with staff who are covered from head to toe in protective gear, asking for your name, phone number, and identification, which you hold up to your car window. They take forever to write the information down, and then they put the folded piece of paper under your windshield wipers and have you drive over to the tents.
Cars line up until it’s their turn, and as you’re waiting, more staff people in full body suits, head gear, and masks are entering your information in a database. The data entry process must take twenty minutes.
When you’re given permission to move into the tent, it is then and only then that you can lower the window. A swab is put up the nose. Another swab resembles a throat culture. Some hate the nose swab. I closed my eyes. It wasn’t bad at all. The throat swab, on the other hand…
(It seems throat swabs are no longer part of the testing procedure.)
Imagine what testing would have been like if the testers had shown up to my home when I requested them. I could have had one child at a time test in the room without exposing the siblings to the test. The process would still be uncomfortable (because who really wants to get swabbed like this?), but it would have been bearable.
Instead, four children between the ages of 3 and 10 had to be tested in a cramped vehicle while being held down behind a steering wheel. I’m surprised no one accidentally honked and scared the bejeezus out of the testers who must have already been super uncomfortable wearing their full body gear.
We went home and we waited.
The phone call we were promised for results was expected between 24–48 hours. It never came. On Wednesday, March 18, a website with test results was shared with my community.
My husband started first. Negative.
Then I log in.
Positive. And the results were posted the day before. I was happy to get exactly what I was looking for, that I had confirmation that these odd symptoms could only be attributed to the coronavirus.
I then had to call their system for my minor-aged children. She emailed me the PDFs of their results. Negative. Negative. Negative. Negative. I asked for a copy of my results in the same format. Still positive.
It was the best news I could possibly receive. I’m sick, I feel mostly great (a 3 on a scale from 1–10), and my children and husband are fine. I isolate now the best I can. It was unfortunate, though, to celebrate my fifteenth wedding anniversary with my husband in isolation.
If I hadn’t known about that website, I would have found out about my positive COVID-19 culture only on March 20 when the Department of Health finally called me. My quarantine ended on March 15. That gave me five days I could’ve gone out and infected the world.
Because a 3 on a scale from 1–10 is tolerable. Bearable. Slightly uncomfortable and annoying, but it’s not something a few Tylenol (I switched!) can’t fix. My discomfort comes and goes. Twenty minutes here, five minutes there. I would have gone to the gym. I would have picked up a book I had on hold at the library from the very kind but old librarian behind the desk. I would have bought groceries. I would have gone for a run with a friend, if not by myself. I would have carried on with normal things.
But I knew on March 15 that I would go test and do absolutely nothing else. I would leave my property for the first time since 3/3, and then after testing, I’d go straight home. I knew that I wouldn’t be going to the gym on the 16th, which was something I had once looked forward to. I knew deep in my heart that it is imperative to be socially responsible, and so before I found out anything about my test results, I would extend my self-quarantine even though I technically didn’t have to.
I knew better and I was lucky to have enough knowledge into the devastation I could have introduced to the world by leaving. So I didn’t.
How many other people test, don’t get their results in time and thus go out and carry out their normal things while carrying the virus on their person? I would imagine a fair number. How many other people living in the same dwelling as that person may be doing the same thing? I would imagine another fair amount. And how many people are carrying around the virus and have absolutely no symptoms at all, yet are spreading it to the world unknowingly? That’s the scariest number of all.
We all need to quarantine because if we don’t, we could be killing people. It’s as simple as that. It’s hella inconvenient, but a country on lockdown because people can’t listen will be worse, I assure you.
I have the coronavirus. And while my symptoms are mild, for many people, they’re not.
I have the coronavirus. And while ignorant people say this is no big deal, it is a huge deal. On a White House call I listened in on a few days ago, someone said this is “three more times as contagious as the flu.” And I’d say no. I don’t know a single person who has caught the flu from anyone. I can tell you how I got coronavirus and I can already name more than thirty people who have it.
I can name a dozen more people who are in the hospital, some fighting for their lives.
I have the coronavirus. And while others run outside to arrange for playdates and ignore the directives from the rest of the world (because they are oblivious of what is truly happening in places like China and Italy, and think it won’t happen to them), I will isolate myself in my house because it’s simply the right thing to do. This virus dies with me.
Stay home. The only way to flatten the curve is to flatten your interactivity in every way possible.
If you want to resume your normal lives again, to ensure the people around you keep their jobs and livelihoods, you need to tolerate these few weeks of discomfort to save the people around you. Life is more important than money.
Prioritize these inconveniences.
I have the coronavirus. And I’m okay. But I am going to do my part to make sure everyone else is too.