We are not revealing the identity of this person for privacy reasons
The short story is that there is a good chance that I did have a mild case of COVID-19, and the long story is that I will never know for sure unless an accurate antibodies test is developed, AND there is widespread testing for it.
I started having symptoms in mid-March, and the health care system in the Seattle area was definitely not ready for the rise in cases at that time.
Unless I had severe symptoms, I could not seem to find a way to be tested. I tried navigating the healthcare system as best as I could, and it did not matter that I have good health insurance, have the time to call and wait on hold, and am fluent in English to understand what is being said. I got the runaround no matter where I tried to go and ask for resources and help.
I happen to work for a public utility, and am on the Washington State Department of Health (DOH)’s list of “essential business/employees. I thought that would be my ticket to a test. I wanted to know if I had it, so I could take appropriate action to keep myself and co-workers safe, and know when I could safely return to work for essential business. But I was told time and again that I would not, or could not, be tested.
Virginia Mason, where my primary care physician is, told me they ran out of tests and did not know when they would get more. This was during the time when larger health systems, such as University of Washington and Kaiser, were receiving tests according to local news outlets. But the smaller systems did not appear to be receiving any resources.
After a week and a half of navigating a maze of bureaucracy with calls to my insurance company, the King County Public Health hotline, the DOH hotline, my primary care doctor’s office, and two additional virtual health apps, I was finally able to see a doctor at an urgent care office that was in my insurance network.
By then, it was Day 10 since I had first noticed symptoms of fever, body aches and fatigue, and shortness of breath. By then, my fever had subsided. Although I am an essential worker, and should be tested if I had symptoms, I was told by the doctor that I could not be tested. I was told to go home. I was told that per CDC guidelines, I could go back to work when my symptoms had been gone for at least 72 hours.
While my fever was gone, I still had shortness of breath. Just because I did not have a fever anymore, I did not know if I was now considered to be “asymptomatic, but still infectious.” By then, I was able to telecommute for work, I am one of the lucky ones who can do that. However, if I needed to go into work to get paid, then I would have — no fever and no cough, right?
Unless there is widespread and immediate testing when you begin having symptoms, and then are tested again later to see if you are negative, I, and many others in similar situations, will never truly know if we had COVID-19, and when we are done potentially spreading the virus to others.
Before my symptoms began, I had not been in contact with anyone who was visibly sick or coughing a lot. I never have had respiratory issues in the past. What is scary is how contagious this virus is compared to other illnesses. I consider myself to be a pretty healthy person, but even a mild case of any type of respiratory distress will kick your butt. Because I had symptoms, I started self-isolating and acting as if I had COVID-19. I refrained from seeing my parents, who are in the high-risk population.
It has been just over a month since my symptoms first started. I thought I was fine last week. I went for longer walks in my neighborhood, up steep hills, and found some stairs to climb a few sets to test my lungs. I am not back to normal quite yet. There are times when I am fine, then out of the blue, I feel like I need to breathe more deeply to get enough oxygen, and my heart races.
Hindsight is always 20/20, and while Washington state acted quicker than other states, I believe the state should have isolated and enacted stay-at-home measures much sooner.
In this country, we like to think of independence and freedom for oneself, but now is the time to think about the greater good of others, and to help keep each other healthy. The economy needs healthy people. It is not about just me, it is about our loved ones and others out there who are vulnerable. I was reminded of this recently, to put things in perspective for our stay-at-home orders. Anne Frank and seven other people hid in a 450-square-foot attic for 761 days, quietly trying to remain undiscovered to stay alive. We can all do our part to keep everyone safe and spend a few weeks at home. We will get through this, but we must do that together.