Testing Positive for COVID-19 Just Beginning of Nightmare for Some Students and Staff
Business teacher Andre White thought he was going to die, and many of his close friends and family prayed, also worried he would die. He didn't eat anything for over three weeks.
“I had to keep fighting. I went from 210 pounds down to 178. I couldn't move. I just stayed there, my body so weak and tired. I had a fever, and I couldn't eat. I couldn't breathe. It was just one of the worst feelings I've ever felt in my life. I wish that upon no one. I didn't know if I was going to live,” White said.
These are common emotions and symptoms that take over the bodies of Coronavirus patients. White believes he contracted the virus from a bowling alley. Two friends of his, who were in a bowling league with him and his wife, passed away from COVID-19 while White was sick. Discovering his teammates were testing positive, he took himself to the hospital for a test.
“The doctor told me he couldn’t test me because I wasn’t sure I was exposed, but because of my symptoms, he told me he’s very sure I have it. He told me to go home, take some Tylenol to keep my fever down, and drink a lot
of water and fluids, but if I can't breathe I have to come back, because he said they have a lot of people up in ICU on ventilators, and they're not doing well at all. I said ‘Doctor, I'm not coming back’ because I don’t want to die in a hospital, and that was it; that started my long journey with Covid,” White said.
Many clinics and hospitals must refuse people tests when those tests are limited. and board certified emergency physician and site director at Beaumont Urgent Care, David Thomas, confirmed that getting a test will not always provide accurate information.
“Our clinic has both the rapid and the polymerase chain reaction tests, which are very accurate when they’re positive, placing in the high 90th percentile. Even so, when they’re negative, the rapid test misses 30%-40%, especially if you don’t have symptoms. The rapid test is really not the best option if you have no symptoms. The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, however, is about 87% accurate when it’s negative. A lot of people are focusing on these tests as a way to diagnose or rule out COVID-19, but they shouldn’t be the be all and end all to tell you whether or not you have it,” Thomas said.
With clear Coronavirus symptoms, and being refused a test by a hospital, such as how White was, the best option was to stay home. Thomas is worried that many are not aware that after an exposure they must isolate and wait five days before getting a test to get accurate results. If someone tests negative the day after exposure to the virus, they will still likely contract it and are spreading it. With all the uncertainty about this new virus, people are relying on test results to dictate whether they feel safe going out. Professionals don’t view this as the most effective way to stop the spread of the virus.
“Whether you have a positive or negative test, if you have symptoms of Coronavirus you should stay at home and quarantine. I don’t need a test to tell me that if you have loss of sense of taste or smell, you likely have COVID-19 and you should stay home and quarantine. Even if you get a negative test, there’s the case of false negatives, and we know that loss of taste and smell are symptoms that are in high correlation with COVID-19 positive patients. If you come into contact with someone who has COVID-19, and you get tested one to three days after that, the test will be very ineffective and worthless. We usually test on the fifth day after exposure to be accurate. Before that, it’s a useless test and a waste of time and money, and it gives you a false sense of security if it's negative. That’s what makes the high false negative rate, it’s the early tests,” Thomas said.
A false negative can be very dangerous to many. It is advised that those with Coronavirus symptoms stay home regardless of their test result. Many are contracting the virus here in our own community as numbers rise, and many have had to face heartbreaking tragedies.
“When I was sick, people were texting me that my friend just passed away from Covid, or my friend's husband who's a little younger than me just passed away from Covid-19. I got all of these friends of mine, so I lost about twenty people to Coronavirus and other illnesses, but I had a lot that passed away from Covid,” White said.
During his time with Covid, White suffered not only tragedies, but severe symptoms. He stayed in bed all day, as most patients with the illness do. He dealt with a fever, a sore throat, headaches, and more.
“It started off with a sore throat, and then I started to get a little headache. I didn't have a high temperature, but I had a slight temperature which was about 100 degrees or a 100.3 degrees. Then I started not being able to eat; one day my wife fixed breakfast, and I just couldn't eat. Then after that I lost my sense of taste and sense of smell. Once that happened, I did I knew something was wrong. I feel okay now, I'm not as strong as I used to be. Sometimes I get shortness of breath and I breathe really hard, though I'm just glad I'm alive,” White said.
After a long battle with COVID-19, White woke up one day feeling better. He could feel himself recovering from his illness. White eased back life, and has even been able to come back to work at Groves.
“I can remember my recovery so vividly. It was Easter Sunday, a day I'll never forget. I got my sense of taste back. One day, I woke up, and I was just better. Still sick, but better. I thought ‘I think I’m turning a corner’. Then a few days later, I got my taste buds back, and then about three days after that, I got my sense of smell back, and I was like, 'Okay I'm good,'” White said.
Despite feeling better, White, like many who have had Covid, continued to experience a lack of energy, even months after he turned that corner. Thomas explained that these Covid victims, termed "long haulers", experience lingering symptoms and exhaustion, even after testing negative and no longer contagious.
“The long term effects are ever evolving. We’re seeing people having chronic fatigue, chronic problems with shortness of breath, the residual effects of a stroke if you have one, and morbidities. We’re seeing a lot of long term effects, and we still don’t know all of them because it’s so new to the world. We’re seeing long term effects develop in children, where they’re having a really horrible inflammatory response, and student athletes are experiencing inflammation of the heart, and loss of sense of smell and taste is becoming permanent in some people,” Thomas said.
Berkshire assistant principal Julie Laburn also contracted the virus in March 2020, and still has not fully recovered, experiencing both lung and cognitive impairment for months. Laburn guesses she must have contracted the virus at Berkshire, as she hadn’t been to other places except for her home. Laburn described the painful symptoms of the virus she felt months after having had the virus.
“I have scattered collapsed lungs. In your lungs, you have those little air sacs, and some of mine have collapsed from when I had Covid, but the doctors do think I’ll continue to regain those. I have really, not good memories from my illness. A lingering brain fog lasted at least two months, where I would forget things that I said, and repeat myself. I was very, very tired. I got sick March 14th, and I would say I didn’t really feel better until August. Since then I have regained the ability to make it through the day without feeling exhausted, and have clear thoughts again,” Laburn said.
Some wait for a negative test after two weeks of quarantine to see whether they are still contagious. However, even if someone tests positive for up to three months after their sickness, medical professionals believe they are almost likely not contagious anymore.
“The current recommendation from the Center for Disease Control, is that, if ten days from your diagnosis, your symptoms are improving, they don’t have to be totally gone, but if they’re improving, and you haven’t had a fever over 100.4 without using Tylenol or any fever reducer in the previous 24 hours, you are cleared to go back to work. You are no longer thought to be contagious, unless you have pre-existing health conditions,” Thomas said.
Thomas did emphasize that, while contagious, patients have to stay far away from their families and others at all times to prevent the spread of the virus.
Laburn recalls how having little human contact during quarantine was stressful for her and her daughters.
“My daughters were worried sick. They’re adults now, but I believe they still have some trauma from watching me so, so sick and so helpless,” Laburn said.
Laburn also struggled with crowded and overwhelmed hospitals that lacked resources to give her the care she needed to breath.
“I had to contact my cousin, who's a physician's assistant, and she ordered an overnight oxygen test because I told her I kept waking up gasping for air. The overnight oxygen test showed my oxygen levels were in the low 80s and dipped down into the 70s two times throughout the night. With those levels, you would typically be hospitalized, but because I had it at a time where hospitals were so overwhelmed, they took my oxygen right when I got there, and it was in the low 90s, so they sent me home. Then my doctor said if I need oxygen, I need to be in a hospital, but they had turned me away so my cousin got that overnight test and found out that I did need oxygen. She ordered me oxygen to my home,” Laburn said.
Younger coronavirus patients tend to have fewer symptoms, but studies show that younger patients can also suffer lasting effects from the virus, including heart disease, blood clotting, and even mental health issues. Groves alumnus and freshman at University of Utah, Cole Hurley suffered from depression after contracting Covid from his roommate at college. After testing positive, Hurley lived in the guest hotel on campus for ten days, and had to stay there in his room alone for the duration. Hurley described what suddenly and total isolation felt like for a college student.
“I mean I went a little crazy. It was horrible. One day, the power went out for the whole day in the hotel, so I couldn’t watch TV, and then my phone died like an hour in, and then my computer died, so I had nothing to do. I was just staring at paint all day. During the super big storm, there were winds over 100 mph, so there was nobody even walking outside. I would always start chats with the people outside because I had a window right next to a sidewalk. That's how crazy I got,” Hurley said.
In his hotel room, Hurley wasn’t able to see anyone or go out, so he was fed by the hotel, but other than that was never checked on. This left Hurley to deal with the virus alone.
“I wasn't cared for at all, they brought me food once a day, and they left it outside the door. They also got my food order wrong like 80% of the time. If I needed a hospital, there was a number I could call but nobody checked up on me,” Hurley said.
Another student, Groves senior Riley Dorfman quarantined for over two weeks with the Coronavirus and isolated in his home. He spent his quarantine in his basement, only coming upstairs with a mask on, and he was not to touch anything, such as railings. Alone in his basement, Dorfman, like Hurley, didn’t have much to do.
“I watched the whole series of Breaking Bad. Being in quarantine by myself for 18 days was exhausting, I had to find new ways to entertain myself, but I also had no desire to do anything. I lost about eight pounds when I had Covid. I was always so tired I barely ate anything, but towards the end of it I had motivation to workout,” Dorfman said.
Dorfman experienced what he considered slight symptoms, such as a lack of energy, along with a headache and loss of smell and taste. Despite what he thinks of as mild symptoms compared to older Covid patients, Dorfman is proof that younger patients may still suffer lasting effects of the virus, as his taste buds have been altered since his sickness.
“I couldn’t taste anything while I was sick. It permanently affected my taste buds. I can’t taste spicy foods anymore, and all sodas taste like pure chemicals,” Dorfman said.
For those who do experience symptoms, there are ways they can help themselves to feel better at home. Dr. Thomas advises patients at home to do the simple things they’d do if they had the cold or the flu: stay hydrated, and take Tylenol for a fever or discomfort.
“Try to stay off Motrin type drugs because in the beginning we were having some adverse events where people were getting worse after taking Motrin, so we tell people to take Tylenol. Drink tons of clear liquids, take fever reducers, and get as much rest as you can. Some people are saying Vitamin C and Vitamin B will help, that hasn’t been proven yet but it’s not going to hurt. If you have chest pain, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, persistent vomiting, persistent diarrhea, dizziness, you come out of quarantine and you go to the hospital,” Thomas said.
Recently, there has been an exponential increase in the numbers of cases in our communities. Dr. Thomas sees about 120 people a day at the Beaumont clinic, and more than 80% are there for tests. Earlier, the clinic saw about 5% of the tests come back positive, now it’s almost 50%. As we approached this winter, cases rose and lock downs returned.
“Staying safe is common sense. We need to wear masks, and we need to socially distance. Avoid big gatherings, and wash your hands. There’s religious communities still having big weddings, gathering for the holidays, living very close together, and we’re seeing thousands of them for tests. If you’ve been in contact with someone who recently tested positive, if you were inside with them or next to them for more than 15 minutes, you need to quarantine for two weeks, because it can take two weeks to show symptoms or for the test to show up positive,” Thomas said.
While considering the danger of COVID-19 to patients who may suffer terribly from it, it’s important to also consider the effects it has on healthcare workers, especially those on the front lines. Healthcare workers work long shifts, dressed in a gown to their knees, a protective face shield, gloves, and an N-95 mask that has to suction to their faces covered by another surgical mask. The sickness and the deaths in hospitals due to Coronavirus deeply impacts all who work there.
“Looking at the adverse effects of the virus on physicians and hospital workers, there’s been an increase of depression and suicide in healthcare workers. I know a doctor who was in the hottest zone in the world, New York, and he said there were a lot of physician suicides, because they were seeing horrible, horrible deaths. Watching healthy people die in front of you takes its toll. Personally, I luckily have a great support system at home with my two sons, but after a while, you get fatigued and tired, it’s emotionally draining,” Thomas said.
Healthcare workers take a large risk being in an inside, enclosed space with hundreds of patients positive for Coronavirus with severe symptoms. Many healthcare workers must quarantine from their families when they are home, and wear a mask around family members. During a global pandemic, especially, these workers do not get normal days off.
“As an ER physician, there’s a code of honor. You go to work sick. You go to work tired. You go to work if there’s nobody to work your shift, and you don’t leave until the last person is taken care of. Add COVID-19 into it, and you just get fried. You just have to make time to do something for yourself on your days off, and go back in and hopefully you get through the next one,” Thomas said.
Thomas warned that the virus has infiltrated our community, along with the rest of the world. Our own teachers and students have suffered tragedy and illness due to the pandemic and a middle school shut down because an entire office staff needed to quarantine. Thomas urges those in our community to abide by CDC guidelines: wear a mask, avoid large gatherings, stay six feet apart from others. He also hopes that the holidays did not become a super spreader event and that households did not gather with other households to celebrate the holiday and the New Year.
“If you are exposed or experience symptoms, it is essential you quarantine for five days, and then see a local clinic for a test. If you are positive, remain isolated for 10 days or longer if your symptoms do not improve, and remember, a Thanksgiving gathering may mean an ICU for Christmas,” Thomas said.
During a live statement on January 9, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy for Health for Michigan, warned that the new, more contagious variant of the virus coming out of the UK was either in Michigan or soon would be in Michigan. Dr. Khaldun also stated, "Cases have been plateauing over the past week after having a clear decline over the previous forty-six days. Our case rate is more than twice what it was in the beginning of October. 12.6 percent of in-patient beds are used to treat Covid-19 patients. That is down from 19.6 on December 4, and that is a good thing. However, the percent of positive test is currently at 9.6 percent and this is concerning as it had been at 8.2 percent on December 27."
With lower testing over the holidays, along with Dr. Khaldun, Dr. Thomas urges all in our community to continue vigilant social distancing and following all other guidelines to keep our community safe and to avoid the trauma that Coronavirus patients must battle every day, a battle White will never forget.
“I wasn't terrified, didn’t have time to be. I was just trying to fight,” White said. “I was worried about dying, but I hung in there and found that God is good.”