SALT LAKE CITY — My family just finished a real COVID-19 quarantine, and for us it wasn’t as bad as we would have thought.
With daily cases of COVID-19 on the rise in Utah, it is ever more likely you or someone you know will soon find yourself fighting this virus too.
I have fielded so many questions about our symptoms — not all common ones — and what fighting this novel coronavirus is like. Now on the other side of this pandemic experience, I wanted to share what I’ve learned.
Please remember my experience isn’t reflective of what every case of COVID-19 looks like; some will experience more severe illness, some less severe. This virus is unpredictable, and so much about how and why it affects people is still unknown. But I hope, in sharing our experience, I can remove a little mystery and fear, and shine a little light on how this virus might present for you or someone you know.
1. Be careful, even if you get a negative test result
My husband was exposed to COVID-19 while at work on the Jon Huntsman campagin at the beginning of June. He was able to acquire a COVID-19 test, and two days later his test came back positive.
We had already been isolating our family, and I had symptoms similar to my husband. I wanted to take a test, too, but I didn’t qualify for a COVID-19 test at the same place my husband did because my symptoms were not deemed "significant enough." To my surprise, it didn’t matter that my husband had tested positive. My instructions were to quarantine and wait for more serious symptoms.
I later managed to qualify for a COVID-19 test through a different testing source. When my test came back negative, I was surprised. I did not feel well.
To this day, I’m convinced I had a false-negative test result.
Even with my doubts, I chose not to take a second test because it was too invasive for me. And for that reason, we decided not to test our children. While my husband was the only one who produced a positive result, based on our symptoms, I believe I and at least one of my children had it, too.
Either way, we followed advice from our county health department and tracked and reported back daily the symptoms of all six of us while all participating in quarantine. But what worries me, is if I hadn't been sure I was exposed to COVID-19 and had based my actions of a negative test result that very well could have been a false-negative, I could have inadvertently spread this virus.
This is to say nothing of the possibility of spread by asymptomatic carriers.
Which goes back to following the advice from public health experts: practicing good hygiene, including washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, staying home if you're sick, like we did, maintaining safe distance from people outside your household, and wearing a mask if you can't maintain distance.
How many of us are spreading COVID-19 by accident if we don't?
2. There are some symptoms you may not have read about
Our first symptoms were so mild they would have been missed if we didn’t know we had been exposed. My husband had a bad headache, fatigue and a little bit of congestion in the back of his throat. My first symptoms were strange chills or a tingling sensation on my scalp, fatigue and a little bit of congestion at the back of my throat. No fevers. In fact, none of us ever fevered.
My husband got his positive test back on Day 4 and didn’t even start with a cough until Day 5. His cough stuck around for a while and did make it a bit difficult to breathe. But his blood oxygen levels were always 94 or higher. I did develop a slight tickly cough for a few hours on Day 5, but it didn’t stay around. I never had trouble breathing.
After the first week, the worst symptoms started. Both of us suffered extreme fatigue. One minute we'd feel fine and the next minute we were wiped out for the rest of the day. And then we both experienced gastrointestinal issues that included nausea, vomiting and diarrhea (hey, I’m just keeping it real).
You probably didn’t even know about COVID-19 gastrointestinal symptoms. We didn’t either. But a Stanford Medicine study shows that nearly one-third of COVID-19 patients experienced gastrointestinal issues. In the case of our family, this was the most prevalent symptom.
3. Not every case of COVID-19 is really bad — ours wasn't
In the beginning, it was a bit surreal to think that the one thing we’ve been dreading and avoiding for months would now be a reality in our home. One of my boys is an asthmatic and has been hospitalized in the past for bad colds that hit his lungs. Once we were aware of the virus' presence in our home, we immediately isolated our family at home and hoped for the best.
In no way do I want to seem insensitive to those who have experienced extreme symptoms of this virus or even lost loved ones to COVID-19. My heart is with you. I realize the problem with this virus is its unpredictability. However, in our family’s experience, we’ve had worse experiences with streptococcus, influenza A and food poisoning.
One of my children had symptoms similar to that of my husband and me; one child had symptoms even less severe than that; and two of my kids never showed any symptoms worse than a headache — including my son with asthma. Again, we did not test our children, so we don't know if they indeed were positive, but the symptoms they experienced were on the mild side.
4. This is an evolving situation for all of us — even those making guidelines
A frustrating occurrence was the different information disseminated from different websites and different city and county guidelines. Many of them contradicted each other and made it difficult to know exactly how long we were contagious or how long our quarantine or self-isolation should last. (Did you know they are not the same thing?)
Our cases made it more difficult since we never fevered and some symptoms for some children were as mild as a headache. Ultimately, we decided to go by the guidelines of our county health department, that's workers actually called or texted us every day to see how we were doing.
For the most trusted information about COVID-19, I recommend talking with the people at your local health department and visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 online resources. Both entities will have the most updated information on this ever-evolving virus.
5. Keep the medicine cabinet stocked
I had my house stocked with both Tylenol and ibuprofen. And we already had a pulse oximeter, which is a small device placed on your index finger to check your pulse and blood oxygen levels. With the COVID-19 virus, it can be important to check your blood oxygen levels, because they may drop before you even have trouble breathing.
A pulse oximeter is only about $30. You can buy one right now on Amazon or in any pharmacy. Doctors are split on whether or not people should have one in their homes, in part because they worry some may get a false sense of security. Health experts strongly suggest working closely with your physician should you develop symptoms.
What we didn’t know we needed was anti-nausea medicine — and lots of it. We used the elixir version and went through two bottles between three of us. At one point, we ran out and had to have some delivered right away.
6. Neighbors are important
We are so grateful for our neighbors who dropped off dinners and treats and called us each time they headed to the grocery store. We also took advantage of grocery delivery and DoorDash.
If you know someone in quarantine and want to help, I know they would appreciate a warm meal they are probably too exhausted to cook for themselves, help getting groceries or extra paper goods, a text message or phone call, a new board game or that great book you just finished reading and don’t need anymore. The gesture will mean so much.
7. Be prepared for the 'fear factor'
As is to be expected, your family, friends and neighbors will worry about you. But don’t be surprised if people leave you out even once you are healthy.
Fifteen days after we began our quarantine, we got our official release from the Davis County Health Department in the form of an actual letter*. Even with that being the case, I am saddened that some of my children continue to experience social isolation because their friends are still too afraid to hang out with them, worried they’ll catch COVID-19.
*The CDC says people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and experienced symptoms can be around others again after:
- 3 days with no fever and
- Respiratory symptoms have improved (e.g. cough, shortness of breath) and
- It's been 10 days since symptoms first appeared
8. Isolation is terrible for your mental health
Studies show quarantine has a negative effect on one’s mental health. In a single moment, my family had an entire month’s schedule wiped clean. There were days the isolation and lack of things to look forward to played a significant role in our demeanor.
It strains a family to spend so much time together, working and living without an escape. We worked really hard to continue to get along even when we weren’t feeling well. But it's been hard: We have missed parties and events and trips. Thank the lucky stars we had just brought home a new puppy — he was great for us.
In the end, we decided to make a COVID-19 piñata and smash it the day the health department set us free.
Now we work to pick up the remaining fragments of our schedules and summer and do our best to piece them back together, hoping Utah doesn’t go back into a shutdown. I don’t think we can take any more isolation.