Local family battles and beats COVID-19
People need to take this very seriously; it’s crazy how contagious it is.
— Kemi Fuentes-George
EAST MIDDLEBURY — Thanksgiving holiday — a time to have a big meal and count one’s blessings.
You’ll understand, however, if Thanksgiving 2020 was a little more subdued than usual at the Fuentes-George household in East Middlebury. The entire, five-person family contracted the coronavirus just before Turkey Day and spent the ensuing 10 days in isolation, dealing with varying degrees of nausea, headaches, lethargy, congestion and coughing.
But Kemi and Lindsey Fuentes-George and their children Bennet, Alban and Xavier are now thankfully back in good form after experiencing COVID-19 up close and personal.
It’s not an experience they would recommend to anyone.
“The best advice is to try and not get it,” Kemi, an associate professor of political science at Middlebury College, told the Independent on Monday. “We got through it fairly unscathed… but I have to say while it was easy for us, this could be really bad — especially for older people and those with pre-existing conditions. People need to take this very seriously; it’s crazy how contagious it is.”
The Fuentes-George clan had followed all the Vermont Department of Health’s advice on how to steer clear of the virus, which as of Wednesday had infected 5,285 Vermonters, including 213 Addison County residents. They always masked-up, steered clear of in-person gatherings, and were serious about hand washing.
Lindsey and Kemi had temporarily pulled their two oldest children (Alban, 10, and Xavier, 13) from Middlebury schools to homeschool them during the pandemic. But they had decided it was also important to allow their youngest, 5-year-old Bennet, to attend kindergarten in person at Mary Hogan Elementary.
“As with all parents, we were trying to figure out what to do about this semester,” Lindsey, a Middlebury selectboard member, said. With only one of their three children attending in-person classes, Lindsey said she’d thought, “What are the chances (of one of them catching COVID)?
“Apparently, they were pretty good.”
While the Addison Central School District has had a very good track record in keeping COVID-19 outside school boundaries, two members of the Mary Hogan community tested positive for the novel coronavirus during the recent, nine-day Thanksgiving break.
Turns out Bennet Fuentes-George had caught the virus from someone at school and had brought it home, according to her parents.
Bennet started experiencing some symptoms the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
“We all started experiencing symptoms within 24 hours of that,” Lindsey said.
The family immediately went into quarantine and knew they needed to get tested — which became tough because of the Thanksgiving holiday. They got COVID tests the Monday after Thanksgiving, and their results all came back positive on Dec. 3.
“One reassuring thing out of all of this,” Lindsey said. “Within minutes of finding out we had tested positive, someone from the Vermont Department of Health called us. They had the information right away and got in touch with us to tell us how things were going to go and what we should be doing.”
Bennet experienced headache and lethargy that lasted a few days. Her siblings showed similar symptoms and rebounded fairly quickly.
But Kemi and Lindsey have had a rougher go of it.
Both had raspy voices during their phone interviews.
Lindsey described her symptoms as extreme fatigue, cough, nausea, sore throat and headaches.
Kemi had similar symptoms, with the “bonus” of having shortness of breath, feeling very cold and having strange dreams.
“There were a couple of nights where it was really, really bad,” he recalled. “It never got to the point where I felt I was in danger of needing to go to the hospital, but there were a couple of nights where I couldn’t get warm. I was lying down in bed, wearing a sweater, a scarf, a hat and flannel, with a comforter and blanket over me. And I still felt like I was lying on the ground outside.”
He also spoke of having “this feeling of doom. It felt like I had someone in the house with me for two days, and I had to talk myself out of it. It felt very strongly like there was this presence in the house. I had a couple nights of vivid, weird dreams.”
Fortunately, because of the Thanksgiving break timing, the illness didn’t wreak a lot of havoc with Kemi’s teaching duties.
“The only thing it affected negatively is that I couldn’t grade,” he explained.
Friends and neighbors have come to the rescue during the Fuentes-George family’s time of need. Folks have been dropping groceries, prepared meals, medicine and other supplies at their doorstep as they ride out the COVID storm.
“We live in a really nice community,” Lindsey said. “News travels fast, and everyone has been so wonderful. We’ve received many messages, texts and phone calls from people asking what they can do to help. That’s been an uplifting aspect of all this.”
Along with not feeling great, boredom has been a big enemy during quarantine. There’s only so much TV one can watch. Neighbors have dropped off games to keep the three children busy.
“Having something new to do has been helpful,” Lindsey said with a chuckle.
And of course with all that idle time, there’s no excuse for not getting homework assignments done, Kemi and Lindsey remind their children.
The Department of Health has told the family to consider their contagious period as extending from two days before their test, plus 10 days.
“We may have symptoms that will linger, but we won’t be contagious anymore,” Lindsey said of the timetable. “We are pretty much sitting tight until Dec. 8. After that we should be OK to ‘move about the cabin.’”
Her advice to others?
“Follow the instructions from your doctor and Department of Health,” she said. “If we hadn’t been following the governor’s orders, we absolutely would have passed it along to our closer friends. There was a good week of lag time between when Bennet was exposed and when we first started having symptoms. I would encourage people to keep doing what we’re doing, even though it’s not very fun. It certainly saved us from spreading it.”
Having dealt with COVID makes Kemi even more frustrated about the way some people have minimized the danger, and even called it a “hoax.”
“The disease doesn’t care who you vote for; it’s going to get you,” he said. “It’s worrying, and potentially devastating.
“It’s no joke.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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