Local resident successfully navigates complex COVID-19 advice
“When I think about the people who have been infected with the virus, my quality of life is really good. I’m not where I was, but I'm healthy.”
— Jane, who experienced COVID-19
As we explored in the story about basic problems with our health care system, Vermonters, like Americans in general, face barriers to getting testing and treatment for COVID-19.
In order to explore these barriers in the context of access to COVID-19 related health care services in Addison County, I spoke with one member of the Middlebury community who has experience navigating aspects of the health care system in Vermont for this very purpose. Here, I share this individual’s story in order to provide insight for Vermont residents and non-residents on the actions they should take if they are seeking COVID-19-related health care.
Before testing positive for COVID-19 in April, this person, I will call her Jane, recognized the significance of a pandemic and understood that the possibility of contracting the coronavirus was real. In fact, when Middlebury College shut down on the weekend of March 14, the possibility of contracting the virus seemed to become more real, even in a community where COVID-19 cases were virtually absent.
At this time, Jane had been following COVID-19 news from sources like The New York Times, Vermont Public Radio, andVermont Business Insider, and she had been maintaining a strict household where they maintained social distancing and wore masks.
However, during the first week of April, Jane began feeling fatigued and had a sore throat and an earache. Initially, Jane hesitated to believe that she had contracted the coronavirus as she thought COVID-19 symptoms were primarily respiratory distress and fever. Today, almost 10 months since April, our understanding of the variety of COVID-19 symptoms continues to expand. COVID-19 can manifest into any or none of the following symptoms as described by the CDC: fevers or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting or diarrhea.
More rare symptoms of COVID-19 are further outlined in an online explainer that can be seen here.
After recognizing that she might be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, Jane spoke with her routine physician from Middlebury Family Health through a tele-medicine conference, a virtual meeting with her health care provider. After speaking with her provider, Jane realized that she was symptomatic for COVID-19. Her health care provider organized an appointment for Jane to receive testing locally in Middlebury. Jane was tested with a nasal swab (swabbing the inside of the nose with a cotton swab on a long stick) from the free, pop-up testing site that, at the time, was located behind Porter Hospital.
After testing positive for COVID-19, Jane went into isolation (people who are infected isolate, people who may have been exposed quarantine), as per the CDC guidelines. The CDC recommends 10 days of isolation after developing symptoms. During this time, Jane’s family, who were exposed to Jane and hence the virus, remained in quarantine for 14 days in their home with Jane. Thus, Jane was in isolation as her family was in quarantine.
Jane’s family lived in the same house as Jane, but they were restricted from being in the same space as her. Additionally, they were restricted from interacting with anyone other than each other. The family ordered their groceries — using services like Instacart — and dropped off meals to Jane at the door to her room.
During this time, Jane was able to call her primary physician for answers to questions regarding her symptoms. Then, after the 10 days of isolation, things became confusing. Technically, the CDC guidelines suggested that Jane could leave her home at that point, but the Middlebury Family Health guidelines suggested that her symptoms had to be completely gone for three days before stopping isolation. Although Jane no longer had a fever or a sore throat, she still did not have her sense of smell or taste back — these symptoms had developed after testing positive — and she had read that it could take months to get these senses back.
To take this confusion up a notch, her family was still in their 14-day quarantine and hence they were required to stay at home while it was technically acceptable for Jane to leave isolation.
Jane and her family decided to remain socially distanced from each other and continue to wear masks inside. Over time, they slowly relaxed the restrictions they had put in place.
Although most of Jane’s symptoms went away, Jane said that her health didn’t start rapidly improving until September — almost six months after she first developed symptoms. Having COVID-19 was the first time in Jane’s life when she felt her lungs, Jane said; it was the first time when she felt her breathing every day. Today, Jane, who is a relatively active person, is able to run and hike again for short periods of time, but she would have hesitation doing activities like the Kelly Brush Ride — an annual 50-mile bike ride through the Champlain Valley — which is an activity that Jane would never have considered beyond her physical fitness before getting COVID-19.
In retrospect, Jane considered herself lucky that her physical symptoms were relatively mild.
“When I think about the people who have been infected with the virus, my quality of life is really good,” she said. “I’m not where I was, but I’m healthy.”
Although Jane is not sure how she contracted the virus, she believes it may have happened when she was in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 a week before she did.
“I dropped something off to someone who hadn’t realized they had COVID at the time and, although I don’t remember if I was or was not wearing a mask, we were probably inside anywhere from two to five minutes, less than six feet apart,” Jane said. “I remember I brought my bleach wipes with me because I wasn’t thinking casual.
“If this is true, if this is really where and how I contracted the virus — although I am not entirely sure if I’m right in this timeframe — then the COVID-19 virus is incredibly infectious.”
However, what was “whacky,” Jane said, is that she lived with her family for eight days prior to testing positive and none of them tested positive for COVID-19.
At the end of our interview, Jane emphasized how different people have different experiences with COVID-19.
“The thing about COVID is that you have to give people a lot of grace because everyone has their own comfort level with this,” she said. “For me, I found the people I wanted to listen to, whether it was my own health care provider, Fauci, or Levine, and it was really important for me to find these people. And in the partnership with my family, we listened to the same people. But this was tough because my kids had different views. How do families be normal in a non-normal time? Especially being in a community when there weren’t cases. It’s hard to get your family on board with this, let alone a country.”
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