‘Believe me, you don’t want to get this’
When Karen Parker headed into the Ontario Village Board Meeting last month, she had a bad feeling about it.
Parker, editor emeritus for the County Line in Ontario, was there to cover the meeting for the weekly newspaper. At 73, she has some underlying health issues that make catching COVID-19 potentially life-threatening.
While she always wears a face mask, the entire village board was without the protective apparel that is required under the state’s emergency order.
“I heard someone sneezing and coughing when I first got to the meeting and I thought ‘I should get my ass out of here. What the Hell’s wrong with me.’”
Unfortunately, she didn’t heed her internal voice and on Sept. 26, found herself in an ambulance on the way to the Mayo Clinic hospital in La Crosse, suffering from pneumonia. Parker said she found out a 49-year-old trustee on the village board also was hospitalized for COVID.
Parker said prior to going in to get tested, she just kind of felt bad and was tired. She never experienced nausea, fever or cough, symptoms that are often associated with COVID-19. She thought she was suffering from food poisoning and didn’t believe she had the virus until her test came back positive.
Parker spent five days in a fog in the hospital’s COVID unit, which consisted of nine isolated rooms that were at capacity when she was there and likely still are.
Doctors treated her with the experimental drug Remdesiver, administering five doses intravenously, which did the trick. “I still don’t believe I survived,” said Parker, who is diabetic, has congestive heart failure and COPD.
Still, she counts herself luckier than her 84-year-old brother from Little Rock, AK , who spent a month in the hospital with COVID, including five days on a ventilator, and now has developed cardiac arrythmia. Or her nurse, who told Parker her whole family got it including her 15-month-old daughter, who became so sick the family was afraid she was going to die.
John, who asked that his real name not be used, lives and works in Sparta. The 55-year -old’s experience was much like Parker’s. He began feeling ill Saturday, Sept. 26, with a cough, pressure on his chest and flu-like aches and fatigue but never spiked a fever. He got tested at 12:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 28, and by 8:30 that evening the test came back positive. The following day John’s wife also tested positive.
Like Parker, he said he and his wife were always careful, wearing masks in public and avoiding crowds.
By Thursday, John’s condition had taken a turn for the worse and his lungs began to hurt and were filling with fluid and he had an unbearable headache. He went to the Sparta ER, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia and soon found himself in the back of an ambulance on his way to the same COVID unit where Parker had been.
He said the experience started becoming surreal and frightening. Everyone who came in contact with him was wearing what looked like HAZMAT suits.
“I felt like I was in one of those doomsday movies waiting for Dustin Hoffman with a big plastic suit on,” he said.
John also spent five days in the COVID unit, where he too was given five doses of Remdesiver. His headache got so bad doctors prescribed morphine.
While he was in the hospital, he learned three people died in the COVID unit. “That really scared me.”
He said all he could do is facetime with his wife, who was recovering at home. The extent of her symptoms were a runny nose, sore throat and an earache, none of which he had.
By Thursday, John’s condition had turned the corner and he started feeling better. After his final dose of Remdesiver Friday, doctors released him to his home, where he and his wife had to remain quarantined for the next 10 days. He ended up missing three weeks of work.
Monroe County Health Department Director Sharon Nelson said COVID is real and it’s getting worse. Since Oct. 1, the number of cases, hospitalization and deaths due to the virus have surged. This week alone, there were five deaths in Monroe County attributed to the virus.
She said people need to protect themselves and other by wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing and not gathering with people who don’t live in their household.
She said there is false information being spread about a purported CDC report claiming mask wearing isn’t effective. That has been debunked she said, noting there is plenty of science that shows masks are effective.
She pointed to emerging evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that shows cloth face coverings reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth. The Journal of Medical Virology published a study of N95 masks, medical masks, and homemade masks made of four‐layer kitchen paper and one‐layer cloth which showed they could block 99.98%, 97.14%, and 95.15% of the virus in aerosols.
“We’ve learned more about how effective cloth face coverings can be,” she said, adding the efficacy of cloth masks depends on the material and the number of layers.
A study published in the journal ACS Nano, found that combinations of various commonly available fabrics used in cloth masks can potentially provide significant protection against the transmission of aerosol particles.
She said situations like the Ontario Village Board in Parker’s case where board members refuse to wear masks is unnecessary. “It’s so easy to do, but why is it so difficult to do it?” she asked.
One need not travel to Ontario to see maskless public officials in public buildings. The Sparta City Council has the same situation, where the mayor and two council members routinely don’t wear masks in city hall.
“This is not a picnic, this is real and it’s up to every single one of us to slow the spread,” said Nelson. “It’s a call to action – what everyone needs to do to protect themselves, their family, their friends and their community,” said Nelson. She feels it’s a shame it’s become politicized.
Parker, who often writes on the issue in her weekly column, wonders how the public indoor smoking ban established in Wisconsin a decade ago would play out in today’s political climate.
“Today people would be out with AR-15s saying it was an infringement on their rights,” she said.
Some people who get COVID remain asymptomatic, while other have only mild symptoms. But for others like Parker and John, it’s a frightening experience.
John said one of the things doctors kept repeating to him was that they don’t know what the long-term effects of COVID might be so no one who gets the virus is guaranteed to have their health unaffected in the future.
“Wear your mask, wash your hands,” he said. “It’s here, it’s real and it doesn’t discriminate. It can take anybody. I just happened to be lucky to respond to the treatment.”
Parker agrees. “This is not the flu,” she said. “You’re not going to get by with a box of Kleenex and a bottle of Nyquil.”