Editor’s Note: The News interviewed via telephone one of the first victims of COVID-19 in Glynn County. Health officials say the effects of the virus can be anywhere from mild to severe. For this woman, who requested to remain anonymous, the symptoms have been severe.
Spreading quickly and silently across the world is a virus that evokes fear and upends people’s lives.
In the Golden Isles, the first positive cases of COVID-19 were confirmed March 19. The number of positive cases in Glynn County had risen to five as of Wednesday.
The numbers remain low in this area compared to other parts of the country, and for many here the coronavirus is still a looming threat with the potential to cause unknown amounts of harm.
For those who have tested positive, though, coronavirus is much more than a story in the news.
“I’ve never been this sick in my life,” said a 53-year-old Glynn County resident who was among the first to test positive in the county.
She asked to remain anonymous.
Her world has become limited to her home, and she stays mostly in her bedroom. For weeks, she’s had a fever and felt near-constant exhaustion. Simple activities like showering tire her out, and there’s little to do but watch from afar as the coronavirus wreaks havoc on every part of the world outside her door.
She began to feel ill during a trip with friends to Fort Myers, Fla., at the end of February.
A few days later, her doctor tested her for influenza, but the results were negative. She stayed out of work for a couple of days, but regular routines like grocery shopping depleted her energy quickly. She continued to wake up every day feeling sick. At work, her colleagues commented on how unwell she looked and encouraged her to go home. She was also plagued by a dry cough and severe headaches.
“My head felt like it was going to come off my shoulders,” she said. “I was in so much pain.”
Sickness like this was unfamiliar to her, having always had a strong immune system, she said, noting she rarely falls too ill to continue with her regular routines.
“I’m a pretty tough person,” she said. “I’m a very healthy person. I’ve never taken time off work for being sick in my entire life.”
At the doctor’s office, she was tested again for the flu and for strep throat. Both tests came back negative. Finally, at the insistence of her daughter, she received a test for COVID-19. She also had two friends who’d gone on the Florida trip who are now sick, but neither has been able to be tested.
“No one will test them,” she said.
She was tested March 12 and returned home, where she continued feeling more sick.
She received the results March 18. She had contracted COVID-19.
Within 24 hours, she was back at the hospital, where she underwent a CT scan that showed the severe damage to her lungs caused by the virus.
The pattern of damage matched that of other COVID-19 cases around the world.
Today, she continues to take antibiotics and to struggle with an ongoing lack of energy. She’s also had double pneumonia. She’s quarantined and has no idea when she’ll be better.
“It’s unbelievable how winded I get,” she said.
She can’t go back to work until she’s asymptomatic for two weeks, but she doesn’t know when her symptoms are supposed to begin easing up.
Since falling ill, friends and family have gone the extra mile to take care of her, she said. Her daughter has stayed with her every day. And friends bring food to her house or arrange for deliveries from local restaurants — even those that don’t typically deliver to her neighborhood.
“I’ve had people telling me they’ve got their circle of friends praying for me,” she said Monday. “That just means a lot. I’ve been stuck in my house, in my bedroom, for basically 22 days. It can be overwhelming.”
But as she’s watched this health crisis unfold at the community, state and national levels, she’s become frustrated with the responses some have had.
“The narrative needs to change,” she said. “People need to understand this is no joke. If you are still going out to dinner and eating inside a restaurant, shame on you. You are not doing your part. You could be a carrier.”
The Glynn County Commission banned large gatherings and closed many businesses Wednesday. Local beaches have also been closed.
But for several weeks, even as warnings from health professionals became more urgent and stronger recommendations were made to social distance, public places like the St. Simons beaches, shopping areas and restaurants across the county remained busy.
“You are a foolish person if you think you’re above it and you can’t get it,” she said. “I think the misconception has been, ‘Well, it’s an elderly problem. Those are the people that are getting it.’ That’s not true.”
She said she’s seen jokes and comments on social media that infuriate her.
“People are not taking it serious and believe that it’s somewhere else,” she said. “And it’s here, and I hate that it’s here. It is here. I don’t know how I got it. That’s what’s even scarier, not knowing. I can’t pinpoint it.”
Coronavirus may still seem like just a looming threat to some in this community, but she urged everyone to think of the greater good. She knows firsthand the toll coronavirus can take, even on a healthy immune system.
“We’re all in it together, and I wish people would step back and stay home and only go out if you need food or medicine or if you need to go outside in your yard and exercise,” she said. “Don’t go anywhere else. Stay home.”