Survivors see light at end of coronavirus tunnel

Three people share stories about becoming infected with, and then overcoming, COVID-19.

THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS is revealing our collective vulnerability but, more importantly, our shared humanity. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS is revealing our collective vulnerability but, more importantly, our shared humanity.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
As of Sunday afternoon, some 1.8 million cases of coronavirus had been confirmed worldwide. At least 109,000 people have died from COVID-19 – the disease caused by the pathogen – and tens of thousands are in critical condition. The pandemic has caused widespread economic devastation, the ramifications of which can only begin to be fully understood once the outbreak is curbed.
Until then, nearly half of the global population remains under varying degrees of lockdown, with many barred entirely from leaving their homes. Indeed, the suffering extends well beyond just those who have contracted the illness. There are few, if any, who have altogether been spared hardship, a reality that has brought into stark focus not only our collective vulnerability but, more importantly, our shared humanity.
This is exemplified by those who have recovered from COVID-19, three of whom shared their stories with The Media Line.
Courtney Mizel, Los Angeles
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, but currently live in Los Angeles. I work as a strategic business and legal consultant, focusing on the not-for-profit space. I also serve on the board of directors for a public company as well as several nonprofit organizations locally and nationally.
Why did you think you had contracted coronavirus?
I was dealing with a great deal of anxiety regarding all of the changes instituted to combat the spread of COVID-19, including school cancellations, the stay-at-home order and everything that came with that. There were a couple days that I was scared – when my breathing became more difficult – and I worried about who I could call to take care of my kids if I had to go to the hospital.
As I watch what is happening to people around the world who are extremely ill, I am filled with gratitude for the fact that my case was mild. I consider myself one of the lucky ones.
I wasn’t sure whether or not it was actually coronavirus, because I had been at the [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] conference in [Washington,] DC, and then to Colorado. Since I had been traveling and because having a fever is rare for me, my doctor suggested I get tested at Cedars-Sinai [Medical Center], which I did on March 14. This was at the beginning of everything, [but] they were still conservative about administering the coronavirus test, because of the shortage that already existed.
It took six days – until March 20 – to get my results. Had I not taken precautionary measures, I don’t know how many people [I could] have infected.
What was your initial reaction after testing positive?
I was shocked. My fever was only 100.6 degrees Fahrenheit [38.1 degrees Celsius] and only lasted two to three days.
From what I know, people were reporting higher fevers. I had tightness in my chest and, overall, felt really tired. By the time I got my results, most of my symptoms had [subsided].
I started to exercise and got a little worse but not to the point of going to the hospital.
Do you think US authorities are doing enough testing?
The biggest danger is even someone with my symptoms who has asthma may not [meet the criteria] to be tested. You generally have to be over 65 years of age, have [more severe] underlying conditions, or know you have been exposed directly….
Without more widespread testing or stricter enforcement of quarantine guidelines like in Israel, I don’t see how we [in the US] are going to stop the spread of the virus. It’s the exponential growth that is so scary.
How have your children reacted?
My children, Zoe, 14, and Isabella, 13, were concerned. “Are we allowed to tell any of our friends?” they asked….
The coronavirus is not something we need to be embarrassed about…. I stayed mostly in the bedroom and my office, which is at home. When I was around the kids and common areas, I would wear a mask and constantly wash my hands.
What advice do you have for others who are going through this?
The best thing that everyone can do is to take care of their immune systems and their families. People need to talk to their doctors before going to the emergency room or trying to get tested.
There are no masks for healthcare workers.
The information is so unclear. In Israel, the directives come from the top. Here, the president, governors, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all say different things. It’s awful, and causes confusion for everyone.
There are a lot of us who got the virus and many who do not know they have it. The [situation] is causing crazy hoarding, and people are so scared and not getting clear instructions. So, they are either being hyper-vigilant or [totally] shutting down and ignoring [the crisis].
Carra Glatt, Tel Aviv
Can you please briefly introduce yourself?
I [moved to Israel] a little under three years ago. I am originally from New Jersey and now teach English literature at Bar-Ilan University.
You said that you had been in the US and then returned to Israel. Did you have to self-isolate for 14 days?
One thing that’s interesting about that: I got back just before – like literally 12 hours before – the [government implemented the policy], and it wasn’t retroactive. Fortunately, I did stay in home quarantine just to be safe. But technically I didn’t have to. It made very little sense….
Where do you think you might have contracted the virus?
I was in New Jersey visiting my family. I suspect that I got [coronavirus] from my father, but he was never tested, so we don’t actually know. The reason I assume that is because he had a close friend who he’d gone out for lunch with who, a couple of days later, wound up hospitalized.
Before I left for Israel, my father came down with flu-like symptoms. He went to the doctor and, rather than giving him a coronavirus test, they first gave him a flu test, which was positive. He did a chest X-ray and the doctor said, “Oh, well that’s clear, so we’re not going to test you [for the virus].”
Once I was diagnosed, it seemed likely that he probably did have it. By then, he called [the doctor] again and was told, “Well, you don’t have a fever anymore, so we’re not going to test you.”
At the very end of my trip, I was supposed to go to an international conference in New Orleans, and then [the Israeli government decided that everyone] who does so must enter quarantine upon returning to the country….
From that point on, I didn’t actually leave my parents’ house. I was like, “I’m just going to pretty much stay here and not expose myself to people.”
The only other place where I could possibly have been infected was the flight [back to Israel], but I haven’t heard of any cases of the [passengers] getting sick.
Can you describe the steps you took once you started feeling symptomatic?
When I return to Israel from the US, I frequently have pretty bad jet lag. But just to be safe, I was taking my temperature every day. I came back on [Monday, March 9,] and I think it was around Thursday or Friday that I got a fever and felt exhausted. So, it was about a week later that I called MADA [Magen David Adom], because they ask you to contact them only if you have a fever above 38 degrees Celsius. That was the only day that I really felt sick.
Can you explain the process of getting tested?
When I called MADA, it was, “Press 1 for normal options and press 2 for coronavirus.” I think the process has since changed and they’re screening people more. But at the time I told them what my temperature was. I also said that I had no other [major] symptoms except for exhaustion. I wasn’t coughing or anything.
They put me on a list and came the next morning. Somebody comes in full protective gear and gives you a swab in the throat and in the nose. It’s pretty uncomfortable. I got my results two days later and I was really shocked because by then I was feeling better.
Did it give you a better appreciation of how severe the issue is – that relatively asymptomatic people could be going about their business without knowing they were infected?
Yes. Especially because if I had been in the US, there’s no way I would have been tested…. I know a number of people who think they had it. People who didn’t get tested have had doctors tell them, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure you had coronavirus.” My body was kind of off from the jet lag and then you get a small bug and then that’s it. So, I think there must be tons of people who are walking around who have no clue they are infected.
From what I understand, another problem is that people are most contagious the day before they start feeling ill.
You mentioned you live with your fiancé. Was it difficult for you both?
There’s the ideal, and then there’s what you do in practice.
First of all, he actually was tested, and I thought he had the virus, because, ironically, he had a bad cough. But he was negative.
We did stay in separate rooms, but because we only have one bathroom, I couldn’t be completely isolated. I was wiping down surfaces and everything. I clearly felt better, and it was just a matter of waiting for our next test. We were basically social-distancing within the house, staying 2 meters apart.
You were tested again?
In a lot of countries that have a shortage of test kits, they don’t test you at all. They just basically say that if you had a fever for three days and it’s been more than a week or two from the onset of symptoms, you can go out. In Israel, I had to have two negative test results before being cleared.
My health insurance company was calling me twice a day to check in, and at a certain point when I didn’t have a fever, someone told me, “I’m putting you on the list with MADA to be tested again.” After several days, I called MADA, but they said I was not on any list. I was going back and forth, and I thought there was a misunderstanding. But exactly two weeks after my original inquiry, MADA called to say that I would be tested the next day. So, that was kind of frustrating. But, ultimately, I got tested again and am fine now.
Do you have a message of hope or inspiration for others who are going through the same ordeal?
I guess to just remind yourself that obviously we should be taking this very, very seriously. But at the same time to realize that for most people [who contract the virus], the effects will be mild. I mean, this was not the sickest I’ve ever been. I’ve had much less scary things and felt worse.
I think the hardest part for me was not having the fixed knowledge of when the ordeal would end. But it did, and [will for most people]. You don’t know the exact timing, but eventually you [reach a point when you] can say, “This is the day I’m going to be okay.”
Mariana al-Arja, Bethlehem
Can you please identify yourself?
My name is Mariana and I’m a Palestinian who lives in Bethlehem. I work as the general manager for the Angel Hotel, which is a family-owned business.
And when did you become aware that you were infected with COVID-19?
What happened was that we had groups from Greece, and I was concerned that because tourists were still coming from the airport, we might see cases.
One day I got a phone call from someone at a travel agency [we get clients from] who said that some people who had stayed at the hotel from February 23 to 27 were diagnosed with coronavirus after returning home.
I didn’t know if any of us had been infected. So, the first thing I did was [make calls] and eventually reached the health minister’s office [in Ramallah]. They told me that I had to bring all my employees back to the hotel in order to run tests for them.
So, you found out that you had coronavirus before you felt any symptoms?
Yes, exactly. And if not for the travel agency, I would never have known about it. I didn’t have symptoms, but a couple of my employees were sick and could not come to work between February 27 and March 1. They had running noses and coughs, and needed to stay at home. That was before we knew anything [about the group from Greece].
Are you currently quarantined in the hotel?
No. The hotel is now empty, but about 40 of us were previously quarantined inside. There were people from the US and also more than two dozen employees. We stayed here beginning March 5, and the Americans only checked out on March 20. But I stayed another week with one of my workers because his tests kept coming back positive.
Everyone was tested before being allowed to leave?
Yes, we had to have three negative test results before we could leave the hotel…. After, I went back to my home and stayed there for another 14 days, and then had to take another test.
Were you concerned about going back home because of your family?
I was in the house with my mother and my brother, who was also infected with the virus. We didn’t lock ourselves in our rooms, because we had already tested negative three times. There was nothing to worry about. We just took care of ourselves until the fourth test.
You mentioned that the hotel is a family business. There must be an economic toll associated with shuttering it.
For sure. We had a different experience because other hotels were all closed but we had to stay open, which means running the water, using the electricity, having to order items from suppliers, etc…. So, there was a cost involved. Also, I just received permission to go back to the hotel because I have to pay the salaries of my employees.
You have to pay your employees even though the hotel is not operating?
Yes. They have families; they need help. So, what I did was give them half their wages for March and will advance the rest in April.
Do you have any sense when the tourism industry might begin to rebound?
Things will eventually get back to normal. It will work out and perhaps be better than before. But we need a lot of time to recover in Bethlehem. I think we need about one year until we get back up on our feet again.
[The health crisis] is not just related to this area – it’s all the airports all over the world. Everyone has been impacted economically, too. So, people will not have the money to travel, even when things begin to slowly reopen. It will not be easy. But after all of this, I think we have a great future.
Finally, any words of encouragement to convey to people?
The experience at the Angel Hotel was great because we stayed here, my employees and I, as a family. We had a WhatsApp group and talked to each other all day. If anyone needed anything – some help, food, something from their families – they could get it. We had people working for us on the outside, and we made the guests feel as though they were at home and safe.
Staying positive was really important.
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