A Student With COVID-19: Scott’s Story

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Bridget Parks ('21)

Michael Casarano ('21), Orbit Contributor

Imagine a time before we grabbed a mask when we left the house. A time when we could visit our grandparents whenever we wanted, and attend big sporting events and concerts. A time we could invite more than 10 people over and not think anything of it. It’s tough. We have all become so accustomed to life with COVID-19. But what exactly is COVID-19? Educating the public could be the key to finding a way to live “normally” again, even with the virus. 

CO stands for corona, VI stands for virus, and D stands for disease. 19 is for the year it was first seen, which was 2019. There are other coronaviruses present in humans, but this is the most recent one, and the one that is currently causing the biggest problem, with over 75.1 million cases worldwide, and over 1.6 million deaths worldwide due to the virus since it first came to be on December 30th of 2019, according to the World Health Organization. 

Symptoms vary for COVID-19, which is what makes it such a hard disease to recognize. The main symptoms linked to COVID-19 include fever/chills, shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, loss of taste/smell, congestion, runny nose, sore throat, cough, fatigue and muscle or body aches. People who experience the most extreme symptoms which cause them to need ventilators and go to the hospital are people who are in the high risk category. The high risk category, as defined by the CDC, is older adults, and people who have severe underlying medical conditions. Symptoms usually appear anywhere between 1-14 days after a person is exposed to the virus.  Asymptomatic cases have been found as well, where a person experiences no symptoms, but is just a carrier of the disease and transmits it to others unknowingly. This is why everyone must follow the strict self quarantine rules after coming into contact with someone who has COVID-19. 

Testing is also a very complicated process in the current COVID-19 pandemic. The two most popular forms of testing are rapid tests and PCR tests. With rapid tests, results take 10-20 minutes to come back and are not sent to a lab outside the testing location. With PCR tests, results take around 24-48 hours to come back, and the test is sent out to a lab to be reviewed. It is unknown which process is more accurate, but it is believed that PCR tests are the way to go. However, there are many factors that contribute to the accuracy of testing. The primary issue is that the test is taken too quickly after coming into contact with the virus, and there are not enough viral cells to produce a positive test, even though the person is carrying COVID-19. Also, mistakes made during testing and with the test can contribute to inaccurate results.   A test is supposed to be administered by putting a swab far up each nostril for 10 seconds. If the swab is left in too short, not pushed far enough, or both nostrils are not swabbed, a sample may not be accurate.  If the test is stored incorrectly, results may be inconclusive or even false. False negatives pose a big problem, because if a person tests negative and returns to daily life unaware that they carry COVID-19, they may infect many other people. 

Quarantining is another confusing part about COVID-19. Many people are unaware that if they so much as come into contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, they must quarantine for 2 weeks, regardless of the fact they themselves may have tested negative, and/or do not have any symptoms. The reason for this is because of the inaccuracy of the COVID-19 tests, to ensure that people are not unknowingly spreading the virus. But what exactly is contact? Close contact is defined as coming within 6 feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more.

Reading Memorial High School senior Scott (name changed by The Orbit) had coronavirus earlier this year in November. He shared about his experience with the virus. He was exposed by his father, who he was with on Saturday, October 31st. He found out his father had coronavirus on the following Monday, and Scott first experienced symptoms on the following Wednesday. Immediately after hearing that his father had tested positive, he quarantined, alerted the people he had seen in the last few days, and went to get tested. His first test, a rapid test, on Tuesday November 3rd, came back inconclusive. He was tested again on Friday, November 6th, using a PCR test, but this test came back negative. However, due to the fact he was experiencing symptoms from Wednesday the 4th through Friday the 6th, he knew he still had to quarantine. On Wednesday the 11th he got tested a third time, another PCR test. This time the results came back as positive. In Scott’s experience, each time he was tested he was tested the proper way, with both nostrils being probed for 10 seconds. However, the disparity in his results show the inconsistency with testing for COVID-19. Had Scott not quarantined he could have been spreading the virus unknowingly. 

After being asked about what symptoms he experienced, he said, “I had a sore throat, fatigue, I felt tired all the time, and I had a headache.” On how long the symptoms lasted, he said, “My first day of symptoms was Wednesday, and my last day of symptoms was Friday.” Scott got pretty lucky here, as he recovered very quickly, and experienced mild symptoms. 

In regards to how this impacted his life at the time, he talked about how being exposed affected his schedule for hockey and work. “I told my boss I was exposed, and he said whatever result comes back you are going to have to quarantine for the 14 days.” This is the correct procedure to take. “For hockey, I had to take the two weeks off, and in addition my coach wanted a negative test result for me to return to hockey, but I could not get a negative result because dead cells stay in your nose for three months.” This is what makes returning to life so difficult with the virus. To return to all activities, Scott’s father reached out to the Massachusetts Board of Health and explained his situation, and how he had no symptoms for two weeks. The Board of Health wrote Scott a letter that stated he was cleared to return to all activities, because he was symptom free for two weeks. There is a bit of grey area here, as it may have been proper to wait two weeks after testing positive, but Scott did not spread the virus after returning to activity two weeks after experiencing symptoms to his knowledge.

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Scott’s experience is just one example of over 75 million. While we do know a lot about COVID-19, there is also a lot we don’t know. That is why it is so important to listen to guidelines put in place by experts, and to follow all precautions, like wearing a mask and keeping a social distance when we can. There is hope for a better tomorrow, as a vaccine is currently being distributed in the United States and around the world. If we continue to follow guidelines, and if this vaccine proves to be effective, maybe one day soon we can return to life as it was, before COVID-19.