Op-Ed: My Case of COVID-19 Can Be a Lesson for All

By Michele Turk, Greenwich

I tested positive for the coronavirus one month ago. There are a few things I’d like you to know that could help flatten the curve and possibly even save lives.

First, keep in mind that everyone does not present with the same symptoms. These were mine: a stomach ache, cough, sore throat and congestion. I’m not a doctor, but I’m married to one, and I worked as a health reporter — and neither of us was convinced I had the virus, although we suspected it.

Assuming I had COVID-19, I took precautions. I didn’t just wash my hands — I decamped to another bedroom, soaked the bathrooms and kitchen appliances with a Clorox concoction and even hid my toothpaste from my husband. Then came a killer sinus headache, body aches and fatigue a few days later. My constellation of symptoms didn’t match the headlines at the time, which said that most patients have a fever and shortness of breath. I had neither.

Day 4 of my symptoms was my daughter’s 19th birthday, and I was surprised that I couldn’t taste the chocolate layer cake I’d baked. Before I went to bed that night, I read breaking news that loss of smell and taste can be telltale signs — the first real clue that I might have COVID-19. The next night, I was up for hours with chills and probably had a fever (the battery died in my thermometer). In the morning I called my doctor, who ordered the test.

I tried to make light of it, joking that I couldn’t taste food but didn’t shed a pound because even the coronavirus couldn’t help a 55-year-old woman lose weight. In reality, a sense of foreboding seeped in because I read that some people take a turn for the worse several days after the onset of symptoms. Instead, I continued to experience aches and pains, I slept 10 hours a day, and I gradually began to feel better.

When my doctor told me via FaceTime that I had tested positive, she said I was “lucky” because I had a mild case. I’m grateful that I’m OK and that the rest of my family didn’t get it — or they were asymptomatic. Either way, they couldn’t get tested because they were symptom-free, although antibody testing is finally being rolled out.

This brings me to another point: There has been a lag in testing, which means that we don’t really know how many people have been infected. While I’m relieved that the numbers are leveling off in Fairfield County, we’ve had two-thirds of the state’s cases, and our COVID-19 cases have grown by 1,260 in the past five days. That’s why everyone should continue to heed the calls to stay home, and if you do go out, simply wear a mask.

Some people have chosen to ignore and even challenge this recommendation, putting the most vulnerable members of our community at risk. It’s also a slap in the face to weary healthcare workers and first responders who will be forced to risk their lives for a longer period to care for newly infected patients. I appreciate our constitutional rights, as well as the ideological differences at play, but the science is clear. This pandemic should not be partisan.

Instead, maybe it can be our finest hour. Once my doctor wrote me a letter saying I had “recovered from COVID-19,” one of the first things I did was register to donate plasma at the New York Blood Center’s Westchester location. I would urge anyone who tests positive to consider giving it a go, as convalescent plasma is in demand and could aid up to three patients who are gravely ill.

One last point I’d like to make, as president of the Connecticut Press Club: Where you get your news matters. Last week a video went viral by two California physicians portraying COVID-19 as a relatively harmless virus with a low mortality rate, akin to the flu, and recommending that the country reopen prematurely. The video was later removed by YouTube.

Of course, President Donald Trump also downplayed the threat of COVID-19 for more than a month, saying in late February that “the virus is very much under control in the USA.” He continues to vilify and humiliate the “dishonest” media, claiming that they were blowing the risk of the coronavirus out of proportion and “siding with China” because they want to bring him down. I find this alarming. If I hadn’t read that the loss of taste and smell were symptoms in a so-called mainstream news outlet, I may not have been diagnosed.

I hope that a silver lining in this global pandemic is that Americans come to appreciate that we have witnessed stellar public service journalism in the past few months. We need to understand and accept that one of the roles of a free press is to ask tough questions of those in power. My advice is to seek out fact-based reporting, find credible news sources that doggedly research every story and rely on updates from experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci and the health care workers on the front lines in New York and elsewhere who are brave enough to tell it like it is. By now, isn’t it clear who’s dishonest?

Maybe it’s time to tune in again. The “fake” news media just might save your life.

Michele Turk is a writer who has lived in Greenwich for 20 years. She has served as the president of the Connecticut Press Club since 2015. 

An earlier version of this op-ed appeared in the Hartford Courant.