Caitlin Hernandez/Courier An illustration of the writer, Felicia Gaddis, navigating around concerns from strangers that she had COVID-19 while she was sick with a normal cold.
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Last week I was sick. Normally, I would never mention this, but ever since COVID-19 came on the scene, a cold isn’t just a cold. The flu isn’t just the flu and a sneeze, if done in public, isn’t just a sneeze. Colds, the flu, and all of their symptoms are compromised health conditions that put you and others at risk for contracting a virus that is the greatest pandemic the modern world has seen, and has caused me more than a little anxiety.  

Friday, Mar. 6 was a normal day for me. I went into Los Angeles to do an interview, came back to Pasadena to tend to some business but I was out later than expected and got chilled. I knew by the time I got home that I wasn’t doing well but thought, ‘I’ll take a shower, have a cup of hot tea go to bed and be good as new in the morning.’ That was not the case.

The next morning I awoke to fever, achiness,head and chest congestion and a cough and the first thought lurking in the back of my head was, ‘is this that virus?’ News reports indicated that  I had all of the symptoms, but those symptoms were also indicators of the common cold, a sinus infection (I’ve always had sinus problems) or the flu, which is precisely why the disease is so dangerous. Medical authorities and the White House Coronavirus Task Force were telling people to stay out of the ER.  Save those resources for ‘people who really need them.’ Was I one of those people?

Yes I was coughing and running a temperature, but I couldn’t get a hold of my doctor and they said not to go to the ER, so what was I supposed to do? 

There don’t seem to be any clear cut guidelines to determine when to take the next step with this virus. We don’t have a rule to follow like, ‘fever over 100, get tested’ or a list of  symptoms you should go to the ER for. This would make it a lot easier and less stressful for everyone, simply by taking the guesswork out of it.  

Ultimately, I decided to wait a week and tough it out at home. If I wasn’t better by then, I would go to the ER.

As the COVID-19 crisis escalated, my fears about my own health increased. Did I have it or was it just a nasty sinus infection that was migrating to my chest? As long as I didn’t have to go out, I really didn’t have to answer that question but then I had to leave the house.

The first day I ventured out in public, I really didn’t have a choice. I had to go to the post office to mail something that had a deadline.

As I sat in the car and coughed as much as I could and blew my nose to clear out as much congestion as possible before I left the car the fear began to hit me. I saw families, parents with their small children, and individuals talking about the virus and everyone looking a little tense.  

I lathered up in hand sanitizer and cautiously walked to the door of the post office, making sure to keep my distance from everyone.  

I prayed that I could make it out of there before the urge to cough took over, and fortunately I did, but by the time I got back to the car, I was shaking.

I left the post office and went straight to my doctor’s office, which sent me to the ER, and that’s when I was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection.  They determined that my light-headedness was the result of low oxygenation of my blood and after a couple of breathing treatments, I felt better, but I wasn’t really breathing any easier metaphorically speaking.

The only thing that gives people comfort are answers, and the only way to get those answers is by getting tested. Sheltering in place, although effective in stopping the spread of the virus, does nothing to help treat the virus or protect the people you may be sheltering with. I wonder how many people could have had better outcomes in Italy or China or New York if they had been diagnosed and treated earlier?  How many will do better here if they are tested, diagnosed and treated earlier? Self-quarantine does nothing to help these people.

Can’t we train people to administer the test, the same way we have trained people to administer the AIDS test, remotely? Are there options for low-cost self-testing? These are options that we are beginning to address, but an entire month has gone by. Why did we wait so long?

The longer people have to go without getting tested, the greater the anxiety becomes. I realize that this pandemic is moving fast. Faster than anything that we’ve seen before, but I don’t believe guilting people into not going to the doctor is the best way to deal with it. If South Korea can create drive-thru and walk-thru testing tents, then why can’t we? We can’t bury our heads in the sand and hope it’s just the flu. We need answers.

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