Northern Wilds Magazine
Covid-19

In Duluth, a server falls ill

I recently saw a social media post from a young woman who informed the operator of a Duluth day care facility that her three-year-old daughter would not be attending, because the whole family was down with an illness. The woman said she had been unable to see a doctor, but had been informed over the phone by a nurse that it was possibly Covid-19.

 I contacted the daycare owner and asked if I could speak with the young woman for an interview. What follows is the telephone conversation I had with the woman, who is identified as Alex, on Sunday, March 22. Although she gave me permission to use her full name, I’ve decided to respect her privacy. Aside from knowing the day care provider, I can’t vouch for the veracity of Alex’s story. I’m not sharing it to create panic or controversy. My intent is to offer some additional insight into our present situation. –Shawn Perich

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Alex, who is in her early thirties, works as a server, bartender and barista in Duluth. She became increasingly uncomfortable working with the public as the business world shut down. Her work brings her in close contact with the general public, including travelers and college kids returning from spring break. She has three children, ages 1, 3 and 8. The entire family was recovering from a bout with influenza B a month ago.

“With three kids, we’ve had a plethora of illnesses coursing through the house for months,” Alex said.

Last Wednesday and Thursday, Alex and the kids were not feeling well. By Friday, all of them had fevers of 101 degrees that weren’t going away. Everyone was feeling very tired. Alex said her chest started to hurt on Friday. Breathing was hard. Everyone but the three-year-old was coughing.

“The coughing comes and goes,” she said, “but I’m constantly tired and my body hurts.”

On Saturday, taking Tylenol wasn’t reducing their fevers. The one-year-old’s temperature was up to 102 degrees. She decided to call her doctor’s office. She was put in contact with a nurse who, after listening to Alex’s description of the symptoms, asked her two questions. Had she been traveling? Had she been exposed to anyone who tested positive for Covid-19? Alex’s answer to both questions was no, which meant she and her family did not qualify for immediate testing.

The nurse told Alex that she was concerned about her breathing difficulty and the children’s condition, but did not want them to come in for a doctor visit. The nurse called a couple of times during the day to check on them and said she had consulted with doctors who advised Alex to stay home and be isolated.

“I explained that I’d been around and exposed to lots of people, including some who are immunocompromised,” Alex said. “The nurse recommended we stay at home until we recover. She didn’t have any medication to give us.”

Alex said recovery is defined as feeling better and not having a fever. She was told to remain isolated for 72 hours after that. Since there are concerns that some people may remain contagious for up to two weeks after recovery, the nurse advised her to call after the 72-hour period for more information. The nurse did not tell her how long the illness may last.

When explaining her illness, Alex was emphatic that it was unlike any influenza she’s experienced. The onset was slow, beginning with lethargy and a fever, then moving to the coughing and chest pains.

“It got more and more intense each day,” she said. “The fever is not going away. When I breathe, my lungs are tight and painful. It burns to breathe.”

Alex said that she informed everyone she works with of her illness. They are still working. Her live-in boyfriend is still working, too. The daycare facility closed Monday, March 23.

On Tuesday, Mach 24, Alex sent me this message:

“Since we talked last my symptoms have gotten worse. My chest is hurting worse. I still don’t qualify for testing, but at this point, even a test won’t really help me get better, just give me answers. Today my fever is down, but my kids still have fevers. And they’ve gotten so restless, they had a burst of energy today and I can hear them breathing so hard just by playing. Something is really hurting in my back too, and making it hard for me to walk. But we are resting as much as we can and just taking it day by day.”

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