By Jack Bekos.
First of all, don’t panic. Well, panic a little bit. The most difficult thing about COVID-19, especially for Generation Z, is that this virus does not show itself like other viruses do. It’s sneaky, hidden, quiet, and dull. Many young people will show no symptoms at all. Others will show some. Few will show many. Even fewer will become critically ill. That is why I’m calling my fellow Gen Z’ers to panic, at least a little bit. How often have you been in large groups? Traveling outside your home or state? Internationally? In our increasingly globalized world, these questions become more and more answered. “I’ve been with friends. In Europe. In Cabo. On spring break!” Next, I implore you to think past yourself. Have you been with older adults? Your parents? How many of your friends are immunosuppressed? How many vape? Smoke? I hope you now realize the scope of the problem here. Every person you have come in contact with the past few weeks provides an additional variable for spread. And at some point, too many contacts become untraceable. That’s when the spread itself becomes just as sneaky as the virus itself.
So, you have potential symptoms of the virus. You’ve been traveling, in big groups, in a shared living space, whatever. What now? Here’s my first and most important piece of advice. DO NOT go to an emergency room. At the time of writing this article, hospitals in the US are already feeling the strain of individuals with flu-like symptoms clogging up hospital rooms and beds. Unless you have severe symptoms, the first and most important step will be to contact your primary doctor via phone or email if you are able. Your doctor will direct you to either stay at home and wait to see if symptoms subside, or, if you qualify for a test, they will direct you to a drive-up or remote testing center. I understand how frustrating it is to have so many unknowns, but it is essential that we do our part in maintaining the integrity of our hospital system for as long as possible. Take your temperature twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. If you have a fever that worsens, you cannot physically breathe, or you have other worsening symptoms, call your doctor again. I can confirm that the main line of defense for this virus is symptomatic treatment. That means Tylenol, rest, and liquids. Unfortunately, there is no other widely approved treatment. The second most important step if you have symptoms is to STAY INSIDE. If you are able, isolate yourself in your own room. Stay at least six feet away from all others. Do not go into public areas. Wash your hands frequently. If you are sharing your home with others, make sure that they too are distancing themselves, practicing hygiene, and avoiding prolonged contact. If you are able to afford the luxury, set aside your own bathroom, kitchen dishes, and personal area. I understand that many are not able to isolate in this way. If you share a bathroom, make sure to clean it as frequently as possible.
So, you’ve been able to get a test in the US. (Which like me, most likely meant you traveled to an international country with widespread virus activity.) If you’re negative, you’re free to stay in relative quarantine to benefit the rest of the population. The other option is you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19. What now? First and foremost, take a breath. A deep breath. You, like 95% of other patients, will most likely defeat this illness. First of all, continue your self-isolation for 14 days, or until your doctor or local department of health recommends you should. Continue to maintain distance from your housemates, and of course wear a mask whenever you are around them. Again, monitor your symptoms and take Tylenol as necessary. Unfortunately, you will have to wait out this illness in isolation. You can make food or ask your housemates or family to bring you whatever you need, but it is of utmost importance to remain isolated for the extended period of time. If your symptoms worsen during isolation, contact your doctor for check-ins as much as possible. Like most individuals affected by this virus, you will recover without any lingering effects.
What was my journey with this virus like? I was studying abroad in Spain from January until the middle of March. The word of a cluster of virus cases in China hit the news in late January, as I was traveling around Europe. The hypochondriac in me grew scared, both at the unknowns of the virus and at the risk it posed to the planet. Yet China seemed far away enough to mitigate any real panic, and I stayed mostly calm. In late February I traveled to Florence and Venice, Italy. By this time, a small cluster of cases had begun to hit Europe. I was worried to travel, yet I convinced myself that it would be a while before I got to travel to Italy again. Upon arrival in Florence, my friends and I received temperature checks in the airport. I found it bizarre but shrugged it off as overpreparation. Before my arrival in Italy, I had already felt a bit sick, so I made sure to rest as soon as I returned to Spain. A week after returning from Italy, I woke up with severe night sweats, fever, and chills. It was bad enough to the point that I texted my mom, “Mom, something is not right.” These symptoms lasted for days in Spain, and included fever, chills, headache, body aches, and cough. I was afraid to go to the hospital in Spain because I knew that they would quarantine me in isolation, and I could not stand the thought of being alone in Spain for 14 days in a hospital room. A week later, I felt better, but at this point our program had been cancelled. I flew home to the US. A day later, I still felt sick with a sore throat, cough, body aches, sinus pain, low fever, and the like. I begged my mom to take me to the doctor to get a test. (No drive through or remote centers were available at this time.) At the doctor, my vital signs were mostly normal, and I got a full blood panel as well as a test for influenza A and B. I was negative for both. Then the doctors decided to test me for COVID-19, and sent me home with directions to rest, take Tylenol and drink fluids. The test result came 8 hours later, and the test, of course, was positive. Because I was sick for around 3 weeks during Italy, in Spain, and in the US, no one is really sure when I contracted the virus. My hunch says it was either in Italy (which means I have had the virus for around 14 days) or in Spain (symptoms for around a week). As of today, my symptoms have mostly subsided, yet I have a lingering cough and some shortness of breath.
I, like many others, understand that the lack of adequate testing in this country is unbearable. In my opinion, we are in the beginning of a pandemic that this country has never seen before. If I can say one thing about this virus it is this: please, take the warnings seriously. Young adults are not immune to symptoms. We are the biggest age group of asymptomatic spreaders. For the time being, stay at home and away from others. Panic only to the extent that YOU have the responsibility to take the proper steps before, during, and after you are sick. We are all in this together.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a health professional. My advice stems solely from personal experience with COVID-19. Before anything else, heed the advice from your doctor, local health officials, and the CDC.