SOUTH ORANGE — Village President Sheena Collum released a letter to the community from one of the first South Orange residents to test positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, preceded by her own note of urgent pleading for social distancing: 

 

To the South Orange Community:

Earlier today, our Office of Emergency Management announced the first two cases of South Orange residents who have tested positive for coronavirus and this afternoon, we received news of a third.  

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I’m asking everyone to do better. In fact, I’m asking everyone to be exceptional in our efforts to “flatten the curve” and practice strict social distancing. Our best defense right now is an extremely aggressive offense.

I am recommending and urging that you stay home and avoid ALLunnecessary travel and interactions to the greatest extent possible. Remember, we are collectively responsible for, and accountable to, each other. 

I received a message last night from one of our residents who tested positive for coronavirus, and he has offered to share his story with you. I told him that we are here for him, that we are available to help in any way, and that he is in our thoughts and prayers. 

I hope you take a moment to read his words, better understand the severity of the situation, and be guided accordingly as you make decisions moving forward.

In solidarity and safety (remember, a minimum of 6 feet),

Sheena C. Collum, Village President

 

My Story: First South Orange Resident to Test Positive for Coronavirus

While it wasn’t my first choice for how to get my 15 minutes of fame, it looks like I have the dubious honor of being one of the first South Orange residents to test positive for COVID-19. 

I am a 51 year old man in relatively good health, with no major underlying conditions. On March 5 I saw my primary care physician with some tightness in my chest that had been present for a few weeks. After being on a steroid inhaler for a week, I woke up with more symptoms: a hacking cough and increased difficulty breathing. Given that I felt lousy and that my kids were with their other parent, I began self-isolating at home that morning. 

It’s important to say that prior to this, I maintained a normal schedule, meeting with several groups, small and large, across the state. All that time I felt “myself”—some chest junkiness but nothing noteworthy.

Upon beginning my self-imposed quarantine, I reached out to my general practitioner’s office and inquired about the possibility this might be COVID-19. Their reply was “most likely, no” after they asked the standard line of questioning at that point: Had I traveled to Italy, S. Korea, China? Had I been exposed to a lab-tested positive COVID-19 patient? 

I called everyone I could think to call that day: the State Coronavirus hotline (busy the entire time); the Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield 24/7 nurse help line (87 minutes waiting to get through, upon which point I was told I was not a likely case); the Atlantic Health Care COVID-19 line (hung up after being informed of the 117-minute wait time); and the St. Barnabas telemedicine line (the ER doctor was sympathetic, but admitted there were no tests available other than in ER departments and that I wouldn’t qualify).

I was put on medication on March 13 under the assumption that I had a viral, but not COVID-19, lung infection. 

In the end, working my networks (and privilege) got me into Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck. An extremely helpful doctor authorized a test for me last Sunday night. They did the four nasal swabs (each nostril, one for coronavirus, one for flu) in the parking lot but then took me into an extremely full ER department. After a 4.5 hour wait, attended by an amazingly upbeat, efficient nursing and hospital staff, I was able to leave isolation with the “extreme probability that it is not COVID-19.” No fever, I was improving from the previous few days, and I tested positive for another virus, metapneumalvirus—two viruses, I learned, are very rarely found at the same time.

My results came back last night, 3/19, and to everyone’s surprise, they were positive. There was a lag from the time the test was processed, Monday, until last night when I got the phone call — I assume because of the backlog and scrambling in the labs and hospitals to keep up with the influx.

There are two key things I would highlight from this experience:

  1. Not all COVID-19 symptoms will be the same. Everyone talks about the fever; I never got one. Some who contract the virus will be asymptomatic or have only a little cough. This has serious implications for potential widespread community infection. Please stay as isolated/socially distanced as possible to help out our ER/hospital staff, home health workers, and older and immunocompromised folks. 
     
  2. ER departments and their nurses, doctors, cleaning staff, etc. are all under intense pressure right now. I saw this a week ago in Teaneck and have been thinking about ways to help. Fruit baskets and cards might be nice; even better, maybe we can find some way to donate those extra masks and gloves some of us bought “just in case” but which are now desperately needed at area health facilities.

I will be ordering out from my favorite local Chinese and pizza takeout places; they can leave it on the front stoop while I pay by credit card. I’m also paying the amazing women who pick up my kids from school and clean my house to help them survive…even while asking them to please stay away and keep themselves safe. I hope those of you able to do the same will help pick up that slack. Thanks to our public health department, government workers, grocery checkout folks, police/fire/EMTs, and especially our ER staff. You all are the real heroes right now.