WESTFIELD, NJ — (Updated at 1:33 p.m.) A professor at The College of New Jersey who said he first started experiencing symptoms of coronavirus 10 days ago is warning the public that the condition may not present itself how you think.
Craig Hollander, a 38-year-old Westfield resident and history professor at TCNJ, told TAPinto Westfield he first went to his general practitioner with gastrointestinal symptoms and then to CityMD in Clark when he realized he might have COVID-19.
With a scarcity of available tests, doctors would not test him for the virus. Hollander was not presenting with the respiratory symptoms that authorities are warning the public about. He is also under 60 years of age and less susceptible to the fatal impacts that the condition carries.
“Everyone’s really focused on the respiratory issues, but from what I understand and my experience, the digestive issues, the GI issues seem pretty prevalent,” Hollander said. “A lot of people present with GI issues. It’s important to realize that if you seek treatment for that, there’s a solid chance you have coronavirus.”
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness and dry cough, according to the World Health Organization. It says that some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea.
In seeking to get tested, Hollander said, he had reached out to Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle, but even she could not secure a test for him. “She was very responsive, but her hands were tied. She can’t order a test,” Hollander said.
Using a personal connection, Hollander said, he secured a test in New York — a test, he notes, is not available to the general public at this time in New Jersey. The results came back positive Wednesday evening, he said.
While the mayor couldn’t order a test, Brindle could help Hollander get the word out about the dangers of the virus and with his permission shared his story when he announced it on social media this week.
“The virus is much more prevalent in our community than what the limiting testing indicates, so we should all behave like it’s everywhere. Stay well everyone,” Brindle wrote on Facebook Thursday morning.
Hollander has been isolating at home in Westfield and on Friday morning first was able to connect with the Westfield Regional Health Department.
“I don’t think we have any sense of how widespread this virus is right now,” said Hollander, shortly after getting off the phone with a health department official. “Whatever the numbers are that the governor is putting out, they’re just wrong. They’re completely wrong, and it’s misleading. It’s doing a disservice to the community.”
Health officials are warning that the figures are anticipated to increase dramatically as more testing becomes available and are saying people need to place physical distances between each other to avoid contracting the virus. It is in keeping with orders from the governor.
But with wider testing not anticipated in Union County until at least next week, the figures reported remain unrepresentative of the reality.
“It gives people the sense that ‘oh this is something that I can avoid’ when there’s only 500 cases out there when [the reality is] I don’t think we have any idea how much this has become prevalent,” Hollander said.
The TCNJ professor said he has alerted his university (and they are taking appropriate measures) but said that he does not know how he contracted the virus.
“I have not traveled out of the country,” he said. “I have not traveled at all — really just within the state of New Jersey.”
In keeping with his doctor’s guidance, Hollander said, he anticipates getting through the virus, but fears for the elderly and those people with compromised immune systems who may not.
As for the response from his friends and neighbors in Westfield,“It’s been really wonderful,” Hollander said Friday. “There’s just a huge outpouring of support from friends and family and my co-workers. It’s just been tremendous.”
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