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Seattle Writer Recovers From COVID-19. 'We Thought It Was Probably Flu'

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So this week, we have been bringing you the voices of those who've been impacted directly by this pandemic - people who have lost jobs because of the economic turmoil, health care workers who are putting their own health at great risk. And now today, you're going to hear from someone who recovered from COVID-19. She spoke with Steve Inskeep.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: She is Christy Karras of Seattle. She has a job that in the last few days has begun to seem quaint.

CHRISTY KARRAS: I write a column for The Seattle Times, which ironically is about how to find community. And it's all about people getting together in real life (laughter). So that's been suspended for the time being.

INSKEEP: Her story begins when people were still getting together without a second thought. Her husband went to a small social gathering in February. Nobody there seemed sick. And there seemed no reason to worry since health officials had yet to detect community spread of the virus in the United States. But in the days that followed, several people who attended grew ill, and so did Christy Karras.

KARRAS: I woke up feeling as though a Mack truck had hit me. I had a fever, aches and pains. My husband had already started showing symptoms. He had a fever. So I was trying to avoid getting sick from him. So I actually quarantined him in our basement. That was not successful. And of course, at the time, we thought it was probably a flu because nobody was really thinking coronavirus could be a possibility. We didn't think it had gotten out and about in the public, as it were.

INSKEEP: And now we know the reality that it was moving about silently well before anybody would have known.

KARRAS: Yes, definitely, including among my friends, it turns out, and myself.

INSKEEP: So you had this fever. What happened then?

KARRAS: I had a fever for a few days, along with the aches and pains and fatigue and a brain fog. I found it very hard to do anything productive, to do any work. I mostly just wanted to lie around and do absolutely nothing. After a few days, I started feeling a little bit better, fever went away. And then a sinus congestion kicked in. And it was only in about the second week that I developed a cough. So it was definitely the fever that was the notable first symptom.

INSKEEP: It's been emphasized to us that the people who are most vulnerable here tend to be those who are elderly, over 70 or have some underlying health condition. Do either of those things apply to you?

KARRAS: I am in my 40s, generally very healthy. My husband has asthma. He definitely had a worse time with it than I did. And I think it does seem that older people tend to get the respiratory issues earlier. And so that might be one reason it was characterized that way early on because most of the people they were seeing were very sick and in hospitals. And I think there, even now, is not a whole lot of information on how younger, healthier people do move through this.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And I guess I should amend this a little bit. It is said that elderly people or people with underlying conditions are the ones who are most at risk for death.

KARRAS: Right.

INSKEEP: Just about anybody can get this, as you have shown. And you said there was this fever. What happened after the fever then? You said there was coughing.

KARRAS: Yes. Then the coughing set in. It was definitely a dry cough. And it's never been a bad cough for me. It's always been this dry, nagging cough that just will not go away.

INSKEEP: Now, you mentioned your husband is in the house. But the house is set up so that you could quarantine him away from you for a little while. Are you quarantining yourself away from him now?

KARRAS: No. From what we can tell, as with pretty much any other virus, once you are through it, you're probably immune at least for some time afterward.

INSKEEP: Good.

KARRAS: So we are now back (laughter). We're now reunited.

INSKEEP: Good. How are you doing as you and I talk now?

KARRAS: I think today is the first day that I am feeling back to 100%. My husband is feeling much better, too. So this morning, we were just remarking that we feel like superheroes (laughter) in a way. It's almost as if our bodies are saying, yeah, we beat this. We are so good. We beat this. So it's been a long time to get back to feeling normal. But at this point, we do feel back to normal, which is great.

INSKEEP: At what point in this sequence of fever and then cough and then other symptoms did you seek medical attention?

KARRAS: I did call my doctor. I asked for a test because at that point, I knew one person who had tested positive among my friends. My doctor basically said, they've reserved all the tests for medical personnel and for people involved with the nursing home, where the virus has kind of taken hold. So there really aren't tests available. If you think you have it, maybe you do. Just stay home. Don't get in contact with any other people. That was a bit disappointing. But I totally understood because there is a shortage of tests.

So that's when my friends and I started talking. And one of us remembered that the Seattle Flu Study was going on, and that they were collecting samples to see what kind of flu people were having this year. And so we decided to send samples into that. And it turned out that we heard back fairly quickly because we tested positive.

INSKEEP: This is a study that made the news, if I'm not mistaken, because a researcher, after being denied permission to test the flu samples for coronavirus, took it upon herself to do so, right?

KARRAS: Yes. And I think the people at the Seattle Flu Study are heroes for doing what they've done in switching over really quickly to start testing for the coronavirus. And I understand why the rules are there, but at this time, it's all hands on deck. We would likely never have known if it weren't for them because we didn't have serious symptoms. We weren't in the hospital. And if we could have that kind of testing across the country, we would have so much more data. We would know so much more about how to effectively contain this.

INSKEEP: Do you think you may have also given the virus to someone in that period between when you received it and when you realized you were sick?

KARRAS: I know that I gave it to someone. The first person I knew who tested positive is actually someone I gave it to. And I gave it to her when we had lunch together the day before I started feeling ill. And I remember I had lunch with a small group of people. Out of the six people I had lunch with, four of them got sick. We never touched each other. We never touch each other's plates. So it was just literally from being near each other.

And I remember thinking on that day, I feel terrific. I feel fantastic today. So there's no way I could have gotten what my husband got. So I felt confident going out to lunch with them. And now it turns out that it is very easy to pass it along. And it's very likely that you can do it before you know you have it, which is one reason social distancing is so important and why they talk about it. So I think it's important that people do that.

INSKEEP: Do you miss human contact?

KARRAS: I do. Although, to be honest, we weren't really thinking about much of anything besides getting through the day when we were feeling really sick. And that's one thing that I think it's important to note, too. I'm fine. I'm going to be fine. I started out healthy. I'm relatively young. But it was no picnic. I don't think it's a picnic for most people who get it. So people who just kind of brush it off and say, oh, it's no big deal, it's pretty awful to be lying flat out for two weeks.

INSKEEP: Christy Karras is a writer based in Seattle who just recovered from the coronavirus. Thank you so much.

KARRAS: Thank you very much. My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOONCAKE'S "MANDARIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.