A little more than two weeks ago, Michael Widler came down with a fever, intense body aches and fatigue.
He spent several days sleeping it off, feeling like he had the flu. Nothing tasted right, not even water.
When the fever wore off, he briefly rejoined his family in their Redmond home, but had a mild cough and no fever.
By the next day, he was in the intensive care unit at St. Charles Bend. Widler had trouble breathing, had pneumonia and he tested positive for COVID-19.
“We had been following the recommendations,” Stephanie Widler said. “The only place he had been to was the grocery store. He had gotten gas once. In the time frame, he didn’t go anywhere.”
Widler’s 38-year-old husband is one of 54 people in Deschutes County who have tested positive for the coronavirus. In Oregon, 53 people have died of the virus, as of Monday, and 1,585 have tested positive. The latter number includes one case from Jefferson County the state has not included in its total.
The 34-year-old Widler spoke about her husband’s experiences in the hopes that others will understand the seriousness of the disease. She hopes that people will understand why it’s important to social distance from others and to stay home.
“If you get sick it’s not because you did anything wrong,” Stephanie Widler said.
“We were doing all the things we were supposed to do. I don’t know where he got it from.”
Her husband became ill before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its position that everyone should wear a mask when going out in public to keep from spreading germs to others. The masks also protect people from touching their faces, said Jill Johnson, Deschutes County Health Services Communicable Disease Programs supervisor.
So far no one is showing symptoms at the Widler home. Not Stephanie Widler. Not her 14-year-old special needs son or her 7-year-old son.
After returning home, someone from the Deschutes County Health Services contacted the family to determine who Widler’s husband may have been in contact with. The purpose is to trace the spread of the virus and to alert others, Johnson said.
“We narrow down the window,” Johnson said. “By knowing when the symptoms began we can find the window of exposure. We look back 14 days for possible exposure. And then we look to who may have been exposed. We look at two days before their symptoms show up.”
This is the same procedure county health workers use for all contagious diseases, Johnson said. With COVID-19, people report the same symptoms that Widler’s husband experienced: fever, body aches, loss of taste or smell. Some report coughing, chest tightness, fatigue, even a sore throat, Johnson said. Some less common symptoms appear to be gastrointestinal symptoms of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, she said. Little is really known about how long the virus lives on surfaces, Johnson said. In Deschutes County, some of the positive cases came from close contact before they knew they were positive for COVID-19, Johnson said. There is some evidence that it can live on surfaces for a while, which could make transmission easy. Each positive case is monitored by a public health official, Johnson said.
“We’ve continued to investigate every case and every close contact,” she said. “Our region is keeping up with case investigations. We’ve not had a real spike. Our community is doing a really good job of staying home and physical distancing. It does and has made a difference so far.” Every other day someone from public health contacts the Widlers. They are asked if they have symptoms, and family members are taking their temperatures daily, Stephanie Widler said.
Since returning home, Michael Widler isolated himself from the family for 72 hours, and when he came in contact with any family member he had to wear a mask, Stephanie Widler said.
Sunday was the end of the 72 hours. Now because the family was exposed, everyone is under observation until April 19, she said. That’s because the health officials regard close contact to be within 6 feet for at least an hour, Johnson said.
“Now that it’s over, I would hope that he’s got some immunity out of that,” Widler said. “We have to protect him. He was our grocery store guy. We were trying coordinate who went out to limit our exposure. Our older son has special needs and his immune system is slightly compromised.”