By Brian Zawada, FBCI
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It’s been an incredibly difficult couple of weeks. We’ve all witnessed incredible societal upheaval, and on a personal level (on March 16th) I learned that I tested positive for COVID-19. Thankfully, I have fully recovered, and I thought it would be a good time to share my experience in case it helps others.
WHAT DID I FEEL LIKE WITH COVID-19?
Many people call it the worst flu they’ve ever experienced, and I couldn’t agree more. But it started slowly. At first, I thought I had a mild cold since a runny nose was the worst of my symptoms. But then it really picked up… roller coaster fevers that moved between 99 and 104 Fahrenheit for nine days, significant aches and chills, the worst headaches I’ve ever experienced, gastrointestinal issues (plus I always felt hungry but I couldn’t eat), an inability to sleep for more than 90 minutes at a time, and eventually, but not right away, chest congestion.
The slow onset of any chest issue is significant because my doctor wouldn’t order a COVID-19 test without this symptom. Eventually, the test was ordered when I reported pressure in my chest (he also ordered a Tamiflu prescription at that time, but I stopped taking that at his direction once I was diagnosed with COVID-19). I got tested in a drive-thru testing center on March 14th, I tested negative for influenza A, B, and RSV on March 15th, and then I got the news that I tested positive for COVID-19 on March 16th.
There’s a very important symptom I haven’t written about yet in this blog. Fear. Or more specifically, fear of the unknown (something that I typically don’t have a problem with). My primary care physician, similar to the rest of the global medical community, doesn’t have access to a proven treatment protocol since we’re still learning about this virus. As such, I was given the recommendation to take Advil and/or Tylenol for the fever, aches, and chills. Further, I was instructed to go immediately to the emergency room if I experience shortness of breath. But, what does that really mean? Shortness of breath when I’m sitting in a chair, or shortness of breath when I’m going up and down three flights of stairs?
I eventually did experience shortness of breath and (being fully transparent) I freaked out a little when I was out of breath after walking up 15 steps. I almost considered a trip to the ER at that time, but the public health department clarified what shortness of breath really meant during one of their daily check-in calls. They told me I should worry only when I couldn’t catch my breath while sitting or laying down. Since that wasn’t my experience at all, I relaxed and continued to self-treat at home.
Despite all of my physical symptoms, the worst symptom was fear of the unknown (what’s next, will it get worse, how long will this last, as so on). My advice to anyone that tests positive for COVID-19 or experiences symptoms similar to what I’ve described, don’t be shy about calling your physician or the public health department when you get sick and especially when you start to worry. Sign up for a virtual appointment (just be prepared to wait in line) and get as much information as you can to help navigate the unknowns. And do one more thing. You’ll get a lot of texts and advice from friends and family, all of which is well-intentioned. Demand information from your physician and only rely on that information. Don’t rely on media reporting about treatments. For me, I can assure everyone reading this, Advil was THE solution in massive doses combined with Tylenol.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
After I spoke to my physician, I was told that the state and/or county public health department would be reaching out to me since they are required to report positive COVID-19 cases. I called the county public health department the afternoon of March 16th and found out that they hadn’t received my report (early on in the response, there were communications breakdowns between healthcare systems and government). My family and I had already been self-quarantining, but I received the below “order of isolation” once I spoke with the public health department.
The county interviewed us and checked in with us daily for two weeks. They’ve been outstanding! I felt as if they were a combination of investigators, researchers, and counselors. They also helped mitigate my fear of the unknown far more than anyone. They shared information on what they were seeing as treatments for some of the extreme symptoms (without prescribing treatment), they clarified what “shortness of breath” really meant, and they explained the process that would be used to be released from quarantine once I recovered.
WHAT HAPPENED TO MY FAMILY?
About five days after I got sick (meaning, when I started registering fevers), my wife started showing signs of COVID-19. Although she has not been officially tested because of limited testing capacity, she is considered an “assumed but not confirmed” case. To be clear, she is NOT counted as a COVID-19 case. I consider that latter point significant as I now believe, based on firsthand experience, that the numbers we read about daily are artificially low. Thankfully, like my situation, she is almost recovered. Specific to her experience and mine, the total duration of this illness is about two weeks.
WHERE DID I CONTRACT COVID-19?
I don’t know where I officially contracted COVID-19, but I suspect it was during my trip to London (March 1-4, 2020). I know of no one that has COVID-19 that I met with on that trip, and no one that I met with on that trip became sick after. So that’s my best guess and the best guess of the public health department. If it was during this trip that I caught COVID-19, it was anywhere from six to nine days before I started feeling symptoms.
I also asked the public health department a question that I haven’t received a clear response on to date. Was I contagious only when I started showing symptoms? The media reports that people are contagious even before showing symptoms, and some medical professionals report that they feel a person is contagious when showing any symptom (even what appears as a cold without fever). Bottom-line is that this appears to remain an unknown in the medical community.
MY PERSONAL RESPONSE (AND LESSONS LEARNED)
Thankfully, I’m a business continuity professional (I believe I’m well short of the stereotypical “prepper”, but I was somewhat prepared for quarantine regardless).
I’ve already shared some of what I’ve done but here’s a summary:
- Self-quarantined when I realized I was ill.
- Gathered the essentials at home in case the entirety of the family was quarantined (which we were and have been for more than two weeks now).
- Requested a test when they became available, so I knew what I was dealing with.
- Learned as much as I could about self-treatment and demanded information from my physician and the public health department as needed.
- Took people up on offers to deliver a few things that we didn’t have at home or that we quickly exhausted. More on that in a moment.
- Turned off the news as much as possible. Having COVID-19 while watching near-constant coverage is not healthy.
I am extremely fortunate to have a wonderful network of family and friends that offered incredible support. I received offers to help and empathy like I’ve never experienced before. In reflecting on my experience, even with so much unknown right now, we do live in an incredible world with so many well-intentioned and selfless people.
I got back from London on March 4th (a Wednesday) and I was in the office on March 5th. I didn’t have any hint that I was infected or going to be ill that Thursday. That was the last time I was in the office. When the Avalution leadership team learned I was really sick the following week, they convened our crisis management team and made the decision to close the office (well before a state-wide order was issued). Beyond the office closure, the crisis management team has done a good job of communicating status and expectations across the organization.
Specific to my role, the Avalution team stepped up to cover for me without exception. I learned after that there was internal communication – and direction – to minimize communication with me so I could focus on my health. I am truly thankful for the entire team at Avalution – they have been top-notch and directly contributed to my recovery! To date, no one else at Avalution has tested positive for COVID-19, and we’re successfully working from home globally.
As a side note, even before I was ill, we met as a leadership team to identify, then close, any preparedness gaps specific to enabling our employees to work from home indefinitely. This effort mainly involved ordering and deploying cameras, speakerphones, etc.
All in all, because of our robust business continuity program, we’ve had very minimal impact on our team’s health and the support we can offer to our clients.
On a personal level, I’ve returned to my normal routine, albeit from home of course. I’ve been released from quarantine. For those interested, review the quarantine release instructions from the CDC in the image below. Bottom line, I’m able to help others affected by COVID-19 that may be in quarantine and also shopping for a few things that we’ve exhausted at home (I still haven’t found toilet paper, but thankfully, the prepper in me had that covered!). I would also note that the biggest challenge is not overdoing it now that I’m feeling better and balancing working from home with taking care of my family as we get everyone healthy again.
As an organization, we’re operating as close to normal as possible, supporting our clients in executing their business continuity planning processes as well as responding to COVID-19.
As a profession, there’s work to do as we move forward. I do a lot of work with ISO standards development. I believe the work we’ve done has helped organizations better prepare for disruption. I have been skeptical of standards development efforts that focus on “societal resilience”. My skepticism was grounded in the feeling that societal resilience is based on individual, organizational resilience. When we’re done with responding to COVID-19, I think as a profession we need to seriously revisit the concept of societal resilience, summarizing lessons learned and work to influence our governments as they navigate this very important topic.
In closing, I am truly thankful for all the well-wishes and support offered by my family, friends, and colleagues around the world. And, if I can be of any help with offering additional information beyond what I’ve shared in this blog, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
One last thing, if you’re sick and even if it’s unlikely to be COVID-19, err on the side of caution and stay home!
I also wanted to provide links to a few resources that other business continuity professionals have found helpful during this time:
I hope you find these helpful as well. Take care and stay well!