Kristel Härma: I have a runny nose. And coronavirus

I’m a young and healthy person, I have a slightly runny nose and my body temperature is something my family doctor would normally call nothing to be worried about; I feel like I usually do in March, but the lab test confirmed that I’m infected with coronavirus, writes Kristel Härma, a journalist at Äripäev, Estonia’s business daily.

This article was originally published in Äripäev and its English version, FoundMe. Lightly edited and republished by kind permission.

I was contagious, but I wasn’t aware of it and I went to work for three days. I felt good enough, there was no reason to stay home. When it came out on Wednesday evening that on Friday I had been in the same room with someone who had been tested positive for coronavirus, my hands started to shake with anxiety. I hadn’t had a temperature in the morning, but then, out of great concern, the thermometer showed 37.3°C (99.1°F). My hands continued to shake.

A week earlier I had read the diary of an infected Iranian where he described what and how it happened to him. He did not feel sick, only had a slightly sore throat. I, too, had been feeling quite healthy the last few days, I only had very mild symptoms of maybe getting a little bit sick. My nose was slightly runny and my body tired by the evening, but I didn’t have the most important symptom of coronavirus – the cough. I was a long way off breathing difficulties.

When my colleagues and I found out that we had been in contact with someone who had been tested positive for coronavirus, we put together a list of our journalists who had been in that room the previous Friday and immediately stayed home, working remotely.

The next morning, I was expecting to get a call from the Health Board, so I could ask them further questions about my situation. But the call never came. A general message was sent to our employer that the people at the press party are not considered having had close contact with the person tested positive and could return to work. But I couldn’t wrap my head around it; I had stayed in the same room with a person infected with coronavirus for several hours?!

Getting tested

My plan was to stay home for a while, just in case, but my mother, whom I had hugged briefly on previous Sunday for Women’s Day, became worried. She is a doctor and, naturally, she couldn’t return to work until I gave a negative coronavirus test result. I thought, OK, I don’t have that many symptoms, but I can’t risk passing the virus on. I called an ambulance and I was put on the waiting list for testing.

On Friday, they called me from the ambulance. “Are you home?” they asked me. “Finally, somebody who understands that staying home is vital,” they responded and came by later on. A quick sample taken from my nose and I was left waiting for their call the next day. Negative results are not reported by the Health Board, due to heavy workload.

The next morning, on Saturday, I read in the news that 68 more people had been tested positive on the basis of samples taken on Friday. Could I be one of them? I couldn’t decide in my head whether the test would likely be positive or not. I felt quite healthy, even the mild fever was gone. I had felt something in my lungs, going to bed on Friday, but it was something so mild that I could very well have imagined it.

By lunchtime, I hadn’t yet received the call about the test results. So, I am not infected, I thought. But I didn’t feel at ease: why am I still feeling a little weird? Finally, I noticed a strange number calling me on my mobile. Then I already knew what that meant, and the Health Board official confirmed it: my test was positive.

I never got to stocking buckwheat

Until Wednesday, I seemed to be untouched by the situation, the concerns were far from me. I hadn’t travelled, been in close contact with people with a cough, I hadn’t been stocking buckwheat. But now I know that even though I didn’t yet understand it myself, I was extremely contagious and thus a threat to those with a weaker immune system and of higher age.

It’s too late to get food supplies when you can no longer leave home. Even the food couriers are not helping with a five-day waiting list. Fortunately, however, my relatives have helped me a lot, leaving bags of food on the staircase of my home.

NB! In reality, I don’t know for sure where and from whom I got the infection, because in the big picture only a few people are tested for coronavirus. So, many of us can be carrying it on without even knowing it.

For the latest developments in Estonia, follow our special blog on coronavirus.

Cover: Kristel Härma. Photo by Andras Kralla.

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