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What's It Like to Be a Barnstable Teacher Running a Fever, Wondering If You've Got Coronavirus?

Lish Roth

Lish Roth teaches grades 6 and 7 at the Barnstable Intermediate School. She began running a fever on Saturday. At least one staff member in the Barnstable Public Schools has tested positive for covid-19. That person was at the Barnstable Community Innovation School, but Roth says students at her school have siblings at the Innovation School, and she works with at least 2 teachers who move between the schools.

Along with her fever, she’s had flu-like symptoms. She reached out to her doctor on Saturday, and again on Monday, hoping to get tested. She was feeling frustrated on Wednesday morning, as she still had not been able to get a referral to get tested.

Shortly after we spoke on Wednesday morning, she did get an appointment to see her doctor. There, she tested negative for influenza A and B. It still could be something besides coronavirus, she says. Now she's waiting on a call to set an appointment for the coronavirus test.

***Note: on Thursday, March 19, Roth was referred to the drive-through coronavirus testing site at Cape Cod Community College. She is awaiting the test results.  

***Note: late on Tuesday, March 24, Roth was notified that her test for coronavirus came back negative. 

First, let me ask you about your symptoms and how you've been feeling. You've been running a fever?

Yeah. I woke up Saturday morning and I had a fever. The highest I got was 103.2. With Tylenol, it went down. But it was up to 103 for four days.  Today is the fifth day, and finally it seems to have broken. It was 100 this morning, and now it's down to ninety-nine.

And how else have you been feeling with it?

I've had congestion. I had a headache for four days. A lot of coughing, but I've had no respiratory issues, just fatigue, a little bit of dizziness. Body aches, really bad chills. General, you know, influenza symptoms.

When did you start to think: ‘Oh, my God, this might be the coronavirus. What should I do about it?’

(Laughs.) Obviously, on Saturday morning. So I called my doctor's office. And the doctor’s office called back and said, you know, just self-quarantine. There's nothing we can do but ask everyone to stay at home. They asked me about my symptoms, of course, and they said, well, there's really nothing you can do. Call us back if you have any respiratory issues. And then they described not being able to breathe and said that's when I should call back—when I couldn't breathe very well.

Did they ask you how many people you'd been in contact with?

No. I told them I was a teacher in Barnstable. They said, ‘Have you been in contact directly with anyone who had coronavirus?’ And I said no, but I explained that I worked in Barnstable. And I also explained that we shared staff [with Barnstable Community Innovation School], and that I did have some sibling crossover, as well. But they said there was nothing they can do.

You have been in contact with people, right?

Yeah. I live with two people in a very small house. I'm doing my best to stay in my bedroom. And I don't I don't know how many people... I saw friends last week, Saturday morning, before I got sick. And then, if the incubation period could be up to 14 days, I was teaching a lot of kids all last week. So I had some concerns.

I actually even called up to Boston to the coronavirus hotline, which I waited on for an hour.

I finally spoke to someone from Mass General’s coronavirus hotline. And she asked me a bunch of questions, and then basically said the same things: ‘We can't really test you right now unless you’ve been in direct contact with someone who was known to have a coronavirus.’ So it was a little disheartening.

I'm a fairly healthy, but I am concerned about, you know, if I did—if I do—have the coronavirus, how many people could I have infected in the past week and a half? That's my main concern.

And then when you tried to call back on Monday, what happened?

I called back Monday, and they said the same thing. They said we're not testing, you haven't come in direct contact with anyone. And I said, ‘But there's been one teacher in my district that tested positive, and I share staff with that building. And there are two others in my district that are being tested.’ And I called back yesterday [Tuesday] too, and they were supposed to have gotten back to me this morning from my doctor's office. And no one's even called me back about getting doctor's approval for testing. I understand they're busy, but it's a little bit frustrating at this point.

They've set up mobile testing, supposedly, in Hyannis. All they need to do is give me a doctor's note so I can get up there and take the test. And from there... I mean, most likely I don't have it. But what if I did?

I'm glad you're feeling better now.

I am feeling better today. And we'll see as the day goes on. My fever usually spikes up in the afternoon. Hopefully I'll stay low.

You live with two other housemates. Are they kind of freaked out?

They don't seem to be really freaked out. I have noticed them coughing a little bit in the last day, though. We share a very small space. I try to stay in my bedroom, but I have to come out to go to the kitchen and the bathroom.

We've all been pretty good about self-quarantining. They know that I'm sick. So they haven't been out in the world, they've been very good about social distancing. But if we're all sick, I guess we're all just going to be sick in our house together.

It’s pretty crummy that you have to be in your room—you’re self-quarantining all the way into your bedroom?

Yeah, I am. Because I’m trying not to get them sick. But now I’m in my car, so…

You're in your car now?

I'm in my car, because they're both working. As I said, it's a small house. It's just like a galley kitchen and one big open room. One of them is working in the main room, and one of them is working upstairs. Yeah. I had to get out of there.

So you're just sitting in the car to get out of the house for a few minutes?

Yeah. Sitting in my car to get out of the house. I mean, I haven’t been out of the house since Saturday. So the car is something! I mean, I was absolutely flattened. I just haven't been able to move since Saturday.

Wow. It’s crummy to have the flu. And then to have this, sitting on top of it? Psychologically, to think: ‘Oh, my God, what is this?’

I've been very anxious about it. Every night I wake up and I’m like, ‘Am I breathing correctly? OK, can I breathe?’ So on top of just coughing and having the flu, it’s produced an enormous amount of anxiety in me. And the fact that, like, I don't know... When would they take me at the E.R.? You know? I have to be close to dying to be able to come into the hospital? You know, they basically said there's nothing they can do unless I absolutely can't breathe. That's pretty much what I was told several times.

That in itself was disturbing to me: ‘Just stay away from here.’ The doctor's office wouldn't see me. Now, I wasn't demanding testing and demanding to come in to the E.R., but what if I couldn't breathe? I don't want to get to the point where I can't breathe before I have to go to the hospital. (Laughs.) So, I have been a little bit anxious.

This interview has been edited lightly for brevity and clarity.