Medical Examiner

Coronavirus Diaries: My Husband Was Among the First Documented Cases of the Coronavirus in the U.S.

We have a 3-year-old. Also, I’m pregnant.

A face mask with the words "Coronavirus Diaries" is stretched over a picture of a man wearing a mask in bed.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Coronavirus Diaries is a series of dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives. For the latest public health information, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. For Slate’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

This as-told-to essay is from an anonymous pregnant woman living on the West Coast with her toddler and husband. Her husband had a mild case of the coronavirus in February after returning from a trip to Italy. At the time, the number of reported cases in northern Italy were rising, but there were only a couple of reported cases in the province he had visited, in southern Italy. The woman tweets from @covidwyfe.

This essay has been transcribed and edited for clarity from a conversation with science journalist Monique Brouillette.

He flew back from southern Italy and then the next day started getting some body aches, fever, and chills. We weren’t really very worried about it because no one was very worried about it at that point.

The next evening, about 24 hours after he flew back, he thought he had the flu or something and he didn’t want to get us sick. So he sanitized everything and he was wearing a mask. The next day he, just out of an abundance of caution, called urgent care. He was actually over the fever by then, about 36 hours later, and felt OK. Like, if these were normal times, he probably would have gone back to work at that point, but instead he called urgent care. They said he should get tested for the flu because of this crazy thing that’s going on in Italy. They told him that he should go to the ER. Which is a little bit ridiculous for someone who’s not even very sick to be going to the ER.

So he went to the ER, and they wanted to do a chest X-ray on him. He was skeptical. He’s a proud skeptic. So he said, I don’t need that. They swabbed him for flu and discharged him. He walked to the hospital and back and they called him on his walk home and they’re like, well, the flu test is negative, so it’s probably just a cold.

A couple days later, he had a little fever come back. So he called the ER, and they said, come back in. He was there for several hours getting every single other test to rule out all the other things like sepsis, and they did another chest X-ray on him, and he was clear. At that point, the doctor said there was a 50-50 chance that he had it.

We got word that he was officially positive while my son and I were at a park. I did a quick sanitizing wipe over everything I saw my kid touch. I was in panic mode. I thought: “Oh my God, I can’t believe we went out. We shouldn’t have gone anywhere. I just put all these people at risk.” So it was kind of a panic moment.

At first, we were really pushing for me and my kid to get tested after my husband was found to be positive. But the public health person was like, you know, if you come back positive and your son comes back negative we would have to recommend that he stay somewhere else. Things are already stressful enough and then someone tells you something like that. Our son has never spent the night away from us. So, it just was pretty upsetting. We decided that after my husband recovered and tested negative, then my son and I could get tested. And then if I were positive, at least one of us would be negative and be able to watch our son.

He mostly stayed in our guest bedroom. He would come down when my kid was down for his nap. Or when we were distracted in the other room. We didn’t really see him very much. I would go to the guest bedroom covering my face with a scarf just to talk to him from across the room. It was really isolating. We didn’t feel comfortable being around him or hugging him. He wanted to hug us and he couldn’t even snuggle his child.

Whenever he was around us he was wearing a mask. He wasn’t allowed to eat with his head pointed toward us. They were saying to the people in China, don’t sit across from each other when you eat because that’s the direction things are going to be going if something comes on your mouth.

I would basically get up in the morning and wipe down all the kitchen doorknobs, all light switches, all handles, and anything that someone would touch on a regular basis like the banister. I just wiped it all down. And then excessive amounts of hand-washing all day long. I tried to keep my husband’s dirty dishes not sitting out. Anything that he had in his mouth I would put in the dishwasher right away.

When he took a shower, I was anxious. The virus spreads by droplets and I didn’t know if the humidity from the shower would cause them to be suspended in the air column longer. So, I was like, “When you take a shower you have to keep the door closed for a half-hour and run the fan to get all the humidity out of there and wipe everything down with bleach after.” I would try to do a thorough job there. It is stressful because all it takes is one slip-up—you know, one time when you’re lazy, that’s all it takes to be exposed to it.

With my son, luckily he is really in love with his toys. So he just wanted to play with his toys a lot. And we have a little outdoor area where we were going and playing. He’s in that “threenager” stage, so I was definitely getting worn out and frustrated because he’s pushing back on stuff. And I need a break mentally too, you know. My husband wants to participate, but he can’t, and I want him to participate, but he can’t.

This whole time, my kid was getting pretty clingy with me. And it’s heartbreaking, but he’s young enough to the point that he didn’t really seem to miss [his dad]. It was so sad. And then when my husband was out of isolation he was like: “Not you! [I want] Mama!” Oh, dude, I needed a break, though. I can’t do everything.

I was instantly wondering, how is this for pregnant people? If he had gotten really sick, then it could have been bad for me and my unborn child, but looking at the data [that were available at the time] younger people weren’t really getting [severe cases of] it and people without comorbidities weren’t really getting it. It was comforting to see those numbers out of China. And those early days and even since then, there wasn’t a lot of research that had been done, but I got overloaded and even looking at my phone would give me anxiety.

It’s really emotionally isolating. Unfortunately, more people are going to understand what you’re going through. But chances are, not that many people in your daily life are going to be able to understand what you’re going through.

It felt like a long time and very isolating while it was happening. But it wasn’t really that long altogether, maybe two weeks.

At the end he had a tiny little cough and when the cough went away, I was allowing him to sit in the living room and observe. It was sad. He was getting so emotional just to be able to hang out with family and see his kid play, because he hadn’t been able to. What I’m realizing is this is what a lot of health care workers are doing right now. They’re isolating themselves preemptively. How long are they going to live like that? It is rough, you know? Ours had an endpoint because the virus ran its course. But, for people who are on the front lines of this, when is the end?