By Drew Bergman
A little over three weeks ago Ashley Stephens lost her sense of smell. She didn’t think much of it at the time. She had no other symptoms and it felt reasonable, though odd, that maybe her new bottle of soap from Bath and Body Works was simply defective.
“The next day I felt like I had my normal allergy-bronchitis coming on. I went by the doctor to get my normal medicine.” Mrs. Stephens has asthma and one of the complications she suffers from it -despite never having been a smoker- is frequent bouts of bronchitis, an inflammation of the bronchial tubes which carry air to and from the lungs.
Following her trip to the doctor she and her family travelled to Tennessee where she started to feel sick. “The big takeaway is that through it all, I never ran a fever,” Mrs. Stephens said. “Just because you don’t have fever doesn’t mean you don’t have COVID-19.” The family settled into a condo and that was where Ashley stayed for two days.
“[We] called everywhere we could think of trying to get tested and trying to see a doctor,” Mrs. Stephens said. “After hours on the phone, we realized it wasn’t going to happen. They didn’t even answer the COVID-19 hotline the first six times I called in Tennessee.”
The response to COVID-19 has been largely left up to the individual states and where Tennessee’s response has been almost wholly lacking any vim or vigor, Kentucky has been a different story.
“Within minutes of getting back to Kentucky I was tested.” Mrs. Stephens said. “The response was so different. The response here has been amazing. Our health department has been wonderful. They’ve been compassionate, they’ve followed up, they’ve been very good at educating us on how to contain the virus rather than spread it. And I’m here to say the health department guidelines work.”
When Mrs. Stephens spoke to the Current it was on day 13 of her quarantine. “By God’s grace and the great health department instructions, no one else has gotten sick. That’s a praise the Lord moment.”
For the past two weeks since returning to Kentucky Ashley Stephens has been confined mainly to her bedroom, only coming out when necessary and avoiding all but the most limited contact. “If my husband comes into the room, he uses hand sanitizer coming in and hand sanitizer going out. We’ve been very liberal with the Lysol and handwashing. Per the health department guidelines, I’m washing my laundry myself so no one else is touching my clothes. My husband has taken at least one meal a day with me every day, but he stays six feet away from me and he’s not sick.”
Mrs. Stephens will remain under quarantine for the time being as her symptoms have not yet abated. She will need to be symptom-free for three consecutive days in order to come out from the quarantine and is still suffering a persistent cough as well as fatigue and a tightness in her chest. “For me, it wasn’t until the third day that I really felt truly sick. And that is when I got incredibly tired, achy, and a burning sensation in my chest. In my GI tract, at first in the upper area only, then as days progressed it moved down into my lower abdomen,” Mrs. Stephens said. “I realize many people’s symptoms may be much worse and I don’t want to trivialize someone else’s condition, but it felt like I had the flu other than it has lasted longer.”
While fatigue can linger long after someone has recovered from the novel coronavirus, the cough and tightness of the chest must be gone for three days before Mrs. Stephens can rejoin the public.
Her family, on the other hand will be coming off of quarantine as of today (Wednesday, July 8). “Having a teenage son who has a girlfriend he wants to see every day has been rough. And trying to explain to my seven-year-old why she has to stay home and can’t go any place and can’t have friends over, that’s been tough,” Mrs. Stephens said.
“I can’t imagine the sacrifices my husband has made trying to be mom and dad and running a business from his phone and his truck. But we’ve all pulled together and taken it seriously and we’ve done our best to follow the health department guidelines. The proof is in the pudding. If you follow the health department guidelines, it does work.”
Thanks to the family’s diligence and the guidance of state health officials Mrs. Stephens remained the only person in her immediate family to contract COVID-19, but she was not the only person in her extended family to do so.
“I’m in a unique position because my cousin who lives out of state, her and 16 friends and family members all got COVID-19 after a gathering of her daughter’s college friends. So, there were 17 people infected ranging in ages from 19 up to 50. They all recovered fully within 14 days,” Mrs. Stephens said. “That is 17 human beings who suffered needlessly. So we just need to listen and follow the guidelines. Not live in fear, but just follow the rules.”
The good fortune she and her family have had has helped her to keep in mind that the novel coronavirus is not an unstoppable force, but a persistent one that must be met with caution and persistence. “It is not the angel of death, but it does require a little diligence. You must follow the health department guidelines.”
Having seen firsthand the efficacy of state health guidelines and how useful they were at stopping the spread of the virus with her family near and far, Mrs. Stephens has become a strong proponent of treating the virus with the respect it requires while refusing to bow to fear. One area where this is most pronounced is in her appraisal of the efforts taken by Russell County Schools to transform their teaching environments into areas where students can remain reasonably safe so long as everyone continues to work together productively.
“I’m very impressed with the thought that is going into this and I’m very impressed with how the health department is working with [Superintendent Michael] Ford and the staff of the schools. I am satisfied in my heart that they truly are taking every precaution to protect our children,” Mrs. Stephens said. “And while it is only my opinion, I think we will be making a grave mistake and harming our children if we don’t give them the in-school classroom experience this year. I think the risk of damaging them for life by missing out on their education is much greater than the risk of them contracting COVID-19.”
As to the question of how Mrs. Stephens contracted the novel coronavirus, the health department was reportedly not able to make a determination. She had been shopping at several stores in the days that led up to her coming down with symptoms, as well as having attended church, but there was no cluster of cases or other evidence as to the how, all of which only emphasizes the need to remain sensible. “I don’t think we need to be fearful; we just need to be cautious.”
Mrs. Stephens wants the community to know that if anyone has questions, they can reach her through social media. “People can message me on Facebook, but don’t get news from Facebook,” she said.
“We can survive COVID-19 as a community. We can survive and come out stronger. And I’m satisfied our schools are probably cleaner right now than they’ve ever been in the history of time. And if we follow the guidelines of the experts who are as well versed as anyone on this subject, we will be just fine, and we will survive this.”