Runny nose, some sneezing, itchy eyes — when Ryan Bos started experiencing those symptoms the week of April 8, he figured it was his annual annoying allergy onset.
By that weekend, though, a slight sore throat kicked in and he had some coughing, all typical of his usual allergies. By Sunday, April 11, he had a fever. A virtual doctor’s appointment the next day helped him determine it was a sinus infection.
During the next few days and with an antibiotic, his sore throat improved and his fever went down. But later in the week, Bos, who’s gay, lost all sense of smell, something he’d never experienced before.
Hearing from a friend that was a common symptom of COVID-19, the coronavirus that has infected 3.2 million around the world and killed 233,600, Bos, executive director of Capital Pride, went to the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital and got tested. Because of lab backlogs, it took 10 days to get the results. By that time his smell had returned but his COVID-19 test was positive.
The Blade this week spoke to three LGBT folks in the region — one in D.C., one in Annapolis, another in Rehoboth — about their experiences contracting and surviving the coronavirus.
Mariah Davis is a busy woman. She’s a policy and campaigns manager for the National Wildlife Federation, is working on a master’s degree from the University of Maryland in public management (she plans to finish in December) and she’s one of the founders of Annapolis Pride. She rents a room in a three-bedroom house in Annapolis and has two roommates. Like Bos, her symptoms also kicked in about April 8.
At first, she thought she had the flu but began to think it was something more serious despite not initially exhibiting many of the typical coronavirus symptoms she’d read about. She had extreme fatigue, body aches, persistent headache and congestion but no fever, no loss of taste or smell, no coughing and no sneezing.
She went to an urgent care center in her area and got a slip to get a COVID-19 test, which she had to drive about an hour away to Columbia, Md., to get through a drive-thru set up at a car emissions testing site.
“It was pretty freaky,” the 29-year-old lesbian says. “You drive through a garage, you get your test, it only takes like 10-15 seconds but yeah, that was an experience.”
That was a Tuesday. By Friday, she had her positive results.
“I knew there was a high possibility I could have caught COVID and by the time I went and got tested, I was already feeling a lot better,” Davis says. “In some ways it was a relief knowing I had it because then I knew what I needed to do to stop the spread.”
Tyler Townsend, a co-owner of gay bars The Pines and Aqua in Rehoboth Beach, Del., had a typically busy and bustling party weekend just before St. Patrick’s Day in March. They were allowed to have 100 on site to hear singer Pamala Stanley perform, which they did. He and friends went later that night to the Purple Parrot and “a few other bars” and did their usual socializing.
He started to feel sick on Friday, March 27. He’d known nobody else in his circle who’d had it and says it seemed to come “out of nowhere, just kind of random.”
“It was scary,” the 31-year-old Rehoboth native, who’s gay, says. “At the highest, my fever got to 104.8. It kind of came in waves. I’d feel OK for a while, then have chills, then take Tylenol and get it down. There was about five days of that cycle. Then after my fever broke, I had a little bit of a cough. It was about a week or eight days total. Then when the symptoms were gone, it was just being tired and just trying to get back to some kind of a normal life in isolation.”
Townsend, who shares a house with a roommate (although Townsend is planning to move into his own place soon), says he “just locked myself in the upstairs of the house” and waited it out.
There was one point his breathing got a bit shallow and he considered going to the ER, but it went away.
He got tested about two days after his symptoms started. He drove to Bethany Beach, Del., about a half-hour away, to get tested. The results took about a week to come in, by which time he was feeling better.
Townsend, who says he’s never had the flu, didn’t know what to compare it to.
“It was not fun,” he says. “It was more than just an inconvenience. There was not much beyond getting off the bed or the couch for a good four-five days. It’s the most sick I’ve ever been.”
The three regions Bos, Davis and Townsend represent are somewhat middling in overall number of coronavirus figures. Maryland is the 13th most affected U.S. state and Anne Arundel, with 2,054 infections and 107 deaths, is the fifth most infected county in the state. Rehoboth Beach is in Sussex County, Del., the most affected county in the state with 2,520 confirmed cases and 72 deaths. Delaware is the 33rd most affected state.
The District comes in at no. 36 in the nation (among states) with 5,322 confirmed cases and 264 deaths, but its figures are enough to put it pretty high among metro areas. It’s fourth behind New York, Chicago and Philadelphia but above Seattle, as of latest numbers according to the New York Times.
Of the three who shared their stories with the Blade, Bos fared worst.
About April 10, he started feeling “something in my stomach” that reminded him of the diverticulitis he’d had six years ago. He took himself to the ER about 4 a.m. on Saturday, April 11 and spent three days in the hospital. He went home, rested but got a fever again on Sunday, the 19th. By Friday, the 24th, his primary care physician advised him to go back to the hospital when it was discovered he had an abdominal abscess, a complication of the diverticulitis.
He says the COVID-19 and diverticulitis were related. The latter, he says, was more painful.
“For me, the COVID, the worst was when I had a temperature but the question was sort of mixed in with this sinus infection so not knowing how the symptoms overlapped — the worst part is just not knowing if you have the COVID, you begin to question everything you feel, every tightness, every cough, you wonder if you’re getting the next symptom and when it’s going to be over. That was one of the most challenging aspects,” Bos says.
He says he was fortunate not to experience shortness of breath or some of the more debilitating symptoms associated with the coronavirus. The diverticulitis, he says, was especially nasty.
“When you have a bad flare-up, it’s very debilitating,” Bos says. “I wasn’t able to stand up, it hurt to stand up, you have these shooting pains through the abdomen, you’re thinking, ‘Is this appendicitis, what is this?’ It definitely was not a fun experience at all.”
The staff at George Washington, Bos says, were “amazing.” It was never chaotic and he says they were on top of the testing and protocol.
Bos, who lives with one roommate (who has remained asymptomatic) in Mt. Vernon Square, says he has “no idea” whom he might have contracted COVID-19 from. He and the Capital Pride team were having their usual meetings in early March.
Davis, too, had several days of misery. She tried doing some teleworking and grad school work but says at its peak, the coronavirus sapped her energy.
“I felt really, really, really awful,” Davis says. “It was hard even to get out of bed. I’d start the day just taking a bath wth Tylenol, just trying to subside the pain. The fatigue definitely kept me on my butt for most of that week.”
Townsend had a gradual road back to health, he says with the cough letting up after his fever broke, then a lot of fatigue.
“It was definitely a slow process but I’m finally back to normal now,” he says. “It’s not just like bam, one morning you wake up and it’s over.”
Davis says now she “feels great.” She’s been told she’s free to come out of isolation and do normal activities provided she practices social distancing. She cites her overall good health with her fairly speedy recovery. The whole ordeal was about two weeks total for her.
Davis and Townsend’s roommates, so far, have not had symptoms.
While she was overall pleased with how her county — Anne Arundel — handled things, she says nationally there are disappointments.
“It’s pretty appalling that a lot of black and brown people are dying most of this,” she says. “I think that says a lot about who we prioritize in our country and that’s an issue that comes up across the board in other social issues.”
Bos said this week he’s “feeling pretty good” but “getting antsy.” He is still connected to a drain tube for his stomach infection and hopes to have it removed this week. “I miss running,” the 46-year-old Indiana native says.
Bos says he’s been pleased with how D.C. elected officials have handled the outbreak but says national leadership has been underwhelming.
“I expected more from our country in handling this crisis,” Bos says.