A Barrow County woman is continuing to recover while in self-isolation in her home after recently testing positive for COVID-19 and spending three days in an area hospital.
Amy Ouellet, a corrections officer at the Barrow County Detention Center, said Sunday, April 5, she was continuing to improve while being isolated in her bedroom, where she has been since returning home Tuesday, March 31. She said that her husband, who is a paramedic in the area, and children are showing no symptoms so far of the highly-contagious coronavirus that has infected over 6,700 Georgians and killed more than 200.
“I’m slowly getting better each day,” Ouellet said.
As of 7 p.m. Sunday, there were 6,742 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 219 people had died from COVID-19, the disease the virus causes, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Nationwide, more than 335,500 had tested positive and more than 9,500 had died as of 7 p.m. Sunday.
In Barrow County, there were 25 confirmed cases and two deaths as of noon Sunday, according to the DPH. The deaths were listed as a 66-year-old male and 91-year-old female, both of whom had underlying medical conditions.
State officials have said the number of cases in Georgia is likely much higher due to the lack of readily-available testing for everyone. And, like most of the rest of the country, the state has had to ration testing kits with a focus on people who are seriously ill and “medically vulnerable” populations, including health care workers and first responders. Gov. Brian Kemp announced last week a plan to substantially increase the state’s daily testing capacity, and with that the number of confirmed cases is likely to continue to rise throughout April at least, officials have said.
Complicating the ability to catch cases early and stem the spread is a lengthy incubation period before people exhibit symptoms (2-14 days with an average around five days) and the revelation last week from the CDC that as many of 25 percent of people who contract the virus may not ever show any symptoms or fall ill but can still transmit it to others.
Ouellet said she doesn’t know for sure how she might have contracted the virus — she’d had no recent contact with anyone known to have it and hadn’t traveled to anywhere known to have an outbreak — but she started feeling unwell March 23 and, after getting progressively worse, was diagnosed with COVID-19 six days later.
Ouellet opened up about her experience in a Facebook post Wednesday, April 1, and granted The Barrow News-Journal permission to share the details.
“I am hopeful that people sharing their stories will help others,” she said.
‘So much pain’
Ouellet said she came down with body aches and a “slight” dry cough the night of March 23. She woke up the next morning, March 24, with a low-grade fever, back pain and a headache and heard cracking noises when she breathed out. Ouellet went to a drive-through clinic in Braselton and tested positive for strep throat but was told her lungs sounded clear. She started on antibiotics that night but was kept up all night with severe body aches, “especially in my back,” and maintained a low-grade fever.
“Wednesday morning (March 25) comes and I feel worse! Dry cough and wheezing,” Ouellet wrote, adding she messaged her primary care doctor right away. “Wednesday night comes and I’m up all night in pain! …Temperature was normal and still wheezing and crackle when I breathe. Headache is bad!”
Ouellet was called in March 26 for an appointment with her doctor.
“It hurt so bad to even walk and ride in the car. I was in tears when I got there,” Ouellet wrote. “Doctor listens to my lungs and says they sound clear. I complain of wheezing and severe back pain. My pulse was high, 136. The doctor has me tested for flu and strep again. Strep comes back positive again. I’m in tears, so much aches and headache!”
Ouellet was given more antibiotics and told to go to an emergency room and get tested for COVID-19 if she continued to get worse.
She did get worse, she said, with a severe headache and back pain, a dry cough and for crackling in her chest. On March 27, her son dropped her off at Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton.
“I go in barely able to walk,” Ouellet wrote. “Heart rate was high again, no fever. They give me an IV bag of fluids and do a chest X-ray. I explain to the doctor everything I’ve done up to that point. I explain that I am a detention officer and had been around people who had fevers and (were) sick.
“I asked for them to please test me for COVID-19. The doctor explains that he cannot test everyone who comes in. I told him that I completely understand that but that I work in corrections and my husband is a paramedic. I think it’s important to know!”
The doctor disagreed, she said, and told her to get an inhaler and that she could return to work April 6.
“I go outside to wait for my son to pick me up and couldn’t even stand up anymore,” Ouellet wrote. “I sat in the grass crying, in so much pain. I returned home and was up all night again in pain.”
On March 28, Ouellet was tested for COVID-19 at Oconee Urgent Care after showing medical workers there her chest X-ray results, which showed she had low lung volumes. She was advised the test results could take up to five days.
“I was in so much pain and felt I couldn’t take it anymore,” she said.
Ouellet’s husband drove her to Piedmont Athens Regional, where she was immediately taken to an isolated room with a fever, high heart rate and blood pressure, and shortness of breath. Another chest X-ray confirmed she had pneumonia. Flu and strep tests came back negative, and she was admitted to the hospital and put on oxygen. The doctor there suspected COVID-19 and gave her another test.
The results came back positive March 29, and Ouellet continued to feel worse. She was put on antibiotics for pneumonia, hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 and other medication for her migraines.
“On Monday (March 30), after two doses of hydroxychloroquine my back pain started to subside,” Ouellet wrote. “It was still hard to breathe and the migraines were unbearable! I was just happy to feel some sort of improvement even though I was still struggling.”
Ouellet’s oxygen levels steadied, but her migraine pain became worse, which she believes was a result of side effects of the hydroxychloroquine.
By Tuesday, March 31, Ouellet still had a bad migraine, but her breathing had improved and her back pain was almost gone. She was discharged from the hospital that evening and was told to self-isolate for two weeks. That would put her on track to start really spending time with her family again on April 14.
“I still am short of breath and exhausted but am self-quarantined in my room,” she wrote Wednesday. “I have the medicine here to take and rested a lot better now in my own bed. Hopefully will improve each day!”
‘Take this seriously’
Ouellet is one of the majority of people who have been able to recover from COVID-19. While most people only experience mild symptoms and the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions are considered the most vulnerable, the virus has been hitting younger populations harder in recent weeks.
And the disease is personal for Ouellet in more ways than one. Her husband’s lifelong friend, a firefighter in the Boston area (one of the harder-hit places in the country), is fighting for his life and is on a ventilator at Massachusetts General Hospital, Ouellet said Sunday.
“My husband is a paramedic and my only hope is that people will take this seriously,” she said. “There are those out there working hard to protect others and I worry about him every day. I know not everyone will have a horrible case of this, but some will and some will not get to go home.
“It’s important to get tested and to know to isolate.”
Editor’s note: Due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), medical care providers refrain from giving out details on patients to the public. If you are a Barrow County resident and have tested positive for COVID-19 and you want to share that diagnosis, where you have been in the past few days and your condition with fellow citizens, you can email editor Scott Thompson at email@example.com. We understand this is a difficult subject and will respect the privacy rights of patients. We also recognize that this pandemic is an extraordinary matter of public safety, and there is significant public interest in knowing more about the prevalence of the virus in the county.