A COVID-19 survivor’s tale

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SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — Alan Kesten wears many hats: coroner, mortician, firefighter, EMT, and owner of a yellow cab company. Any one of those jobs would make him especially vulnerable to coronavirus. Collectively, they made him a coronavirus bull’s eye.

But Kesten has some surprising thoughts about that. Speaking by phone on April 22, his first day back at work since the COVID-19 diagnosis, Kesten said, “I’m not sure my jobs had anything to do with my getting the disease because, while on the job, I took the prescribed medical precautions. I think I may have gotten it during an everyday transaction at the supermarket or the hardware store or the deli counter.

Clarifying his risk profile, Kesten says. “I didn’t get it driving a cab, because I don’t do that. And these days I work as a mortician only when a local funeral home needs me to fill in for someone.” But 12 years as Sullivan County Coroner and decades of work as a volunteer firefighter and EMT are more than enough risk for any one person.

Did he have sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) on all those risky jobs? “I did,” said Kesten. “But before COVID-19, PPE usually meant latex or vinyl medical-grade examination gloves, nothing more. Since COVID-19, PPE means a Tyvek suit, a Plexiglas face shield, N-95 mask, and head and foot covering, as well as medical examination gloves.”

Kesten tested positive for coronavirus on March 26, after experiencing four days of what he characterizes as “very mild” symptoms, including a dry, hacking cough and tightness in his chest. With the onset of a low-grade fever, he qualified as an essential services worker for diagnostic test fast-tracking.

Home quarantine followed, for him and the other members of his immediate household. At the time, that meant his daughter and a houseguest. Both were “presumed positives.” His daughter has since been released from quarantine, and the houseguest has returned home.

His symptoms never rose to a level requiring hospitalization, so Kesten’s entire recovery period was spent at home. Although symptoms disappeared, a second test on April 7 was still positive. Two weeks and one day after the second test, he returned to work.

And now? “I am, of course, going to be tested for antibodies. And, if I’m found to be a suitable plasma donor, I’ll donate.” Because antibody testing is not now being done at all point-of-care locations, Kesten may have to travel as far as Kingston for the antibody test. But it’s one of the privileges only coronavirus survivors can enjoy, that and recognizing that each case of coronavirus yields new clues to a disease with more unknowns than knowns.

What has his experience taught him that he would like the rest of us to know? “Everyone should bear in mind that there is not yet a surefire preventative for the disease, and there is also no known cure. And as it infects by aspiration, all you have to do to get it, is breathe. So, for now, hiding from the virus is the best course of action. 

And the best way to do that is to follow the CDC guidelines: wash your hands thoroughly and often, wear face covering and gloves in public, practice social distancing, and whenever possible, STAY HOME.

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