As the number of COVID-19 cases in New York State rises steadily by the day (the total number of confirmed cases was 102,863 as of April 3), so, too, does the likelihood that each and every one of us will come in contact with the virus in some way. All that “flattening the curve” business you’ve been hearing about? Flattening it doesn’t only mean limiting the number of cases, it also means spreading them out over a longer period of time. Obviously, state and local authorities are working hard to prevent the spread of the virus, with Governor Andrew Cuomo implementing a statewide lockdown on March 22 and Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton stating in a March 31 press conference that people who were not practicing social distancing could be ticketed by the Saratoga Springs Police Department.
One Capital Region resident who’s already lived through a COVID-19 diagnosis and came out the other side alive is Erica Ziskin, a student in Albany Medical Center‘s Physician Assistant program. She believes she contracted the virus on a trip she took to Boston the weekend of March 7, during which she took public transportation, walked through busy city streets and coached at a busy volleyball tournament. Ziskin was lucky—she’s fully recovered from the virus—but she wanted to share her story with Saratoga Living, so that other Capital Regionites know exactly what to expect if they begin showing symptoms of COVID-19.
When and why did you first think you had COVID-19?
On Wednesday, March 11, I woke up with a weird pressure in my chest, and I was like, “Oh it’ll go away.” So, I went to the gym and worked out and then it never went away. I showered, and it got worse, and then I went to school, and it kept getting worse, and then when I was in class around 2 o’clock, my friend said, “You probably have it.”
Then what happened?
I went to student health, and they told me I had a fever and gave me a mask and wouldn’t let me sit down in the waiting room. When I met with the doctor, he wasn’t wearing a mask, so I was a little confused, but he proceeded to tell me that they ran out of masks and he would’ve been wearing one if he could’ve [been]. He told me that all of my symptoms lined up perfectly and that he thought that I probably had it, but he wasn’t going to test me because of how you have to put [it] in paper to the state. But he called me the next day and asked how I was doing, and I was doing worse, so he was like, “OK, I’m going to put in the paper to get you tested.” And then on Monday, some lady at Albany Med called me and was like, “We got you approved to be tested: Can you come in at 3 o’clock?” I said, “Yeah, but I’m pretty much feeling better—it’s been five days already.” And she said it didn’t matter. So, I went and got swabbed and then on Wednesday, after I had started working out again and feeling all better they were like, “You have COVID-19.”
Why wouldn’t the Student Health doctor let you get tested at first?
Because I wasn’t old or in contact with old people, I didn’t have a known contact who had it and I wasn’t having symptoms that would’ve ended up putting me in the hospital. They were [just] going to assume that I had it. At that point, they weren’t testing people unless they either had a contact, were old, were immunocompromised or had super severe symptoms that were going to land them in the ER or ICU.
Walk us through the process of getting tested and getting your results back.
I got tested at Albany Med. I drove up to the Emergency Department and rolled down my window and said, “I’m here to get tested for COVID-19.” And the lady said, “Are you really?” I said, “Yes, I have an appointment.” And she said, “You have an appointment?” And I said, “Yes.” And she said, “What time?” And I said, “Right now: 3:15.” And then she let me through. Then I rolled down my window again, because there was another man waving, and we had the exact same conversation. Then I pulled my car up—I never had to get out of it. I kept asking people if Molly [Erica’s roommate] could get tested, and they kept telling me no, even though she was with me and had a known contact, which was me. And then I rolled down my window one more time, and they stuck some swabs in my nose and my throat. The whole process took about eight minutes.
So, what was having the virus actually like?
Breathtaking. It literally took my breath away.
How long did you have symptoms?
Five or six days. I had really bad symptoms for three days.
You’re 25 and healthy. How important do you think your age was in fighting the virus?
Very important. I think that people who are vapers or smokers or have some sort of chronic respiratory disease like asthma or severe allergies, even at my age and especially older, would definitely have much harder of a time fighting it. I was taking 15 steps from my bedroom to my kitchen and leaning over to catch my breath, just after that. And I work out five times a week and like to think that I’m in pretty good shape, so I think that someone who’s not in the shape and health that I’m in would’ve had a much harder time dealing with this.
As a medical student, how do you think the US has handled fighting the virus so far?
I think that at first, it was really hard for people to wrap their head around how serious and how severe this problem was going to get without really doing research and recognizing the problems that it’s caused in other countries. A lot of people have been comparing the rates here [to] what’s happening [in] China, but people also don’t realize that the difference in governments is making a huge difference in how things are handled and the number of cases and deaths. The things you read about China—these people were literally locked in their house, and law enforcement was there to tell them they couldn’t leave. I mean, I could’ve walked into a grocery store without a mask. I had it three weeks ago now; the lockdown started after I had it. I was staying in my house and not spreading it, but if I hadn’t been tested or done my own research, I think that I obviously could’ve spread it to a lot of people. I think people aren’t realizing that you need to respect what the government is trying to tell you and do your best to keep numbers down, because if we don’t, we’re just going to be in this situation for longer and longer. And I understand the thought and technique of the quarantine and the reason that we’re doing it, but I still think that until we get everyone on board, it will be an issue for a really long time.
What advice would you give someone in the Capital Region who thinks they have COVID-19?
I would say that you should quarantine yourself and stay away from family and friends, especially people who are elderly or have immunocompromising conditions. I would call your healthcare provider and let them know these symptoms you’re experiencing and be as honest and specific as you can. I would try to make sure you’re taking your temperature [and] noting what medications you’re taking to try to hone in on your symptoms. And then trust your healthcare provider and their suggestions, because just because you aren’t getting tested, doesn’t mean you don’t have it. A lot of this stuff isn’t up to [healthcare providers]; it’s up to the government, so when it comes down to it, you need to respect the quarantine. The thought that you might have it is just as important as a positive test.
Interested in reading more of Saratoga Living‘s “What It’s Like” series? Try these stories: