Routt County woman starts COVID-19 support group
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A friend told Tami Eggers that having COVID-19 was like getting adult head lice — no one wants to talk about it or admit to having it.
But Eggers, who lives in Routt County and had COVID-19, does want to talk about it, and she wants other people to talk about it. And to facilitate that, she started a Facebook group, “My COVID Experience.”
“I want people to not feel like they have to hide,” Eggers said. “As a community we should be supporting everybody and that includes those who get it.”
Eggers started feeling sick the week before Thanksgiving. She thought she had a head cold. She was foggy and tired, had a headache and was sensitive to light.
Her daughter was supposed to visit for an early Thanksgiving celebration before heading back to college. It was her daughter, Eggers said, who insisted she go get tested.
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Eggers was very surprised to get a positive result. She didn’t have a fever. She didn’t feel anything in her chest.
She felt mildly sick for about two weeks, with the most prominent symptom being the head fog. At one point she lost her sense of taste and smell for a couple of days. Normally, she would have taken some Dayquil and gone about her daily business.
With more than 700 COVID-19 cases in Routt County, and 15 deaths, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the impact of the coronavirus is being felt in the community more widely than ever before.
And that’s only the reported cases, Eggers noted.
On one hand, Eggers said she almost feels guilty saying she’s had it. She survived with a mild case and now feels safer with at least some degree of immunity.
But Eggers also wants people to be able to share their experiences and ask questions. The symptoms can be so different for people, she noted, and people can share remedies and other ways they found to cope.
Eggers also wants to help remove the stigma. Yes, she was the one who was responsible for her office needing to quarantine. And one of her co-workers had a child who had to stay home from school. Her other daughter was supposed to start a new job and had to wait.
She felt bad and had some hesitation about going public. But at the same time, she hadn’t done anything wrong.
“I’m not ashamed,” she said. “It is what it is right now.”
Eggers has consistently kept to the county’s five commitments. She wore her mask when she went out. She washed her hands and kept a distance. She wasn’t gathering in large groups. She stayed home when she felt sick and got tested.
She doesn’t know where she got the virus, and she doesn’t know of anyone to whom she transmitted it.
But she wanted everyone who she was around in the days before her symptoms started to know, so they could make their own decisions with that knowledge.
Isolating was easy for Eggers, who lives in a rural part of the county and can keep plenty busy working remotely and caring for her animals.
Eggers said the county’s contact tracer was very nice and followed up with her after the initial conversation. She also received text messages from the state department of health with a series of questions.
“On one hand it was weird to have the state check in on me,” she said.
One of the hardest things was not getting to see her daughter before she headed to the East Coast for college.
“It’s definitely a weird journey to go down.”
And Eggers doesn’t want people in the community to have to go through the journey alone.
She did plenty of searching on the Internet about the “long-hauler” aspect and the potential for lingering symptoms. But hers thankfully did go away.
Dr. Gary Breen, a hospitalist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, cares for some of the most severe local COVID-19 patients.
Breen said he’s heard one common long-hauler symptom is the mental fog Eggers experienced for a shorter period.
“People describe alack of sharpness and clarity, being a little bit forgetful, and they can’t focus as well,” he said.
The other common lingering effect he hears about is fatigue.
“Even people who are extremely healthy report a general fatigue and lack of stamina for months,” he said.
Breen said he knows a couple that both had COVID-19, were sick but never hospitalized and three months later are still feeling significant fatigue. His friend, an athlete who was in great health, can still only ride a fraction on his bike of what he used to.
“That’s the kind of stuff people can end up dealing with,” Breen said. “He’s still nowhere close to baseline.”
Breen emphasized that the vast majority of people who contract COVID-19 do well, but he said he has cared for patients who had to be intubated and patients who died.
And there are additional serious complications he has seen.
“Some COVID patients are developing cardiac dysfunction,” he said.
At this point it isn’t entirely clear what is causing heart-related complications, he said, but it is happening in people who had perfectly healthy hearts before getting the disease.
In addition, Breen said doctors have regularly seen an increased propensity for COVID patients to form blood clots.
For people who went through a mild case and never saw a doctor, Breen advises that those who are 40 or older and who have a co-morbidity — like obesity, diabetes or lung disease — to check in with their primary care doctor in the weeks after the recovery.
“People have to be attentive and smart,” Breen said. “Always err on the side of reaching out to a primary care doctor if you have questions or concerns.”
The symptoms that bring people into the hospital are almost always respiratory, he said — coughing, shortness of breath and low oxygen levels.
While doctors have learned a lot about the disease and have a much better understanding of how to care for COVID-19 patients, Breen said he is concerned about the numbers right now, and the hospital seeing a surge in patients.
“I’m concerned we are going to get overwhelmed,” he said. “We are seeing it happening at our Denver sister facilities that are at capacity.”
While the majority of people do fine, Breen said he very recently had a patient in their late 30s, who appeared healthy, transported to the Front Range in critical condition due to COVID.
“You never know who is going to get really sick and who isn’t,” he said.
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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Routt County’s COVID-19 incidence rate is increasing exponentially and is now among the top three in Colorado behind only Moffat and Kit Carson counties.