IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — This story was originally written by Nate Sunderland with East Idaho News.
Kimberly Anderson is 36 years old, eight months pregnant and lying in a bed at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.
The Idaho Falls woman is in pain and it is a struggle to breathe without the help of medical oxygen.
Her husband, Jeremy, says her condition appears to be deteriorating.
Kimberly is one of six people at the hospital being treated for the novel coronavirus. Six other potential COVID-19 patients are at the hospital awaiting test results, according to EIRMC spokeswoman Coleen Niemann.
Her case was the first public indication of community spread in Bonneville County, announced Wednesday night. At the time, Eastern Idaho Public Health listed her at home recovering with mild symptoms.
Since then, her condition has worsened, and she was hospitalized Friday. She’s not alone in her illness. Her husband and five of the six children living with them are now sick too, although they have been unable to get tested to confirm the virus.
Health officials are telling the couple that due to the limited number of tests available, it’s better to just assume the rest of the family has the virus than to confirm it with testing.
Similar advice is being relayed to patients throughout eastern Idaho. Public health officials say if you are sick, you should assume it may be COVID-19 and isolate until symptoms disappear. Health officials emphasize that testing doesn’t change treatment and the recovery rate from COVID-19 is very high, so testing isn’t necessary.
But the lack of testing also creates a false of security, Jeremy said. Officially, the Anderson family represents one case in Bonneville Country. In reality, they may represent seven or eight cases, and they would have all gotten sick long before the first official case was announced in Bonneville County.
“We were not given adequate notice of danger for our local area,” Jeremy said in an email to EastIdahoNews.com. “And based on our case, it is obvious that it was already spreading throughout our community at (least) over two weeks ago!”
It’s one of the reasons the couple is speaking out. On Friday, Kimberly took to Facebook to tell her story, and her post is spreading across the state. Within 24 hours, her message has been shared more than 3,800 times.
On Saturday, Jeremy spoke with EastIdahoNews.com and agreed to participate in a Q&A about their familiy’s experience with coronavirus. His answers below have been edited for grammar, clarity and to remove identifying information about the children.
Q&A with Jeremy Anderson
EIN: Can you tell me about how all of this started? When did your wife know she was sick, and what were her symptoms?
Jeremy: It would be about 12 days ago (March 22 or 23) when Kimberly first started noticing symptoms. It started with body aches, fatigue and chills.
EIN: How did she go about getting tested, and have the symptoms changed over time?
Jeremy: The only reason Kimberly was tested was because her (obstetrician) required her to be tested if she had symptoms before going to an appointment. We didn’t expect it to be anything other than the flu because we had been self-isolated since (March 13) with very minimal contact with others.
We went to our family doctor, and she and I came up negative for the flu. We wanted to be tested for COVID-19 after that. The only way we would have been able to get a direct test of COVID-19 was if we had a positive contact with someone who had it, or had been traveling, so our doctor wasn’t allowed to do that until after we had done a full respiratory panel of tests that covers over a dozen different viruses.
That test is really expensive, but since Kim had already hit her deductible with her pregnancy, we went ahead and had her do the full panel, while I passed it up. That was (March 27). On (April 1), we got a call from our doctor telling us Kimberly had tested positive for COVID-19.
Her symptoms had continued to get worse over time. Kimberly started to get a cough that would on occasion cause her to vomit. A fever set in, and she would wake up covered in sweat and then freeze the next minute. Her fatigue got so extreme, she would almost pass out just from getting up or trying to help out with a chore around the house.
The last day or two before taking her to the hospital, her oxygen saturation was dropping into the low 90s, and any deep breathes would cause pain. She was ready to give up because the pain, discomfort and constant dizziness was making life so miserable.
EIN: Do you have any idea when or where you might have contracted the virus?
Jeremy: When (Eastern Idaho Public Health District) contacted us, they only (discussed Kimberly’s activities) a few days before her symptoms started. So based on their investigation, it must have occurred while we were at the grocery story when we did a milk/bread run.
At the time we went to the store, there were still zero confirmed cases in Bonneville County, and only a handful of cases within several hours of here. We felt we were safe to go out. Kimberly refused to touch anything as she walked along with me.
She didn’t even push the cart after I had wiped the push bar down liberally. Now we know that incubation could be longer than a few days, so we would like to also point out that before that instance, we had been to three total grocery stores in the two weeks before her symptoms began.
EIN: Is the rest of your family sick? How do their symptoms compare to your wife? Have they been able to be tested, and if not, do you thinking testing would still be beneficial?
Jeremy: I’m a 36-year-old man. I started having symptoms six days ago with body aches, the worst I have ever experienced. With that came a cough, brain fog, major fatigue, minor congestion and a fever of 104.5. I can’t taste, smell and don’t have an appetite. There is also nausea that seems to be resolved by eating or drinking.
Also, there is a strange lingering sensation in my head that I can’t describe. If I try to put my glasses on, it makes me want to throw up. It’s very strange.
(The six children range in age from 17 to 3. All but one child is experiencing at least some of the same symptoms.)
No one else has been tested in my family. I called the doctor yesterday to see if we could all get tested, and we were denied, not by the doctor, but by protocol, because we are all assumed to have it now.
Yet we are not counted toward any total.
I can’t image why they wouldn’t find it beneficial for us to be tested. We have a lot of people in our family with a good age range that all are showing symptoms. We could provide a lot scientific insight into how people of different ages are handling this virus.
Not only that, but it would provide to the public the insight that AGE ISN’T SOME MAGIC SHIELD. Everyone we have spoken too recently has said, “Well good thing you’re young…”
Everyone is so misinformed, and our family could provide that insight to help wake people up to the reality that no one is immune to this, and do you really want to watch your 2-year-old suffer through this because you didn’t think you would be affected?
EIN: What most frustrates you about this situation?
Jeremy: My frustration from the situation would take a novel to express. I want to ensure no one misunderstands the reason my family is trying to share this. We don’t want to blame anyone or any institution directly for this.
We take FULL responsibility for our trips to the store, we chose to do that for some comfort of having fresh milk and bread instead of just living off of beans and rice.
But I’m frustrated because we decided to go to the store based on the information we knew at the time, which was that there was no risk at the time. Had we been told that COVID-19 was already being community spread over two weeks ago, I can promise you we wouldn’t have gone out!
I just wish our (health district) were working as hard and tirelessly as our medical professionals are, putting in 100-hour weeks like our doctor. I don’t want all the blowback to fall on the state health department, as I am sure they have their hands tied due to all the ridiculous government regulation that is preventing our state from being able to test as much as we need.
Had we been able to test all people who were showing any flu-like symptoms, I strongly believe we would have been able to call out the community spread of COVID-19 in our community long before their first announcement of the community spread on (Wednesday).
EIN: Have you been quarantining or self-isolating? If so, for how long?
Jeremy: March 13 was my last day at work, and all of my children were also pulled out of school the same day or a few days earlier even though the schools didn’t close for a couple more days. With my wife’s pregnancy and my daughters asthma, we felt we had high-risk people in our family, so we decided to act before a case came to our community.
EIN: Do you feel you were given adequate notice of the danger of COVID-19 prior to your wife getting sick?
Jeremy: Kimberly loved watching all the numbers, and she was always keeping a watchful eye on the virus. So I feel we were very well informed about its risk. That is why we hunkered down when we did.
But this is also where all of my frustration comes from that we were not given adequate notice of danger for our local area. Based on our case, it is obvious that COVID-19 was already spreading throughout our community at least two weeks ago.
EIN: What is your opinion of Gov. Little’s stay-home order?
Jeremy: There is so much talk out there about this being government overreach to try to make us stay home. So let me be the first to say that my family would be one of the first to have our rifles on our backs out defending the people from any such overreach. I didn’t serve my country for 10 years to support any such action.
That being said, the order is not being enforced, and it never should be. People should choose of their own free will and choice to help curb this outbreak. Just because you choose to stay inside doesn’t mean you’re giving up your natural right to assemble — it means you’re willing to make a temporary sacrifice to ensure the safety of yourself, your family and your community family.
EIN: What message would you give to those who believe COVID-19 is a hoax, or a minor illness not worth staying home for?
Jeremy: I have a very healthy, active family, and it has brought us to our knees. Please, for your sake and for the sake of your own loved ones, make the sacrifice to stay home and maintain good social distancing. Watching my wife suffer has been extremely difficult, and watching my little 3-year-old start to not feel well is not worth it.
EIN: Do you think the lack of testing in Idaho provides a false sense of security for people? Do you think that directly impacted your situation?
Jeremy: Yes, 100%. The lack of testing is preventing the actual situation from coming to light, and the regulatory hurdles that have to be overcome to be tested are only delaying the truth from getting out quicker.
Now, I don’t know why we don’t have enough tests here in Idaho, but if I could recommend anything for (the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare), it would be to try to follow Germany’s example of testing as many people as possible.
The sooner people know they are infected, the sooner they can quarantine, which will reflect in lower unintentional infections to those they come in contact with.
EIN: Do you have anything else you want to add?
Jeremy: My wife is really struggling in the hospital and would like for people to stop trying to contact her as it is only causing her more stress and anxiety.
We would like to thank everyone for their support and prayers. All of our medical providers, from our own doctors to the hospital staff, are putting their own lives at risk for her, and we are grateful. You are the unsung heroes.
From one war veteran to another, I salute you for your bravery and willingness to put yourself and your own families at risk to help mine. I am truly humbled.
Please also send your prayers out to the countless others that are also trying to post their situation on social media, as there are many others in a similar situation.
As of 5 p.m. Saturday, there are now more than 30 official cases of novel coronavirus in eastern Idaho, including six in Bonneville County. However, as is evident from this story, the actual number of COVID-19 cases in the Gem State is probably significantly higher than is being reported.
Caribou County reported its first case Saturday.
So far, 10 people of the 1,077 official cases have died. Those infected with COVID-19 have a high rate of recovery. Local health officials stress that most people who catch the virus will recover without the need for hospitalization.
Although more testing is being done in eastern Idaho, officials continue to remind the public that testing is only necessary if you are sick enough to require hospitalization, or have come into contact with an infected individual.
EIPH officials also stress it is more important than ever to follow the recommendations and directions of federal, state and local health officials, including the following:
- Following the stay-at-home order, which was announced by Gov. Brad Little on March 25. A copy of the order can be found at www.EIPH.Idaho.gov.
- Practicing social-distancing (maintaining at least 6 feet between individuals), avoiding crowds of any number, and eliminating all non-essential travel, as detailed in the order.
- Staying home when sick even if your symptoms are mild. A symptom monitoring checklist and decision tree was recently developed to help individuals and employers determine what they should do if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been primarily or secondarily exposed to a person with COVID-19 symptoms. A copy of these documents can be found at www.EIPH.Idaho.gov. This monitoring tool can be used daily by everyone to assess their health during this pandemic.
- Covering your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces, washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
- People with an increased risk of severe illness (older adults and those with underlying health conditions) should take extra precautions to avoid exposure to COVID-19.
For questions, guidance, and information about COVID-19, visit EIPH’s website at www.EIPH.Idaho.gov or call the hotline number at (208) 522-0310 or (855) 533-3160 (toll free). The hotline is active Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has also started a statewide hotline. It can be reached by calling 888-330-3010, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.