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First Pratt County positive COVID-19 case was not a likely candidate

Jennifer Stultz
jstultz@pratttribune.com
An interactive map of Kansas COVID-19 Case Reports may be found at https://public.tableau.com/profile/kdhe.epidemiology.

On Tuesday, March 31, the Pratt County Health Department issued a news release to the public announcing the confirmation of the first positive COVID-19 case in Pratt County. Testing which had been done eight days prior was completed and the diagnosis was official, an employee at Pratt Community College with no travel history and no underlying health conditions, had the novel coronavirus.

Clinical Services Administrator for Pratt County Health Department Darcie Van Der Vyver said it was not unusual for tests to take several COVID-19 tests to take several days.

"This person was tested by a private physician outside of Pratt County, with an unknown lab," Van Der Vyver said. "It typically takes anywhere from 3 to 10 days to get test results back."

Van Der Vyver said the health department, along with three other testing agencies in Pratt (Pratt Family Practice, Pratt Regional Medical Center and Pratt Internal Medicine Group) was carefully following KDHE guidelines as to which people or persons with symptoms warranted testing.

"We have turned some away," she said. "Our test kits are very limited and we have to make what we have last. Those with symptoms really need to stay home and self-isolate, unless they are needing hospitalization."

Self-isolation is the best defense against the spread of coronavirus, Van Der Vyver said. And Pratt County's first COVID-19 case followed those guidelines explicitly.

While the health department did not release name, gender, or age of the infected person, due to their own privacy policy, Heather Wilson posted on Facebook that she was the person living in Pratt County who tested positive, and she shared a detailed timeline of her experiences.

As the Communications Instructor at the college, Wilson said she felt it was important to get the facts about her case out to the public in order to increase understanding for those who might be in similar situations or may have to go through an experience like hers.

"I feel like I may have been the least likely person to get this," Wilson said. "“I was already practicing social distancing as I do this during every cold/flu season. Because of the talk about the virus I had increased my hand washing and sanitizing. Just extra precautions to try and ward off germs this time of year.”

Wilson and her husband, a life-long Pratt County farmer and cattleman, have three young daughters, ages 10, 9 and 6. Since she first noticed that she was not feeling well on March 12, she has been in self-isolation.

"It has all been a very long journey," she said. "I had taken off some days to finish my Master's Degree. That was March 11.“

In her Facebook blog, Wilson, who is 40 years old, said she started having symptoms of coronavirus the evening of March 12 when she noticed she had a sore throat.

“I started chilling late in the night and woke up with what I thought to be influenza, horrible headache, body aches, sore throat,” she wrote. “I called the doctor the morning of Friday, March 13 to explain my symptoms and asked for some Tamiflu, they did not think Tamiflu was necessary and I was told to manage my symptoms at home. No doctor visit required.”

After that her life became somewhat of a roller-coaster, between doctor's calls, experiencing a variety of symptoms, and making sure that she stayed away from her family members.

"I practiced total self-isolation because even though I wasn't diagnosed with COVID-19 at that point, I was concerned about passing any kind of germ to my family," she said. "My girls cried at my bedroom door, but we only talked through a crack at bedtime when we said goodnight, and they stood back at least 3 feet."

Wilson said her husband brought her food and placed it on the other side of their king-size bed. Other than that she rested, drank a lot of water, sometimes Gatorade, and endured extreme fatigue, sweats, headache, earache, nausea and breathing difficulties.

On March 23, she went back to see her doctor and at the time was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia.

"I was prescribed albuterol to use in my nebulizer, that's the only relief the doctor could offer," she said.

Wilson said she is still in isolation, now 22 days from the initial onset of her symptoms, because the CDC states that a person must be symptom free for 10 consecutive days before leaving isolation.

"Knowing how sick I was, I don't want to take the chance of putting anyone else through this, especially my family," she said.

Based on her own personal speculation, Wilson believes she may have contracted COVID-19 from another employee at the college who may have been misdiagnosed sometime in February. There was an employee in the same building who was diagnosed with bronchitis and took all the necessary precautions, doing nothing wrong. However, Wilson and another Chandler Hall employee, both became sick at the same time, on March 12, and both eventually tested positive for the coronavirus. The other employee, whose name has not been officially released, lives in Reno County and therefore was not considered a Pratt County positive COVID-19 case.

Wilson said she continues to be vigilant and remains self-isolated until she can count 10 days without symptoms.

"I just want to be extra careful and I cannot emphasize how important it is for others to self-isolate if they are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms. A test is not going to make anyone better or keep anyone from exposing others to this disease. Life as we know it has changed. Only by self-isolating can we give researchers and health professionals time to come up with best treatments, vaccines, a cure. I don't know if I will be immune to this disease after this episode, but I fully expect it to circle through again this fall. Self-isolation is of the upmost importance."

Wilson said she was very thankful for the prayers and support of her family, friends, church and community during this very stressful time. She hopes all will continue to do whatever they can to help each other as the world deals with COVID-19.

As of April 2, 2020, there was only 1 confirmed case of COVID-19 in Pratt County, with 13 recorded tests administered, according to the KDHE COVID-19 Health Summary. There were 552 positive cases statewide on Thursday.