The symptoms Lacey Mathis began experiencing on March 13 were so mild, she almost didn’t notice them.
“Slight pressure in my chest, a little bit of a sore throat and very mild body aches,” said Mathis, a 19-year-old freshman at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, who calls Sanford home. “I thought it was exhaustion from traveling and cheering.”
Mathis had been in the nation’s capital a few days prior to cheer at a college basketball tournament, and rigorous activity of that type causing some level of fatigue isn’t uncommon for any athlete.
But on the night of March 16, Mathis began experiencing a fever. With the coronavirus in the news, she and her family decided to travel the next morning to Chapel Hill for a drive-through test at UNC Hospitals.
Three days later, the results came back and it was official — Mathis, a young, active person in good health, was Lee County’s first confirmed case of COVID-19.
“I’ve had symptoms for the past month,” she said. “I sleep 20 hours a day, which is possibly a relief from the pain. Symptoms include debilitating fevers, sore throat, coughing, body aches, chest pain, mental fogginess, piercing headaches, extreme fatigue, loss of smell and taste, stomach pain and nausea. I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had difficulty breathing, but I did develop a secondary sinus infection.”
COVID-19 patients aren’t typically named in public. But Mathis decided to share her story because she thought it would be something of a public service to do so.
“I want to educate people and help them understand what it’s like,” she said. “This is a very painful virus and I want as few people to get it as possible.”
Entering the month of April, Mathis was one of only three people in Lee County, to have tested positive for the new coronavirus. North Carolina had just topped 1,700 cases statewide, and nationally, more than 184,000 people had tested positive.
Lee County wouldn’t get its fourth case until April 8. After that, the flood gates opened. The first big spike came on April 17 with nine new cases in one day, and nine more were confirmed on April 20. Lee’s biggest jump arrived just two days later (16), with back-to-back 16-case days on April 22 and April 23. Based on trends, Lee County has doubled its case rate every four to five days since April 8.
As of April 30, Lee County stands at 169 total cases and, according to the New York Times, had the seventh-highest case-per-capita rate in the state (211 people per 100,000 population). Only Wayne, Chatham, Rowan, Northampton, Granville and Durham counties had a higher rate.
Statewide, North Carolina just topped 10,500 cases, has 96 of its 100 counties with confirmed tests, has more than 500 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and has 378 deaths attributed to the virus.
Nationally, more than 1 million Americans have tested positive for coronavirus, and more than 63,000 people have died from it.
As some states (Texas and Georgia) have begun loosening restrictions on stay-at-home orders and business closings, the numbers nationally continue to climb (though large spikes seem to have flattened somewhat in the past few weeks).
The one silver lining locally — Lee County as reported no deaths from COVID-19. It’s the only county in the state with more than 100 cases that can make this claim.
NOBODY IS IMMUNE
Lacey Mathis has a message for young people in particular when it comes to COVID-19: Take it as seriously as everyone else — despite reports that the disease is the worst for those over the age of 60 or who have underlying health conditions.
“I’m living proof. Just because you’re young and healthy does not mean you’re immune,” she said. “Being cavalier about COVID-19 is an inaccurate and immature response to a serious public health threat. We all have an obligation to help protect those around us as well.”
Mathis said the situation has been tough for her whole family, as she’s been locked down at home since the diagnosis with her parents and her brother. She’s barely been able to leave her room, and even simple things like contact with friends have taken on a strange level of difficulty.
“This virus messes with your head. I’ve had really weird fever dreams. Isolation has been hard,” she said. “I only ever see my mom, my one care-giver. My friends check on me via texting, but it’s exhausting giving everyone updates in the short time I’m awake. They’ve been patient when I’ve gone dark. But it’s depressing to see everyone using this time to better their lives, and I can’t even touch my toes because I’m in so much pain. I’m so tired of being sick.”
Having had a splitting headache for weeks, Mathis wasn’t all that interested in keeping up with the blow-by-blow coverage of the coronavirus like many who aren’t sick but have been tracking the numbers. She has seen cases increasing locally and around the world, though, and said that the death toll scares her.
“I did see that people were protesting the stay-at-home orders recently and that completely baffles me,” she said. “Nobody wants to stay home, but these protesters are making it about them. They are being completely selfish. It takes all of us to participate and stay away from each other to kill this virus. It’s the only way we can win.”
Contact tracers were able to determine that the tournament in D.C. in early March was likely the source of her infection. A referee there tested positive, and thousands of people were exposed to one another. And between knowing where she contracted COVID-19 and that there’s a good chance she’ll have some protective antibodies going forward (she said she’s already been contacted to donate plasma, which she’s happy to do), she stressed that “none of us should let our guard down yet.”
“This virus is also really abusive because just when you think you’re getting better, it returns,” she said. “The symptoms are unpredictable and it’s discouraging when your fever spikes again out of nowhere.”
Mathis is most looking forward to getting back to her regular life in college. But she said she knows that regular life might never be exactly the same.
“Like everyone else, I’m sitting tight and waiting to make summer plans until things are safer,” she said. “I think the world will be a lot more focused on hygiene from here on out.
Your small actions add up; can beat back COVID-19
Lisa Mathis is the mother of Lacey Mathis, and has been her primary caretaker since the COVID-19 diagnosis. She provided a brief insight as to how her family has dealt with the situation.
We’ve made an enormous effort to keep the virus from spreading, not just for ourselves, but for our community. It’s really important to do this not just for our own personal health but for the health of the public.
This work, whether it’s on the front lines in hospitals or grocery stores, or in our own homes, is vital. Caring for others is an opportunity to be our best selves. It’s hard. The sacrifices being made by everyone are painful, but they are for the greater good.
The little things like social distancing, the big things like closing the doors of businesses, the compassionate things like donating to food banks will all help us get beyond this nightmare. Every time you wash your hands or don’t congregate with others, you could save another soul from getting sick, or dying a premature death. Each of these small actions, when added up, will help us beat back this virus.
What we do now and how we each choose to respond reveals our true character. We all must do our best to pitch in and help.
At minimum, this is what it means to be a decent human. True patriots work together to solve big problems. It’s time for all of us to set positive examples and show our kids how we can save lives, help our country and be a good citizen of the world. I believe we can do it. Together.