(Photo courtesy of the Center for Disease Control)

Update (4:00 PM, 3-22-20): On Sunday, the woman interviewed for the following story received her test results. She informed Raven News that she had tested negative for the coronavirus. 

A Sitka woman in her twenties believes she may have contracted the coronavirus visiting New York earlier this month — shortly before government officials began to recommend self-isolation for travelers returning to the state. Although she’s still awaiting test results, the woman’s story could really be anyone’s story: It perfectly illustrates why the measures we’re taking now to protect ourselves from COVID-19 are considered so important.

She spoke to KCAW on condition of anonymity. For purposes of this story her name has been changed. Since she is self-isolating, we spoke to her over the phone.

Ms. Jones went home to visit her family in Manhattan earlier this month. She was there for a little over a week, returning to Sitka on March 10. She did have a moment of pause before she travelled, and wondered if it was the right thing to do, given the uptick of coronavirus cases across the country, and in New York City. 

“At that time it seemed like choosing to not fly back would seem like…it would just seem like an overreaction or it would seem like I’m gonna be missing work for no reason,” says Jones. “It seemed like it would come across as hysterical or as overreacting. Whereas now that decision would be considered prudent given the fact that we have correct information.”

Two days after Jones returned to Sitka, the same day Alaska saw its first confirmed case of COVID-19, and just one day before President Trump declared a national state of emergency, Jones’s 58-year-old mother back in New York started having flu-like symptoms. She went to the hospital, but she wasn’t able to give a test at first.

“She tried to go to urgent care when she first got a fever,” says Jones. “And the urgent care people in New York told her that she probably didn’t have the virus and they couldn’t give her the test, and they just told her to go home.” 

Jones’s mother started feeling worse, and went to the ER. They diagnosed her with pneumonia. She was tested for COVID-19 on March 16, and the results came back positive. She immediately called everyone she’d come into contact with in the past few weeks, including her daughter. 

Jones, meanwhile, had been going about her days normally before she got the call. She’d even gone into work for a couple of days. So she notified her employer, and called SEARHC’s hotline. They set up a time to test her in isolation on Tuesday (3-17-20) at Mountainside Urgent Care.

The test was sent out of town, and they told her to expect results in 5 days. Her workplace had already closed to the public at the end of last week. And the coworkers she came into close contact with are quarantining at home. 

Jones thinks she’ll test positive for the coronavirus. But she still doesn’t really have any symptoms, just a light-cough and a little fatigue. She doesn’t feel sick. And that’s why she says staying home and self-isolating is crucial.

“I think it’s pretty possible people have this and don’t know. And I think a lot of young people probably do already have this and don’t know,” she says. “And due to how contagious this is, I just want to encourage anyone, if they’re on the fence, to take some more safe precaution and stay home.” 

She says her mom is doing better. She’s out of the hospital and on heavy antibiotics that curbed the pneumonia. 

Jones says she wishes she’d self-isolated immediately. When she flew back to Sitka, travelers without symptoms from the lower-48 weren’t being directed by state officials to self-isolate, but they are now. She hopes everyone returning to Sitka will take that precaution for 14 days. 

“I feel really badly. I wish I hadn’t flown back from New York. I feel badly that I was at work last week,” says Jones.

“I’m terrified I’m going to be the first case in Sitka and if it weren’t for me it wouldn’t have come to the island. Just feeling a lot of guilt about that,” she says. “It’s just hard.”

Now Jones must wait until this weekend for confirmation, isolated in her apartment. She says she’s thankful that she’s been able to get her groceries delivered by the new volunteer group, Sitka Mutual Aid, a community support group created by the Sitka Conservation Society to connect volunteers and donations with people who need support through the COVID-19 crisis.