Sontreka Johnson has completed her 14-day quarantine but just because she is counted as recovered doesn’t necessarily mean she still isn’t sick. With no sense of taste or smell, Johnson is still struggling with the after affects of COVID-19.
Sontreka Johnson runs three miles a day. A young vibrant, 30-year-old Arkansas schoolteacher and coach, Johnson joins many others around the world that are enduring health consequences after experiencing COVID-19.
Johnson was diligent and took extra precaution from the beginning of the pandemic, utilizing curbside services, grocery pickup and wearing her mask. One day she decided to let her guard down to hang out with a small group of her friends from church.
“They were getting together all along and I said I was going to join them this time,” said Johnson, who didn’t experience symptoms until 10 days in. “And sure enough, now that time has passed I found out some of them had been exposed and some of them have tested positive so I’m pretty sure that’s where I got it.”
Johnson has completed her 14-day quarantine but just because she is counted as recovered doesn’t necessarily mean she still isn’t sick. With no sense of taste or smell, Johnson is still struggling with the after affects of COVID-19.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, recently spoke on those consequences of the infection calling it the post-viral syndrome.
According to Fauci, symptoms can also include fatigue and brain fog.
In an interview with Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci highlighted the range of coronavirus symptoms among young people.
Some young coronavirus patients "can be knocked on their back and brought to their knees pretty quickly," Fauci said.
Other symptoms that can last forever include multiple organ complications, shortness of breath, heart dysfunctions, acute kidney dysfunction, prolonged cough, difficult swallowing or speaking, muscle weakness, nerve damage, mental health complications and cognitive impairment.
For Johnson, she was left feeling fatigue with unbearable headaches once the symptoms started and is still battling those headaches post COVID-19.
“It’s not your normal headache. It’s like pressure that your eyes could pop out,” said Johnson. “I haven’t really had an appetite. I might eat once a day and I try to stay hydrated.”
It’s not just the young that this virus is affecting; it’s also victimizing the young at heart. A 58-year-old perfectly healthy Arkansas County woman was also bed stricken for days after contracting COVID-19.
Asking to remain anonymous, she said she knew exactly the mistake she made which exposed her to coronavirus.
“I went to a friend’s house and neither one of us had on a mask and she had it,” said the woman, who later found out her friend had it when she was contacted by phone during contact tracing. “I know exactly where I had gotten it from because I had been so careful.”
Twenty days post COVID-19, the survivor who exercises intensely five days a week, says some of the symptoms she experienced during COVID-19, she is still experiencing them to date.
After she was exposed she began to experience severe headache, severe body aches, nausea, congestion and a low-grade fever.
“I just didn’t feel good and I had a very bad headache and nausea,” she said. “The low grade temperature came in and then the really strong body aches that ran through my legs and my lower back non stop for several days.”
Some days were better than others and on her worse days, the virus left her without an appetite or a desire to get out of bed.
Today she does not have a sense of smell and her sense of taste has been altered.
“There’s certain things I can taste and certain things I can’t,” she said. “Some people start with those symptoms, I ended with those.”
Her anxiety has also elevated stating as someone with no underlying conditions, the virus was still killing people in perfectly good health.
“It made my anxiety worse. I’m still carrying it some,” she said. “When I exercise again, I feel like I will feel better. I just have to be careful because I don’t know how long I need to rest.”
Fauci said some patients might have "post infection syndromes" that resemble chronic fatigue syndrome, which is often characterized by cognitive impairment, muscle pain, and a debilitating lack of energy.
"If you look anecdotally there is no question that there are a considerable number of individuals who have a post-viral syndrome that really in many respects can incapacitate them for weeks and weeks following so-called recovery and clearing of the virus," said Fauci. "You can see people who've recovered who really do not get back to normal that they have things that are highly suggestive of myalgic encephalomyelitis and chronic fatigue syndrome. Brain fog, fatigue, and difficulty in concentrating so this is something we really need to seriously look at because it very well might be a post-viral syndrome associated with COVID-19."
Brain fog stops Johnson dead in her tracks, often having to sit down and think about what she was about to do or say.
Both woman stated they never had a cough and shortness of breath and believe their healthy lifestyle played a big part in that aspect.
“Two of the four of us that were sick together, they are still extremely fatigued and weak,” said the 58-year-old woman. “I am not and I think it is because I didn’t get the cough that other people got. It never reached my lungs.”
Former Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith, who has now taken on a position with the CDC, discussed the lasting impacts of the coronavirus. He said while the majority of people recover from the infection and go back to their usual state of health, others end up with neurological, cardiac, or blood clot issues and will likely have to live with them for a long time.
Smith also discussed the lingering affects of COVID-19 stating the patients he have seen have memory loss, hair loss, tingling, and shortness of breath.
For both of these COVId-19 survivors, the fight that lies ahead for them is unknown as they are learning daily how their body is responding to the virus.
Johnson, who has signed up to give plasma, said one thing she has learned after her experience is that the bubble of friends that you think you are safe with could be the bubble you get exposed from.
“Everybody is doing one or two things that they think is comfortable and it’s exposing them,” said Johnson. “It only takes one person in that bubble to get it then everyone is exposed. It is not the flu and it’s definitely not fake. Assume everyone has it and act accordingly.”
And though everyone may not be the active 58-year-old, she strongly states the best thing that a person could do is wear a mask.
“I feel like with door knobs and surfaces you have to be careful. Absolutely, wash your hands and keep you hands off your face but I think most importantly people are catching this breathing on other people,” she said. “I feel like that is the number one way people are catching this.”
Fauci reported the new infection median age is about a decade and a half younger that it was a few months ago adding that this could have a dangerous effect on transmission.
In Arkansas, as of Monday, the 25-44 age range leads the state in COVID-19 cases but those who are dying from it are in the 65 and older category making up 69% of the state’s COVID-19 related death totals.
"My message to young people is consider your responsibility to yourself, but also the societal responsibility," Fauci said. "By allowing yourself to get infected, you are propagating the pandemic."