Let me tell you my story. I’m 64 years old. I mountain bike like crazy, I mean climbing hills five days a week at least. I ski whenever I can. I’m used to huffing and puffing, pushing every ounce of oxygen through my lungs that I can possibly get through and using every bit of strength from my ribs and diaphragm. You could say I’m a pretty fit guy for my age.

Now, after surviving COVID-19, I’m miles from the fitness level I was once at. My lungs are still congested and nowhere near healed. This past weekend, I got back on my bike and rode very, very slowly around Quigley Canyon. My cough still lingers, on and off, and my energy is low.

What people need to know about this virus is that it’s a big deal, and taking it lightly is not only a ridiculously ignorant thing to do, but you are playing Russian roulette with your life.

I suspect it was March 14 when I picked up COVID-19 from the River Run Lodge, as that’s the only point of contact I can recall. I was sitting next to a woman who, as it turns out, later developed COVID symptoms like lack of taste and smell and was probably a silent carrier.

Ten days later, my temperature spiked to nearly 103 degrees and I developed a vicious cough which, in hindsight, probably saved me from pneumonia. I had absolutely no appetite, no sense of taste or smell and eating was incredibly hard. In fact, I lost 15 pounds.

On days two through nine, the headaches, which came at night, got unbearable. I was ace-bandaging ice packs around my head to try and eliminate them. Still, I had no doubt that I would live through this thing. As the days went by I began to understand the virus more. The thing about COVID-19 is it wears you down until you’ve got no fight left. On day nine I remember telling my sister I didn’t think I could do this for more than a few more days. I hadn’t eaten or slept, and the demon—the fever and headaches—would come out at night.

To give you some perspective, I had both my knees replaced on the same day last year and there was never a moment that being cut into with a bone saw was anywhere near as bad as that first week of coronavirus.

On day 10, my fever let off by about a degree and I was only hitting 101.8. I could finally eat and sleep a bit. But, long story short, my battle wasn’t over. On day 12, the night sweats came. And were those something special!  It would be like I stepped out of the shower when I woke up. I had to sleep on a towel and keep an extra towel at my bedside to dry off. On day 15, my fever had gone away and the headaches had begun to subside, but I began to cough up a tremendous amount of fluid out of my lungs. By then, I was so exhausted that I couldn’t get out of my gray chair. I’d just sit there, completely drained.

This past Sunday, I had enough energy to shop for groceries. (I was released from quarantine from the Idaho South Central Health District and have been vigilant about wearing good protective gear.)

As a COVID-19 survivor, what I saw shocked and horrified me.

Only about a third of employees had masks and gloves on. One employee was holding produce up to his face to inspect it, very clearly breathing on the food. When I asked the manager about the PPE issue, she said it just “wasn’t required.” But whether PPE is mandated by the county or city is irrelevant; the store is putting lives at risk by not requiring every worker to wear it.

The reason PPE is so crucial is that there are still so many unknowns. COVID-19 survivors released back out into the public have no clue if we are actually free of or immune to the virus. We don’t know much about how COVID mutates or re-infects. There’s evidence that some people might not have the ability to build up the proper antibodies and are susceptible to it again.

What I do know is, if I get sick again with COVID-19 it will most likely kill me. And I can’t let this go. Essential-service workers not being geared up properly is outrageous.

My guess is that most mountain bikers and skiers are going to probably live through COVID-19. The virus has predominantly hit skiers in our community, some of the fittest people I know, and I believe that’s one reason we haven’t had a higher death rate. The people I worry about most are cigarette smokers and those with compromised systems who can’t cough this stuff out. I worry about the virus sweeping through the grocery store. Once you get pneumonia, it can easily be life or death.

Please take this seriously. COVID-19 is a horrible sickness that you have to ride out in complete isolation. Being sick with the virus was the worst experience of my life.

Jeffry Mann is a furniture artist living in Hailey. He owns a woodworking shop, Jeffry Mann Inc., in Carey.

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