Tuesday’s Snohomish County COVID-briefing: A ‘long-hauler’ tells her story, county cases continue to decline

The takeaways from the Snohomish County COVID-19 weekly briefing on Tuesday, Sept. 8:

–A coronavirus patient tells her harrowing story.

–The county opens up COVID tests for most residents, and there is now a phone line to make COVID test appointments.

–There continues to be a declines in cases throughout the county.

Maria Coghill is director of mental health and wellness for Kaiser Permanente in Everett.

“I couldn’t talk without coughing,” says COVID patient Maria Coghill; “I could breathe, but taking a breath just hurt”.

Coghill is 44 and used to run three-and-a-half miles a day. She considered herself to be in very good health; “I don’t get sick very often” she says. That all changed that day in April when a “meet and greet” with colleagues exposed her to COVID. Five months later, she is still recovering and doesn’t know how long she will feel the effects of the virus.

Coghill shared her story during the weekly Snohomish County COVID briefing.  She came forward to help others understand and recover from this illness that turned her world upside down.

As director of mental health and wellness for Kaiser Permanente in Everett, Coghill knows medicine. She has also been president of the Providence Hospice and Home Care Foundation. Three years ago, she and her husband were featured in a local newspaper for restoring their classic home. She’s a mom of two; someone used to being active and involved in the community.

Now, she is a member of a new group she never wanted to belong to: The COVID-19 “long-haulers.” Five months from the onset of the virus, she still has Bell’s palsy, described as a “sudden weakness in the muscles of one half of the face.”

Medical journals say it is a viral infection. Coghill knows it can be a side effect of COVID, but says the burning and tingling it causes on her face is easing up; that her sense of taste and smell are slowly returning. Doctors have told her it will go away but she doesn’t know how long that will take.

In that April meeting she attended, participants kept their social distance, but that was before masks were required. Four days later, Coghill said she began to feel sick, but never had a fever or cough. She did have chills one night and the “feeling that something wasn’t right.” She felt better, but within the week, she said her chest started to hurt and it hurt to breathe.  She took a COVID test; it came back negative. The urgent care clinic took a chest x-ray, which showed nothing. They suggested she had pneumonia.

A week later, Coghill was back in urgent care for a second test. This one was positive; she had the virus. Her breathing got worse; her energy levels were low. “I’d just take a shower and would have to take a nap for several hours after,” she recalled.

Coghill was in bed for two weeks.

“When I was at my sickest,” she said, “it was really scary.” She took some comfort talking with others who had been through it. “I would just look at myself in the mirror and say we will get through this.”

Coghill said her darkest thoughts were about her two children getting sick, especially after she learned about the inflammatory syndrome that has affected some children with COVID. They did not get sick.

It was six weeks before she could even try a long walk. Sometimes her resting pulse rate, which usually in the 50s, would skyrocket into the 90s while she was just sitting, watching TV. The Bell’s palsy symptoms didn’t show up until July, three months into her ordeal.

Coghill wants something good to come from her experience. That’s why she participated in the county briefing. She has also donated her blood plasma to a University of Washington study on its effectiveness in treating coronavirus patients. “I feel really fortunate I was able to participate in the study,” she said. “I hope it will help others.”

You can watch the video interview with Maria Coghill here:

Also reported during the briefing: There is more encouraging news in the case numbers throughout the county. Chief Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters said we are “weathering the storm of the second wave of activity.”

For the two weeks ending Aug. 29, the rate of new cases has dropped for the fifth time in a row; it’s now down to 53 new cases per 100,000. In July, that number was over 90.

Hospitalizations, said Spitters, are in a “long-term decline,” with COVID patients occupying only 4% of available hospital beds. Health district contact tracers are able to reach out to new cases within 24-48 hours of infection. While these numbers do not yet meet state guidelines, Spitters said the community has “helped turn the tide,” and that masks and social distancing “are having an impact.” He admitted it is still too early to know if there will be a surge of new cases after Labor Day.

The county has now opened up testing for anyone who wants a test; for travel, for work, for college, for employers.  You can get the test at the county drive-through facility in Everett, although the facility is closed until at least Thursday due to poor air quality. Read more about that and possible schedule changes here.

The county has now opened up a phone line to make appointments for the virus tests: You can call 425-258-8425. It is staffed Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. At other times, leave a message and staff will call back.

— By Bob Throndsen












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