The Current

'Nobody was coughing': COVID-19 survivor urges social distancing amid risk of asymptomatic carriers

Christy Karras thinks she got coronavirus from a cocktail party, where no one had symptoms. As one of the first people diagnosed with COVID-19 in the U.S., she talks about the illness, her recovery, and why social distancing measures are vital.

Christy Karras and her husband were both sick for several weeks

Christy Karras tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month. Several of her friends did as well, leading her to believe it had spread among them without anyone showing symptoms. (Mark Vukobrat)
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After Christy Karras and her husband fell ill late last month, she discovered friends they had recently spent time with were experiencing similar symptoms.

"A couple of people from pretty early on were convinced it was coronavirus, and the rest of us said: 'There's no way, you're just thinking about that because it's in the news,'" said Karras, a freelance journalist based in Seattle, Wash.

"Now in retrospect, that's a bit of an eerie thing to think back on," she told The Current's Matt Galloway.

Karras, her husband and at least eight of her friends were eventually diagnosed with coronavirus in early March by submitting samples to a flu study based at the University of Washington. The flu study had been going on for months, but recently began to test for the virus in samples sent in from the public.

Based on the movements of those diagnosed, Karras believes her husband contracted it at a friend's cocktail party, and passed it on with a kiss hello when he came home.

"It was very strange to think that whatever we had, had spread very easily and quickly through a few of us," she said.

An infectious disease specialist explains how one person not staying home can contribute to the spread of COVID-19.  1:40

As of Sunday, Washington State has recorded 1,996 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 95 deaths. However, at the point Karras's husband got sick, there had been no evidence of community transmission in the U.S.

Karras still "felt great" and kept working for a few days, even attending a work lunch where she believes she infected a friend, who started to feel sick within days.

"When she tested positive, I thought: 'Oh, no, I'm pretty sure I'm the one who gave that to her' … and I did feel terrible about that," she said.

On Feb. 26, the morning after the work lunch, Karras says she felt like she'd "been hit by a Mack truck."

I've never in my adult life had a situation where I had a fever that just kept going for days- Christy Karras

She and her husband were now experiencing fever and aches and pains — but for longer than a normal cold or flu — followed by congestion and sinus trouble.

"I've never in my adult life had a situation where I had a fever that just kept going for days," she said.

"I couldn't get any work done, I couldn't really focus mentally, and again that happens quite frequently with any illness. But for this, it just kept going."

The illness lasted 22 days for Karras, but she says she finally feels well. 

Virus spread 'by pre-symptomatic people'

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to stay home and follow public health guidelines around social distancing. He warned that enforcement measures could follow if people don't stop congregating in groups.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says nothing that could help is 'off the table,' when it comes to enforcing self-isolation rules. 1:00

Karras also wants people to take social distancing measures seriously, particularly as COVID-19 can be spread "so easily and by pre-symptomatic people."

In a mass-testing experiment of the 3,400 residents of an Italian town last month, it was found that 75 per cent of participants infected with COVID-19 were completely asymptomatic.

"People have this idea that the way you get it is that a sick person comes and sneezes or coughs on you," Karras said.

"At the gathering where people got this initially that I know of, and then at the lunch where I unfortunately got people sick, nobody was coughing, nobody was feeling ill," she told Galloway.

"It's strange to think back on it from where we are now and think: 'Oh, how stupid can you be going out and facing each other around a table?' That just seems like a silly thing to do in retrospect."

'We can help others going forward'

Karras wants people to know that if they get it, "it is possible to get through it, to be fine on the other side."

"It's not a deadly disease for most people. It's just a really annoying, unpleasant disease to go through."

Health Minister Patty Hajdu says there are a number of ways quarantine measures can be enforced by the government, including random inspections and hotlines. 2:01

But she said "some people are going to get very sick from this, and those of us who are younger and healthier need to look out for those people."

Even if people are feeling helpless in the face of the pandemic, there are things individuals can do to fight the virus, she said.

"There are so many things we can do, from practising social distancing effectively, to calling our neighbours and seeing how they're doing, to offering to buy groceries for someone who is housebound," she told Galloway. 

People can also lobby "elected officials to pass legislation that will help those most affected," she said.

With testing in short supply, she says she and her husband feel grateful to have received the diagnosis, and to have recovered.

"We're very happy to be back in a place where we're feeling healthy and maybe feeling that we can help others going forward."


Written by Padraig Moran.Produced by Joan Webber and Rachel Levy-McLaughlin.

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