Alexandria, VA – A study in the academic journal Science* reports that at the start of this global pandemic, before travel restrictions were in place anywhere, more than 85 percent of COVID-19 infections were not documented. This was before scientists knew that asymptomatic persons could spread the novel coronavirus. Although the undocumented infections are believed to spread at half the rate of documented infections (people who were isolated, in treatment, or had died), their far greater number explains how the virus spread so rapidly.
Statistics of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths are updated almost hourly, but we don’t hear much about those who weren’t counted and/or have recovered from it. Del Ray businesswoman Nora Partlow and her family are in that category. Nora recently talked with Zebra about how they reached the other side of COVID-19.
It started early
In the third week of February, when the severity of COVID-19 was just reaching public consciousness, John Partlow, Nora’s husband, developed a high fever, and then uncontrollable shivering, a deep, dry cough, and pressure in the chest. He was advised by medical personnel just to stay home, keep taking Tylenol®, drink a lot of water, and avoid other people.
“I took care of him, fed him and stuff like that,” says Nora. “And then I made the mistake. About a week in, one evening I went over to him and kissed him on the mouth, and he goes, ‘No, you shouldn’t have done that, you’re going to get it.’ And I said, ‘No, how many times do you get sick and I never get sick, and we’ve got high immune systems, blah, blah, blah.’ Two days later I came down with it.”
Three people live in the Partlow’s Arlington home: John, Nora, and their youngest son, Mickey (33), who developed a deep, dry “really bad cough” that persisted for a month, but no other symptoms. Despite growing awareness of the novel coronavirus and living in a domestic hot spot, the Partlows couldn’t get tested.
“There’s a lot of people out there like ourselves that, unfortunately, did not call in at that time,” Nora says. “After the fact, when we want to be tested, they told us, no, you should have called when you were in the midst of it. In the midst of it, we were really sick.
“We’re very healthy as a family. We don’t get colds. We don’t get the flu. So we did our own research online of what the (COVID-19) symptoms were, how long it stays and what to expect,” she adds.
John Partlow was seriously ill for two weeks, and had lingering effects like extreme weariness and odd sensations that still act up, e.g., a cold spot deep behind one eye. He lost ten pounds through his ordeal.
Nora was sick for some 10 days, with high fever, dry cough, and lethargy. She kept a doctor’s appointment (made before this began). “When I went to the doctor about three days in and told them my symptoms again, they still weren’t taking [extra] precautions with masks or anything like that.
“I called again, probably [a few] weeks ago, to ask if we could be tested for antibodies. They said that the antibody test is not accurate and suggested we not do it. I wanted to give my blood to the study at NOVA hospital. It’s kind of a weird situation. Here you’re trying to help by confirming what you had, to do good for others, and they’re telling you no.
“To me, government is not doing the job properly. We wanted to be in the statistics and they’re not giving us that opportunity,” she says. “I am on the board of Neighborhood Health. I believe Dr. Khan, who’s the director. He was very concerned about not having enough tests, not having equipment for his staff there. Gradually they were able to get the test for their employees, and then for their patients that were coming down with a virus. But if you didn’t have any of the symptoms at the time, they would not test you.”
John, Nora, and Mickey were not the only Partlow family members or friends to get sick. Daughter Katie and her boyfriend Carl came down with it. On Valentine’s Day, they’d gone with John and Nora to a “semi-private party” in the District, an event attended by some 150 people, with entertainers flown in from Los Angeles.
“In February, that’s when it was flaring up on the West Coast, in Washington State, Seattle, and LA, and these people came from there,” Nora says. “It was a closed venue, and we did have close contact. We did our homework, trying to trace it back to where we’d been, who we were in contact with. And that’s what we did.”
COVID-19 affects the whole family
John and Nora have four children, two boys and two girls. When COVID-19 shut down society and the economy, three of the four were or became unemployed.
Mickey, the younger boy, had just graduated from studies to enter a new profession in IT, and was offered employment with a major social media company in San Francisco. He opted against moving to what was then a major pandemic hot spot, and applied for positions in this area. Micky is now employed by a government contractor in the Arlington area.
Younger daughter Katie had a party planning business that disappeared overnight, as have many small businesses. But with the Partlow entrepreneurial spirit, Katie undertook web design and is reported to now have a job.
Kori, the daughter whose employment was unaffected by COVID-19, was a classroom teacher but had moved into administration before schools were shut down and has a job she is performing from home.
Kyle, the oldest, is a fly fisherman by trade who runs a fishing tourism company, Keen Eye Anglers, out of Seward, Alaska. Kyle was in Argentina in January, scouting new territory. He was stuck there for four months, able to return home only recently. Kyle’s business also disappeared overnight and from a distance, with no income, he had to refund deposits for cancelled trips.
Argentina locked everything down early and the death toll has been around 500. But the lockdown meant no buses, no trains, no air travel coming into the country. When Kyle at last got a flight to the U.S. through help from our embassy, he had to have a physical before leaving the country. He told Nora that flying into Miami was like going to a different world altogether.
“He said lax, lax, lax,” Nora says. “He said they didn’t check his temperature, they asked a few questions, and where will you do your 14-day self-quarantine? That’s it. No tracking or anything like that. And he said, ‘Mom, this is crazy. This country is so rich and powerful, and yet they can’t do diddly squat.’”
John’s mother resides at Leewood Healthcare Center in Annandale. She tested positive, but recovered and is doing well. “They don’t let us visit her,” says Nora. “We haven’t seen her going on three months because they were one of the very first (nursing homes) around here that closed to visitors early. But my brother-in-law was able to get one of the nurses to video her with his phone because, you know, when you don’t see a person you start wondering, are they telling us the truth of what’s going on? So we saw her, and she was smiling, she’s making it through, so far as I know. She’s 95, going to be 96 in July.”
This business did not disappear
Nora is a realtor with Coldwell Banker, and real estate is one business that has not shut down. It is, in fact, booming.
“I have clients call me and say, Nora, I was thinking of selling but I’m going to hold off till this is over,” she says. “I say, why? Interest rates are not going up. And the prices are not going down. My broker just [reported] that Coldwell Banker has done better than any other real estate agency in the United States. Our offices did five percent more than March of last year.”
Nora posts notices on the doors of her listed properties stating not to enter if the party has been sick, has fever or other symptoms. Inside, she provides soap, paper towels, and sanitizer, encouraging visitors to wipe down anything they touch. These are vacant properties, but should another group come right after, it would be possible to spread the virus. Of course, it’s all done on an honor system.
“That’s how I approach my life now,” she says. “You need to be proactive for yourself. I come from the restaurant business, I owned St. Elmo’s, so I know about cross contamination. I’ve been indoctrinated that you sanitize everything. I work from home, my office is closed. We’re not allowed to go in unless it’s a dire emergency. I went in [recently]; there was nobody in the office. But again, our office has all the procedures in place.
“It’s just being smart. The more you learn, the better, but you have to have the right source too. There’ve been so many crazy things that people put out there, misinformation, and people listen to that.”
Cabin fever, fear, and personal responsibility
“People are so afraid. I have a client from New York, who, I mean, the man is over the top,” says Nora. “He’s single, I think 40 or 41. He wants to come back to Virginia because he’s in New York City, with all the craziness going on there, and he has been in his apartment for over two months. He talks a mile a minute. People usually don’t talk that fast. It’s anxiety. I told him my own experience, just to calm him down a bit, but he is, wow, over the top.
“My number one concern is that when this is over, we’re going to have a tsunami of [mental health problems]. And it’s all because people are so afraid. But, again, you have to educate yourself and you can’t be thinking apocalyptic. That kind of thought, you know, like even if the mailman is down at the corner, you’re going to get sick. A lot of people are going over the top.
“I’m for re-opening everything, but it’s going to be up to each of us to patronize those places that take precautions. And if they don’t, you shouldn’t go there. Given the freedom to open up, it’s up to you, as a citizen, to have a brain, to think, okay, am I going to go sit at a bar where we’re going to be elbow to elbow, with no masks on and no precautions taken? If it was me, no, I wouldn’t, but it’s up to you. Freedom means responsibility, the more freedom that you have as a citizen, the more responsibility you should have. Absolutely. That’s across the board.”
*“Substantial undocumented infection facilitates the rapid dissemination of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2),” Science 01 May 2020: Vol. 368, Issue 6490, pp. 489-493, DOI: 10.1126/science.abb3221