For Six Days, I Was Covid Mike

A little more than two weeks ago I tested positive for COVID-19. I was retested a few days ago and got the results last night. I am negative. Was the first test a false positive? Or maybe I just got better? Who knows? Except for fatigue, which is more or less chronic for me, I never had obvious symptoms of coronavirus. For once, I was asymptomatic of something. Of course, I was restricted to my home and gardens, mostly the back yard where the whole world was protected from me. I did get behind the wheel of the Green Monster earlier this week to be retested, and on another occasion to a nearby park in the early evening that has a serene stretch to walk and, as I know from experience, is almost always empty of humans.

Nevertheless, I am grateful that I did not fall ill and wind up in the hospital. I was determined – my daughter Ana Maria was on the phone daily with me for inspiration and advice – not to wind up on a ventilator.

So why did I get tested in the first place if I had no clear symptoms?

On Wednesday morning, July 15, during a grocery run and dropping a few things off to my friend Al on Grove Street, I stopped at a Sheetz gas station on the way home because the tank was about empty. As I left the parking lot, I noticed a canopy and a sign that read “Free Testing for COVID-19” clearly displayed next to it. It struck me that cars were buzzing in and out of the gas station but no one seemed to think that maybe it would be a good idea to be tested. After all, the confirmed cases in the city and state keep rising, as do the number of deaths and hospitalizations. How interesting, I thought, as I drove closer to home. Boom! I needed to be tested, not to make sure I was okay but to protect others, especially Al who is 84 and vulnerable, and Sharon who I see regularly. So I turned around and got it done. I would get a call or email in 48 hours, they told me.

Eight days later (July 23), I got the call. I tested positive for COVID-19. I can’t remember if I was watching CNN at that moment or immediately after. I recall looking at the U.S. statistics displayed on the bottom right corner of the screen thinking that I was now included in one statistic, and hopefully, can and will avoid the other.

Worse, I considered, are countless uncounted souls like me, asymptomatic or whose symptoms are barely distinguishable from other somewhat routine maladies. Many good folk, who are actually paying close attention and acting responsibly across the country, and here in my neighborhood, know there are others with the virus, some who died, without ever being diagnosed until it was too late. Credible news reports have revealed that autopsies later performed on people who died at home show the cause of death was coronavirus. All this horror happening before our own eyes or via television and the internet during the earliest and darkest days of the pandemic in New York City, and in countries as different as Italy and Iran, only confirms to the reasonable and caring among us what we needed from the start – a national system based on the principles of universal health care and the right to it as a citizen or resident.

Instead, despite the caring and dedicated people who are a part of it, what we have is the shittiest system in the history of capitalism, one that already had set the bar low in meeting the needs of working and poor people, especially those of color, who are getting sick and maybe being left to die. These are people who have no health care and maybe lacked the required number of symptoms for hospitalization or serious treatment. This is what I’ve been told by African Americans here and elsewhere who have experienced it first-hand.

After I called Sharon and sent Al and an email, I contacted other friends with the news. After asking me how I felt and if I needed anything, several asked, “Do you know where you got it?”

I have thought about this so much. Early on I got really angry reconstructing incidents where I was most likely to have become contagious. I immediately knew one thing for sure. The probability that I got it from the less than handful of people I have had any kind of personal contact is quite low. All are very cautious and I trust them as friends who recognize they are responsible for the well-being of others by always wearing a mask and keeping proper distance, even outdoors.

What sticks out most in my mind is this. In the face of this pandemic that has now claimed more than 150,000 American lives – and counting – most of us remain gripped by demonic forces that are reproduced daily by those with political and ideological power who keep us locked into the belief there is no alternative but the market, i.e. capitalism. Behemoth breathes alienation and despair as it tramples and devours us. It will only get worse now that the Commerce Department reports that the United States has experienced its worst plunge in GDP in history, which it blames on coronavirus.

It is more than that. COVID-19 is central to the genesis of the Last Depression, a crisis of neoliberalism that has opened the door to fascism.

Anyway, after reconstructing events and with help from friends to fill in the gaps, I tried to determine where I got coronavirus. I thought I had taken all the right safety measures, though there were occasions when people came up behind me with no mask. I concluded there’s a very high probability I became Covid Mike in one of my visits to a large, busy grocery store which did not require masks. Yes, I know. That was my choice. To counter this, I often went to the grocery store owned by the richest man on earth just two and a half parking lots away that attracts a more socially conscious clientele that wears a mask and pays high prices for food to the richest of the rich.

Odder still for me is that Greensboro’s mayor, Nancy Vaughan, issued an emergency proclamation on June 22, “requiring face coverings to be worn anytime a person is in contact with other people in public or in private spaces. These places include grocery stores, pharmacies, business locations, parking lots, sidewalks and public transit.” In the last phone conversation we had just after she issued the proclamation, I asked her how she intended to enforce it. We discussed it off the record. That weekend she texted to tell me that she had gone into a Target and was happy to see almost everyone wearing a mask.

I wonder. Is this enough from a mayor who genuinely intends well but does not seem willing to confront the forces that drive her and others in her position toward pragmatism and away from a healthy dose of idealism? We can give her more credit than Gov. Roy Cooper who issued his own statewide mandate three days after Mayor Vaughan issued her own. The results at the state level are dismal. Hell, they are frightening given Republicans in the state legislature. They insist on opening up the economy and our schools, as their lackeys in the counties, especially the sheriffs, tell the media they won’t enforce Cooper’s order because it is unconstitutional. And what has Gov. Cooper done to enforce the rule of law in North Carolina? Yep.

Of course, the root problem is the concentrated power of business enterprise that casts its spell over all of us to a greater or lesser extent. None of us are immune, though it is not an inescapable condition. Politically, Big Business in Greensboro and North Carolina means the Republican Party in the state legislature or its magnates in Armani suits whose tentacles reach down to the crazies wielding heavy weapons in the forests south of here and elsewhere in the state just waiting for the signal to strike. Sound crazy? Ask my fellow journalist Jordan Green at Triad City Beat who has done solid and intrepid reporting on these groups.

Anyway, my point is that these are demons who are threatening others, some holding guns, who up to this point weren’t going to wear masks because they had the right, the freedom to say no. Any of these morons could have walked by me mask-less in the grocery store. Again, being there was my choice. But why wouldn’t these large grocery retailers require all customers to wear masks, even before the mayor’s proclamation?

When the market prevails over all else there is also a concomitant rise in anarchic behavior. Tragically, it demonstrates the ideological toxicity of the marketplace in American society that will be its eventual undoing unless we change it radically and substantively.

Even before I was diagnosed with the virus, I had an encounter at a garden center of a large retailer where I thought I would be safe outside. While rolling some topsoil and rocks up to the counter on a dolly, I noticed the guys who were carrying or pushing big loads for customers were huffing and puffing in the heat – most with their masks down. What have I done? Then the female clerk at the register also had her mask down! She came very close to me before I could jump out of the way. You’re not wearing your mask, I said calmly. “I’m not wearing a mask because it’s hot out here. Don’t you get it?” Sure, I said, about the heat. Then I said something to the effect, “But you’re coming over the counter to price my items with your device and breathing all over me.” I wanted to add that she didn’t have to worry because my mask was protecting her.

A few minutes later, the store manager told me in front of two assistants in a small office – we all had masks on – that company policy did not require people working outside to wear masks. And besides, he said, it was hot. That’s when I leaned across his desk with my mask still on and asked him how he would feel if I took off my mask and breathed all over him. I heard him summoning garden clerks to his office as I exited.

As for me, I had set into the realities of testing positive and reflecting on how I would adjust to a life of solitude if I tested positive again. Fortunately, I am comfortable at home except for the solitude that quarantine brought. I busy myself writing and ensuring the weeds don’t overwhelm Sharon’s masterful gardening. I am playing music a lot, especially after discovering how two vintage Gon Bop congas, made from California oak, match up with two LP Classics made of Siam oak, giving me the sound and range I always wanted. I also mess around every day on the Roland Juno-DS keyboard and Fender bass guitar. I’m never bored. I write routinely in a journal Sharon gave me years ago and means a great deal to me. I have also begun work on another book, forcing me to revisit tubs of files I lugged to Grove Street and back again. These files are not long for this world.  

I have my health, and I am grateful for every day, especially since I have family who are very ill. Mom at 91 is battling the end stage of COPD and my sister Joy who cares for her tells me she is gradually losing touch with reality. My niece, Betsy, fights stage 4 breast cancer. She remains valiant, forever the young, vibrant woman I met at her sister’s wedding more than two decades ago.

COVID-19 has made their lives and those who care for them even more difficult. Does it have to be this way?

Posted in The Week in Black and White.