Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Jan. 20, 2021

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In Our View: Woman’s story brings home reality of COVID-19

The Columbian

About 10 months after COVID-19 upended American life, doubters persist. Many people decline to wear masks in public, questioning the impact of the disease or even calling it a hoax.

We hope those people will read the story of Ashley Dumont. The 21-year-old Vancouver woman contracted coronavirus in mid-June, and she still is feeling its effects. Previously healthy and active, she detailed in a first-person account for The Columbian how the infection has lingered and has made simple tasks difficult.

“When I’m too active or mentally overwhelmed, I breathe heavily, unable to catch my breath. A tingling sensation spreads across my face, down to my toes and muscles. It runs throughout my whole body. My hands contract, then my mouth, then my legs, then my tongue. It’s scary. I don’t know what to do to stop it. … After I have a breathing episode, I need assistance just to walk around the house. I can’t hold long conversations. Sometimes it feels like a 20-pound weight is resting on my chest. I have sharp pains in my body.

“Brain fog frequently wipes away my short-term memory. My speech slows down. I can’t focus. The classes I’ve been looking forward to in school become much more difficult.”

This is just one person’s story, but it is being repeated throughout Clark County and throughout the country. By the middle of last week, more than 13,000 local COVID cases had been confirmed, including 1,000 that were active; 150 deaths had been attributed, in part, to the disease.

Nationally, 20 million cases and 350,000 deaths had been counted.

It is embarrassing that, this long into the pandemic, we still must emphasize the reality of the situation. Far too many Americans have ignored the warnings of health care experts and responsible elected officials, instead choosing to believe conspiracy theories found on the internet.

Granted, the deniers are few; most people have acted responsibly in trying to stem the tide of the disease. But it doesn’t take many irresponsible people to help the virus tighten its grip on public health. One infected person can spread COVID to countless others, often without showing symptoms themselves.

Getting to a place where businesses and schools can fully reopen requires more than widespread inoculations; it requires everybody to wear masks, practice social distancing and frequently wash their hands.

Most troubling is that once the virus is under control, we have little understanding of its lingering impact. Because the disease was previously unknown, researchers are still determining the long-term health effects and the susceptibility of those previously infected.

Dumont’s story provides a cautionary tale.

“Now I’m constantly physically and mentally exhausted,” she writes. “I’m suffering. On good days, I can walk to the mailbox, grab the mail and walk back inside without having difficulty breathing or chest pain. That’s just a best-case scenario. I still don’t know when things will improve. I still don’t know when I’ll feel like myself again. I have no control over my body.”

That is the story of a healthy young adult; coronavirus has been shown to typically have greater health impacts for people who are older or have preexisting medical conditions.

The stories of 13,000 people in Clark County and 20 million nationally who have contracted COVID-19 are varied; everybody has their own experience with disease, some more serious than others. But the tale of Ashley Dumont is worth reading.