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What It’s Like to Have a ‘Mild’ Case of COVID-19

  • COVID-19 symptoms can vary widely in different people, ranging from deadly pneumonia to a loss of smell, or even no symptoms.
  • Many people report mild symptoms initially before more severe fever and coughing.
  • While 80 percent of cases are estimated to be mild, they can still take a severe toll.

A majority of people with COVID-19 are expected to have relatively “mild” symptoms that resolve at home.

While the majority of COVID-19 cases are mild, even asymptomatic and mild infections can be a problem.

Before you even know you have an infection, odds are you’ve spread the virus to three other people — though, sometimes that number can be less or much higher.

If you spread it to someone 65 or older, estimates suggest there’s at least a 10 percent chance they’ll die.

Eight out of 10 COVID-related deaths in the United States have been among people ages 65 and up.

“I’ve gone to work sicker than that. I’m sure you have, too,” said Cassie Garret, whose wife, Celeste Morrison, recently recovered from COVID-19.

Her description of the virus is what makes it all the more deadly: Even before people develop serious symptoms, they can spread the disease during what’s called the pre-symptomatic period.

In this phase, people can transmit the virus a couple days before any symptoms appear.

“Even if people are feeling fairly well, they’re highly contagious, and that’s the real danger,” said Dr. Robert Murphy, a Northwestern University infectious disease specialist and global health expert.

And even for mild cases, COVID-19 can take a serious toll.

As the new coronavirus spreads more readily among younger adults, it’s clear people of all ages can develop a severe case of COVID-19. Some young people will need to be hospitalized, and in certain cases the disease can be fatal.

Some will have lung issues even after they recover from the disease — a condition doctors are calling “post-COVID fibrosis.” Eventually, they may need to undergo surgery or an organ transplant.

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Others will develop lasting heart damage. Evidence shows that COVID-19 not only injures the lungs but the cardiovascular system, too, and could cause chronic heart issues.

Morrison, a 37-year-old web developer who lives 60 miles north of Seattle, started to feel run down the evening of Monday, March 2.

First came the cough and extreme fatigue. Then her temperature rose to 99.7°F (37.6°C). Nothing too worrisome, so she decided to just work from home for a few days.

Garret recalls Morrison saying her lungs started to “feel weird” a few days later. “I told her that, per literally everything I was reading, she should only go to the doctor if it was really serious,” Garret told Healthline.

But later that week, Morrison’s lips, fingers, and toes were tinged blue. They headed to the local emergency room.

Morrison tested negative for the flu, but her X-rays pointed to pneumonia. A nurse said they’d run a COVID-19 test, the results of which would be available in 24 to 48 hours.

In the days that followed, Morrison’s fever bounced from 97.1°F to 102.8°F (36.2°C to 39.3°C).

She felt ill and had fatigue and a fever. Her symptoms worsened. She still hadn’t received her COVID-19 test results, so she visited a local clinic doing drive-thru COVID-19 testing on people with respiratory symptoms.

The clinic looked at Morrison’s medical records and found the ER never ordered the COVID-19 test. They swabbed her nose, and 2 days later the test results came back: She had COVID-19.

Morrison quarantined herself in the bedroom and slept through most days. The disease completely wiped her out, zapping away her energy for 12 days.

Garret knew her wife would be OK; she’s young and otherwise healthy. It was the rest of America she worried about.

“I am terrified of the way this is progressing in her, for the rest of the country,” Garret said. “Everyone goes to work when they feel gross and have a slightly elevated temperature.”

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Elizabeth Schneider, 37, went to a house party in late February. A few days later she woke up feeling a bit run down.

She went to work anyway, figuring she just needed to take it easy and go to bed early that night. Halfway through the day, though, she started feeling feverish and went home to nap.

She awoke to a 101°F (38.3°C) fever. By nighttime, her fever spiked to 103°F (39.4°C), and she was shivering uncontrollably.

“The fever was quite high, I was pretty surprised about that. Normally when you get a cold, maybe you get a 100-degree fever or something like that, but a 103-degree fever is pretty serious,” she said.

Schneider took some over-the-counter pain medications and went to bed early. The next day, her temperature was back down to 101°F (38.3°C).

She soon got word that a dozen other people from the house party also felt sick.

Many of them had gone to a hospital and tested negative for the flu. Frustrated they weren’t also tested for COVID-19, the group decided to do at-home nasal swab COVID-19 test kits through University of Washington’s Seattle Flu Study.

Seven people tested positive, including Schneider. But by the time they received the results a week later, mostly everyone had already recovered, and there was no longer a need to self-isolate.

“This whole time I thought I had just contracted the flu,” Schneider said. On a scale of 1 to 10, she rates the illness at 6.5.

She was most struck by how depleted she felt and how long the illness lasted, which for her was 11 days….

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