Lindsay Hartmann is an active 38-year-old who lives with her Marine husband and two toddler sons. So when she started having chest pains on March 18, she knew something was off.
She called her primary care doctor the next morning and was quickly pre-screened and told to go to UC San Diego Health’s urgent care in La Jolla. Within 90 minutes of her initial call, she was being throat swabbed by a nurse wearing full protective gear.
Why this matters
Testing for COVID-19 helps officials track the speed and direction the virus is spreading so they can properly manage supplies and resources. Test shortages have led to confusion and increased public health risks.
Almost exactly 72 hours later, Hartmann had her results. She had tested positive for COVID-19.
“And then I was really upset. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I do have it,’” she said. “I was worried for my family. I was worried for my mom.”
Hartmann and her family live in military housing in Linda Vista. Her 69-year-old mother, Cidney Wilson, was visiting from Indiana when Hartmann tested positive. Now, Wilson can’t leave.
The family of five isolated themselves at home. Initially, only Hartmann was tested. When her husband showed coronavirus symptoms and wasn’t getting better, he was then tested and it came back positive.
Her mother hasn’t been tested though she has had coronavirus symptoms – fever, coughing and lightheadedness.
That’s not surprising. Test shortages have led San Diego County health officials to not test everyone who shows symptoms. Those living with someone who tested positive are generally assumed to have the virus if they have similar symptoms – though they’re not included in the county’s official case count.
“I think what’s concerning more than anything is that I think the public doesn’t really understand how deep and wide this problem really is because of the lack of testing,” Hartmann said.
She is among the 966 confirmed cases in the county as of Thursday, nearly triple from this time last week. The case numbers have risen rapidly – the virus has caused 181 hospitalizations and 16 deaths in the region.
County officials have acknowledged that the confirmed cases are an underestimate of how many people in the region have the virus.
“This is the tip of the iceberg,” Dr. Eric McDonald, the county’s medical director of epidemiology and immunization services, said at a news conference last week in response to a question from inewsource. “Do I think that what’s below the waterline is only two or three times? No, I think (the number of cases is) a lot larger than that. I’ve made just a guesstimate of about 10 times as many, but we really don’t know, frankly.”
McDonald said he expects the availability of testing to improve soon. That may give health officials a better sense of the scope of the crisis. He said 80% of individuals with the virus are likely to recover at home with no medical treatment and don’t need to be tested.
Life in isolation
When Hartmann tested positive, the county ordered the family to follow isolation rules. That meant staying home. Food and supplies had to be delivered without coming into contact with anyone else.
“Everyone who comes to the house to bring something, we have to wave through the window. And that is definitely hard,” Hartmann said.
Friends and family dropped off groceries, homemade meals, Gatorade and other items – all while maintaining a safe distance.
In the early days of the illness, Hartmann, her mom and her husband were all sick and had to juggle taking care of the boys, ages 2 and 3, while suffering through fevers, coughing, sore throats, body aches, dizziness and extreme fatigue. Now, Hartmann and her mom have recovered, but as of Thursday her husband remained in isolation.
Hartmann said when the coronavirus hit her, it felt like someone was sitting on her chest.
“I woke up coughing incessantly, had tightness in my chest and felt like I couldn’t take a deep breath,” she posted on Facebook, where she chronicled her illness with live video diary updates for her friends and family. Hartmann’s husband chose not to be interviewed for this story or participate in his wife’s social media posts.
She said some days were so hard that no one in the family got out of their pajamas. Between caring for themselves and the two children, the adults also watched the news, which wasn’t always easy. She said hearing President Donald Trump announce his hopes that the country would be reopened by Easter was infuriating.
“I am not a medical professional. I don’t have any authority,” she said. “But a statement like that on the national news in front of millions of people is just irresponsible.”
Trump has since extended social distancing guidelines through April 30.
UCSD’s COVID-19 response team called Hartmann daily to check on her symptoms. She got the final call on Thursday, when she was told she had officially recovered and no longer needed to be in touch. Her husband still gets a daily call from his doctor. Her mother, who was not tested, saw an urgent care doctor and has not received follow-up calls.
The couple’s sons, Paul and Abel, haven’t shown any coronavirus symptoms, and Hartmann has gotten mixed input from her doctor and the county on how at risk they might be.
Testing in San Diego County
County officials recommend limiting COVID-19 testing mostly to people with a fever and a cough who meet one of these parameters:
- Have a lower respiratory illness and no other potential cause, especially if they are hospitalized.
- People living in a senior living facility, including nursing facilities or assisted living facilities.
- People who are elderly.
- People who live in large group settings, such as homeless shelters.
- Healthcare workers, first responders and other emergency workers.
During the family’s isolation, their youngest son, Paul, had his second birthday. The family had cupcakes and presents: new tennis shoes from his grandpa and a new “blankie” from Wilson, his visiting grandma.
In one Facebook update from her home’s porch, Hartmann talked about how challenging it was to take care of the kids: “We are exhausted. We are really having a hard time keeping up with (the boys) today, and that breaks my heart to admit.”
Picking up one of her sons made it hard for her to catch her breath, she said.
In that same video, she talked about being frustrated that she hadn’t been able to get the paperwork from her healthcare provider that showed her COVID-19 results. Friends and family needed the paperwork to prove they’d been in contact with someone who tested positive, she said.
“Nobody can seem to materialize it,” Hartmann said. “It’s been one of my frustrations over the last couple days of being on the phone, being on hold for 20 and 30 minutes. … Every time I make a call, they’re just inundated.”
More challenges have followed. Hartmann, who was off work on paid sick leave, found out Wednesday that she was laid off from her fundraising job at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. She’d recently given notice that her family would be moving at the end of June – her husband is being sent to Pensacola, Fla. Facing ticket sale losses, the organization decided to move up her end date.
“Thank goodness my husband is in the military and he has job security, and thank goodness we’re living in military housing, too,” Hartmann told inewsource on Thursday. She plans to file for unemployment.
“I think the hardest thing for a lot of people is having a mortgage or a house payment based on two incomes,” she said. “We are not in that situation, and what a blessing that is right now for our family.”
Hartmann doesn’t know how she got the coronavirus. Her mother had flown on a plane from Indiana to visit, but no one in the family is aware of being in direct contact with anyone outside the home who had the virus.
The county health department told Hartmann it’s unknown whether her family can get the coronavirus again. She said they were told to continue with social distancing and other preventative measures.
Hartmann still doesn’t know when her mother will be able to return home. Even though she’s feeling better, the health department has advised her to hold off on flying. The visit has become “much longer and more stressful” than any of them could “have ever imagined,” Hartmann said.
By sharing her family’s story, she said she hopes people will take COVID-19 seriously.
“I have been sicker than I’ve ever been in my life, and I’ve had the flu, and I’ve had other illnesses, but nothing like this,” Hartmann said. “I just hope that more people stay home and avoid getting sick.”
Correction: April 5, 2020
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the U.S. Defense Department directed Lindsay Hartmann to stop sharing details of her husband’s condition. In fact, it was a personal decision that he did not participate. Hartmann said she misunderstood the reason.