I live in a rural area. I wear masks. I thought I was being careful. I still got COVID.

By Kathryn Jones

It began week before last with a sneeze. Post-nasal drip irritating the back of my throat. Allergies, I told myself. The mountain cedar is blooming. A cold front blew in. A lot of pollen is swirling in the air.

The next day my sinuses hurt. I had a dull headache. I felt a bit warm and took my temperature – 99.2. Mild sinus infection, I told myself.

Then I lost my senses of smell and taste. It wasn’t gradual. They were just gone.

That concerned me because I’d read several articles where COVID patients talked about not being able to smell or taste anything. Still, that wasn’t unusual. Sometimes when I get a seasonal sinus infection, I get so congested that I can’t taste. But not for two days, which turned to three, then four.

A friend and I had lunch in mid-October and ate outside at a restaurant on Lake Granbury. A week later, she was sick with COVID. Could we have gotten it there? We’ll never really know for sure.

Still, I rationalized that it was unlikely I had it. My husband, Dan, and I live on a remote piece of property in Bosque County. We’re a mile-and-a-half off the highway, down a twisting, hilly gravel road. His parents, who are in their late 80s, live just down the road. The number of cases in our area is relatively low – a little over 200 Bosque County residents tested positive as of Oct. 30.

Last Thursday, I decided to get tested. I didn’t want to put my husband or my in-laws at risk. I went to the closest town with a medical center, Glen Rose, in adjacent Somervell County. As of Oct. 30, the county has reported 250 total coronavirus cases. Glen Rose Medical Center has set up a “sick clinic” where the testing takes place.

After making an appointment, I arrived, parked in the lot, and called to alert a nurse I was there. She opened the door and motioned me inside. All the medical workers were clothed in head-to-toe protective gear.

She asked questions about my symptoms and took my vitals. I didn’t have any fever. The nurse suggested I stand against the wall for the swab test. “Whatever you do, don’t grab my arm,” she said.

She was quick, inserting the rigid swab far up each nostril into what felt like my brain. My toes curled inside my boots. It was very uncomfortable, but fast.

Afterward, she gave me a tissue in case my nose bled, which it did. “If you’re positive, we’ll call you today,” she said.

Later that afternoon, my cell phone rang. It was the nurse.

“You tested positive,” she said.

I don’t know why, but I was shocked.

Because I had mild symptoms, the clinic didn’t prescribe any medications and suggested I keep taking the over-the-counter sinus and headache meds I’d been using.

“Call us if you have any breathing problems,” the nurse said.

It’s Day Six. I’m still congested and have a weird metallic taste in my mouth and tingling around my lips. I still cannot smell or taste anything, not even Texas barbecue. I have no desire to eat, although I’ve been making myself for strength and nourishment. I’ve lost six pounds in one week. So far, though, I can breathe just fine.

What concerns me, however, is when I drive to nearby towns and see many residents behaving as if COVID doesn’t exist. People were standing in groups close together in front of a church getting ready for its annual fall festival. No one was wearing masks. Some businesses that post signs on their doors stating that masks are required don’t enforce the rule; even employees often don’t wear masks.

Meanwhile, COVID cases in the United States are approaching 100,000 a day as I write this. New coronavirus infections hit a record high in rural counties from Oct. 18 through 24, the fifth week in a row, reported The Daily Yonder, which has been tracking rural coronavirus outbreaks week by week.

In releasing the latest statistics about cases, Glen Rose Medical Center encouraged residents to take precautions.

“Isolated cases of COVID appeared to be the result of incidental contact amongst people in our community,” the medical center reported on Oct. 30. “This type of spread will be exceedingly difficult to control if we cannot get people to be compliant with wearing masks when they are in contact with other people.”

The center repeated its previous advice that wearing a mask can prevent people from spreading the virus unknowingly.

“It is very common that people are contagious for anywhere from one to three days prior to becoming “sick,” the post read. “It is during that time that mask wearing can help protect other people in our community.”

This line in the release should have been boldfaced: “There is significant evidence that mask wearing in our community is near, or at, the lowest level that it is been since the beginning of this pandemic.” Wow.

Whether it’s COVID fatigue or denial, many people are letting their guard down. I let mine down by having lunch with a friend because I thought it was “safe” to eat outside.

With cold weather on the way and more people confined to the indoors, COVID cases likely will continue increasing, experts warn. But I hear so many people dismissing those warnings. Conspiracy theories abound on the Internet.

They may not listen to me, either. But I’m also the face of COVID. I thought I was at low risk because of where I lived. I wore masks. I sanitized my hands and even wore gloves sometimes. I washed my hands for 20 seconds after taking off my gloves. I avoided crowds. I shopped online and got curbside grocery service. I still got COVID.

Thankfully, right now it looks like a mild case, but I don’t know what the future will hold. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried.

Assume others, even friends and family members, have the virus. Don’t be afraid to hurt their feelings and not hug. Explain you want to protect them. Wear a mask. Keep your distance. Don’t let down your guard, even if you think you live in a relatively “safe” area.

I’m posting a daily coronavirus journal on my Facebook page. I hope sharing my daily experiences will keep people informed and, hopefully, prevent someone else from contracting the disease. If I can get it, anyone can.

Kathryn Jones is a longtime journalist, former editor of the Glen Rose Reporter and co-director of the Texas Center for Community Journalism.