James Strecker and his wife, Jessica, planned a socially-distanced, mask-required baby shower for early December at Pier 39. But when the state listed Clatsop County as high risk for the coronavirus and limited indoor gatherings, the Astoria couple canceled the event.
Instead, they invited people they already saw on a regular basis and trusted were safe — their parents and a couple of other close relatives who live nearby. Everyone else who wanted to join was directed to Zoom.
The baby shower lasted a couple of hours in a small space. Since the people attending were in the same social bubble, masks were not worn.
Strecker started feeling sick a couple of days later. His mother, who had also come by the house the day after the baby shower, and his wife and father started showing symptoms of the virus within a week of the shower.
All four tested positive, and Strecker’s father was hospitalized for several days.
Although Strecker doesn’t know for sure if the gathering is where he and his wife contracted the virus, it is on the top of the list of possibilities.
“It’s unknown whether or not anyone at the shower was carrying the virus and/or asymptomatically already sick, but once Jessica and I were showing symptoms ourselves, we contacted everyone else who had attended the shower to double-check how they were feeling, and absolutely nobody else wound up sick,” Strecker said in an email. “Maybe we got it off the surface of one of the presents, maybe from the food, maybe from a guest.
“I am just glad no one else at the shower wound up sick, besides my parents who seemed to have caught it through being around me afterward.”
Strecker said the illness began like a common cold — a cough and stuffy nose, but then progressed into a fever, chills, loss of appetite and occasional mild muscle pains.
He said he and his wife’s temperatures rose — bit by bit — and they began feeling weak and fatigued.
“That’s about where Jessica’s symptoms stopped, but I progressed to vomiting every evening, inability to breathe in past about 50% of my normal lung capacity and often feeling ‘dead’ enough by around 8 p.m. that I would just slunk off to bed,” Strecker said. “The worst part of it all was the feeling of complete helplessness.
“I run a YouTube channel producing weekly videos, and work on other film and art projects in the time between, often for local clients or friends/family, none of which I was able to work on during the roughly 1.5-2 weeks that we were jointly sick.”
Strecker’s mother had a mild version of the illness and recovered. His father’s symptoms were more severe, though, and sent him to Columbia Memorial Hospital, where he stayed for several days before being released with an oxygen tank.
Before getting sick, Strecker said he took the virus seriously. He said he and his wife followed all the suggested guidelines and refrained from visiting anyone other than his parents, who also spent most of the time at home.
“However, now, we feel pretty strongly that even that is not enough,” Strecker said. “Over the 10 months or so that the country/world has been in lockdown from this thing, we’ve gotten a bit lazier as time passes. Perhaps this day I didn’t distance myself from other shoppers at the grocery store well enough. Perhaps this day I shirked sanitizing my hands after leaving the barber shop. Perhaps this day I decided, ‘Hey, I know this person, certainly they couldn’t be carrying the virus.’
“Now, we are essentially locking everything down — anyone who comes into our house has got to be wearing a mask, no matter who they are. Christmas plans went out the window. We’re currently feeling well enough to basically sanitize and clean every surface in our house after we’ve been sitting around coughing and breathing COVID on everything for a couple weeks.”
He said he plans on trying not to leave his home as much as possible until the vaccine is more widespead.
“Luckily, our family has been very understanding and cooperative with our new ‘guidelines for visiting James and Jessica,’ which is very relieving, considering I figure there may be people out there struggling to convince specific family members of the actual severity of the virus,” Strecker said.
He said he is tired of seeing people on social media dismissing the severity of the virus and spreading misinformation about precautionary measures.
He does not want people to wait until they or a loved one gets sick to do their part.
“This is something I would not wish upon anyone,” Strecker said. “You may look at my symptoms and be like, ‘Eh, I can handle that.’ But they were the worst versions of any of them that I’ve ever dealt with, and as evidenced by how my dad’s body took it, everyone will experience this differently.
“For all I know, I got off easy.”