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OPINION – What happened when the COVID reporter caught the virus?

Over the course of the last year, I more or less fell into the position of The Herald’s COVID-19 correspondent. I remember distinctly sitting at my desk in the office on North Street last March as the world began seemingly to fall apart. In only a few short days COVID-19 became the biggest news item of the decade. At times, the stress of having to write about the arrival of the virus in Farmville had me holding back tears. Other times, I laughed as my dad called me on the phone to brag that he’d managed to snag the last pack of the family’s favorite toilet paper from the barren grocery store shelves.

Since that time, the coronavirus has impacted all of our lives to a certain degree, but my life became completely consumed by it. Every week I studied the data closely, updating the community as cases rose and fell. I was constantly interviewing experts, keeping track of hospitalization rates, school closures, you name it.

Being a reporter has its perks, but it also means there was no escaping COVID for me. Others could turn the TV off, could block out the noise, but I covered COVID news all day and then would have to clock out and answer questions from scared family and friends. What have you heard about the vaccine? What are the health officials saying? What are my chances of dying?

I interviewed the first person to get COVID in Farmville and listened as he explained to me the virus’ attack on his body weakened him so much that he had to be carried into the hospital. I’ve interviewed countless people whose loved ones have been killed by this horrible infection. I’ve watched businesses shutter, hospitals approach their breaking point. I’ve laid in bed for far too many nights wondering what the next day had in store and when the future would look brighter.

I jumped for joy when the FDA began emergency use authorization for the first COVID-19 vaccine. For months, I waited patiently, anticipating my turn. I’ve talked the ears off of plenty of people about how excited I was to finally get vaccinated.

In very early April, the Piedmont Health District opened up vaccine registration for Phase 1c personnel, including members of the media.

On Friday, April 9, I woke up sick.

My head was in a fog, I felt nauseous, and a headache was pounding at my skull. My boyfriend, Andrew, wasn’t feeling great that Monday, but a few days rest had him fully recovered. I hoped it was just a cold which Andrew had passed on to me. I was wrong.

By Saturday morning, my symptoms worsened. I developed chills, a bad cough and a body ache I never imagined could be so painful. My appetite was gone and my body felt so weak that I couldn’t get out of bed. On Sunday morning I woke up with an intense fever and overwhelming muscle aches. It was time to go get tested.

It took a day and some change to get our PCR tests back. Andrew and I were both positive for COVID-19.

Thankfully, my boyfriend’s stint with COVID was more or less over before it started. He already felt fine by the weekend besides some mild congestion. For me, unfortunately, the time was much tougher.

I spent days in bed sick as a dog. I woke up several mornings with body aches so horrible I couldn’t stand it. I coughed my brains out. Above all else, I worried about my family whom I’d just been with for Easter Sunday the week prior.

I was so thankful to learn that none of my family members had contracted COVID. It was a huge relief, although a part of me still worried about myself. I’d seen this thing wreak havoc on the world and our Town of Farmville. I’d seen it kill. The worst part is, I always felt it was inevitable that I would get hit. I’ve always been big on social distancing, mask wearing. But I also know that life is full of irony, sometimes cruel irony, and I just knew it was only a matter of time before it was my turn.

Yes, life is full of cruel irony, including a text message that popped up on my phone Thursday, April 15, offering me a time slot for my COVID shot.

Although I was able to return to working from home Wednesday, April 14, it’s taken me until Friday, April 22, to fully recover. While COVID was leaving my body it left strange, day-long symptoms like a loss of taste, brain fog and even hives. I only now have enough strength to open a water bottle.

I knew I needed to tell readers about my story, but I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to say about all this. Yes, I got COVID, so what? Lots of people have.

But I do want people to know one thing. Yes, I made it through COVID-19, and obviously the virus is different for different people. But I’m a young, relatively healthy person. I have a normal BMI, I exercise regularly, and I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life.

You have loved ones in your life that may not be as lucky as I was. Heck, you might not be as lucky as I was. This virus has decimated people. It’s torn families apart. I’ve spent the entire year documenting its rampage throughout our community.

Please, consider getting your COVID-19 vaccine. Freedom is almost upon us. Do your part to stop this monster in its tracks and get us back to normal.

I don’t want you to be another statistic I have to write about. I don’t want you to be another number, the kind that used to keep me up at night. I want you to step up and join the battle to end this. I know you can do it.

(Alexa Massey is a staff reporter for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia LLC. Her email address is Alexa.Massey@FarmvilleHerald.com.)