Shelby town clerk shares about being sickened by coronavirus on trip to Florida

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 27 March 2020 at 8:30 pm

‘This has been very scary, but I’m doing the best I can. You could say I’ve been to hell and back.’

SHELBY – Darlene Rich and her husband Mike were looking forward to their Florida vacation, which included going to the drag races.

Instead, they spent eight days confined to their motel room after she became sick after arriving in Orlando. A trip to the emergency room confirmed their worse suspicions. She had contracted the coronavirus.

Photo by Ginny Kropf: Darlene Rich is recovering at home after contracting the coronavirus.

“People were talking about the virus before we left,” Darlene, the Shelby town clerk, said today by phone from her home, where she is currently recuperating. “We left March 10, a Tuesday, and flew to Orlando, planning to go to the drag races and spend a few extra days sightseeing. Things looked good on Thursday, and we had done a few things there, when we learned the races had been canceled.”

Later that day, Rich started coughing and couldn’t stop. She has asthma, and on Friday she was wheezing so bad it was hard to breathe. Mike went and bought a thermometer and she had a temperature of 101.5.

“I knew I had all the symptoms of the virus, and we called the ER,” Darlene said. “They did a chest X-ray and told me I had pneumonia. That scared the crap out of me.”

No testing for the virus can be done without approval from the Health Department, but it was 9 o’clock Friday night and they had gone home for the weekend.

“But the nurse said I had enough symptoms to do the test,” Darlene said. “Then they sent us back to our motel and ordered us to stay quarantined.”

They waited all weekend and all day Monday for the results, until Monday night when they got the call that her test was positive.

“All I wanted to do was sleep,” Darlene said. “Mike tried and tried to get me to eat or drink something, but I just wanted sleep.”

She had been given an antibiotic for the pneumonia and Tylenol for the pain and fever.

By Friday, Darlene was well enough that she wanted to go home. The Health Department had told them she couldn’t get on a plane, that they would have to drive. When they travel, she usually does most of the driving, but they rented a car and Mike drove the entire way home.

The trip home was an ordeal, as by then the truck stops had been ordered to close. Darlene was thankful she hadn’t had much to eat or drink, because there were no places to stop once they neared Pennsylvania and New York. The one stop that was open had Port-a-Potties, she said.

She said the Health Department in Florida gave them different guidelines than in New York.

Darlene was nervous she may have exposed some of her family members to the virus before the trip. She attended a birthday party at their daughter’s house the Sunday before they left for Florida. But the Health Department in Florida told Darlene she likely got it on the plane. She didn’t have any symptoms before the trip.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the incubation period for the novel coronavirus can appear 2 to 14 days after exposure. The symptoms generally include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

As a precaution, Darlene’s daughter and young granddaughter also were tested and the results came back negative.

After arriving back in Medina, the Riches contacted the Orleans County Health Department, who have been wonderful to her, Darlene said. A representative has been to the house and tested her again, and Darlene is praying Mike doesn’t get it. She is hopeful he won’t get the virus because today is the 14th day since she came down with it.

When she spoke on the phone today, Darlene said this has been one of her better days, but she is far from out of the woods, even though the Florida Health Department said she had more of a mild case.

“This has been very scary, but I’m doing the best I can.” Darlene said. “You could say I’ve been to hell and back. I know it’s going to be a long haul.”

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