Against all odds, an asymptomatic account of the coronavirus

Maggie, Baron, Tiletha, and Ali Grace Shelton enjoying the fall weather, and thankful that Ali Grace came through a bout with one of the worst viruses to be seen in the US in over a hundred years. Many have not had that outcome.

Asymptomatic simply means there are no symptoms. You are considered asymptomatic if you: have recovered from an illness or condition and no longer have symptoms; have an illness or condition (such as early stage high blood pressure or glaucoma) but do not have symptoms of it.

According to Healthline, current data shows that:

•Researchers found an estimated 20 percent of people with an infection with the new coronavirus remain symptom-free.

•Even people who are truly asymptomatic are able to spread the virus. 

•Experts say it’s critical to continue practicing good hygiene, physical distancing, and mask-wearing to reduce the spread of the virus.

Even people who don’t show symptoms of COVID-19 should be tested if they’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, according to guidanceTrusted Source issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last Friday.

The guidance comes as new research finds that up to one in five coronavirus infections present with no symptoms, but are still contagious. 

According to the CDC, you should be tested for the virus if you believe you’ve “been in close contact, such as within six feet of a person with documented SARS-CoV-2 infection for at least 15 minutes and do not have symptoms.”

As the United States continues to set records of the COVID-19 virus many people who have not been affected by this insidious, multi-mutational, far reaching disease, fail to understand how it is spread. Sometimes without any indication to its host, to many of our friends and neighbors.

For Ali Grace Shelton, a 2016 graduate of LCHS, it was a normal day on the campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. She had recently finished with her clinicals and was preparing for her last semester before graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing. 

As per the new rules for testing for the COVID-19 virus, all students had to be tested one time before the fall semester began. “I have to complete health checks every three days per the universities protocol,” she explained.

According to the University’s website, there are approximately 38,563 students enrolled at the University of Alabama, some of whom are taking online classes and don’t have to be physically on campus. Wearing a mask is also a requirement for admittance to the UA campus. Students who pass the health exam are given a green day pass. 

This was in July and campus wasn’t crowded that time of year, but still, testing was mandated for both students and faculty. It requires a two-day waiting period which Ali was accustomed to, but this time Ali Grace’s test came back positive.

“To be honest with you ,I wouldn’t have even gotten tested if it wasn’t a requirement for getting to class,” Ali Grace admitted. “I didn’t have any of the symptoms associated with the COVID-19 virus.”

It is hard to believe you are sick when you exhibit none of the symptoms of this virus. It mutates frequently, making it hard to pin down exactly which symptoms a person with the virus might recognize. Some people have mild symptoms, some have severe symptoms, some even have deadly symptoms and others, like Ali Grace, have none.

Some of the more common symptoms include loss of taste and/or smell, nausea, body aches, fever, in some cases it might attack the digestive system, but it is more common for this virus to attack the respiratory system.  

It also attacks people over the age of 60, especially if they already have underlying conditions, like heart problems, diabetes or lung issues, like asthma or COPD. 

Because Ali Grace comes into contact with patients during her student teaching hours at Brookwood Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham, she was especially diligent in following the protocol for people who test positive. Immediately she packed a bag and headed for her family’s home on Smith Lake, knowing that she would be alone there but with neighbors close by and family not far away. She was very conscious of the fact that three of her four grandparents are in the high risk category, one set of grandparents because of their age, and another grandmother with both heart problems and diabetes. She knew that she must protect them at all costs, and that it was a blessing that she had tested before coming in contact with them. Having had no symptoms, it was a miracle that she hadn’t headed home and possibly spread the virus to her vulnerable family members.  It is entirely possible that one or more of them might have become seriously ill had Ali Grace failed to follow the instructions about self-quarantining for the next 10 days. 

“An asymptomatic person can easily spread the virus through droplets from the mouth for a distance of up to six feet,” explained the young nursing student who has already done several stints on the COVID ward. “Wearing a mask helps to prevent the spread, but I wasn’t taking any chances with anyone else’s health.” 

She threw her bags into the car, loaded up her dog and headed to the lake, not sure at the time if she would continued to be asymptomatic or if she would get sick in a few days. She just knew that she needed to get away from people who might be susceptible. 

Ali Grace is a Type 1 diabetic, so her family was also concerned about her welfare, just as she was concerned about theirs. Her years of dealing with the disease and her knowledge of nursing gave her the confidence to know how to check herself periodically and what to do if her sugar should suddenly drop or spike. 

Because she never did exhibit any symptoms or feel bad at all, the 10 days were almost like a vacation. She enjoyed the break from classes, most of which she had completed by then, and it was warm and quiet at the lake, so she made the best of her self-quarantine. 

She still isn’t sure how she contracted the virus. She is very diligent about wearing protective gear while in the hospital, especially on the COVID-19 ward, where she is required to wear full protective hazmat gear. 

In other units in the hospital, she wears a cloth mask, a gown, a face shield, gloves and shoe covers. She removes all of the protective gear outside her door, goes inside and takes off her regular clothing and puts everything directly into the washing machine. She uses Lysol laundry sanitizer in the rinse cycle to further protect herself from any vestiges of lingering germs. 

She sees many seriously ill people in the course of her work day. She might see patients on ventilators or look closely at the cloudy x-rays on their charts and she knows what this indicates. It is part of her job to monitor the machines as they breathe for the patients, always hoping for them to begin breathing on their own, a good sign for a COVID patient. 

She has finished most of her classes, both in person and online, and her clinicals have been completed. Ali Grace has done 180 hours in adult health classes and has compiled over a thousand hours to complete her course work. 

She has always had a heart for working with people, but she credits her desire to become a nurse to her having spent a lot of time in hospitals when she was first diagnosed with diabetes as a child. 

She is eager to begin her new life after graduating, and has already accepted a position in the Huntsville Hospital Surgical Trauma ICU.  She graduates with a GPA of 3.8 and has served as a UA Nursing School Ambassador, and is the secretary of the Alabama Association of Nursing Students, as well as belonging to the Capstone Association of Nursing Students.   

Ali Grace also belongs to the Capstone College of Nursing Serve student outreach group, whose mission is to serve the community in many different ways.

 She planned her schedule and met all of her goals, including the job she wished for, but the one thing that she never prepared for was to be entering the workforce during the worst pandemic the world has seen in over a hundred years. 

“The coronavirus has impacted me personally by changing the way that I live my everyday life,” says Ali Grace. “Having actually had the coronavirus and recovering fully without any complications makes me extremely thankful.”

“I know that it could have been a lot worse, and that I was able to get over it without getting very sick. It has also impacted how I thought I would be spending my last year of college. I didn’t expect to have to distance myself and do the majority of my schoolwork online during my last two semesters.”

Even after her scare with COVID, she is undaunted in pursuing her passion and life’s work. For some this is just a job, but for many, like Ali Grace, it is a calling. 

She plans to reside in Moulton and commute to Huntsville in the spring. 

As for her bout with COVID this past summer, it has taught her to be even more diligent than ever in washing her hands, using hand sanitizer, wearing a mask and keeping a good social distance. She advises others to be just as cautious as she is. “I know it’s getting frustrating being at home so much,” she said, “But even covid fatigue is something you can overcome for the right reasons.” 

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