For the patients who have contracted COVID-19, the symptoms can vary tremendously. Some people are asymptomatic, for others it’s like a bad cold. But those who become sick enough to go to the hospital typically experience fever, loss of taste and smell, shortness of breath and more.
Dr. William Kim practices internal medicine in the South Bay and is the Chief Medical Advisor for Beach Cities Health District (BCHD). He’s seen many COVID-19 patients since last March.
“One patient from Manhattan Beach is in his 80s, overweight and diabetic. One Thursday, he started to feel bad; on Friday, he felt so lousy he could hardly get home after a trip to the grocery store,” said Kim. “Luckily, his caregiver came to his home the next day – his temperature was 103.5 and he was very short of breath.”
The patient was taken to the emergency department at Torrance Memorial, where he was found to be COVID-positive and hypoxic (having lower than normal oxygen levels) with oxygen saturation in the 80s (high 90s is normal).
Treatments including high-flow oxygen and Remdesivir helped. “We were fortunate to enroll this patient in a clinical trial and he received an injection of convalescent antibodies Sunday,” said Kim. “This treatment made it possible for him to go home Thursday, just a week after his symptoms began.”
In August, Kim treated a healthy 52-year old woman who works at LAX and was exposed to COVID-19. She didn’t feel good, was tested and received a positive result. She isolated herself at home, and by the fourth day she began to feel better. “Then, around day seven, she began to get chills and flank pain and had a temperature of 101-plus. A scan found she had a renal infarction, a blood clot to the kidney from COVID-19,” said Kim. “We ran tests and made sure her kidney function wasn’t adversely affected. That’s how weird and varied these presentations are – now she’s doing really well.”
BCHD Board Member Vanessa Poster, along with her husband and father, contracted COVID-19 in November. Contact tracing established they were exposed to the virus by a caregiver who had worked at a house whose residents had attended a Halloween party. “We’d been careful, but we had a vulnerability,” said Poster. “People twice removed helped bring it into our house. Their behavior impacted a 93-year old man.”
Within a week, her father, David Poster, was showing symptoms.
“He never felt bad, he only had slight fevers, a cough, some nausea, but no real discomfort,” said Poster. “I was checking his oxygen levels every day and on day five, my father’s oxygen saturation level went below 90 and his doctor said bring him to the hospital. An x-ray showed he had COVID pneumonia.”
As her father entered the hospital, Poster’s husband, John Rubiner, began showing symptoms, 10 days after being exposed. Then Poster tested positive, 13 days after being exposed to the virus.
“I had the least severe episode of the three of us,” said Poster. “I never had a fever and my oxygen levels were always good. But I was also the only one in my house who lost my sense of smell, a week after I had tested positive. My husband’s experience included symptoms like chills, a fever, extreme fatigue, nausea and confusion, like a ‘brain fog.’”
All three members of Poster’s household have recovered from the virus. In her dad’s case, being proactive was key.
“What we’ve learned is, those individuals that are dying from the virus, many wait too long to come in to be seen,” said Dr. Kim. “They hunker down at home and think they’re doing ok – the witching hour for this virus are days 7 – 10; that’s when things can come unraveled. If a patient gets treatment early on, the results are amazing. But if you wait too long to be treated, it may not work.”
One thing Kim recommends for people who get COVID-19 is to get a pulse oximeter to monitor their oxygen saturation, just as Poster’s family did. If levels get below 94 consistently (98-100 is normal), then a consultation with a medical provider is needed.
New variants or mutations of the virus have been discovered around the world, with symptoms that are similar to the original virus.
“There’s no difference in the symptoms of the new COVID-19 variants. The current variants that are circulating still respond to our vaccines, even the South African variant, which is only 60% responsive to the vaccine, is responding,” said Kim. “It’s more transmissible, but it hasn’t been determined yet whether someone who gets that strain has an increased risk for illness or higher chance to go to the hospital, but we are closely monitoring it.”
While the patients listed above survived their bouts with COVID-19, death from the virus continues to be a real possibility. To date, more than 17,000 residents in Los Angeles County have died from COVID-19, including 41 people in the Beach Cities.
“The big deal right now is we’re right at the beginning of the end, don’t let up now,” said Kim. “Get the vaccine when it’s your turn. Keep your social circle tight, stay home as much as you can. Take a deep breath, we’re almost there, if we hang on a few more months, it’s gonna be a new world, a great world.”