Man who has 'recovered' from COVID-19 explains how its impact goes far beyond death tolls

When we talk about the coronavirus pandemic, we often talk about numbers. How many cases. How many deaths. How many recoveries.

But the true impact of the virus goes far beyond those statistics. We've seen this in harrowing stories from medical workers on the front line and from people who have made it out of hospitalization.

While there's so much we still don't know about COVID-19, as more people recover we get more stories of what the disease can do. We know that it can infect people with no symptoms. We know that it can kill. What we see less often is what it can do to those who get sick but don't die.


Barry Mangione is a pediatric physical therapist who contracted the virus just over a month ago. As a healthy 50-year-old with no underlying health conditions, one might assume he'd weather the illness without too much trouble. But as he described in a Facebook post, this isn't a "get it and get over it" kind of disease for many people who have officially recovered.

Mangione wrote:

COVID19 is a continuum.

I want to hopefully shed some light amid the confusion. There is a continuum of COVID19 in between 'you die' and 'you get over it and return to normal.' Today is day 31 for me. I tested negative on day 27. Yesterday out of nowhere, I was hit with crippling fatigue and chills. My cough is almost gone, and I've been fever-free for two weeks, but when it comes to COVID19, testing negative doesn't mean it's over. For all who talk about wanting it to spread among the healthy to encourage 'herd immunity,' let me ask you: if you get sick with COVID19, how do you know how sick you'll get? I'm a healthy 50 year old with no underlying medical conditions. Those of you who know me know that I am passionately devoted to developing and maintaining mental, physical, and spiritual health.

I'm a pediatric physical therapist. I work in homecare with infants and toddlers. Prior to COVID19, I would travel to people's homes and work with up to ten children a day for 30 minutes each. Prior to COVID19, I struggled with insomnia, but I could still get up after a nearly sleepless night and rock my day job. Now, I can get a full night's sleep and be wiped out after doing a couple of telehealth sessions with kids via Zoom. Let me repeat that. I used to travel to different homes, play with up to ten kids a day, and now some days I'm exhausted after sitting at a desk and talking to parents via a screen.

I talk to other COVID19 survivors who still experience symptoms after 30, even 40 days, symptoms like kidney pain, fevers, coughing, fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, circulation problems, loss of smell, loss of taste, body aches, rashes, back pain...

This is not an all-or-nothing virus. It's not 'you die' or 'you don't die.' When we see the numbers of people who've 'recovered from COVID19' posted to illustrate how it's not that bad, those numbers don't take the lingering health issues and symptoms into account.

Please think about this when you question social distancing. Please think about this when you question wearing a mask in public. Ask yourself, 'Can I be sick for over a month or more? Can I deal with the uncertainty of when or if this sickness will go away if I get it?'

I'm not looking for sympathy or trying to scare anyone, and I don't want to diminish the memories of those who've died or the pain felt by their loved ones. I grieve for them all. What I hope I'm doing is giving you another tool in addition to gloves, masks, and social distancing to keep yourselves, your loved ones, and all of us safe and healthy: knowledge that this is real, knowledge that we don't know enough about it yet, and that the continuum of COVID19 is more complicated than dead versus 'recovered.'

Please stay safe, my friends.

Mangione's story is important not just for our understanding of what the virus can look like for those who have "recovered," but also for our understanding of what it might look like if we were to shoot for herd immunity. Despite the much higher death count that would result, it seems that more and more people are leaning toward trying to achieve herd immunity through letting 60% to 80% of the population get infected with the virus instead of waiting a year or more for a vaccine. Some are surprisingly willing to accept more deaths in exchange for saving the economy—but would it actually save the economy? Imagine a large portion of the population getting sick in the way Mangione describes. What would that do to the economy, when millions of people are too sick to work for a month or more? (Though some people will fly through infection without any symptoms, we don't have proof yet that asymptomatic cases will outnumber those who actually do fall ill.)

Until we have a reliable treatment or vaccine, we're going to have to get used to the idea of life not going back to normal. We're either locked down with fewer illnesses and deaths and a choked-off economy, or we're dealing with millions sick and dying and still end up in an economic crisis.

Because we don't yet know the full impact of the virus, and there's no way to predict how it will affect an individual or how many people they might infect if they get it, health experts are not recommending letting the virus run its course through society. It's not as simple as "Eh, I'm not old or immunocompromised, so I'm not worried." Getting sick and getting over it isn't how this is playing out for many people.

As we continue learning more, keep yourself and your community safe and well by continuing to practice social distancing and good hygiene even as things start to "open up." As frustrating as it is, we're not anywhere near out of the woods with this virus.

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Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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