Jake Garner has been spending the past year preparing for his master’s programs at Cal Poly.
The Santa Barbara High graduate, who received his bachelor’s degree last May from Sterling College in upstate Vermont, used the time to visit his extended family in England while also linking up with a friend to traverse across Western Europe.
Mr. Garner was in Rome in late February as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened. He and his friend were able to head to Barcelona in early March before extreme travel restrictions were in place. The 23-year-old who grew up in the San Roque area then took an individual trip to see friends in Paris, France, though as rumors swirled about significant travel restrictions from England to the U.S. he made the decision to return home.
“I got back before the Level 4 travel restrictions were placed on the rest of the world, so I avoided the mandatory 14-day quarantine of people coming back from Europe,” Mr. Garner told the News-Press.
Shortly after his return to the states, Mr. Garner began developing symptoms of the novel coronavirus and took the precautionary step to self quarantine as he sought further medical attention.
He was eventually tested at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and his fears were confirmed: he tested positive.
Mr. Garner is convinced he did not contract the virus while in Italy, explaining that the average onset of symptoms ranges between two and 14 days. He started feeling the symptoms some 16 days after leaving Italy. He suspects it’s possible that he contracted the virus in Paris, though didn’t rule out the possibility that he contracted COVID-19 here in the states, upon his return to LAX.
“LAX had just implemented a new screening procedure,” he explained. “There were a lot of people traveling from all over the world condensed into one hallway in Los Angeles International Airport for probably an hour.
“It’s a distinct possibility that I actually didn’t pick it up in Paris, but I actually picked it up during my transit to the states and very likely could have picked it up at LAX during this kind of increased screening procedure.”
Mr. Garner said he experienced a “mundane cold” throughout his trip to Western Europe. It was only when he returned home and was working for a local construction company and trying to exercise that he experienced shortness of breath and a dry cough.
He elected to confine himself to his home with his father, 58-year-old Iain Garner.
It was then that Mr. Garner sought testing, which he described as “muddy and difficult” to navigate.
“There was a lot of confusion as to who was going to be given tests and who was going to be organizing the testing for the public,” he said.
He has CenCal insurance and was unable to get tested through Sansum Clinic and his primary care physician did not have tests to allocate. He was referred to Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital and after several days of talking with hospital staff he was told to check in with the ER Department at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
He received a recommendation from his doctor and set off for the hospital. He recalled being asked to wear a protective mask as he approached nurses, who were outfitted in hazmat suits only without the traditional headpiece but surgical masks.
He was taken to a “military style tent” adjacent to the hospital with about six or eight chairs inside. Surgical screens separated cells of the tent, and Mr. Garner was sent to a cell and screened by a nurse who stood some six-feet away. He had his temperature and blood pressure taken and was then taken to an outside covered space and was screened by a doctor. The doctor asked him a series of questions about how he was feeling, his symptoms and his travel history. He was then deemed eligible for testing.
After signing an agreement to be treated, Mr Garner was then tested. The testing included a single swab inserted into his nose — “quite deeply, it’s a little uncomfortable, but nothing too bad,” he recalled — and the swab was sent to a testing facility. He was tested on a Friday afternoon and was told to expect the results in five to six days. He received a call two days later confirming his test results.
“Obviously I had been precautionary self-quarantined whilst awaiting the results and before I even got tested. I probably have to say I was like 50% sure I had it.” he said. “The shortness of breath and the dry cough were pretty distinct symptoms. But that being said, I was the first person I know to have gotten it, so they called, they told me and I was kind of taken aback.
“It’s a strange thing to kind of rationalize that… this kind of really mild symptoms that you’ve been having is actually this virus that has been on the news, that has been talked about and is causing such global discord. Suddenly that virus is in your body and it’s a strange thing to personalize or internalize and rationalize. This thing that was so theoretical and so distant is now within me. That was a strange existential process to navigate, but obviously I wasn’t too surprised, rationally, with the results.”
While Mr. Garner is concerned about his own well-being, he is also worried about the impact on his father. Though the elder Mr. Garner is very active and has been asymptomatic thus far, Mr. Garner realizes his father is facing increased risk.
“I’m trying not to harbor any guilt in the spread of the virus. I did everything I could at the second I was kind of showing symptoms,” he said. “I isolated and unfortunately, because we live together, it was almost unavoidable that he was going to contract this virus. I’m way, way more concerned about his health than my own. I’m not too concerned about myself at the moment.”
Mr. Garner’s father, his mother and her partner all attempted to get tested after his testing results came back. They didn’t meet the Public Health Departments “triage criteria” and were denied tests.
Mr. Garner is on the final portion of his self-quarantine, and explained that having his father around has helped him persevere. He has also been in touch with countless friends or former classmates on video chat and social media.
“That has been so important in just combating the loneliness of mandate quarantine,” he said. “I feel like I’ve talked to more friends all over the world more frequently in quarantine than I was living my normal life. There’s a big push to connect with a broader social circle now that we’re all isolated and needing support from one another. That has been a lovely silver lining — this ability to FaceTime and really engage socially in ways that society wouldn’t have been able to do 10 years ago if this were to have hit.”
Even after Mr. Garner stops showing signs of COVID-19, he is mandated to quarantine for 72 hours.
“I’m hoping for better health in the next couple of days and then after those three days of being asymptomatic, I will be assumed to have beaten the virus and be no longer infectious,” he said.
Questions remain regarding whether Mr. Garner will be able to return to work or whether he will be considered immune to the virus after his isolation is over.
Mr. Garner is itching to get back to his favorite hobby of birdwatching, while also looking forward to taking his dog out for a walk in the near future. As he looks forward to finding normalcy in his life, he also hopes that decisions made by state and federal authorities are well thought out moving forward.
“The intentions of the federal government trying to get the economy running up and going by Easter seems incredibly dangerous and incredibly premature to me,” he said. “I’m hoping for a rational response from our federal government, and if that means I’d have to go in and study remote, then sobeit.
“I think the more time and the more caution is used — both personally and federally — is going to be best,” he said.
Even after being confined to his home in recent days, Mr. Garner said that everyone — namely young people — should abide by the laws and health guidelines set in place.
“I’m young and I contracted this virus, and the majority of its spread is through asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic people that don’t even know they have it. I think it just takes responsibility and empathy on behalf of young people, in this country and across the world, in order to slow this spread,” he said. “I think one of the biggest problems we’re facing as a nation in battling this virus right now is laziness. The selfishness of a few individuals can mean life or death for hundreds, if not thousands.
“I think we have an obligation to our countries, to our communities and to our families to be responsible and to listen to those medical professionals that are telling us to stay home.”