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Our Covid-19 experience: How an expat couple discovers they have the virus and overcome it

Editor’s note: This is the story of Jane and Steve Miner’s experience with Covid-19 in May/June 2020. Some of you will have already followed their journey as documented on Facebook. They were both fortunate to have had very mild cases and feel that, as more knowledge about this virus unfolds, it is important that we learn from each other.
Jane tells their Covid-19 story.

Like many of you, we thought we were taking all the necessary precautions. We never left the apartment without a mask and gloves, we disinfected our shoes, our shopping bags and anything that entered the apartment, including money, our used ATM cards, groceries, washed our clothes, etc. I did most of the shopping, just a short walk to Supermaxi Don Bosco, bought fresh items at the nearby pop-up mercaditos, and I had taken two long walks to the Remigio Crespo/stadium area to pay bills. That included lines at the Caja Coop and Produbanco.

This the timeline of what happened next.

Monday, April 27: I felt “off” and by 2 p.m. my body ached all over. After a feverish sleep all afternoon I ate a small dinner. By 7 p.m. my fever was 101.8. By 10 p.m. I awoke with no fever and feeling better, but 24-hours later (and still feeling fine), I began recognizing the tell-tale signs of a sinus infection. Because I really didn’t want to go to a doctor’s office, I waited a couple of days before texting my ENT, Dr. Roberto Vasquez.

Jane and Steve Miner

Friday, May 1: Feeling fine, Steve walks to the pharmacy to get my prescriptions. Though I can’t taste anything, five days later my sinus infection is much better and my taste is returning. By Monday, May 4, Steve cannot smell or taste anything. Given his occasional state of sinus congestion, this did not seem concerning.

Tuesday, May 5: Steve was exhausted and, except for small meals, slept for most of the next several days. He had no fever, no headache, no pain, or other virus symptoms whatsoever, other than his loss of taste and smell, which continued for several weeks.

On Saturday, May 9, I contacted Dr. Vasquez who highly recommended that we go to the Santa Ines laboratory to get tested. Now we were really getting concerned. After several attempts and due to the mobility lockdown in place, I was not able to secure a taxi or personal driver. I called 911 to ask for a policeman to drive us: all ambulances were busy, and the police are not taxis. They’d call back. I went out on the sidewalk and darned if there weren’t two policemen right there! The one called 911: they’ll call me back. By the time they called 2 1/2-hours later with an available ambulance (Steve didn’t need an ambulance; we just wanted a ride), we had decided to wait until Monday. After all, how would we get home? Steve was much too wiped out to walk home, which we normally would have done.

Monday, May 11: A taxi ride to Santa Ines and we were standing on our distancing “circle of life” outside the lab. A tech in full Tyvek and face shield came outside to take our information and list of symptoms. I explained that I had no symptoms other than one day of fever and body aches, then had a sinus infection and was by then all better and feeling great; I am thinking asymptomatic if anything.

Steve listed his symptoms and, a few minutes later, I was first in for the PCR nasal swab. Steve was next. While these tests are not always accurate, in order to get a true positive result, it must be necessary to swab behind your eyeballs, at least that’s how it felt. Bearable but far from pleasant. This cost $120/each. We were each given a card with a test number on it so we could check our results on-line 24 to 48-hrs later. Our results would also be sent to Dr. Vasquez.

The hospital ER is next to their laboratory, so we stopped there to have Steve’s oxygen level checked, which was fine. That was done by a nurse in the outside doorway. I then went to the pharmacy for some regular items, nothing was prescribed regarding the virus, then Steve waited while I went up to the tienda on Calle Larga to buy a few things.

How could I do that, you ask? Honestly, looking back, you’re absolutely right. We didn’t have our results yet. The thing is that I felt great and we truly didn’t think we’d test positive. After all, weren’t we supposed to be really sick? Of course, we had to take a taxi home, too. Though Steve was very weak before we left our apartment, by the time we finished at Santa Ines he was feeling much better and his exhaustion never returned. If I hadn’t contacted the doctor and if we had waited one more day, we likely never would have gone for the test. 

Twenty-four hours later, they called with our results: both positive. We were truly surprised. Dr. Vasquez explained that we had to quarantine for the next 15 days and that’s what we did.

We informed the head guard at our complex and our landlord, and they both informed the administrator who then contacted me. At his request, I was able to print our test results. He then posted signs stating that the residents in Apt #-X tested positive and were quarantined. I notified local friends and posted our situation on Facebook and the offers of help and moral support poured in. This made all the difference in our emotional states. Our administrator even took our cash and paid Movistar, deposited our rent, and collected our trash.

The next Friday we received our first call from a rep at the Ministerio de Salud (Ministry of Health), checking on our symptoms and asking if we needed any medicines. Fortunately, my Spanish is just good enough to get the gist of his inquires. He called every three days. I eventually started texting him in WhatsApp because Steve and I had questions regarding retesting. With Google Translate, communicating became a breeze. We took our nearby neighbors and friends, Jackie and Judith, up on their offer to deliver our groceries each week, after their housekeeper, Janina did the shopping for both of us. Another friend went to the ATM for us. We were required to inform the administrator when someone would be coming to make a delivery, otherwise the guards would not let them up.

Wednesday, May 27: Day 16 and, as instructed, we went to a Clinica de Salud (health clinic) in our precinct that also has a laboratory. (There is a clinic two blocks away but without a lab, where we occasionally get a free blood pressure check.)

Yes, we might still be positive but we were in another taxi. Our rep said to be there at 8, so we were surprised to see a line outside and, after showing them our rep’s text, we were assigned numbers 12 and 13 (and the only gringos), and the line continued around the corner and kept growing. The guy behind us said that most were there because they were required to get the test to return to work. After some time, a tech came and collected everyone’s name and cedula number. A pick-up truck delivered a 3’x3’ glass lab booth that was to be the PCR testing site in the parking lot. The testing didn’t start until about 9:10 and we left by 9:20. When you stepped up for your turn outside the booth, the nurse had a bucket of vials marked with everyone’s ID. After confirming your information, the nurse, with her hands extending out the ends of the plastic sleeves of the booth, opened a new set of swabs and proceeded to do a thorough job with the swab.

Wednesday, June 3: Remaining quarantined, I received my result: positive. Rats! I remained in contact with our rep, bugging him really, and sent him a couple of interesting articles about the virus and how long it may or may not last in the body.

Tuesday, June 9, after more aggressive prodding, we received Steve’s result: negative. Because by now I had been quarantined for 14-days after my second positive test I was also released from quarantine. Oh my goodness, what a relief to go beyond our windows and stand in the sunshine and fresh air! After 36 ½-years of marriage, we survived 58 days of lockdown and 30 days of quarantine without so much as a squabble!

So, after all that, people most want to know where and how we think we caught Covid-19. After our quarantine began, we learned that one of our guards had tested positive and was quarantined (he has not returned to work and we don’t know why). Perhaps a week prior to my day of fever, I had stopped to say hello to him out at the guard shack, as I often do, and he did not have his mask on while in the shack. Otherwise, it was possibly the lines at Caja, Produbanco, Supermaxi, or from the ATM. We will never know.

Surprisingly, the Ministerio never inquired as to our contacts leading up to our initial positive test result. All we know for sure is that, even though this really feels like a modern-day Russian roulette, proper and reasonable precautions must be taken. Being slow to socialize, we will continue to wear our masks, wash, disinfect, and repeat.

Jane and Steve Miner
are expats from Connecticut who love living in Cuenca, and have explored many parts of Ecuador, since 2016. Steve’s favorite pastime is hiking with a great group of folks in the Cajas and surrounding barrios. Volunteerism, cribbage, and time with friends fill Jane’s days.

46 thoughts on “Our Covid-19 experience: How an expat couple discovers they have the virus and overcome it

  1. Glad you and Steve were among the 80-90% who present with little to no symptoms and that you have fully recovered.

    1. Hopefully they didn’t infect anyone else that may have died from it but we’ll never know. Sorry if that doesn’t fit in with your ‘minimalist’ comment.

      1. The most recent discoveries (published over the last 2-3 days) find that mild and asymptomatic cases produce so little antibodies that they disappear with a short period. They cannot even be found with testing. This kills the hope for a “herd immunity” where enough people become impervious to slow and even stop the spread. It also ends the supposition that if you have once had the virus, you are immune from getting it again. We must instead wait for a vaccine.

        1. Yes, but

          “A virology professor at the University of Hong Kong who was not part of the research team said that the study does not contradict the possibility that other parts of the immune system could offer some protection against the novel coronavirus.

          He explained that immune cells memorize how to cope with a foreign invade, such as a virus, when first infected and could provide effective protection in case the person contracts the virus again.”

          1. Curious, do you know or have you seen data that shows whether the first or second infection was asymptomatic, or vice versa? Or maybe both asymptomatic or symptomatic? Also we’re the double infections of the same strain of Covid? Any site or info would be great, thanks.

            1. You know, Mike, that is an excellent question that I don’t know the answer to but I’m sure if you go to Google Scholar and enter “sequential covid-19 infections” you can find the answer.

            2. there is no data about a new infection since you got the first one, both of them were symtomatic, with low symptoms, if you want to know more about COVID-19 look for in medical pages like the new england journal, medscape, also intramed.

        2. Well James, THATS depressing!! I’m not saying it doesn’t sound “reasonable”, just disappointing. This is dragging on and on…..Lordy!

          1. Don’t you know that vaccines are not 100% effective and that taking a flu vaccine increases your chance of getting ill. Get healthy and have confidence in your immune system!!

  2. This is interesting. Thanks for a first hand account of when gringos catch the virus in Cuenca. I’m glad to see both of you come through without too much damage – not even a squabble after 30 days in quarantine. Congratulations on what seems to be a solid marriage.
    Modern-day Russian roulette is a good way to describe this disease. You seem to be an older couple yet your symptoms were mild. Maybe it’s because you are both in good shape. There may be other reasons as well. It’s probable that the severity of this disease also depends on the dose one receives when becoming infected. Maybe your chat with the guard or standing in line was brief enough to limit your exposure. It’s another reason why wearing a mask in public is a good idea. We know that most masks won’t stop transmission 100%, but if both the “giver” and the “receiver” are wearing masks it might reduce the amount of the virus being transmitted.

    1. I was watching a video a week ago from Sheik’s buddy in Armenia. He had recently purchased a mask that had layered slots built into it. It may have been made out of light neoprene. This allows him to breathe better and keeps his glasses from fogging up. This design feature is not noticeable since it layered material. Of course it probably isn’t effective against the coronavirus but it gets him into the store.

  3. Glad you guys are safe. Thanks for sharing your story.

    There could have been many places you accumulated enough virus to reach the point of infection were your immune system is unable to keep up with the invader. The virus accumulates on the mask and gloves, taking them off properly, sanitizing them often, and having enough to rotate from day to day are all factors.

    I have spent a lot of time researching and trying to understand the virus and have contacted Cuenca High Life to see if I could share the info, references, and guides regarding Covid that I spent a week working on.

  4. Very interesting and helpful article. It’s great that you are willing to share your experience and the lessons learned from it. Here’s ours so far. It won’t be nearly as helpful, but perhaps someone will find some of our experience useful in some small way.

    I left Cuenca for Dallas on March 7. The week before I left, i had spent a bit of time in bed with a cold and generally just felt bad. When I arrived in Dallas, my family there seem to catch what I brought with me and over the next few weeks, we thought we probably had Covid but were, as many seem to be, not all that sick.

    I spent 3 months and three days stranded in Dallas. On May 19th, just to know, I spent $159 on the antibody test and it came back negative. I was surprised since I had arrived in Dallas with what many have described as “asymptomatic” symptoms and I truly suspected I had already experienced a “mild” case of the disease. Wrong. No immunity. Nada. Like the TV show, “Warning will Rogers, Danger Ahead.”

    During the three months in Texas, I took the normal precautions. Gloves, mask, hand sanitizer…everything the CDC advices. Other than grocery shopping and drive thru, no dining out are anything else not necessary.

    After having multiple flights cancelled, Ecuador announced borders would be opening and I booked a Spirit flight for July 10. I went to CVS and had the Covid PCR test since a negative PCR is required to avoid the 14 quarantine in a hotel in Guayaquil. The test that, according to CVS would be back in three to four days, finally came back the morning before I boarded the flight.

    This flight would also be a problem since upon arriving in Guayaquil the evening of July 10th, it was unable to land and we returned to Florida. It was two days before I finally caught an American flight back to Ecuador. I arrived at my home around 4am Saturday, July 13.

    Yesterday was the end of my quarantine. The car is on the blink so I caught a ride with a friend to the barbershop. Got my first haircut in 4 months. Walked to the bank, pharmacy, bakery, tienda and walked most of the way up the hill home before i gave up and flagged a taxi

    So, i have seen, first hand, the precautions being taken in Dallas, Fort Lauderdale and now, here in Cuenca. And it’s a different ballgame.

    In Dallas and Fort Lauderdale, most people are wearing mask…but not all. Most stores are limiting access and taking some precautions. Most will have a bottle of spray and some form of hand sanitizer at the front door. Most retail operations were requiring mask. A few were suggesting them. For some it was Business as Usual. Come on In. Let’s play our favorite game, Covid Russian Roulette.

    One day in Dallas, on a Friday evening after the lockdown ended, I got “weak” and drove to my favorite butcher shop for some premium steaks. On the way home, I passed through an area called Lower Greenville and Deep Ellum. Think Calle Larga. It was elbow to elbow people, dining, drinking and dancing. Just driving by in the car, you could sense the party atmosphere of people who had been confined and restricted from their normal lives for weeks.

    From what I have read, Fort Lauderdale was about the same when it “reopened” . Now, both Florida and Texas are experiencing what some have described as “apocalyptic” numbers in terms of new cases because they reopened too early and disregarded CDC guidelines.

    The precautions I observed in Cuenca yesterday are on an entirely different level. I am returning to Florida on July 7, to retrieve my stranded luggage.

    I will fly back, hopefully, to Ecuador on July 15. The requirement of a negative PCR test to enter the country is far beyond what is being required to enter the USA. My fear is that Ecuador will close it’s borders to people arriving from USA…or even just Florida or Texas.

    We all know about the states requiring visitors from Florida, Texas and California to quarantine on arrival for 14 days. We have all read about the possibility Europe will close its borders to travelers from USA.

    My concern now is that I will get to Florida and Ecuador will shut down the border before I can get back.

    Part of me hopes that they shut things down before I leave on the 7th. At least then I don’t have to be worried about being stranded in Florida.

    In terms of what’s right or wrong as to the personal choices we each make in how we deal with this situation, I reminded about an old story describing “personal freedom”. It goes something like this:

    My right to swing my arm as fast and far as i want in any direction at any time ends when my fist hits you in the nose.

    What was it Dick Cheney’s daughter said in the caption of that picture of her dad?

    “Real Men Wear Masks”.

    I don’t understand. What can it hurt to take this simple precaution that, according to experts, will have a positive effect on spreading the virus.

    Good luck to us all and for those who believe in prayer, say one for us if you don’t mind.

    1. Wow, quite the story, Steve! With all your travels, thankfully, you have dodged the Covid-19 bullet. With my being asymptomatic and Steve’s mild symptoms, we really feel like we did, too. Good luck with your luggage and future travel plans!

      1. Thanks Jane, at the moment, I really have mixed feelings about this July 7 trip. My fear, as I have already said, is that we get to Florida and Ecuador closes the border before we can get back.

        I just read an article about some folks with certain levels of Covid getting negative results on the Antibody test. Apparently, if you have a really, really, light case, then you might test negative in terms of antibodies.

        It’s hard to know who to listen to and to separate the “wheat from the chaff”.

        There are so many aspects of this situation that are beyond our control. The feeling of being helpless can be, at some moments, overwhelming.

        Thanks again for sharing. Good luck and God’s speed to us all.

        1. I think if I were you Steve I would abandon the luggage in Florida or at least the idea of retrieving it in person.

          1. Really bad idea. Steve is muling in belongings that others have entrusted to him. Steve is a very honest and dependable man. He would never do such a thing. I know him personally and will vouch for him.

    2. It’s helpful to have people’s stories to gauge what is happening out there. Thanks for yours.

  5. This story should make Tim feel better. The only thing extra I would have liked to have known in the story is their ages, weight, comorbidities, exercise routines, diet, drinking habits and prescription meds in order to better judge my own chances of survival.

    1. So it’s not enough that they share their story, you want all of their personal information, too? Like Jane said, it’s Russian Roulette. You pay your money and take your chances.

      1. Well, I am also interested in mimicking any behaviors that could have contributed to their rapid recovery.

        1. Swami, I haven’t consumed alcohol in over a year and Steve drinks infrequently. We are overweight, not morbidly, and quite active. I don’t think there’s much to emulate here. We simply lucked out, possibly with a light dose.

          1. Thanks for your sensible remarks about your personal health and habits. Having worked in ICUs and understanding something about this virus (which is that it is IMPOSSIBLE to understand much, at this time in history anyway.) I appreciate knowing your couple history with this.

        2. They shared their story. It wasn’t about anyone else, nor was it a how-to. Implying that you wanted to know “their ages, weight, comorbidities, exercise routines, diet, drinking habits and prescription meds” – why not ask for their SSN’s, mothers’ maiden names, and the names of their first pets while you’re at it? That info is none of your business and you putting your curiosity in print was inappropriate.

      2. How inane Jeana. If the Miners were happy to give the details of their experience, I would think that Swami asking the questions would beneficial to her as well as others on this list.

    2. I understand your point. I’m 63 and have been a biohacker for about 3 years now. Most people define “good health” as the absence of illness symptoms. They never have had a blood test measuring C-reactive protein, the biomarker of inflammation. They aren’t aware they probably are deficient in Vitamin D and in magnesium, the latter being responsible for over 300 enzymatic processes at the cellular level. They admit they can stand to lose a few pounds and move more, but not doing so isn’t hampering their lifestyle.

      Let’s hope out of this more people appreciate they must put effort into sustaining health at the biochemical level, which we all learned in high school biology about cell processes.

      1. Rose, you are correct ! Americans are unhealthy – – – period !They must get back to the basics of good health . Hopefully , Cuenca High Life will not delete your common sense , conservative message .

        1. A bit of an exaggeration, wouldn’t you say? There are over 330 million Americans. Millions of us are very healthy.

          1. Yes, millions of us are very healthy. And millions are not. 30+% of Americans are obese, according to medical and scientific standards. That is over 100 million people.

        2. Patrick, I believe we are doomed as a species when online sites consider a comment hoping people worldwide will start a healthy lifestyle for the benefit of both the individual and society as a form of hate speech, lol!

      2. Pseudoscience. Cite the Mayo Clinic or JAMA. Studies are just that, studies – they show POSSIBLE correlations and are not considered factual. That’s why coffee is good for you. And then bad. Then good. Then bad, ad infinitum. Same for the the other health studies on familiar things – wine, alcohol, eggs. Just because something is said in an authoritative manner, like studies do, doesn’t make their contents valid. Too many people fall prey to that. Biohacking is the latest of that claptrap. Your best chances at good health are good genes, second physical activity, third, avoiding toxins.

        1. I really enjoy the comments that attack with derogatory words and zero citations as rebuttal. Way to move the conversation along, Dr. Prewitt. May I inquire where you earned your PhD or MD? Harvard professor of genetics David Sinclair states that only 20% of one’s lifespan is genetic, 80% is your lifestyle choice. There is no need for us to debate. The virus ultimately will determine whether one’s lifestyle choices are, how do you put it, oh, “claptrap” and “pseudoscience”.

      3. Having engaged you previously, I can state without equivocation that you don’t have the basic knowledge of science that would allow you even have a conversation with an educated person in any allied science applicable to this discussion. You feign knowledge by throwing around words and phrases that might fool other uneducated people into believing your claims of erudition, but the minute a truly educated person comes along, they see right through you. Most of them won’t even bother to engage you and now that I have been able to see through your facade, I won’t do so any longer either.

        1. Kenny boy!! I did not realize that you were such an expert in the basic knowledge of science to denigrate what Rose Red wanted to post. You have never debunked what I have posted in that one of the recent New England Journal of Medicine editors resigned because so many of the so called scientific articles were not scientific. Here’s another thing for you to consider is that, is there really a Covid 19 since Koch’s postulates have not been fulfilled??

  6. Just wondering what if any medication the both of you took during the short periods of time when you felt a little off and had a fever…..Glad you both recovered… blessed

    1. I took an antibiotic for my sinus infection but that’s all. We had no other symptoms that would have been from medications. We continued taking our daily vitamins.

  7. The cost of these tests will prevent the majority of Ecuadorians , and many expats from getting tested. The mark up for a relatively cheap test is criminal. Plus, the results are subject to a big percentage of false positive/negatives…

    1. Much of what you say I think is true — I think the tests are very variable and costly as well. However, given the alternatives (no good ones that I know) if I am unlucky enough to be infected, I will beg or borrow the money for the tests as necessary and move poco a poco down the road with the best advice I can find ( outside the country) and pray that I am Ok .

    2. I worry too about cost being the reason too many people can’t get the correct treatments also. EC and Expats!

  8. I am glad both of you have recovered. My husband John and I live in Cuenca, however, on March 8th we flew to South Carolina where my sister-in-law lives. I needed to see a neurologist for my MS so we planned a 10 day stay – well it’s June 29th and we are still in SC! We are so thankful we got “stuck” with family that could keep us for this long. So far none of the 4 of us has become ill – but we don’t go out either. John and I can’t wait to return to Cuenca safely though! Since we’ve been here we both have gained over 10 lbs!

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