Statement from Ranelle Roberts-Williams, Patient Zero, St. Vincent and the Grenadines April 10, 2020
Dear reader, my name is Ranelle Roberts-Williams. I am a 34-year-old wife, mother and Vincentian lawyer. On March 11, 2020, I was diagnosed with COVID-19 becoming St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ first confirmed case. Today, one month later, by God’s grace I am fully recovered, having tested negative twice for the deadly coronavirus. I have decided to share my experience not only to reassure those who have questions or fears, but also as part of my own therapy following this unfortunate ordeal.
I decided to contact the Ministry of health Wellness and the Environment (MOHWE) of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) on Tuesday March 10 to report that I was experiencing a persistent dry cough which, though not severely disturbing, was worrying, given that I had returned from the United Kingdom three days prior, where COVID-19 was becoming an epidemic. My first call for help was made to a health care facility, and was not taken seriously as the worker was unprepared to handle such. I, therefore, persisted until I was able to get the attention of the relevant health officers. Fortunately for me, I was able to get tested on the same day and was, therefore, able to isolate myself from my young son, my family members, staff and the public before the virus was able to spread. I dare not imagine what the consequences would have been had I not insisted that I be tested for COVID-19 after having been told that I “did not fit the criteria” as I would have been commuting daily and conducting business as usual. Even if I was able to fight it, my other contacts may not have been able to do the same.
On March 11, 2020, I was informed of my positive COVID-19 test result and it was at that moment I understood why people would ask, “Are you sitting down?” before delivering bad news because had I not been sitting I would have fallen to the floor. It was at that moment that the world as I knew it came to a grinding halt. I was scared! In fact, I thought I had been given my death sentence. A very “urgent” press conference dedicated to my case was held the said evening and it was during the press conference that I realised that my positive COVID-19 test result was known not only by me, my family and workers in the healthcare system, but also to the general public despite assurances by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) that my information would be kept confidential (as it should be). My name and photos were being circulated on social media and calls were made out loud at the most extreme, for my execution, disclosure of my personal details and more reasonably, for my isolation (but if possible on another island). Imagine having to cope with a medical diagnosis for an emerging virus, while being in isolation away from your family and loved ones, with your business and staff impacted, while much inaccurate and malicious rumors are swirling around about you and your family.
The physical effects that this virus has had on my body so far have been minimal. I am especially grateful to God that my case was “mild” considering the daily media reports of fatalities linked to this virus globally. In fact, the backlash from the unauthorised dissemination of my medical information has proven to be far worst than the impact from the actual virus. A serious conversation needs to be had about confidentiality, cyber bullying and stigma in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but I will address those issues in more detail at another time and place. On the other hand, I was able to experience the more positive side of humanity where family, friends, associates and even clients checked up on me and offered prayers and words of encouragement. Some assisted me with everyday tasks as far as permitted and others showed up for me in more ways than I could have imagined. This aspect of my experience will forever be etched in my heart and memory.
I would now proceed to answer some of the questions that I have been asked as well as to issue my personal advice to the public and officials. It is not my intention to point fingers or to cast blame on anyone but instead my sincere hope is that each one can learn lessons from my experience as much as I have.
What medical care was received?
Fortunately for me and those assigned to my care, my symptoms were mild and my illness was brief. My cough lasted approximately three days and I was isolated for 23 days. Each day during my isolation, I was asked to take my temperature and report the figures along with any symptoms to a doctor and/or nurse via the telephone or WhatsApp. Apart from that I received no other medical attention or medication. I continued, however, to exercise my personal responsibility as we all should, in building immunity, eating healthily and monitoring my symptoms. I was a bit disappointed that much of the information that I received about COVID-19 was from my own research. Many of the medical professionals that I interacted with were scared by their response and unsure when it came to basic information with respect to the virus. No official instructions, advice or reading material was provided by any health official.
What was isolation like?
Isolation was difficult and has been a rollercoaster of emotions. I realised by day 3 that it was best to have a daily routine. During this time, I was able to get much work done and catch up on TV shows. I am grateful to my staff, business partners and legal colleagues who made this process seamless and stood in many gaps for me. My husband, family and friends never left room for me to be lonely, anxious or depressed and I love them even more for this. I am also grateful that I was able to be isolated in the comfort of my own home.
How did your contacts in quarantine cope?
A few members of my family, my staff and other colleagues were in quarantine for 14 days because they were in contact with me before my COVID-19 diagnosis. All of them were tested for COVID-19 and thankfully all of them were negative. While this was also challenging for them, they all understood that it was necessary in order to keep themselves and the public safe. Other family and friends who were not even in contact with me have reported being stigmatised and being discriminated against at some point during this ordeal and to be honest, I think this hurts me more than it hurt them.
Did you take any local remedies?
On a daily basis I tool vitamin C, ginger and garlic tea, and simply try to eat foods that boost the immune system like beet, carrots, spinach, etc. At intervals, I would also drink soursop leaf tea and coconut water. I am unable to confirm whether or not these actually helped but they were certainly part of my routine.
Did the Government provide food?
No. I was isolated at my own expense. In fact, in order to restock groceries at my home, my family (who were not in quarantine) would go to the supermarket purchase my items and leave them at my gate for collection.
Do you have any advice for the public?
- If you have symptoms of COVID-19, which according to the World Health Organization include fever, cough, fatigue, shortness of breath Do NOT go to your health centre, A&E or private doctor. Call instead and, tell them your symptoms and share your travel history for the past 14 days and a health care provider will advise you accordingly. Do NOT worry about what people will think!It is the responsible thing to do.
- Listen to the authorities; practice social distancing, wash your hands with soap and water often, use hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze, do not touch your face if your hands are not clean and STAY AT HOME.
- Be kind to one another. COVID-19 does not require the stigma attached. Desist from shaming and discriminating against suspected or confirmed cases and their family and persons in quarantine.
What have you learned from this ordeal?
- No man is an island. We need each other.
- It is important to let our loved ones know that we love and appreciate them
- Leadership involves listening and making and communicating critical decisions with humility and with empathy.
Finally, this novel coronavirus is a killer. It is dangerous and should be taken seriously by individuals and leaders alike. It has rendered even the most sophisticated health care systems inadequate and has caused pain to thousands of families, world leaders, health care workers and businesses, having spread to every continent on the globe and remaining undetected and undocumented in many more instances including here in SVG. It is my humble opinion that we are not ready for even the smallest wave of this natural disaster much less its full force. We should all do everything we can on a personal level to minimise its impact on our blessed nation. My advice to anyone else who contracts COVID-19 is to eat healthily, build a strong immune system, and just like with the flu, do not to stay in bed. Get up and keep moving. Take much sunlight and Pray!
On another note, I am making a request to our leaders to assist Vincentian sailors and oil rig workers in returning home during this time of crisis and uncertainty.