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MultiCare Valley Hospital nurse with COVID-19 from unknown source: ‘Just stay home’

Eilish Bessmer, 26, is a MultiCare Valley Hospital nurse who has tested positive for COVID-19. (Courtesy)

After a MultiCare Valley Hospital nurse started feeling symptoms of COVID-19 last week, she started running through all of the people and things she’d contacted in public that could have exposed her to the novel coronavirus.

Grocery items that others touched at the store. The card reader she used to check out. Her own car’s steering wheel. And not to mention all of the people she walked by.

“It’s just bound to happen,” Eilish Bessmer said of people contracting the virus in public despite their best efforts. “I don’t have hand sanitizer constantly for everything I touch.”

“There’s not a way to fully prevent it unless you just stay home,” Bessmer continued.

Bessmer tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, putting her among the 165 local residents confirmed to have the disease as of Wednesday. And she still doesn’t know how she contracted the novel coronavirus.

No one she has been in close contact with has shown symptoms, and none of her patients were diagnosed with COVID-19.

“It could be a handful of things,” said Bessmer, who was first interviewed by KHQ.

That’s the reason Bessmer wants people to learn from her experience and listen to public health officials’ advice to stay home whenever possible.

At the beginning of March, Bessmer never thought the outbreak would become serious in Spokane.

The week following confirmation of the county’s first three cases, she was living a nearly normal life – including returning to work in the medical-surgical department on March 18 and running errands around town – except for reducing some unnecessary social interactions.

But during her day off the following week – after working Friday, March 20, through the weekend at Valley Hospital – she started noticing COVID-19-like symptoms.

Her chest started to feel tight. She started developing a nasty cough. And then her supervisor told her to get tested for COVID-19 in the emergency department on March 24 – the day Gov. Jay Inslee declared his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order.

Bessmer went into self-isolation at home. And the test came back positive six days later.

Valley Hospital is investigating Bessmer’s case and determined she was wearing appropriate protective equipment during her shifts, when she wasn’t showing symptoms, according to spokesperson Kevin Maloney. The area where she worked was already regularly cleaned with disinfectants.

In the meantime, Bessmer’s symptoms hit her hard.

“I’m 26, young and healthy, and it really kicked my butt,” Bessmer said.

Normal, everyday tasks became difficult. She couldn’t carry a load of laundry without becoming short of breath. And taking a shower meant she had to sit down afterward to recover.

“It felt like I ran 10 miles,” said Bessmer.

Her senses of smell and taste eventually went away, too. But she never recorded a fever, which has been a key indicator for health care providers to order testing.

More recently, her condition started to improve.

“I feel a lot better than I did,” she said. “So I’m slowly getting better.”

Bessmer said the most important thing for her recovery has been a strong, positive support system.

While she watched Netflix, solved puzzles, colored and rested, others brought supplies and delivered meals to her doorstep. Support has also come through the mail.

“I’m used to being on the other side of this: taking care of people who are sick,” Bessmer said, which shed new light on what positivity means to healing. “I think that’s something I can take back to work with me.”

Bessmer will have to go seven days since first noticing symptoms or 72 hours without a fever – whichever is longest – before she can return to work. She’ll also continue to wear a mask while on duty until 14 days have passed since she noticed symptoms.

None of her co-workers have exhibited symptoms for COVID-19, and all clinical employees are required to have their temperature taken before they start a shift, according to Maloney. Employees are also required to stay home if they are experiencing any illness or symptoms similar to COVID-19.

As a nurse who is very aware of how illness spreads and who still contracted COVID-19, Bessmer said she hopes her story will show people everyone has a role to play in reducing contact with others and the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“I know this is a really hard time for everybody,” Bessmer said. “It’s important we work together as a team to control this.”