State Representative Michael Day of Stoneham did not feel right the evening of March 12 and went to bed early. The low-grade fever, aches, and chills that followed over the next few days suggested a mild case of the flu.
But Day suspected something more sinister, and he immediately self-quarantined at home with his wife and three sons. On Monday, the results came back from Lawrence General Hospital: Day is the first state lawmaker known to have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.
“I still have no idea how I got it or where the exposure came from," said Day, 46, who has been symptom-free since March 17 but remains in isolation with his family.
“I was fortunate that even though I’ve been exposed and been tested positive, my symptoms and effects were mild and I’ve been able to come through it," Day said in a phone interview Wednesday. “The most important thing I want to stress is follow the advice of the health-care professionals and follow their guidance."
It’s that guidance that prompted Day, a third-term legislator, to contact his primary care practice two days after his symptoms began.
“Obviously, it’s the first thing that jumps to your mind,” Day said of the chances he had contracted the virus.
The on-call doctor at Day’s primary care office and a person handling the COVID-19 hotline at Lawrence General Hospital delivered the same message: his symptoms were consistent with the coronavirus.
But Day was told he did not qualify for a test: He had not been out of the country and had not knowingly been exposed to anyone who tested positive.
Instead, he was instructed to continue monitoring his symptoms, practice social distancing, and call back if his symptoms worsened. Day’s fever would occasionally rise to 101 degrees, but an Advil would bring it back down again, he said.
The fever broke on the evening of March 16, and Day’s aches and fatigue had dissipated by the next day. But late that afternoon, he learned that an employee at the State House had tested positive for the virus.
Day does not believe he ever came in contact with that worker. But the next morning, Day headed to Lawrence General Hospital for a test of his own.
He was given a fresh mask at the hospital and told to wait in his car. After 10 minutes, Day was taken to the emergency room, where two doctors completely covered in protective gear asked questions about his health history and recent interactions.
Then, as Day’s eyes watered, they inserted a cotton swab on a long stick deep into a nostril.
“It was not pleasant, but it also took less than 10 seconds,” he said.
Six days later, he got the news. He had tested positive. Day was one of the majority of people who contract the virus who would not require hospitalization.
Still, containing the virus requires sacrifice and vigilance from all, health officials say. Although Day’s quarantine protocol ends Thursday, his family will remain in seclusion "for an extended period” as a precaution, he said.
So far, neither his wife nor children have exhibited coronavirus symptoms, and the household has been anxiety-free, he said. The children have been prepared about what to expect.
“We had been talking to them ahead of time about COVID-19 and the importance of why we would be all home together for the next few weeks,” Day said.
The family has gone out for occasional walks, there’s a yard for the boys who range from 6 to 14 years old, and the quarantine has not been a burden, Day said. He’s still making calls to local and state officials and doing constituent work.
Although his symptoms were mild, Day said he is feeling a little “self-guilt” as he wonders how and when he contracted the virus. But what’s done is done.
“The most important message to take from this is the importance of social distancing,” he said. “I seem to have come through on the back end of this.”
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.