Kristen Kamunen describes herself as a retired homebody who only leaves her house to run errands every few weeks and visit her elderly parents in their home.
The 58-year-old Cloquet woman began wearing a face mask April 20 whenever she needed to go out in public. She used the sleeve of her shirt to open doors, used sanitizer on grocery carts and washed her hands often. She thought her odds of contracting COVID-19 were low.
Except for allergies and high blood pressure, she is in good health. As with many allergy sufferers this time of year, Kamunen said she had a bit of a sore throat, stuffy nose and runny eyes.
But on Monday, April, 27, she noticed her glands seemed unusually sore and swollen.
Kamunen described the feeling as allergies on steroids. She decided to err on the side of caution because she didn't want to put her parents at risk.
“My glands were big, almost like I had the mumps,” Kamunen said.
She called a doctor at Community Memorial Hospital Raiter Family Clinic, who recommended she get tested for COVID-19 at the clinic's mobile testing unit.
She drove up to the mobile testing unit on Thursday, April 30, and waited her turn.
She tilted her head back so medical staff could insert the giant Q-tip-looking instrument up her nose as far back as it could go. She said the test didn't take long, maybe 10 seconds.
“It feels like it goes to your brain,” Kamunen said.
She went back home and quarantined while she waited for the results. She was shocked to find out she tested positive for the virus. Her first reaction was denial.
“I thought, 'No way, no how,'” Kamunen said.
Her daughter, Jennifer Fagre-Golya, said she had been talking with her mom before the test, and they both thought it was probably allergies. Kamunen could still smell and taste fine.
“When she told us her test results were positive, I was pretty shocked,” Fagre-Golya said.
Fagre-Golya lives in California, where there are more than 69,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The virus is present in Fagre-Golya's Los Angeles community, but she said she does not have any close friends who have contracted the virus.
“It was hard for me to comprehend that the first close personal connection I would have to COVID-19 is my own mother who lives in little Cloquet,” she said.
Kamunen's parents, who are 77 and 83, were also tested and are still waiting for the results. The couple are in fairly good health, she said.
So far, Kamunen's symptoms have remained mild, and she said she is feeling better every day. She was told to drink warm fluids every 30 minutes or so to break up mucus.
Her friends and neighbors are aware of her situation and help out.
“It’s nice to know people are watching out for me,” Kamunen said.
She has been planting in her garden to help cope with cabin fever.
Her medical provider advised her that she will be considered virus-free when she has been symptom-free for 72 hours. Once that happens, she plans to continue being cautious by wearing her mask in public and practicing social distancing.
Carlton County cases
As of Tuesday, May 12, there were 12,494 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. Carlton County had a total of 65 cases. Of those, some people required ICU care, said Meghann Levitt, public information officer for Carlton County Health and Human Services. There are no Carlton County residents currently hospitalized due to COVID-19.
"The vast majority of cases in Carlton County have managed COVID-19 where they reside and have not required hospitalization," Levitt said.
Dr. Charles Kendall, a family physician at Cloquet's Raiter Family Clinic and the director of medicine at Community Memorial Hospital, said the community has slowed how quickly the virus is spreading by closing businesses and schools and encouraging people to stay home.
"We are increasingly hopeful that our medical facilities in Minnesota will not be overwhelmed, but will have the capacity to handle the number of patients who require hospitalization and especially those who must be put on ventilators," he said.
Kendall said people notice they have a cough and shortness of breath, if they have difficulty breathing, or if they develop a combination of fever, chills or repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat or new loss of taste or smell, they should call their doctor.
"For most people, COVID-19 will not be a serious illness," said "But because it is a new virus, no one is immune to it, and a majority of the people will be infected."
He said a higher percentage of patients become seriously ill and die from COVID-19 compared to other illnesses, such as seasonal influenza.
Where to get help
To get tested for COVID-19 at CMH Raiter Family Clinic, people need to have a doctor's order. Contact your medical provider if you have symptoms including fever, cough, loss of taste or smell, shortness of breath, sore throat, fatigue, body aches, diarrhea, vomiting or nausea, chills, shaking with chills or muscle aches. Or call 218-879-1271 to be evaluated for a doctor's order.
Tests will be done in the clinic parking lot, 417 Skyline Blvd., Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.