Sebastopol bar owner shares what it's like to have coronavirus
Since March 15, Mathew Carson has shut down his 18-month-old bar in downtown Sebastopol, laid off five employees and tested positive for coronavirus.
The past week hasn’t been kind to Carson, or his business, Ruin Cocktail Bar. The past 18 months were pretty abysmal, too.
Since spiffing up the former dive bar on South Main Street, Carson and his longtime girlfriend, Cara Vidano, endured “two fires, an evacuation, a flood and a virus in 18 months.”
So when he got his diagnosis Friday, after pleading for a test due to his high degree of contact with the public, Carson, 53, made what he called one of his easiest decisions yet: he posted the news on the bar’s Facebook page.
“It wasn’t really a tough decision for me to make,” Carson said. “We have a lot of regular customers. Some of them are older. I had to get the word out to them. … The sooner we get ahead of this, the better.”
Carson said he didn’t feel the onset of coronavirus until the night of March 15, one day after he shut down Ruin. The virus is known to cause COVID-19, a respiratory disease. But it’s also a new coronavirus, with new symptoms researchers are just beginning to chart. A study in the Hubei province of China, where the virus originated, showed nearly half of those infected had digestive issues. Patients around the world have reported losing their sense of smell and taste.
Carson and Vidano offered a first-hand account of the disease’s effect on the human body, as well as warning to those who Vidano said “aren’t taking it seriously.”
Twenty-nine Sonoma County residents have tested positive for coronavirus since the first case was reported in the county March 2, up from seven cases a week ago. And the Sebastopol couple says they’re certain many more have it.
Vidano, 48, said Carson “started getting really bad” the night of Monday March 16. “By Tuesday morning, it was obvious he had something,” she said.
Carson said his symptoms started with a cough, then a sore throat. He had a high fever Monday, followed by chest pains and an “excruciating headache.”
Vidano, who also likely contracted the disease but was refused testing, said the body aches were “probably the worst.” Neither ever felt their breathing was compromised, but Vidano remembers Carson waking up Tuesday saying “my whole body hurts.”
“Our legs were so sore,” she said. “It was like we had run a long-distance race.”
They called West County Health Centers on Tuesday, but Carson said the health care center was reluctant to sign off on a test for him. Carson, a longtime runner in solid physical shape, doesn’t qualify as a high-risk individual. But he pleaded with health care providers for a test because he works so closely with others, including two shifts a week behind the bar at Ruin.
“I felt I needed to be tested to let people know,” Carson said.
He was tested Thursday and got the result Friday.
Carson said he has no idea where he might have contracted the virus, saying it could have been a customer at work or someone at the gym or the grocery store. He hadn’t been around anyone who was noticeably sick.
Carson was tested in a parking lot in Sebastopol, where West County Health Centers conducts tests twice weekly.
Jason Cunningham, CEO of West County Health Center, declined to answer specific questions about Carson’s case, citing patient privacy laws.
He said the center has been following CDC and Sonoma County guidelines on testing. The guidelines prioritize testing for people with symptoms who are elderly, live in congregate settings, are health care workers or first responders, or those who work in businesses that are deemed essential by the county.
Cunningham said the center has a limited number of swabs to collect samples, which are later sent to the county’s health lab, one of three testing locations in the county.
“I do think that the United States, it’s been a real hardship not to have a sufficient number of swabs for testing,” Cunningham said. “We’re all frustrated with that. We need to dramatically increase the number of people that we test to better understand the disease.”
Carson, who is from the United Kingdom, has followed news of the coronavirus as it carved a path around the globe. He wasn’t surprised when California Gov. Gavin Newsom asked bars and similar businesses to close last week, based on what has happened in other part of the United States and other parts of the world.
“I thought something was going to happen along these lines,” he said.
By Sunday, Carson had regained enough strength to mow the yard and was otherwise in good spirits. He still doesn’t know what’s going to happen to his business, which has endured an unprecedented string of calamities along with the rest of Sonoma County.
Though he has been self-quarantining since he first exhibited symptoms March 15, Carson said he has been in constant communication with Ruin employees. As of Sunday, no employees had reported symptoms.
Vidano said she’s grateful she had put off visiting her 70-year-old mother for a few weeks. The ordeal has led her to believe there are more sick people in Sonoma County who, like her, haven’t been tested. She urged Sonoma County residents and others to take the disease seriously.
“We had to push hard to get him tested,” Vidano said. “It has to be more prevalent in our community than the recorded numbers are saying. That concerns me that people have a false sense of security.”
You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @tylersilvy.