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First known GCC student infected with the coronavirus isolating in quarantine at home

Students head into the administration center at Glendale Community College on Monday during the first day of the Fall 2015 semester.
(File Photo)

Gasping for air with an unrelenting cough and fever were the telltale signs that one Glendale Community College student was ready to go to the USC Verdugo Hills Hospital emergency room.

Before that point, the 19-year-old said she felt fatigued and worried. She has an underlying health condition, neuromyelitis optica, and it weakened her immune system.

It led her to self-isolate and skip a couple of in-person classes. Wanting to catch up on coursework, she wore a face mask on her last visit to the Verdugo campus on March 11, the day before the community college announced a campus shutdown beginning March 16.

On the first Monday of school closures, she began losing her appetite, even for her favorite foods — Chick-fil-A.

The student, who did not want to be identified by name, thought the symptom was a sign of stress. But three days later, she started coughing and contacted her doctor, who recommended that she go to a hospital if she broke into a high fever.

A week later, the coughing grew worse and her fever spiked to 102 degrees. During her hospital stay, the student said she was tested for the coronavirus and received results the next day.

The diagnosis on her discharge paperwork reads “acute respiratory failure with hypoxia anemia” and “pneumonia due to Wuhan coronavirus,” according to images of the paperwork she emailed to the News-Press.

She was administered two antibiotics for pneumonia and hydroxychloroquine — a drug used to treat malaria and currently being tested to treat moderate cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“It got worse before it got better. At the worst point, they put me on about three liters of oxygen through the nose. Getting up to use the restroom or anything that would require some sort of energy, I would get a cough attack,” she said.

As her symptoms reduced at the end of a weeklong hospital stay, she was discharged and recommended to quarantine at home while keeping a safe distance between her brother, parents and grandparents who all live in the same household near the border of Glendale and La Crescenta.

“Now I’m doing a lot better and my cough is almost completely gone, but there’s no real definition to fully recover. I’ve called my other doctors too, and they just said to follow the CDC guidelines — when your symptoms stop, wait a week until you break the quarantine,” she said.

The CDC is still in the initial stages of developing a test to diagnose those who have recovered.

David Viar, the college’s superintendent/president, sent a message to students last Friday announcing that a student informed college officials they have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, making it the first known case tied to the school.

Concerned that she would have to drop classes, the student told her professor about the test results. The professor notified college officials, who contacted the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Public health officials were unable to confirm the case but recommended college officials communicate the information to the campus community.

The student said the county’s public health case worker who reached out to her didn’t discuss contacting the college about her diagnosis since she thinks the exposure to the virus happened about a week after her last visit to the campus through her 39-year-old uncle. He tested positive for the coronavirus and is currently hospitalized.

“You can never tell. With my compromised immune system, I did better than my uncle, who has no health problems. It hits everyone differently,” the student said.

GCC spokesperson Drew Sugars said the college is keeping an internal document tracking calls from students who say they may have been exposed to the virus. The student health center follows up on calls to discuss the symptoms.

During her at-home quarantine, the student is participating in online classes, which began on March 23, while trying to build up her lung capacity and physical stamina. She’s taking the last classes she needs to transfer to a four-year university in the fall.

“My end career goal is medical school and perhaps more research-based medicine now, after my experience,” she said.

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