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Locals describe first-hand COVID experiences

Kristen MacKenzie and Margaret Anderson say they caught the virus from school outbreak contacts
20210417 Kristen MacKenzie COVID_WEB
Athabascan Kristen MacKenzie posted this photo of herself on Facebook April 17 talking about her experience after contracting the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7. She suspects she got it through one of two family members associated with Edwin Parr Composite school in Athabasca, the site of a major outbreak that led to the region being the hotspot in Alberta for several days.

ATHABASCA - It does not take much, even following all the precautions, to contract COVID-19, say two women from Athabasca. 

Margaret Anderson, the archivist at the Alice B. Donahue Library and Archives, got it from a coworker whose child attends Edwin Parr Composite (EPC) and unknowingly brought it into the workplace. Kristen MacKenzie also thinks she got the virus from one of two family members associated with the school. 

“The day that she was getting sick we thought she was having a reaction because she had just been vaccinated,” Anderson said. “For that reason, we were caught off guard.” 

Anderson did not have a variant, but MacKenzie was confirmed to have the UK variant, also known as B.1.1.7, with her step-daughter getting sick first, then her husband, but it missed her daughter who stayed with her father until recently to avoid contact. 

“I'm pretty certain it was through the school. My hubby and my step-daughter are at the school all the time," she said. “Our 16-year-old, she was symptomatic first, so I don't know if she contracted it first or what; it's hard to say, but I'm pretty certain that one of the two of them brought it home to me.” 

All three of them got very ill, MacKenzie said, primarily herself and her husband. 

“The two of us were down for the count in bed doing absolutely nothing else except for trying to find the easiest foods and stuff to make between (March) 26th and April 2 or so,” she said. “It was a 10-day period where we just didn't do anything; we couldn't — muscle aches, headaches, cough, nausea, off and on.” 

Anderson had similar symptoms of head and body aches she described as “really, really painful” as well as difficulty breathing. 

“My infection happened on April 6 and I got my COVID test on (April 11) and had a sort of ambiguous recorded message on my phone. They were actually talking about variant, but they didn't ... confirm that I was sick with COVID,” said Anderson. “I didn't actually get the text from AHS (Alberta Health Services) I was sick with COVID until (April 13).” 

She said she had the chance to get vaccinated but felt there were people who needed it more than she did because she was being careful and following precautions. 

“Honestly I was not in the room more than 10 minutes. I don't go in to eat with the folks or anything; I sit at my desk and all I had done was gone in to get coffee and then we realized that she had a migraine and she was going home in a couple of minutes,” said Anderson. “(I said), best wishes and we'll see you tomorrow and please take care and then that was it.” 

Both women also experienced a few days of feeling good before the virus took off again, stronger than before. 

“For three days I was really good and suddenly, it's like it reared its head and it hit me again; that fatigue, the massive headache, and I started getting stuffy and congested,” said MacKenzie. “And then that's when it really started and it just went downhill from there.” 

Anderson also felt well enough to do some yard work, but it set back her recovery. 

“You really do have to be careful with your recovery to just take the time and take care of yourself, be kind to yourself,” she said. ‘What I would like people to know is that this is not a joke. It's not the flu; people are very ill with this.” 

MacKenzie also wants people to learn from her experience and it's why she posted on Facebook. 

“I have been lucky enough to have some people reach out to me and say that my post was helpful to them and that's all I ever wanted was just to give somebody a little something to help them feel better about the choices they make or maybe change the choices they make so far,” she said.

Both women agree avoiding COVID is best because you don’t know how your body will react and neither had any underlying conditions which MacKenzie, who’s a nurse, thinks people use to support their arguments COVID isn’t as bad as reported. 

“It's one of those hindsight things I think,” she said. “’Oh well, this person had high blood pressure when they got so sick.’ Yeah, but the next person had high blood pressure and they didn't get sick at all, but that didn't matter because it didn't affect them the same so, it's that hindsight that sometimes drives home certain arguments.” 

And while Anderson is on the mend, MacKenzie is dealing with a secondary infection “100 per cent” brought on by having COVID. 

“A virus has a tendency to depress your white blood cell count, so that it makes it easy for other infections to come along and take advantage,” she said. “Now my problem is I got a secondary infection; I've got bronchopneumonia. So, that's what's been kicking my butt for the last couple of weeks.” 

Another concern both had was passing it on to people who would not fare as well and MacKenzie said in her Facebook post she had passed it on to her parents. 

“For anyone who doesn't know, I am a caregiver for my mother who has cancer and is on chemo ... so you can imagine the amount of guilt I have carried with me over the last few weeks, just waiting for the other shoe to drop," she posted April 17. 

Luckily, they both developed mild symptoms and have fully recovered, reinforcing her statement that some point to underlying conditions to argue COVID-19 is no worse than the flu. 

“I'm just aware that I'm very privileged and pretty lucky to be able to get sick like this and have all the support in the world — I wish it was so for everyone,” said Anderson. 

MacKenzie added she would like people to be courteous to each other. 

“Being reasonable, I think, is the key — be reasonable and considerate,” she said. “Those are the two things that I think are really important.” 

Heather Stocking

About the Author: Heather Stocking

Heather Stocking a reporter at the Athabasca Advocate, a weekly paper in Northern Alberta. Heather covers all aspects of the news in and around Athabasca and Boyle as well as other small communities.
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