A Dubuque man who publicly disclosed having a confirmed case of COVID-19 in a social media post now faces accusations of reckless behavior from people who believe he put others at risk.
But Jeff Spahn said he intended to educate the public and dispel the stigma surrounding the new coronavirus.
Spahn’s disclosure comes at a time of heightened tension, with six cases of COVID-19 having been reported in Dubuque County and more than 44,000 across the country. More than 500 people have died in the U.S.
Spahn believes he was exposed during a ski trip in Vail, Colo., but when he returned to Dubuque on the night of March 7, he still felt fine.
“The first week I was back, I knew nothing,” Spahn said.
He was unaware that he might have been exposed until March 14, when he read an advisory from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. It recommended that anyone who visited Eagle County, where the ski resort is located, from March 8 to 15 to minimize contact with other people.
On March 16, Spahn said, he developed a mild fever and visited his physician, from whom he requested tests for strep throat, influenza and COVID-19.
“My sister-in-law had strep, and I drank out of (her) wine glass,” he said.
His symptoms resolved three days later, but Spahn did not receive the test results, which were positive for COVID-19, until March 21.
His doctor and the Dubuque Visiting Nurse Association informed him of his status over the telephone. Citing privacy regulations, local public health officials would not confirm the test results to the Telegraph Herald.
It was the interim period for which people have attacked Spahn. He continued to go to work consistently, responding to the situation as if he had a “mild flu” by washing his hands frequently, social distancing and disinfecting surfaces he contacted.
“It was the most mild flu I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “No respiratory problems.”
Spahn said he cannot recall if his doctor told him to remain isolated after he was tested.
“Did I make a mistake by going to work? I probably did,” Spahn said. “Did I do it knowingly? No. Did I do it maliciously? No.”
He said his work did not place him in close contact with any of his three employees or others.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers close contact as being within a distance of about 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time or having direct contact with infectious secretions, such as being coughed on.
According to CDC criteria, a person such as Spahn no longer needs to practice home isolation, given that at least 72 hours have passed since his symptoms resolved without medication and that it has been at least seven days since his symptoms first appeared.
Even after a person has recovered, researchers have not ascertained whether they can continue to transmit the virus to other people.
Mary Rose Corrigan, public health specialist of the City of Dubuque, said the VNA contacts people the association believes could have been exposed to the new coronavirus.
She advises all people to continue to engage in social distancing even if they have recovered from a coronavirus infection.