Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.
It started with a funeral.
Tina Maharath, a Democratic state senator from Canal Winchester, attended a wake Aug. 9 after her brother-in-law’s funeral, who died of non-COVID-19 illness.
Two of his family members, who Maharath said tested positive for COVID-19, came to the wake. Maharath described them as skeptical of the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Slowly, one by one, we started getting the phone calls from each one of our family members,” she said in an interview.
Maharath comes from a big family — common, she said, among Laotians. Her husband has 19 siblings, she has 16. The new coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, left from the wake to invade 11 different family households, infecting 33 family members including a 9-month-old baby.
As of Thursday, two have died: Maharath’s 44-year-old sister-in-law, who had been battling brain cancer for a year, and her sister-in-law’s father-in-law.
Five family members were hospitalized, including one who Maharath said is likely to die soon from COVID-19. The five people hospitalized are between 34- and 76-years old. They were hospitalized anywhere from two to six weeks. Mahrath’s sister-in-law was ventilated for three weeks.
All five had underlying health conditions like asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes, all common conditions in Ohio.
The familial outbreak, Maharath said, is hopefully over. But uncertainty over longevity of symptoms or long term damage is frightening.
“We’re concerned because of the five people who were hospitalized, they still have lingering symptoms too, and another sister-in-law who was pregnant, she has lingering symptoms too,” Maharath said. “I don’t have underlying conditions, I’m not pregnant. So why do I have symptoms?”
Patient groups, calling themselves “long haulers,” have insisted they’ve been experiencing COVID-19 symptoms for month. The CDC has found COVID-19 can result in prolonged illness, even among younger and healthier adults.
Six weeks out from the positive test result, Maharath said she still feels COVID-19’s symptoms. She said she feels dehydrated, experiences coughing spells, and headaches.
Her lungs, she said, take most the heat.
“I just feel weak,” she said. “My lungs feel like something is just punching them. Randomly, it feels like something is just stabbing my lungs.”
Nearly 148,000 Ohioans have contracted COVID-19 according to state data, which officials believe to be an undercount. At least 4,715 have died.
Maharath’s diagnosis drew headlines in August. On Wednesday, however, Maharath shared the story of the outbreak through her family in a floor speech opposing Senate Bill 311.
The legislation, which Senate Republicans passed, would forbid the Ohio Department of Health from issuing anything like the stay-at-home order it issued in March, which closed “non-essential” businesses in an effort to slow the spread of the recently-detected coronavirus.
It would also allow lawmakers — who have repeatedly expressed skepticism about the virus, ODH’s data tracking the virus, and non-pharmaceutical interventions to control the virus like masks and social distancing — to rescind ODH orders.
However, a COVID-19 diagnosis did not prove to be a proxy vote against the legislation.
Sen. Bob Peterson, R-Washington C.H., who contracted the disease earlier this month, voted in favor.
Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Adena, did as well. He contracted a mild case of the disease in August. According to a Herald Star report, Hoagland’s wife was hospitalized with the disease as well. Both his wife’s parents reportedly died from COVID-19.
With what they hope to be the worst of the outbreak behind them, Maharath said her family is planning funerals for the deceased. They plan stricter social distancing and mask requirements.
Maharath said she’s not planning to attend.