Suraj Patel, an attorney and instructor at NYU, tested positive for COVID-19 in the midst of his campaign to unseat Carolyn Maloney in New York Congressional District 12. This is his story and reflections on the experience.
By Suraj Patel
In the interest of transparency and accountability, I am announcing that I tested positive for COVID-19.
About 10 days ago, I began experiencing a troubling tightness in my chest and difficulty breathing followed by a regular fever of 102 degrees. I live with two doctors whose ability to return to work was dependent on our household remaining COVID-free.
Therefore, we had to test to verify our condition so they would not miss work. My housemates and I all tested positive for COVID-19 and have been in self-quarantine since then and have recovered.
Patel and Roommates All Test Positive
I am fortunate that one of my fellow patients — my older brother — is an ER Doctor with whom I live. He conducted a nasopharyngeal swab test for COVID-19 at home that was securely sent to a lab without coming into contact with anyone or clogging hospital waiting rooms.
We experienced the symptoms of a COVID infection including 101–102-degree fevers, shortness of breath, and body aches for several days.
I am personally happy that I am now fully recovered and have been asymptomatic for more days than hospital guidelines require for going back to work.
Therefore, in this critical time, we are now fortunate to have both our health and the certainty that we no longer pose a risk to others of carrying the COVID infection. In fact, we have signed up to donate our antibody-rich plasma at Mt. Sinai Hospital to aid in an experimental therapy for the most serious COVID cases.
And from here on out, we plan to go back out into the City we love and help where we are needed — in the emergency rooms, temporary hospitals, soup kitchens, public housing, senior centers, and grocery stores and on the streets.
New York is bleeding and it’s painful.
New Yorkers and Americans at large are stepping up in a tremendous unified way. We know how important it is to our most vulnerable populations that we slow the growth of this COVID epidemic.
But as this becomes less abstract and more personal — when people’s loved ones start showing symptoms — human nature is such that we are going to want certainty and safety.
Government officials shouldn’t shame us for this need while failing to address their own failure to provide testing. This is why we must demand universal COVID testing.
The only proven way to slow and eventually stop this pandemic is to have an accurate picture of who has had the disease, who currently has it, and who is still at risk.
Social distancing and the strong leadership of Governor Cuomo and others is buying us vital time, but the question is what is our federal government doing with the time that the sacrifices of so many Americans are buying them?
If we fail to universally test, we face an indefinite amount of time in social distancing. But new cases of the virus arise when we ultimately return to normal life.
Let me be clear: medical experts agree that social distancing alone can not isolate this epidemic. We must mobilize the full strength of the public, private, and academic sectors to universally test every single person in this country. We must do so in a way that preserves our vital supplies of PPE equipment.
This is not an impossible goal.
The United Kingdom is making millions of 15-minute at-home testing kits available to the general public to ascertain who already had the COVID infection.
In one Italian town, we showed mass testing could eradicate the coronavirus. And South Korea has shown us that widespread, regular testing is the only way to significantly flatten the curve.
Iceland’s approach to COVID rests on aggressive testing regardless of symptoms. This confirms research showing that those without symptoms greatly contribute to the transmission of the disease.
It’s possible to universally test. So what do we need?
Well, to start, we need political courage.
We are currently witnessing exactly why the status quo in Congress can no longer effectively govern our Country in the 21st Century.
We need leadership to put people before politics and country before party and follow the lead of the countries above. From there, we will need FDA approval and supply chain assistance.
The technology exists, the infrastructure exists. All we need is the political will to solve this logistics problem. And that must come from the federal government and perhaps private labs and partners.
Congress and the President must act in the best interest of our heroes: our front line workers.
Healthcare professionals, first responders, transit workers, grocery store employees, pharmacists, government personnel, members of the media, members of the military, and all who can not work from home would be tested regularly, even when not presenting symptoms.
If not for our heroes, then for our seniors; the keepers of humanity’s collective wisdom. They do not have the ability to fight this disease on their own. For their sake, we must fight for them.
This article previously appeared in slightly different form on Medium.