How COVID-19 hit me, By Chiamaka Okafor

Calabar, the capital city of Cross River State, did not change much from the town I met in 2011 when I first visited; “it is still the old Calabar,” the man beside me said. Could it be the same structures from the former capital of the country? I asked myself.

Driving through Ugep, Ikom to Ogoja (I saw the Ikom river, where does it lead to again?), the trees, the number of task force ready to jump on any driver who defaults were unbelievable.

”No taskforce reach this people for Nigeria o,” said a young man who was seated in the same row as myself.

We were seated four in a row in a Sienna car, I was cringing and almost scared; none of them had a face mask on. It was in fact normal for people to sit four in a row in a commercial vehicle with strangers who you did not know where they have been to.

I quickly adorned my face with a mask. We were short of kissing one another. What are these people thinking? I had the answer: COVID-19 is now a thing of the past.

Reality hit not long after; this is Cross River State, the same state that was in denial of the existence of the virus for a long time (alongside Kogi State of course). That offered an explanation to the nonchalant behavior from residents of the state; not that this nonchalance is exclusive to Cross River but other states still had some form of decorum.

I was taken aback; two weeks before Calabar, I was in Kebbi, a sparsely populated state. I did not sit in a vehicle with more than two people although they also did not have their mask on but I had mine with some space too and that was okay to keep all of us safe.

And I tested positive for the virus

Well, my own reality soon dawned on me when I went for a COVID-19 test during my visit to Calabar

“You tested positive; your result is positive,” the laboratory technician mentioned to me while handing me the result of the test

Was I surprised? I would not say so given the numerous closed-up moments I had in the days preceding the test but I did protect myself and followed all the safety protocols.

In the midst of what could be described as a pandemonium was a comic relief for me: there was another young man who would not accept his test results as he demanded two more tests. It was like a scene from the movies. How can anyone want to go through this terrible process of nose invasion again?

Femi, the guy who wanted another test, insisted on having another test done; I mean two other tests because he was in denial, like most persons.

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Bracing up for my positive COVID-19 reality

I could not possibly have thought of doubting the result. So, I called my godfather who was the last person I saw before leaving base for Calabar to inform him of this very wonderful development.

He was calm, as usual, but not until I said, “I think I should write a reporter’s dairy on this. People need to be reminded that this virus is as much our land owner as much as it is our tenant.”

He opposed it so much, saying I could not put myself out there and have people ignore the true essence of writing about my experience which was to emphasise the need to mask up and stay safe- he was afraid of the stigma that could come with this.

I sought a second opinion; I spoke to my friend Ola, who said “you must write about this. With all the information you have around the virus, you still got infected… people need to be reminded.”

Dear reader, mask up and keep safe

COVID-19 is real and so is the second wave of the pandemic. The prediction on the second wave may become our reality as so many of us including the best of us are beginning to act like the pandemic is over, while it is not.

Recently, I had a conversation with a health expert who works in the public sector and he was alluding Africa’s Covid-19 story to the supernatural… this is the story of most of us.

I hate to sound like the antichrist which many are searching to destroy but I urge us to follow the science of this, understand and do better at different levels. Most importantly, mask up and keep safe.

I always thought that I would be the last person to test positive for Covid-19 given how informed I am around the subject matter; I have reported on it from the inception, made friends with authorities in virology and infectious disease management as well as public health.

I have educated, argued and fought with people who continue to believe Covid-19 is fiction. I took out time to take classes on infectious diseases to help my understanding and reporting the pandemic (virus); all these I did and still doing to make sure I am well informed and in turn inform the public whom I write for on how to survive the pandemic and stay safe.

Naturally, from the above, it is expected that because I am well informed, I would be among the many or few who will not get infected- I am surprised and probably still trying to process how I have been boxed into this corner.

I would have loved to keep my status private because I will not want to be stigmatised and all that but keeping mute about this reality that many have continued to deny will be doing a great disservice to the public whom my service is to.

On one hand, I cannot say I am in a good place emotionally because the power of choice has been taken away from me and I cannot negotiate- I am forced to remain in isolation for 14 days after which I must return for another test to confirm my status which will either be negative or positive (it must be one of the two. I pray for the former).

Before now, I had the power to decide if I wanted to go out to get things done myself or stay in and have other people help me; well, today, that power is no longer mine until another test is done and it is negative.

It is so frustrating, I cannot get things done my way; I have to depend on third parties for everything I need from outside my immediate space even the water I drink, the food I eat. I also have to warn friends to stay away from me because I want no casualty in my name- we have to keep everyone safe from Covid-19.

On the other hand, testing positive for COVID-19 in a country where there is so much distrust in government and all that represents, will hopefully, help to re-emphasise that the pandemic is real and the need to protect ourselves and loved ones.

Fortunately, I am pre-symptomatic with headache, loss of sense of smell and fatigue.

There is no guarantee that the next person who might get infected will be asymptomatic.

If you have been following the news, you would have read about the constant, untethered rise in the number of cases in Nigeria, not to mention the U.S who just broke its own record recently.

72,140 cases, 1,190 deaths, these numbers are real even though we are still testing below what we should.


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