More than 15,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Alabama as of Tuesday morning. While 566 people have lost their lives to the novel coronavirus — nine in Marshall County — there are at least 7,951 presumed recovered statewide, according to the ADPH.

Jason Pankey and his family, of Albertville, are among those recovered in Marshall County.

After discovering his fiancé, Crystal, had been exposed to the novel coronavirus at an assisted living facility where she works, Pankey said they quickly went to be tested. At the time, Pankey said he had what felt like allergy symptoms that come with every spring. On April 17, their tests each came back positive for COVID-19.

For the next 29 days, Pankey said he and his family quarantined.

After the couple tested positive, Pankey said his son, Isaiah, 19, later tested positive. His youngest son, Kylar, 9, was never tested.

 “We were told by the pediatrician to just treat Kylar like he had the virus and not worry about getting him tested,” Pankey said. “Fortunately, he never showed symptoms.”

Pankey said everyone stayed in their rooms and isolated themselves for the next month.

Isaiah had minimal symptoms. He lost his appetite at times, but that’s all, Pankey said.

Crystal, 39, only suffered from fatigue during her stint with the virus — a far cry from Pankey’s 

experience. The 47-year-old said his symptoms, including fatigue and difficulty breathing, accelerated after seven days.

 “It’s like the flu times 10,” Pankey recalled.

For the majority of the 29-day quarantine, Pankey said he stayed in bed. What little he got out of bed, it was never long. His legs would “feel like Jello” and cramp easily.

Finding ways to pass the time was critical each day, Pankey said.

 “I suffered from anxiety really bad,” he said. “You worry because you hear everything on the news. I was told the worst cases start minor, then go bad… You just never knew what the next day would be like.”

Pankey said he found himself in tears at times, worrying if any of his family’s conditions might ever take a turn for the worst. 

 “Isolating for so long, you kind of start losing your mind a little bit,” he said.

He barely watched television; Pankey said trying to read would cause monstrous headaches. 

So to help get through the tough days, he would shut his eyes and listen to an audio version of the Bible.

 “I started praying more,” Pankey said. “God gave me that inner peace that I needed … I’ve never been really prayerful; they always say people turn to God in the worst of times. I believe this happened for the good. It’s changed the way I look at life — I’m growing closer to God.”

Over his 29-day journey, Pankey said he took five different tests before being confirmed negative Thursday, May 15.

Pankey said he was appreciative of the community’s support during his family’s sickness. He said many people donated food and money while they were unable to work.

But since his bout with the virus ended and he returned to work at Team One Nissan of Albertville, Pankey said he still seems to be “treated like a leper.”

He published a few posts on Facebook about his family’s battle with the virus “to give relief to potential customers and let people know what was going on,” however, Pankey said there were still some people who were leery of being around him.

 “To people like that I’d say, ‘Look, I get it. Yes, I had it, but I’ve been confirmed negative. How many of those folks at [the grocery store] do you know have been confirmed negative?’” he said.

One Marshall County business owner understands Pankey’s troubles — she spoke with The Reporter under the condition she remain anonymous. Since having COVID-19, she said her own family had been avoiding her, so she feared her business could be jeopardy as well.

She and her husband were “one of the first” to get the virus in Marshall County. 

 “It was a tragic, traumatic experience,” she said. “It takes away a month of your life.”

The 38-year-old said she and her husband each had COVID-19. Much like Pankey, she said the hardest part was dealing with the stress of not knowing what could happen next.

 “The scariest thing being sick is not knowing where it will turn,” she said. “I think 20% of the battle was being sick and the other 80% was dealing with the worry that comes with it.”

She said body aches were chief among symptoms. Breathing was also difficult; it often felt like “breathing through a straw … not getting enough air,” she said.

Though there is no cure or specified treatment for COVID-19, the local business owner said her husband took several types of medication to help get over the virus. She, however, does not take medicine, so she elected to use “natural remedies” and add lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, honey and garlic to her diet to “let the virus run its course.”

After nearly two months of quarantine, she said her family was finally free of the virus. She said her family was able to get through it by the grace of God.

 “It was scary,” she said. “Honestly, it changed my life in ways I can’t explain… We went from ‘oh, free vacation’ to our family panic-stricken. But we turned to God, trusted Him and now I’m closer than I’ve ever been.”

Prior to getting the virus, Pankey, as well as the local business owner, were both skeptical of the virus. But since facing it first-hand, they encourage the public to take it seriously.

 “Do I think people are overreacting to it a little bit? Maybe,” Pankey said. “But this is not a hoax. It depends on the person as to how bad it is.”

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