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Manhattan Beach resident Denise Berger, pictured right, with friends on a trip to Vail recently. Two friends were tested positive for coronavirus and she is in isolation in her home in Manhattan Beach with symptoms but has not been tested. (photo courtesy of Denise Berger)

Denise Berger and five friends traveled to Vail, Colorado for a vacation on March 5 to “blissfully enjoy themselves” skiing. But since March 13, she has been in isolation since her friend has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The women have been friends since they met in New York City in their 20s and live around the country, so once a year they meet up for a vacation, usually skiing in Vail because they have access to a condo.

When the Manhattan Beach resident learned her friend had tested positive, she began isolating herself in the guest room while her husband and daughter, who turns 18 years old on Thursday, have been self-quarantined in another part of the house. Their son, who is in college, is staying at a friend's house so not to risk exposure. On March 14, she started having flu-like symptoms including a 100-degree fever, body aches and feeling a certain malaise.

She felt better for a few days, but the symptoms flared up again. Her lungs, she said felt a bit heavier.

But because of lack of testing, she is unsure is she is positive for COVID-19.

“My family is still quarantining, we haven't left the house since a week ago Friday and I haven't been in contact with them,” said Berger, an online professor in graduate programs at both Pepperdine University and Vanderbilt University, on Monday. “And the good news is that everyone that I came in contact with in the four days before I found out and the five days before I had symptoms is doing fine. And my husband and my daughter haven't had symptoms either.”

But Berger, who said she and her friends are in their early 50s, said her main concern, after five people have tested positive in Manhattan Beach, is that “presumptive cases” are not being tracked.

“So when people see that there's only five cases, it gives them a false sense of security," said Berger. “But the reality is there were zero confirmed cases in Vail and it exploded all around us in a matter of days.”

Vail trip

Berger’s friend so badly broke her ankle shortly after arriving in Vail that she needed major surgery. There were some complications including fluid in her lungs that was being treated with antibiotics. Her friend had surgery in Vail before they left on Monday, March 9.

"When we left on Monday, nobody knew yet that there was a cluster outbreak a-brewing," Berger said. "There were maybe a couple cases reported in Eagle County. It was all very vague, and surprisingly hard to get information. We had actually tried to find out if the first confirmed case was at Vail Hospital but privacy laws preventing sharing that information. By the time Monday rolled around, we were all anxious to get home, thinking that the big airports might start shutting down. We had no reason to think we were exposed, yet at the same time we felt nervous about the growing risk of travel."

That evening Berger learned her friend had gotten a fever and they were still treating her with antibiotics in the hospital.

The followings days, they heard more people being testing positive for COVID-19 in Vail. According to recent press reports, one person has died due to the coronavirus in Vail and the city’s mayor, Dave Chapin, announced a few days ago he tested positive and is in isolation. 

“A friend, a neighbor of mine put me in touch with this other group that was there just a couple days before us and eight of the 12 of them tested positive, and three of them couldn't get tested,” Berger said. “Then there was another group that they knew of, and they were all sick. And then little by little the news just came out that it was kind of all around us, unbeknownst to us. Otherwise we wouldn't have gone. If our trip was a week later, we would have canceled it.”

Two of her other friends from the trip have shown no symptoms. Of the two who had shown symptoms, one got tested in a drive-up in Chicago and another in a drive-up in Connecticut when they returned home. One has not heard back yet, but the other tested positive, Berger said Wednesday.

“I asked to get tested here, but I was told that my symptoms are not bad enough to warrant testing, to assume that I have it given the exposure, and to just keep doing what I am doing,” Berger said. “Unless I wanted to go into an ER to ask for testing, which I don't want to do.”

Social distancing

By keeping hydrated, eating normal and resting as much as possible, Berger said she’s fighting her way through the illness.

“I've been trying to have a shot of Ouzo every day,” she joked. “Alcohol going down must kill something.”

She’s also been connecting with friends and family to not feel isolated.

“We're very lucky that this isn't the 1920s,” Berger said. “We have all this technology to connect... with people that this shouldn't be that hard to do.”

She added, “Over the weekend, we all saw that there was a lot of socializing down by The Strand and it just makes me wonder, ‘Why is this so hard? You have everything at your disposal at home… this is not like war and we can get through this, but the longer we delay the act of social distancing, the more the disease lives.”

Tracking the disease

After consulting four doctors, Berger said she wondered why none of the doctors asked keep track of her condition.

“It's kind of all these presumptive cases are case studies for us to better understand the disease, but no one's really keeping track of the presumptive cases,” she said.

Berger feels the most important issue is testing.

“I get that there are not enough tests,” she said. “And I also get like that we can't overtax the healthcare system with testing. And there’s nothing more that they can do ‘quote unquote’ for me other than what I'm doing, which is staying at home and letting it run its course. The thing that I want people to know is that there are a lot of presumptive cases out there that are not being reported.”

But Berger said, “I am very optimistic that we can beat this thing sooner rather than later and return to normalcy within weeks if we can all do our part in following instructions that have been issued on a global scale. This isn’t just about Manhattan Beach, it is everywhere.”

Contact this reporter at mhixon@tbrnews.com or on Twitter @michaeljhixon.com.

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