One of first Minnesotans with COVID-19 describes experience, urges people to 'take this seriously'

A man poses by a table for a photo.
Jonah Stillman of Excelsior finished quarantine this week, after contracting the novel coronavirus while traveling abroad.
Courtesy of Jonah Stillman

One of the first Minnesotans to publicly acknowledge testing positive for COVID-19 was 20-year-old Jonah Stillman of Excelsior. He took to Twitter last week to urge people to take the pandemic seriously.

Stillman, who was in self-quarantine, received word from the Minnesota Department of Health earlier this week that he is in the clear. He joined MPR News host Tom Crann to talk about the experience.

Hear the conversation using the audio player above, or read the transcript below. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How you're feeling today?

I'm feeling much better today. I would say I'm almost totally back to normal.

You got a test back in that period when tests were less restricted and available through drive-through test sites. Is that how that worked?

It was actually even before we started seeing drive-through test sites pop up. I went to a local doctor's office. They tested me because I had been traveling for work. I was in multiple different areas that were considered high risk areas. I was tested immediately, quarantined and found out I was positive.

Did you have symptoms at that time?

I did have minor symptoms — sore throat, a cough and minor body aches. I was convincing myself that the body aches were from long plane rides, train rides, etc. But I'm very glad I got tested.

How bad did the symptoms get after you were tested?

So I had what I would say was a minor cold at first. I had arrived home from my travel on a Thursday. I got my test results back on that Saturday, and by Monday morning, I was running a very high fever — I think around 104 degrees for almost four consecutive days after that — the worst body aches I've ever felt, horrible cough, sore throat, no sense of smell or taste whatsoever, and very, very little appetite. It was by far the sickest I have ever been and it was about a four- to five-day window where it was just brutal.

Did you have medical care during any of that period, or were you just sort of working this out at home alone?

I was quarantined in my house with my mother, who was my caretaker. I feel very lucky to have had someone. But there was no medical care. I have ample doctors in my family who advised me. You know, there's nothing really to do — stay home, stay hydrated. But I was having communication via phone with the Minnesota Department of Health multiple times a day. So I was being checked in on a lot.

How's your mom?

My mom's doing fine. You know, luckily, we think we were very smart about it. We had very limited interaction. I didn't really leave my room. She would leave food at the top of the stairs and I would go grab it. She has showed no signs of symptoms. She feels healthy. I feel happy and hopeful that that continues.

So starting this weekend, we are urged by the governor to stay at home except for essential trips. What would you say to anyone, especially in your generation, Gen Z, who just isn't inclined to take all this social distancing seriously?

That was the whole purpose behind my tweet. You know, I wouldn't say I was ignorant or naive to this when it started, but I didn't think one, I'd for sure get it and, two, I didn't think I would get that sick. But I can tell you I was definitely down for the count, and if you're not taking this seriously, I surely would. Especially to my generation, we claim to be the most digitally connected and technologically savvy generation in history, so it shouldn't change everything. We have endless means to stay connected with friends. It's not the end of the world. We will get past this for sure.

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