COVID-19 survivors share their stories in hopes of stopping spread in high-risk communities

Cherri Gregg
May 13, 2020 - 9:34 pm

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)  African Americans in Philadelphia are dying of COVID-19 at a much higher rate than the city’s white population, and for most people who test positive survive, the road to recovery can be rough. So some high-risk survivors took to social media to help stop the spread.

“It was just a light cough and some body pains that I attributed to something else,” said Kyasha Tyson, a City Hall staffer who took ill in March.

“They closed City Hall on the 16,” she said. “And I believe I contracted the virus at the grocery story the Friday before. It had been a madhouse.”

Tyson didn’t believe she could get COVID-19. 

Neither did Darryl Shuler.

“I’m not a sickly person,” he said. “Everybody in my family will get sick but I never get sick. It’s just how I am.”

But he got a fever. And after two days, thinking it was a 24-hour illness, he assumed he was fine. He planned to go to a party until family members convinced him to stay home. 

For Jondhi Harrell, he knew right away what the prognosis might be.

“The home healthcare aid that cares for my father came to work sick with the symptoms of the coronavirus, so my daughter sent him home,” said Harrell, “Three days later, I was sick.”

Tyson, Shuler and Harrell each tested positive for COVID-19.  

“People are underestimating the seriousness of this disease,” said Harrell, who spent eight days in the hospital. “I have a very strong will to live, but when you can barely breathe, death definitely crosses your mind.”

The illness and recovery were scary for all three, but they all survived. And after several weeks in recovery, they are, for the most part, back to work and normal life. 

But they’ve taken their messages of social distancing and COVID-19 prevention to social media by sharing their stories.

“Stop the social gatherings, start social distancing,” said Shuler in a video posted to his Facebook page. “Nobody is coming to my house, I don’t care who they are.”

Tyson, who is now back to work in her job for Councilmember Cherelle Parker, is one of a number of Pennsylvania coronavirus survivors sharing their stories in a series of videos tweeted by Gov. Tom Wolf.

“You hear about people dying and that’s pretty much all you heard,” said Tyson. “So I took it seriously because my friends were losing people because of this virus.”

But now there are more stories surfacing of those who walked through the fire and made it out.

Harrell also shared his story online from his days in the hospital to getting his negative result after he was recovered.

But while the story of “survivors” gives hope, disparities within high-risk communities still exist.

“Death is the worst outcome,” said Dr. Calvin Johnson, “but people recovering from coronavirus infection can have a very slow and long recovery.”

Johnson, a former Health secretary for Pennsylvania, has been working with the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium to bring testing to high-risk communities. 

The group was founded by pediatric surgeon Dr. Ala Stanford last month, and has tested hundreds of people each time they set up at black churches across the region, all for free.

“Testing is necessary,” said Johnson, noting that people of color tend to have a tougher time with COVID-19 because of underlying conditions. “That is why it is important that people know, especially if they are asymptomatic.”

For the three survivors, testing positive changed everything. 

“I definitely don’t want to get this again,” said Shuler. “I am staying in the house.”

“We have to take this seriously,” Tyson added.

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