A local woman who tested positive for COVID-19 and had moderate symptoms said she believes she contracted the disease during her part-time job at a convenience store near Interstate 5, a job she took about a month ago when her other career began to slow due to the spread of the virus.
Karen Berhow, who turns 65 later this week, said Wednesday she feels better now and primarily is dealing with exhaustion. Her experience with the virus was not as bad as some cases of flu she's had but the symptoms were not what she had expected.
She developed a low-grade fever and abdominal pain about 10 days ago but thought it was a flare-up of diverticulitis, a condition that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. She said she took her normal precautions for the condition and felt better. Then late last week, she developed a cough and a strange feeling in her back.
"The weirdest part — I've never had this before — was a pain and squeezing feeling across my back where my lungs would be," said Berhow, who lives near the Frito-Lay plant on Highway 58, outside Buttonwillow. "It was this weird feeling of pressure on my back, like something squeezing me."
On Saturday night, she went to urgent care and Tuesday night she received the positive results.
Health experts have said the majority of people who contract COVID-19 will not experience serious problems with the illness. About 80 percent of people will have mild to moderate symptoms, Kern County Public Health Services Director Matt Constantine said on Tuesday during a Board of Supervisors meeting, and many can isolate and recuperate at home.
"I'm more concerned about other people than myself," she said.
Her husband, who is 70 and has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes, was going to be tested for COVID-19 on Wednesday after she called the urgent care where she was tested and explained his underlying respiratory condition. She also worries about the previous contact she's had with her 5-year-old granddaughter and her 87-year-old mother, who lives on the same property as her but in a different residence.
Berhow, who works as a local birth doula, said her last birth client was more than two months ago so she's certain there was no possibility for a mother or baby to have been exposed by her.
When that work started to slow, she took a job at a convenience store off Interstate 5 near Buttonwillow. She suspects that she likely contracted the virus from travelers passing through the store.
"I get people in there all the time traveling between LA and San Francisco. Who knows how many people I was exposed to," she said.
She did take some precautions. She kept a bottle of bleach spray nearby and constantly sprayed down the counter, and she washed her hands as frequently as possible.
"But it's just impossible ... I handle money," she said. "I don't have time to literally run to the bathroom and wash hands between every customer."
Berhow said she wanted to let people know that symptoms may not be what they think with COVID-19. She never had a fever after the initial days, when she suspected it was her diverticulitis.
"The more people that understand, the better everyone is," she said.