By Capt. Michael Leach
| 9th Mission Support Command | May 7, 2020
Capt. Michael Leach, a legal advisor assigned to the 658th Regional Support Group headquartered at Camp Humphreys, South Korea gives a personal perspective on dealing with being infected by COVID19 virus. (Photo by Courtesy photo)
A personal perspective by a colleague in our command — Capt. Michael Leach, 658th Regional Support Group legal advisor — on dealing with being infected by COVID-19 virus.
(Note: All comments and opinions are of the individual and not a reflection of any Department of Army official position.)
My name is Capt. Michael Leach, and this is my story to share on how I dealt with contracting the COVID-19 virus. I am a judge advocate (27A) officer assigned to the 658th Regional Support Group at Camp Humphreys, South Korea. In my civilian capacity, I serve as a U.S. diplomat in Shenyang, China. After providing guidance and service to American citizens in northeast China, I was evacuated by the U.S. State Department and assigned to a domestic passport agency during the first week of March 2020.
It was while transitioned in Washington, D.C from returning to the United States, approximately 11 days into a 14-day self-quarantine, that I realized I must have contracted the virus. This article will share my experience as well as recommendations or considerations on how to deal with this situation. Luckily, I survived the disease, the probable but uncertain result of being in good health and coming down with a relatively mild case. Over the course of my experience, I negotiated remotely with testing providers, physicians, and public health departments. This article is my after-action review of the experience. In writing, I hope to provide perspective to Soldiers and to help the force better adapt to the pandemic.
The first signs I experienced was feeling dryness in my throat and general body fatigue. Hours later, I developed a dry cough. Although I initially assumed I had seasonal allergies, I knew these symptoms were consistent with COVID-19. As part of my diplomatic duties, I received regular briefings on COVID-19, information that served me well in understanding my own case. What I learned about the symptoms and recommended actions if symptoms arise is on the Centers for Disease Control website (http://www.cdc.gov).
I wrote to the local public health agency asking for the left and right limits of scheduling a COVID-19 test. Adhering to local guidelines, and on my own initiative, I underwent a drive through COVID-19 test for my safely and that of my fellow Americans, the first of five tests. While waiting for my results, I stayed isolated in my hotel room and did not accept room cleaning or allow visitors. When the positive result came back, I was immediately contacted by the testing clinic, local health authorities, and after I notified them, my chain of command. The attention given to my case by my section leader and brigade commander were important to my overall attitude and resilience throughout, as this positive result would ultimately keep me in isolation for 29 days.
I was lucky. I did not suffer from an extended high fever, breathing was never difficult, and my cough and aching chest symptoms subsided about four days after my positive result. I coordinated almost daily with the local public health agency about re-testing and the criteria for my release. It was ultimately decided that my release would be conditioned on two negative COVID-19 test results within 24 hours of each other, a decision I fully supported. After four days of no symptoms, I still tested positive. The required two negative results did not come back until 13 days after my initial diagnosis, and a week after my symptoms were gone. I was finally released in early April after receiving a total of five COVID-19 tests.
What sustaining actions can I relay to my fellow Soldiers on how to face down this disease? Looking back, I would suggest the following:
SUSTAIN ONE: KNOW HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELVES AND OTHERS FROM COVID-19
During my initial stay at a hotel in Washington, I ate breakfast in the dining room and allowed the staff to clean my room daily. Although these actions were consistent with District of Columbia Public Health policies, they were not the most conservative measures I could have taken. Had I known how easily I could contract COVID-19, I would have been more careful, remaining completely out of circulation by getting food delivered and declining room cleaning, despite being asymptomatic. Staying isolated when possible and social distancing really is the key to stopping the spread. When I did start feeling symptoms, I knew what was happening early because I had a good understanding of the disease. As Soldiers, we are all more effective when we understand what we’re up against. Educating yourself about COVID-19 and following CDC guidelines are important tools you can employ to counter this threat.
SUSTAIN TWO: CONSULTATION WITH EXPERTS AND FOLLOWING THEIR GUIDANCE IS A NECESSARY PART OF THE PROCESS
COVID-19 was easy on me in terms of personal safety, but the disease affects others differently, and there’s no telling which cases will be serious, or even lethal. My worst-case scenario was spreading the disease to others, including my aging in-laws, spouse, and children. Without my diagnosis, guidance from the public health department, and isolation during recovery, I would have risked the lives of my loved ones. As Soldiers we have a responsibility to conduct ourselves safely in spite of economic, social, or emotional pressure. An invaluable component of public health is educating ourselves and advocating for proper medical attention, diagnosis, and treatment. The weeks I spent in isolation were bearable because I knew I was doing the right thing to keep others safe.
SUSTAIN THREE: MAINTAIN YOUR SPIRITUAL, INTELLECTUAL, AND PHYSICAL HEALTH
It was not easy recovering alone while entertaining the very real possibility that my case could become life threatening. To counter, I maintained close contact with my friends and family, my leadership and colleagues, and the health workers monitoring my case. Importantly, I also maintained a routine that kept me spiritually, intellectually, and physically healthy. I made sure to eat and sleep on a regular schedule. I set personal deadlines for work projects, online training, and professional development projects. I read books, played guitar, and spoke with my support system daily. Once I was able, I made sure to exercise in the room so that my physical readiness did not suffer unnecessarily.
My advice to Soldiers is to stay dialed in, whether you are sick or following local stay-at-home orders. I highly recommend keeping yourself engaged, either through your professional networks or spending time cultivating your spiritual, intellectual, or physical health. Video chat your teachers, spiritual advisors, loved ones, and old friends. Catch up on the books you haven’t gotten around to, do some body weight exercises, or ask your section leaders if your unit needs assistance. Paying attention to these items got me through an otherwise rough few weeks, and made release from isolation that much sweeter. Army strong!
Captain Michael Leach
Fellow Soldier, Son, Husband, and Father, & Friend