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Coronavirus case No. 6

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Local attorney openly shares his diagnosis, experience with COVID-19

By Stevie Lowery

Joseph H. “Joe” Mattingly III is well-known in Marion County for a number of reasons, most notably for his successful law practice and his more than two decades of service as county attorney.

More recently, however, he’s been recognized for a much different reason.

He’s coronavirus case No. 6 in Marion County.

And, based on his experiences within the past several weeks, he’s convinced many more people have the virus, but they just don’t know it. He, himself, had no idea he had the virus until a positive test proved he did.

“I’m convinced that there are dozens and dozens of people in our county who have the virus, but haven’t been tested and are walking around with it,” Mattingly, 58, said. “If those people, and all of us, are not diligent in complying with how we are instructed by the medical community to compose ourselves during this pandemic, it certainly will get worse.”

According to Mattingly, early on Saturday morning, March 28, he received a call from his physician, Dr. David George. Dr. George told Mattingly he had a patient who had tested positive for COVID-19, and the patient disclosed to him that he and Mattingly had recent contact. Mattingly said he already knew of the patient’s test because that patient had called him earlier that morning to let him know. However, Mattingly wasn’t concerned because his contact with that person had been a month ago, and he wasn’t having any symptoms of the virus. But, Dr. George recommended Mattingly be tested for COVID-19 first thing the following Monday morning, and that he self-isolate until the results came back. 

“I really didn’t think I would test positive, but I have a great deal of confidence in Dr. George’s clinical judgment, and so I agreed to do both,” Mattingly said.

As instructed, Mattingly began self-isolation, and on Monday morning he drove to the parking lot testing location outside Family and Internal Medicine Associates to have the test administered. Thankfully, Dr. George warned Mattingly about the test.

“Dr. George warned me that the COVID-19 testing swab was significantly longer, and the sample was required from much deeper in my sinuses,” Mattingly said. “He was right.”

Mattingly said the nurse who administered the test began apologizing before she even started to get the first sample. 

“I thought my brain cavity had been breached,” Mattingly said, “and I couldn’t keep my eyes from watering. I wasn’t crying, but my watery eyes made me appear to be a big crying baby. The kind nurse apologized again, and reminded me that she needed to get a sample from the other side. My eyes were still watering 45 minutes later.”

In addition to getting his test that morning, Mattingly also had a conference call with his staff, making them aware of the situation, and that he would be working from home. But, again, he still wasn’t concerned. In fact, he said he would have bet on getting a negative test result.

Seven days later, on Sunday evening, April 5, Dr. George called and gave Mattingly the news. His test results were positive for COVID-19.

“Dr. George advised that as far as he knew, I was the sixth positive result in the county,” Mattingly said.

The following morning, a member of the Lincoln Trail District Health Department’s medical staff called Mattingly. She went over his test with him, as well as the protocol for him to continue self-quarantine until Sunday, April 12. He was advised that if he had no elevated temperature or other symptoms, he would be released to normal activity on Monday morning, April 13. She also called and spoke with Mattingly’s wife, Carol, and his son, Kelly, to review their quarantine obligations, and they all signed agreed orders to self-quarantine. 

Mattingly then had another conference call with his staff to advise them of his positive test result, and to urge them that if any of them felt the least bit ill to get tested.

“Fortunately, not a single one of the other people in my office, attorneys or staff, have tested positive from any of their tests,” Mattingly said. “However, I guess I’m not completely surprised with that. We’ve tried to take a pretty aggressive approach to this. I think we were likely the first, or certainly one of the first, downtown offices to close to public traffic. We initiated that at the close of business on March 13. Since then, everyone in the office has implemented social distancing and regularly sanitized their work area and all common areas of the office.”

The unknown

In February, Mattingly had tested positive for Influenza A, but he was repeatedly told it was extremely unlikely that he could have both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. So, when he recovered from the flu, he really didn’t have any concerns about COVID-19. However, now that he’s had plenty of time to think about it, it’s quite possible he contracted the virus during work travels in January and February, and passed it on to Dr. George’s patient, not the other way around.

“But, if that was true, why would I still test positive over a month later and nearly a month after being asymptomatic?” Mattingly said. “On the other hand, if I actually wasn’t exposed until sometime after early March, as the health department suggested, why didn’t I have any symptoms?”

And, if he had exposed anyone in the world to the virus, it would have been his wife, Carol, but she’s never had any symptoms.

“It just goes to show you how much unknown there is about this disease,” Mattingly said. “It clearly affects everyone differently. I’m fortunate that I had no symptoms.”

Mattingly said he was never fearful after his diagnosis, but he did feel guilty, wondering who he had been around and possibly transmitted the virus to. 

“I sat down and made a chronology of everywhere I had been since Feb. 15, and the names of everyone I had any contact with since then,” he said. “Fortunately, I had not been in any of the public offices or in court for nearly a month.”

Mattingly called everyone on his list to give them a heads-up so they wouldn’t be concerned when the news of his positive test became more widely known. He admits he initially felt a bit embarrassed with the stigma surrounding having the virus.

“Fear and stigma are really dangerous things,” Mattingly said. “Both get in the way of rational thinking and neither are helpful in dealing with most situations. In this case, we don’t want stigmatization to prevent people who need to be tested from getting tested because of fear of public reaction to a positive test. That’s counter-productive. Fear and stigma tend to divide us and turn us against each other. This virus should remind us of how connected we all are. Our shared vulnerability to this virus should be a source of solidarity. The virus, not the people who have been tested positive for COVID-19 – is the enemy.”

Quarantined

Since March 28, Mattingly, along with his wife and son, have been quarantined in their home in Lebanon.

“Quarantine is not bad when the only people you are around are people who you truly like spending time with,” he said.

Mattingly said they’ve all been trying to maintain a routine. He and Carol have still been working from home, and their son, Kelly, is home from the University of Kentucky for the rest of the semester. He’s been taking classes online every day, and is studying.

“No hanging out with friends for a while,” Mattingly said.

He said they have been humbled by the calls they’ve received from friends, and the offers to bring them meals or pick up groceries.

“We appreciate all of that, but if the community really wants something positive to do in the midst of all of this, they should think of the healthcare workers who are working tirelessly under a great deal of stress,” Mattingly said. “A random call to a nurse or doctor who you know is coming home exhausted and stressed, offering to deliver a meal or run an errand or just provide words of encouragement would be the right thing to do and is what we’ve come to expect of the caring community that we are all part of.”

According to Mattingly, this pandemic should be a lesson for all of us in how important it is to get information from good, reputable sources.

“If you want information about a legal issue, get it from a trusted, reputable lawyer – not your neighbor,” he said. “If your air conditioner doesn’t work, listen to the AC guy. If you want information about a medical issue like this, listen to the medical community – not a source that may tilt the information for some other purpose,” Mattingly said. “I’ve got to believe that had we heeded the warnings of the medical community, which started coming out in later January, rather than waiting until mid-March to even recognize the emergent, pandemic nature of this disease, we’d have much better control over the situation now and be in a position to return to a more normal routine much earlier.”

 

What happens when a patient tests positive?

The Lincoln Trail District Health Department (LTDHD) investigates all close contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case. Close contact means they are within 6 feet of the confirmed case for at least 20 minutes or more. LTDHD officials call these individuals, and do a very in-depth investigation. 

“It takes our investigator anywhere from one and a half hours or longer to go through the complete interview,” said Terrie Burgan, public information officer for LTDHD. “Part of this involves determining contacts, travel history and the like. That is just one client. Then we repeat that same process with all of the contacts of the primary case.”

However, just because you came into contact with a COVID-19 case does not mean you are automatically required to quarantine.

“Walking by a positive case in a hallway or being in the same room as a positive case for a few minutes does not count,” Burgan said.

Individuals should keep practicing social distancing (6 feet or more apart), and follow CDC guidance to wear cloth masks when out in public. People should also refrain from touching surfaces and then touching your mouth, face, nose or eyes. And, as always, wash your hands often, and for at least 20 seconds with warm soap and water. Use hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available.

“These steps will go a long way in helping prevent the transmission of the virus,” Burgan said.
For more information, go to www.ltdhd.org.

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