For 19 months, Cayuga County Legislature Chairwoman Aileen McNabb-Coleman has been leading the local COVID-19 response. Two weeks ago, she joined more than 8,000 Cayuga County residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March 2020.
McNabb-Coleman revealed her diagnosis in social media posts over the weekend. In an interview with The Citizen on Monday, she said her symptoms began on Oct. 5 or 6. By Oct. 9, when she lost her ability to smell or taste, she took an at-home test. It showed she had COVID-19.
The result surprised McNabb-Coleman, who said with a laugh that she's had "zero fun" in a year and a half. Those around her were surprised, too, knowing that she has adopted extra measures to avoid being infected. She does not know how she contracted the virus. Her son was sick around the same time and he had respiratory symptoms that required medical treatment. But he tested negative for COVID-19. He was recently tested again and the result was the same.
McNabb-Coleman's symptoms included congestion, high fever that lasted for days, joint and body aches, loss of taste and smell, and night sweats.
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"Certainly with those classic signs you knew something was going on," she said.
McNabb-Coleman is doing better. She was released from isolation — a requirement for positive cases — at midnight Saturday. She returned to her office on Monday.
While sharing her COVID-19 story, McNabb-Coleman also highlighted the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine. She announced in August that she was vaccinated.
Because McNabb-Coleman has what she described as a chronic illness — she takes immunosuppressant medication — she consulted with her doctors to determine whether she could get vaccinated. She believes — and so do her doctors — that the vaccine prevented her from experiencing COVID-19 complications.
"I did not need any interventions — being placed in a hospital or additional medications," she said. "We credited the vaccine for that. I did get the vaccine knowing that I'm on immunosuppressant medications. We knew that I wasn't going to get the full effect of the vaccine, but I do think I had something to protect me."
How COVID-19 affects those with compromised immune systems and people with comorbidities is one reason federal regulators decided to allow booster shots, which can provide an additional layer of protection against the virus. Those groups are at a higher risk of serious illness compared to the general population.
Being vaccinated also provided McNabb-Coleman with emotional support knowing, she said, she had "done everything I could to protect myself."
"I probably would've completely panicked had I not had the vaccine," she said. "I do think, medically, I didn't see as strong of symptoms as I likely would have."
McNabb-Coleman also responded to skeptics who, when a vaccinated person tests positive for COVID-19, question the efficacy of the vaccine.
There have been "breakthrough" cases — vaccinated residents testing positive — in Cayuga County. Since Aug. 23, more than one-third of new COVID-19 cases are fully vaccinated individuals.
"I know people see those numbers and they say, 'What's the difference?' I think it is the difference between death and extensive interventions in a hospital," she said. "You might land in the hospital. You may need oxygen or breathing treatments or something like that. But (the vaccine) may keep you off a ventilator. It may keep you from having other serious symptoms that lead to death."
Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.