Checking on One of Santa Barbara’s ‘Presumptive Positive’ COVID-19 Patients

Bob McDermott Is Staying Busy with LEGO but Would Really Like Some Beer

It hit Bob McDermott late last Saturday ― body pain, chills, a nasty cough. He knew right away it was COVID-19. McDermott, 53, teaches kindergarten, and one of his students and her family were among the first to test positive in Santa Barbara County. 

He left a message at his doctor’s office, but a neighbor ― a retired emergency room nurse in her seventies ― amicably insisted he get tested right away. So McDermott and his wife drove through heavy rain to Cottage Hospital, where they met staff huddled under intake tents in the parking lot.


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He described his symptoms to a doctor, who gave him a quick once-over and said without hesitation, “I’m absolutely positive you have it, but we need to save the test.” McDermott remembers later remarking to his wife, “When have you ever heard a doctor say they’re absolutely positive about anything?”

Cottage sent McDermott home with instructions to self-quarantine and take care of himself. He’s on Day 6 of fluids and rest, but the disease is still getting the better of him. He only got an hour of sleep last night, kept up by coughing and a fever on top of stomach cramps and diarrhea, symptoms that doctors only recently said are connected to COVID-19. “I thought after 32 years of teaching and fighting off so many kids’ boogers I could handle this,” McDermott said, “but it’s been really rough. It’s the worst body aches I’ve ever had. I feel like I got in a fight then did a Jenny Schatzle workout.”

McDermott is just one of an untold number of “presumptive positive” cases living in Santa Barbara County, those who doctors believe are infected with the coronavirus but are unable to definitively diagnose due to the testing shortage. While the Centers for Disease Control and the California Department of Public Health combine both confirmed and presumptive cases in their regular reporting, Santa Barbara’s health officials only offer the confirmed number in their daily briefings and have declined to disclose our local presumptive figure.

McDermott, normally a “Pringle-tarian,” said his wife is making sure he eats healthy. But what he really wants is some beer. “If I have to drink one more glass of water…,” he muttered. In addition to books and TV, McDermott is keeping busy with LEGOs. “It’s an occupational hazard,” he explained, showing off via text his classroom’s incredible collection of Harry Potter scenes, complete with a Hogwarts Castle and a Quidditch pitch.

Based on what he’s read about other cases, McDermott said, his symptoms could last another six or so days. Some people have experienced the worst of it during Days 6, 7, and 8. Others say they started to feel better after Day 4 or 5 only to get clobbered 24 hours later. If there’s any silver lining, he said, it’s that he’s getting his infection out of the way and can use his gained immunity to care for others if they need it. His wife and his brother, who live with them, are so far still healthy.

McDermott is grateful for all the support and well-wishes he’s getting. “Thanks to all the amazing people out there,” he said. “Thanks for all the offers to help.” They have everything they need at the moment, he said, “But I do have one urgent request: send beer!”


At the Santa Barbara Independent, our staff is working around the clock to cover every aspect of this crisis — sorting truth from rumor.  Our reporters and editors are asking the tough questions of our public health officials and spreading the word about how we can all help one another. The community needs us — now more than ever — and we need you  in order to keep doing the important work we do. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution or with a subscription to Indy+.


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