Former county fire chief Eric Peterson, pictured here in 2018 before retiring, warns of complacency in defending against COVID-19. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

When COVID 19 first began to take hold globally, my wife and I were in Indonesia where our 10 year-old twins were attending an international school. I had recently retired as Santa Barbara County fire chief, and the plan was to stay there for six months and then return home to Santa Barbara. In mid-March, it became clear that the crisis was going to be a worldwide problem. We became concerned that third-world language barriers and different approaches to health care could put our family at greater risk, so we packed up and came home.

As a former first responder, I tend to plan for the worst-case scenario. Precautions were taken. Grocery trips were handled like a hazmat incident, and everything that came into the house was treated with a bleach solution. Hand sanitizer was liberally applied after and during every trip outside. The CDC had not yet made clear their recommendations on wearing masks, but after having just been in Singapore where literally everyone wore them, we did too.

In mid May, the governor relaxed some of the restrictions, and we followed suit. We went on a couple of socially distanced hikes with friends, went to the beach, and allowed a few socially distanced playdates for the kids.

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In early July, within days of each other, my wife and I both felt sick with minor cold symptoms. We did not really think we had the virus, but in an abundance of caution, we went and had a test. We were shocked when we both came back positive.

From that point on we did not leave our home for a solid month. We were lucky in that the virus never got into our lungs. Bad headaches, major fatigue, and a complete loss of taste and smell were our symptoms. We depended on Instacart and good friends dropping food off on the porch.

Thankfully, we are now fully recovered. The kids were unaffected and are fine. Food no longer tastes like paper towels, and we can exercise again. We will never know for sure how this thing got into our house. The point of this is that I have heard people say that Santa Barbara is a bubble, and the risk of getting the virus is overblown or maybe even a hoax. Not true.

I have also heard people say things to the effect of, “I wish I would just get COVID and get it over with.” Not a good idea. We still don’t know what the long-term effects of the virus are, or how long the resistance to it will last now that we have recovered. We are relatively healthy people with no preexisting health problems. Although we never felt the need to go to the hospital, neither one of us can remember feeling that sick for that long of a time.

Avoid this damned thing. If you don’t know anyone who has had the virus, but you know or have met me, well, now you know someone. Stay safe Santa Barbara. Stay healthy.

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