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Pasco man, 46, says he’s county’s first coronavirus patient

He came in contact with a man later hospitalized with coronavirus.
Gene DellaSala, of Land O' Lakes, identified himself as the first known coronavirus patient in Pasco County.
Gene DellaSala, of Land O' Lakes, identified himself as the first known coronavirus patient in Pasco County. [ Courtesy of Gene DellaSala ]
Published Mar. 11, 2020
Updated Mar. 12, 2020

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LAND O’ LAKES — Gene DellaSala said the man who visited his home on Feb. 28 didn’t look sick.

DellaSala, 46, runs Audioholics.com, a long-running audio-visual industry publication. His visitor, who DellaSala said is 70, had just come from a trade show in Tampa and wanted to check out some new speakers DellaSala had acquired. The two sat next to each other and listened.

It was an unremarkable visit until stomach cramps and diarrhea hit DellaSala a few days later. Then he woke up exhausted, as if he hadn’t slept. He got body chills, pain in his ears and throat. A cough came on, and his chest tightened. And on Monday, a friend of his visitor called to say the 70-year-old had been hospitalized in Louisville, Ky., with coronavirus — and that the septuagenarian had traveled to China weeks earlier.

After a hospital visit Monday night, DellaSala was diagnosed Tuesday, becoming the first coronavirus patient in Pasco County. And though the Florida Department of Health said that the lone Pasco County case was “travel-related,” DellaSala said he hasn’t traveled recently.

“That’s not true at all,” he said. “I think they misunderstood.”

DellaSala publicly identified himself as the Pasco patient in a post on the Audioholics Facebook page early Wednesday morning and spoke to a Tampa Bay Times reporter.

He’d been sick for several days by the time he got the call about the Louisville patient, he said. Some days he felt awful, but one day he felt well enough to go to the gym and figured he’d kicked whatever he’d had. When it came back, he thought it may have been the flu or pneumonia.

After learning he’d been in contact with someone who’d been diagnosed with coronavirus, he called the health department, who got in touch with his doctor in the AdventHealth Medical Group. He went to AdventHealth Wesley Chapel, where he said he had his throat and nose swabbed twice and was cleared of the flu and pneumonia. Between leaving there early Tuesday morning and getting a diagnosis later that day, he said his fever rose to 102 degrees. (DellaSala provided the Times with documents showing he was discharged from the hospital early Tuesday morning.)

Health officials told DellaSala to self-quarantine at home, he said. His wife and two children have been told to stay at home, too, and DellaSala said he’s sleeping in a separate bed and wearing a mask when he’s around them. He said he’s been told that he can’t leave until he’s cleared of the virus, save for trips every three or four days to the parking lot of a local health department office, where someone will meet him outside and take a new swab to test for the virus.

Living with the virus is exhausting and frustrating, he said. He can’t work out. Even his usual duties for Audioholics, which he founded in 1998, drain his energy.

The virus also exacerbated his underlying medical conditions, he said. He has chronic sinusitis and chronic pain, and when he first felt sick, he figured those problems were just flaring up.

“But this was 10 times worse,” he said. “My entire body felt decrepit.”

The diagnosis scared him, he said. He feared passing coronavirus to others. His mother is 85 years old and lives alone. His wife doesn’t have a healthy immune system. He said he provided a list of people he may have exposed to the virus to the health department, which has been “very proactive” in contacting those people.

With coronavirus spreading across Florida and the United States, he thought it also carried a stigma.

“I felt kind of dirty,” he said. “Psychologically, it’s weird, hard to accept. It was hard to tell my family.”

The most relief he’s gotten came when he posted to Facebook early Wednesday, he said. The prayers and well-wishes streamed in immediately. When he went to bed later, he slept better than he had in more than a week.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the date on which a visitor came to Gene DellaSala’s home. That visit occurred on Feb. 28.

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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus guide

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PROTECT YOURSELF: Household cleaners can kill the virus on most surfaces, including your phone screen.

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STOCK UP YOUR PANTRY: Foods that should always be in your kitchen, for emergencies and everyday life.

FACE MASKS: They offer some protection, but studies debate their effectiveness.

WORKPLACE RISK: A list of five things employers could be doing to help curb the spread of the disease.

READER BEWARE: Look out for bad information as false claims are spreading online.

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