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Tampa’s first coronavirus patient emerges from isolation into a changed world

Kaelyn Sheedy was one of the first two people in Florida diagnosed with the virus. She watched from home while the pandemic transformed America.
Kaelyn Sheedy, in a photo from Feb. 28, kept a log of her time in isolation as one of Florida's first confirmed cases of the disease. Her sister is behind her in a surgical mask.
Kaelyn Sheedy, in a photo from Feb. 28, kept a log of her time in isolation as one of Florida's first confirmed cases of the disease. Her sister is behind her in a surgical mask. [ Courtesy of Kaelyn Sheedy ]
Published Mar. 20, 2020
Updated Mar. 20, 2020

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TAMPA — By the time the need to stay inside became unavoidable truths for many Floridians, Kaelyn Sheedy was already walled off.

Florida had no confirmed coronavirus cases on Feb. 25, when Sheedy flew back to the United States from Europe. Over the course of two weeks, she had visited France, Spain and Italy — including Milan, just before cases began to spike in the region.

Florida had no confirmed cases when Sheedy landed in New York City for a layover, woke up in the middle of the night with a fever and wet cough and was told by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that she was okay to get on her next flight to Tampa.

And the state had no confirmed cases Feb. 28 when Sheedy finally convinced health officials that she should be tested.

Two days later, state officials announced Florida’s first two coronavirus cases. Sheedy was one of them.

Kaelyn Sheedy poses for a photograph in Paris, during a February trip to Europe. Days later, she was sick with what she'd eventually learn was the coronavirus.
Kaelyn Sheedy poses for a photograph in Paris, during a February trip to Europe. Days later, she was sick with what she'd eventually learn was the coronavirus. [ Courtesy of Kaelyn Sheedy ]

She entered self-isolation the day she was tested and came out of isolation last weekend, after two weeks alone at home. She emerged to a changed world, doing interviews, answering questions on Instagram and posting a day-by-day log of her symptoms.

“I’ve always depended on myself,” she said, “so it took me out of my element to have to depend on other people for literally everything.”

The worst of the sickness clung to her for about a week — a fever of 102 to 103 degrees as she traveled back from Europe, a pneumonia-like cough that stuck with her for four or five days at home.

She talked daily with two doctors who work for the state, she said, though she didn’t see anyone face-to-face. She was living through the state’s policies and procedures as they were being made, and she provided feedback — including advice that officials prepare for patients who aren’t as cooperative as her.

“Not everyone is going to have the same understanding or the same compassion or the same sense to stay in their homes,” she told them.

Once she started feeling better, she said, self-isolation was bearable and even strangely productive. Friends and family members dropped off groceries and smoothies. She completed a 1,000-piece puzzle. She owns a massage therapy practice, Revive Sport, and was able to do some work from home.

Being stuck there for two weeks gave her plenty of time to do her taxes.

Occasionally, the weirdness building in the outside world worked its way into her home. For the first few days of isolation, she stayed tuned to ESPN — keeping up with sports as a pastime and, because she works with professional athletes, part of her job. As her isolation dragged on and leagues suspended or canceled their seasons, she remembered thinking, “This is both of my worlds coming to a halt.”

The process of emerging from isolation was, at first, a little unsettling. People seemed not to know much about the virus and some didn’t understand the importance of self-isolation and quarantine. Others went the other way. She didn’t get near others until she tested negative for coronavirus, but some people she talked to were reluctant to see her for fear of getting sick.

“I can’t blame them,” she said. “I can’t blame people for being careful.”

She’s also been in a reflective mood. She said she’s grateful that she was healthy before coronavirus and that her experience with the virus was a relatively mild one. She’s thankful she could afford to self-isolate. And she now appreciates that she can go to the store.

“You have to think about the people who live paycheck to paycheck, or people who use medication. Once you’re in isolation, you kind of remember how much you depend on the ability to move around.”

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