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‘Take it seriously.’ Tampa police officer recounts coronavirus ordeal

Officer Trevarris Saulsberry admits he underestimated COVID-19. Then he became the first positive case at the Tampa Police Department.
Tampa police Officer Trevarris Saulsberry talks about his experience with coronavirus in this screen grab from a video posted to the Tampa Police Department's Facebook page on Monday. Saulsberry, 26, was the first officer at the department to test positive for COVID-19. He has since recovered and returned to work.
Tampa police Officer Trevarris Saulsberry talks about his experience with coronavirus in this screen grab from a video posted to the Tampa Police Department's Facebook page on Monday. Saulsberry, 26, was the first officer at the department to test positive for COVID-19. He has since recovered and returned to work. [ Tampa Police Department via Facebook ]
Published Apr. 21, 2020
Updated Apr. 21, 2020

TAMPA — Tampa police Officer Trevarris Saulsberry’s coronavirus story began during a shopping trip to Costco.

Saulsberry, 26, was with his girlfriend at the big box store in mid-March when he started feeling lethargic and experiencing muscle pain. After he got home, the chills and a fever of 102 degrees hit him. He headed to bed.

“I told my girlfriend, ‘I’m sick. I don’t know what’s going on, I just need you and my son to stay away from me because who knows what this could be,’” Saulsberry recalled.

He didn’t think it could be coronavirus. He was wrong.

Saulsberry would later test positive for COVID-19, making him the first officer at the Tampa Police Department to contract the disease.

A second officer who later tested positive is expected to return to work this week, police spokesman Eddy Durkin said in an email. So far, 126 department employees have been monitored due to possible exposure to the virus, and all but 11 had been cleared as of Tuesday, Durkin said.

Saulsberry, who returned to work on Sunday, recounted his experience in a video posted Monday on the department’s Facebook page.

The worst migraine he’d ever had arrived the second day, like someone was kicking him in the head. He figured it was a bad case of the flu. The next day, he contacted the department’s nurse, who told him to go to the hospital. Staff there said they were going to test for coronavirus as a precaution. The positive results came back a week later, on March 25.

Police Chief Brian Dugan held a press conference announcing the results but didn’t release Saulsberry’s name.

Tampa police Officer Trevarris Saulsberry, second from left, stands at attention with his fellow officers during a memorial remembrance ceremony for fallen officer Joe Nance in October. Saulsberry, 26, was the first Tampa police officer to test positive for coronavirus. He has recovered and is back on the job.
Tampa police Officer Trevarris Saulsberry, second from left, stands at attention with his fellow officers during a memorial remembrance ceremony for fallen officer Joe Nance in October. Saulsberry, 26, was the first Tampa police officer to test positive for coronavirus. He has recovered and is back on the job. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]

After the hospital visit, Saulsberry returned home and spent a week in misery as he waited for the results to come back.

“I was in a fetal position for seven days,” he recalled.

By the time the results came back, about 10 days after he first starting feeling sick, he still had migraines and shortness of breath but was improving. Hospital staff told him to self-quarantine. He spent another week in his room, forced to turn down his 4-year-old son’s pleas to play with him.

That was hard, but he knew he couldn’t take the risk of infecting him and maybe Saulsberry’s girlfriend, too.

“I don’t want to do that to him, I don’t want to do that to my girlfriend, because I don’t know what I would do if I were to lose them,” he said.

Another test showed he was still positive, two weeks after his symptoms first appeared. By then, he still had shortness of breath, taking a hit from his son’s asthma pump just to walk around the house.

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He eventually recovered and returned to work more than a month after he got sick. Hired in August, Saulsberry works in District 2, which extends from Hillsborough Avenue north to New Tampa.

He acknowledges he underestimated the virus when it first started making headlines.

“I was like, ‘This is just a common cold, why are they shutting the NBA down," he said.

Then he contracted the virus, and he understood.

“At the end of the day there are people dying,” he said. “I was just blessed enough not to be in that situation that those unfortunate people were in. All I can say is, take it seriously. Wash your hands, do what they tell you to do, and hopefully nobody else gets infected at this department.”

Officer Speaks Out

Officer Trevarris Saulsberry was the first TPD officer to test positive for Covid-19. After making a full recovery, he is now speaking out about his experience with the virus.

Posted by Tampa Police Department on Monday, April 20, 2020

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