EVERETT — Tyler Chism spent his 33rd birthday on March 15 having a picnic with his wife, Laura, at Deception Pass.
The couple managed to escape from their Everett home. But they couldn’t leave the car.
His in-laws, clad in white jumpsuits, gas masks and party hats, left him a cake at the end of the driveway.
He tested positive for COVID-19 and was ill off and on for three weeks. Laura also got sick.
Chism, a city of Everett employee, has not been in the office since Feb 28.
The last time he was at a public gathering was Feb. 29, at the Schack Art Center’s big shindig, H’Arts Benefit Auction, at Delta Hotel. He was feeling fine and festive.
On March 1, he woke up with a slight fever and chest congestion that worsened through the day. It was enough to keep him in bed.
He called his doctor on Tuesday, who advised: “It could be coronavirus, just stay inside.”
He also had a peculiar symptom that more people are now reporting. “I couldn’t taste or smell anything for about 10 days,” Chism said.
“I’ve never been sick like this before. I rarely get sick, and when I do I recover fast.”
Not this time.
The first week of illness, after a few days, the mild fever went away and he felt better. He worked remotely to help develop EverettForEverett, a new online social distancing guide to support shops, arts and services. As the city’s tourism and economic development coordinator, this would have been his project even if he hadn’t gotten the virus.
The next week, the symptoms came back.
“More severe than the first round,” he said. “I got hit like a ton of bricks, out of nowhere.”
The fever came back above 100, and fatigue set in. He’d turn in for the night by 8.
“I was really, really tired. It feels like a hangover,” he said. “What I remember a hangover feels like, just kind of disoriented and really tired, and you can’t shake it.”
He got stabbing, sharp pains in his lungs. “Like the way you feel after the first ski run of the season, like your lungs are on fire.”
He was finally able to get tested on March 12 at a health clinic in Everett.
“They did the test where they stick the Q-tip basically into your brain,” Chism said. “I don’t want to discourage people from getting tested. It was the biggest Q-tip I’ve ever had up in my nose.”
The result came four days later. “It didn’t bring any peace of mind or that much distress,” he said.
Laura became ill a couple weeks ago, but with milder symptoms than his.
As of Tuesday, there were 614 COVID-19 cases and 31 probable in Snohomish County, with the largest segment, 172, in Everett.
So far, 316 people are listed as “recovered,” according to the Snohomish Health District. Most of the 16 people who died had underlying conditions.
Chism hadn’t traveled overseas — only one case in the county is linked to travel. That person had the first confirmed case in the United States on Jan. 21.
All other local infections are linked to community or close contact, nursing homes or are healthcare workers.
“I don’t know where I got it from,” Chism said. “Everybody asks me that. That’s usually people’s first question. I’m a person on the move. I’m an extrovert who loves supporting local business. I’m always out and about at events and fundraisers, restaurants and networking things.”
Chism co-founded the website Live in Everett in 2016. He plays lead guitar in the band Tellers. Two days before he became ill, they carpooled to a gig in Ballard. His Tellers bandmates are fine, despite sharing french fries on the way.
He said he shook a lot of hands for two days at a bustling trade show in Seattle the week before he got sick. At the H’Arts auction, he didn’t shake hands because by then coronavirus was causing concerns.
Chism has made the most of his time at home. “I waxed the car. I weeded all my flower beds. I cleaned all my windows,” he said.
Although it has been “a pain and boring,” he stresses the importance of isolation and social distancing.
“It sucked to have it, but it probably is not going to kill me. But it could kill my dad who is 78 and has all kinds of health issues,” he said.
“You never really think it will happen to you, that’s everyone’s famous last words. It did. It got me. It’s here.”
He has been symptom-free since the weekend.
“As of today, I feel pretty much back to normal,” Chism said Tuesday. “I am feeling pretty good. Last night I stayed up to 10:30.”
He plans to lay low for another week, then celebrate: “Get takeout from Taco-Book. Their horchata is what I’m missing.”
Many people infected have stayed anonymous. Chism decided to go public to put a face to COVID-19.
“I do worry whether or not people are ever going to want to hang out with me again,” he said. “That people may never invite me over for dinner again.”