By Mark Davis, Powell Tribune
Joe Kondelis was out of state when he started feeling sick. By the time he tested positive for COVID-19, the Cody resident was being hit hard by the symptoms.
“It has absolutely whipped my [butt],” he said in announcing his diagnosis.
And he cautions skeptics, “It’s scary how contagious it is.”
“I’m guilty in thinking this was merely an overreaction to a new cold virus,” Kondelis said. “I was one of those skeptics and guys who thought I wouldn’t get sick or be asymptomatic.”
Kondelis, sales manager for Tanager Beverages and president of the Western Bear Foundation, is in his 40s and in great shape. He goes to the gym at least four days a week and stays active on the weekends. He’s a noted hunter and capable of navigating terrain where many fail. Yet, the disease has humbled him.
“I’ve experienced every symptom under the sun and a few that aren’t even listed,” he said. “It’s such a yo-yo virus. One day you’re fine, next day you feel like you’re dying.”
Kondelis’ condition is complicated by guilt. He fears he infected his three closest friends while they camped during a hunting trip last week. His family are prisoners in their house. His daughter can’t go to school, play sports, trick or treat or see friends or family for two weeks because they’re living in a house with positive cases.
“It’s a huge burden on family,” he said.
The impact followed him to work. One by one, employees started showing symptoms. Kondelis called Park County Public Health and, under their recommendations, scheduled tests of all employees at the distribution company.
He went public with the situation in an effort to be totally transparent. After getting the results back, two more positive cases were identified. All staff currently working have received negative test results.
The company was forced to look into where staffers with positive tests had been and ultimately determined that no infected employees came into close contact with retailers or other employees while they would have been the most contagious.
“In the time in quarantine you’re left thinking about contact with others,” Kondelis said, “who you may have infected, your lack of diligence in reducing virus spread and how it has affected the lives of co-workers, friends, family.”
But even now, 10 days after first feeling symptoms from the virus, Kondelis is still physically suffering. There could be long-term damage, like heart and lung damage or long-term issues with his nervous system. As he sits in isolation, all he can think about is wishing he had taken this all seriously.
Cody Regional Health
Dr. Aaron Billin, Park County health officer, did the testing at Tanager Beverages. He said the company did it right and feels minds were changed through the process.
Typically, he said, minds are changed as cases in their inner circle of friends and family help them realize the virus isn’t a political issue.
“No amount of browbeating will change people’s minds,” Billin said of online COVID-related communications with the public. “Now I hope to convince one person at a time.”
One change has been the amount of negative comments on his Facebook posts. When he started his social media campaign, there were a lot of trolls. Now, as people have started to hear stories of the effects of the virus from people they know, the trolls are slowly diminishing.
“The virus will be here the day after the election,” Billin said Wednesday.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, visited Billings on Tuesday and Riverton Wednesday. While in Fremont County, she met with Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon and participated in a roundtable with community, tribal and health officials. She’s advocating for wearing masks and routine testing to identify those who are infected, yet asymptomatic.
“The only thing that will prevent the next wave is us,” Birx said at a recent appearance, adding, “If you wait until people have symptoms, you’ve waited too long.”
Wyoming ranks among the top states of people refusing to wear a mask, though health officials have repeatedly urged people to wear facial coverings in public settings if physical distancing isn’t possible.
Kondelis is a “new believer” in masks, which have been shown in studies by the Centers for Disease Control to slow the spread of the virus.
“I don’t wish this on anyone. If there is anything you can do to keep yourself healthy and safe and prevent lasting effects on friends and family, I encourage you to do so,” Kondelis said in a Wednesday interview. “I appreciate and really like the ability to choose what to do about masks; I’m not for much government oversight, and I like the ability to make our own decisions. I don’t want people to think I’m a crazy political mask guy.”
“This whole thing has changed my perspective on it,” he continued. “I will choose to wear a mask, if not for me, for others.”