COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) — A COVID-19 outbreak hit the KRDO NewsChannel 13 studio in early November; one news anchor after another tested positive for the virus before it spread to reporters and producers.
Evening news anchors Heather Skold and Bart Bedsole were diagnosed with COVID-19, along with Sports Director Rob Namnoum and anchor and reporter Lauren Barnas.
Our viewers watched it happen from behind the television screen as newsroom staff transitioned to work from home. And now, weeks after KRDO was removed from the state’s COVID-19 outbreak list, Lauren sat down with the rest of the team to share their experiences recovering from the coronavirus.
Lauren: What was your first sign or symptom of COVID, and did you recognize it as a symptom to begin with?
Rob: Well for me, I was actually filling in doing the 4:30 news for Bart because he was dealing with COVID. Sometimes the studio here is pretty chilly. My nose ran twice during the newscast and I didn’t think anything of it. And then, fast forward about five hours later. I was a here at work between the hours of 8:30 and 10. I probably coughed maybe three times, but I didn’t really think anything of it. And then when I went home, maybe a half hour after I’d been home, I probably coughed for an hour straight. And I knew there was the likelihood that I had COVID considering that a lot of people here at KRDO tested positive for the coronavirus.
Heather: I would say I didn’t recognize it. At first I was just feeling really tired. And I just chalked it up to some other things that were going on so I didn’t pay attention to it as it could have been COVID. And then as the days progressed, I had a little bit of a headache. It was odd because it was around my eye sockets. It was the night of the election and we were doing live coverage online. The studio is usually chilly and I just could not warm up. In fact, I was shaking inside. And I was wearing one of the blankets down here which is atypical of me. That’s when I got the news that I was exposed to someone who had had it. I did not even recognize the symptoms.
Bart: Election night, yeah, that was super fun. We’ve been doing livestream coverage for three hours and at 9:50 when we’re just starting to look over the 10:00 show, Heather goes, ‘I’m going home.’ And I’m like, ‘The one night I could really use some help here!’
My first symptom was fatigue. I was just wiped out. But it was the same day as that Bear Creek Fire when we had been on the air for probably three hours straight. So I didn’t think a lot of it either. But then that night and the next morning I thought there’s more to this than just me being tired. There’s something going on here.
Lauren: What other symptoms did you experience and for how long?
Rob: It’s like there was a checklist of symptoms. It started with the runny nose, the coughing. I got a fever of maybe 99 and a headache. And that lasted for 36 hours and then after that I had nothing. So all my symptoms were mild, but I had a taste of each symptom from the coronavirus.
Lauren: And did you ever lose your smell or taste?
Rob: I did not.
Heather: I lost my smell. Not the taste part, but I definitely lost my smell. There were a couple days there where even just talking would trigger this cough response. I wasn’t coughing up anything. Like you hear, it’s a dry cough. There was no phlegm. There were several days where even breathing — wasn’t difficult — I liken it to standing on top of a 14-er, where the air is thin and you feel like you really want to descend to where there’s more oxygen. Of course there were body aches too. It was strange. It didn’t feel like I had had a really hard workout. It was definitely a flu-like ache. But they were in my calves and my back, the oddest of places.
Bart: Fatigue was first. Then I had about two days of fever. Then a few more days of body aches, which were the worst part for me because I just couldn’t sleep. Then I had a little bit of loss of taste and smell. And I had a cough that stuck around about two or three more weeks.
Rob: Because they had it before me, I kind of learned from their experiences.
Lauren: What about the mental side of it?
Bart: The physical side of it for me was not fun. But I think the mental side of it in the first days was rough. The odds of me not surviving COVID are super low. At the same time, there is a chance. And in that first day or two, when you don’t know how bad it’s gonna get, your mind starts to wander. You start to go to some dark places think, ‘Could I be one of those people who doesn’t survive?’ And that was scary.
Rob: This is going to sound selfish. I didn’t go to a dark place. I was more angry that I got it because I took all the safety precautions. I rarely went to the grocery store and when I did I went at like 6:30 or 7 in the morning. I wore a mask all the time and I still got it. My other thought that I jumped to…I don’t want my wife to get it or my children to get it. Actually a week later, she got it. My children never got it. I was in my basement listening to my family eat Thanksgiving dinner and that’s the only time I was really bummed out. Being isolated and being quarantined in the basement can definitely drive you nuts. But I will say one of the saving graces for me was working because I had something to occupy my mind.
Lauren: Did any of you feel like there was this stigma attached — that you were ashamed of your diagnosis?
Heather: I think that just illustrates how very contagious it is. This is not just your run-of-the-mill seasonal cold or flu. It is highly contagious. It almost does come with a stigma, though. Gosh did I not wash my hands, did I not mask up, what did I do wrong to catch this?
Rob: Even toward the tail-end, I didn’t go anywhere until I got a negative test. I didn’t want to be the person that gave it to somebody who was hospitalized and then ultimately maybe the worst thing could happen to that person. I think when I talked to people and told them initially, like during the conversation I kind of had thoughts like, what are they truly thinking about me right now? Do they think I’m this reckless, careless person who doesn’t care about others?
Lauren What’s it like to be a journalist during the pandemic? Do you think it helps us cover the virus having had it?
Heather: I would say initially back in March, in the newsroom we’d get calls from viewers about all sorts of things. Sometimes they want clarification or they’re upset or happy about different things. I would say the phone calls that came in were of a panicked nature. I felt ill-equipped to be counselor. Because at that point we didn’t know hardly anything. So to give valuable advice to people who have legitimate fears and walk them through that…I felt like I was under water for a lot of those phone calls and they were constant.
Bart: Having COVID absolutely gave us a new perspective into the whole pandemic. The biggest difference for me now is when I hear about restrictions on businesses, I think to myself, 'Well I had it and it wasn’t that bad. Most people I know how had it, it wasn’t that bad. Do we really need to do all these restrictions?' But at the same time, I also know from our reporting, the hospitals have filled up at times. It’s a dangerous situation and a lot of people have died. So maybe those restrictions are warranted. That’s a tough balance for our elected leaders to figure out.