LA GRANDE — The past week has been a difficult time for La Grande resident Mikaela Guthrie, 25, one of the 263 people in Union County to contract COVID-19. While the symptoms have been difficult to deal with, it is the emotional pain she said hurts the most.
“It sucks, and it has affected me in more ways than one,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie worked at a care home in La Grande until she tested positive for COVID-19 on June 17. She did not work for the Grande Ronde Retirement Facility, La Grande, which has reported four positive cases. She gave her two weeks notice the next day because the response from her boss was unsupportive, she said.
“I was pretty sure my boss would be understanding because I didn’t want to get anyone sick, especially since some of my residents have compromised immune systems,” Guthrie said.
But the situation did not play out that way.
Guthrie said she believes she contracted COVID-19 from a co-worker at the care facility. The co-worker, Guthrie said, admitted to attending a wedding May 24 at the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church in Island City. The Oregon Health Authority has named the church as the source of the recent outbreak in Union County.
“It worried me as a caregiver that someone was coming to work with symptoms, but I was at that time oblivious to the bigger picture and had no idea what the church was doing,” Guthrie said. “My co-worker (tested) positive about two weeks later, and I became so scared because I had been around people I loved who probably wouldn’t survive.”
A couple days after celebrating her birthday with five other people, including her father, grandmother, brother and best friend, Guthrie started to feel symptoms of the virus. She decided she would get tested June 15, when the care facility where she worked was providing testing.
Two days later, she said, the Center for Human Development, La Grande, informed her the test came back positive.
“One thing my former co-worker actually said was ‘How did I get you sick if you wore a mask?’” Guthrie recalled. “I said, ‘Because that’s not how masks work.’ The baffling thing is she read and signed the same memos at work that I did. How can she possibly not only not know how a mask works, but doesn’t remember what we were supposed to do when we had symptoms, including calling in?”
Guthrie has been dealing with difficulty breathing and has not being able to keep food down. Those who attended her birthday party also shared they are feeling symptomatic.
“The hardest part is definitely being that I might have gotten my family sick,” Guthrie said. “I have two wonderful little boys who now have a cough. My father who is 70 and has other health complications claims to have symptoms. My best friend says she has symptoms.”
Guthrie said she has found comfort in a petition she created to shut down the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church at the website www.change.org. The petition had gathered more than 700 signatures as of Monday morning.
“I am so angry that people were so willing to gather despite the fact that there are others around them that can be so easily affected by this pandemic. It’s like people can die and they didn’t think of that,” Guthrie said of the church and its congregation.
“This isn’t a vendetta against their religion,” Guthrie added. “I could care less about it. What I care about is the fact that if they are so willing to be dismissive of others’ health and safety, then that makes their church a dangerous risk. I don’t want to live in a town where my safety is more at risk during a pandemic because they want to worship when they could do so at home.”
Guthrie is isolating herself at home while her sons stay with their father. She said the virus has been taking a toll on her body. Her hope is that with people hearing her story, they may take the virus more seriously.
“Stay safe. Only go out if you need to,” Guthrie said. “And if you have symptoms, please stay home. This thing is not fake. I don’t care if you think it is some weird government experiment or if you think it was paid for by some rich dude. That doesn’t matter right now. What matters is keeping our community safe and healthy.”