I am Case Number 15 of COVID-19 in Zimbabwe or at least that is what I was told when the Rapid Response Team visited my home to inform me that I had tested positive for COVID-19. I choose to remain anonymous to protect my loved ones and what I hope remains of my career should I survive this virus. As I struggle to come to terms with my infection, I find myself battling a media outrage following the article by the Chronicle titled “Beware of this patient! COVID-19 positive woman gallivanting around town” written by Nqobile Tshili and published on the 16th of April 2020.
This article describes a 34-year-old female who initially lied that she was a Nurse but is, in fact, a Physiotherapist at a local hospital who has violated self-quarantine measures and is roaming around the city and exposing residents. I am not sure whether I am a victim of tasteless journalism or there is indeed another Case Number 15 who is gallivanting the streets of Bulawayo exposing innocent lives to this dreaded virus.
I am an essential worker, a physiotherapist and I am proud of my job. On Sunday, the 12th of April 2020, I went to work with a colleague of mine to perform a handover takeover as I was due to start my shift the following day. We arrived at the entrance of my workplace where we had to pass through the routine screening station before being allowed entry into the hospital. When they checked my temperature they said it was elevated and I jokingly requested that they verify whether their machine was well calibrated as I was asymptomatic.
I asked them to recheck my temperature which they did several times before calling in the Rapid Response Team. I was asked to sit in the isolation tent where they took down my details and travel history. I confirmed that I had not travelled outside the country (or even the city), neither had I been in direct contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 nor had I been in direct contact with someone who had recently travelled (although I did highlight that I lived in the same gated community as a someone who had recently returned from the UK but had not been in direct contact with him).
After a few hours, the Rapid Response Team eventually came through and collected a sample for testing. Before they left I inquired on when to expect my results and how they would be delivered for which they responded that I should expect a call after a maximum of 48 hours from the Rapid Response Team. I was told to self-isolate until my results came out.
I went back home and complied with self-isolation, optimistic that the results were negative as I had no reason to assume otherwise.
Monday, the 14th of April 2020 just before midnight I realised that something was wrong after I got a number of messages from colleagues who were asking if I was okay. I checked my inbox and came across the daily update from the Ministry of Health and Child Care and immediately realised that case number 15 was referring to me as had a number of my colleagues.
I resolved to await official communication from the Rapid Response Team who only came through to my residence on Tuesday the 15th at 1430hrs. Unlike the information circulating on social media and in the Chronicle, they found me at my place of residence. I expressed my displeasure at getting my results via social media for which they apologised noting that their lab in Bulawayo had sent the results to Harare before informing the Rapid Response Team.
I found that to be dysfunctional and unethical however I focussed on the way forward. I was told to self-isolate as my symptoms were mild and a Doctor would get in touch with me to assist with my case.
I wish to state that as a health worker, I appreciate more than the average person the importance of self-isolation. We spend the greater part of our lives trying to preserve life as such I would not knowingly endanger innocent lives. As such my shock when in the wee hours of the morning on Thursday the 16th of April 2020, I received a link to the publication by the Chronicle accusing Case Number 15 on recklessly endangering the lives of residents by defying self-isolation.
Social Media has since been awash with the news which begs me to ask whether there is another Case Number 15 or is this just a case of unethical journalism.
We are all at risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus and more so health workers who despite the risk continue to offer their services to the ailing. All over the world, we witness standing ovations for health workers who stand in the line of fire against this virus but in Zimbabwe, we get accused of endangering lives by gallivanting the streets.
Now, instead of focusing on my health, I am fighting tooth and nail to rectify the false allegations against me so that if and when I do heal, I am able to continue to practice as a health professional without the dark cloud that such allegations present to my career and livelihood.
COVID-19 Case Number 15