'The sickest I've been': 3 young people share what it's like to have COVID-19

Some young people think they're not at risk for severe coronavirus symptoms. Three young people dispel this myth with their own harrowing experiences.
Lukus Estok, 36, was hospitalized for several hours. His chest x-ray revealed fluid in his lungs and upper respiratory infection — both signs of coronavirus.
Lukus Estok, 36, was hospitalized for several hours. His chest x-ray revealed fluid in his lungs and upper respiratory infection — both signs of coronavirus.Lukus Estok

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By Maura Hohman

It's been over six months since the coronavirus started spreading through the U.S., and public health officials have continued to stress that no one is immune to the virus. Yet there's one group of people who still may not be getting the message: As cases spike in states like Florida, Arizona and Texas, younger people in their 20s, 30s and 40s are increasingly testing positive.

A group of 12 friends tested positive for the coronavirus after their first night out to a bar in Jacksonville, Florida. A 17-person (and counting) coronavirus cluster has developed in a small Ohio town after a group of 90 young people traveled to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. An unsanctioned prom and beach party led 13 Texas high school students to contract coronavirus.

Young people who contracted the coronavirus back in March all share a similar sentiment: You do not want to get the coronavirus. While some young people may experience a more mild form of the illness, others have had severe symptoms of COVID-19.

In March, 22-year-old Bjonda Haliti tweeted about her experience with COVID-19. She described her symptoms day by day: first, head pressure, then chills, fever, dry cough, nausea and shortness of breath.

“I want to share my experience especially with those around my age to help bring awareness, and to relieve any stress/anxiety some may have due to the pandemic,” she wrote.

Jonah Stillman, a 20-year-old author and owner of GenGuru.com, also tweeted his story.

Stillman told TODAY his symptoms were mild at the beginning.

“I had a tiny cough and sore throat,” he recalled.

Stillman, who lives in Excelsior, Minnesota, pushed for testing because he’d recently traveled internationally. After four days of self-quarantine, he got confirmation that he was sick with COVID-19.

“That night, I went from having what felt like a head cold to high fever, the worst body aches I’ve ever had,” he said. “It felt like I was in a horrible car accident almost. I couldn’t move … The simplest of tasks would wind me.”

He added, “It knocked me out, the sickest I’ve ever been.”

Ultimately, Stillman spoke out because as he struggled with his symptoms, he saw friends on Snapchat “out and about, on different trips, still on spring break, baffling things to me.”

“People are saying, ‘We can’t stop living,’ but we absolutely can stop living for the time being,” he said.

Another viral post on Instagram, came from 29-year-old Tarek Soliman who lives in New York City. His symptoms started with headaches. "It wasn’t that serious,” he told TODAY. But by the next day, he felt “terrible. I had chills, body aches.”

His symptoms persisted for five more days, at which point he went to an urgent care center. During his visit, he fainted and was put in an ambulance. He stayed in the hospital for 10 hours.

Three days later, when he found out his coronavirus test was positive, his body aches and fever had worsened so much that he couldn’t move.

“The fever went away on the seventh or eighth day, but by then, the virus had extended to my lungs, and I started developing pneumonia,” he said. “There was fluid in my lungs, and I was coughing blood. It freaked me out.”

Soliman didn’t tell his story to incite more panic — just the opposite.

“I don’t want anyone to freak out,” he explained. “I wanted to tell everyone to be careful and stay home until this is over.”

A friend of Soliman’s, Lukus Estok, 36, received his positive test results for coronavirus in mid-March. The New York City resident “started to feel like something was off,” he told TODAY. “My eyes were burning, and there was a moment where I found myself crawling up on the end of my bed.”

He had a fever of 100.6 degrees, which lasted for two days. He decided to go to urgent care.

"They said, ‘You need to go home. You need to rest. You need to isolate,'" he recalled.

Two days later, he developed a cough, and his fever shot up to 102.7 degrees. It stayed in this range for another week.

“The cough intensified. My chest was very tight. When I’d get up to walk or go to the bathroom, I’d get a little bit dizzy or very faint," he said.

He admitted himself to the hospital and stayed in an isolation room for five hours. His chest X-ray revealed fluid in the lungs and an upper respiratory infection, prompting doctors to say he likely had COVID-19.

Over the past few days, Estok’s symptoms have lessened, except for his cough, which he says is still “moderate to severe.”

He added, “I’ve never been sick like this before. I forgot what it felt like not to have a fever. A lot of people I’ve heard from aren’t taking this particularly seriously. I don’t think they appreciate how the symptoms feel. You don’t want this.”

Estok shared his experience on Facebook to highlight how sick young people can actually get.

“It can be difficult for people to see something on TV from someone they don’t know having conversations about other people’s experiences,” he said. “But if it’s someone you can recognize, it might have an impact.”