Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
In all his 46 years, Jason Perry said, he’s never grown a full beard, but he now sports one under his face mask, along with tubes feeding oxygen into his nose.
“I’m just too weak. I just don’t have the strength to stand up too long,” Perry, who represents Ward 2 on the Roswell City Council, said Thursday — about four weeks after he tested positive for COVID-19.
Ward 3 Councilor Judy Stubbs, 74, tested positive just days later. While her symptoms were not as severe as Perry’s, she said she still has not recovered her senses of taste and smell and also has little energy.
The city councilors met with the Roswell Daily Record on Thursday to share their experiences with the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, the name given to the novel coronavirus that has caused a worldwide pandemic.
The most important messages they said they hoped to convey are that no matter what precautions a person might take, they are still at risk of becoming infected — and that it can’t be predicted how an individual might be affected.
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Both Perry and Stubbs have been among those who adopted precautions early such as wearing masks and social distancing, and yet each became infected.
Perry also points to their general risk levels, and yet he was the one who had the more severe case.
“I do have some underlying health issues, but with the slight age difference between Judy and I, she should have been at a higher risk to have all what I went through,” Perry said.
“I should have been the one to have two or three days of sniffles and go on with my life, and here I am a month out and still tied to the oxygen,” he said, referring to the oxygen concentrator he wheels around with him. He said he doesn’t need the oxygen 24 hours a day, but speaking at length can lower his oxygen levels.
“I think the point is how differently it affects so many of us, and there’s really no comparison. Everyone who thinks they may have symptoms needs to really look into it because you never know how it’s going to escalate or affect the people around you,” Stubbs said.
It was on Nov. 13 when they both said they started to feel symptoms.
They had been in meetings together in the preceding weeks dealing with city business, including a tour of the Spring River Zoo. Each wore a face mask unless they were eating or drinking, they said.
“It was Friday the 13th. We had lunch after we had a meeting and I was chilled and I had a massive headache,” Stubbs said.
Perry said he had a slight headache that day.
“The next day I had that very deep, dry cough and was feverish,” Stubbs said.
Perry said he was tested the following Sunday, Nov. 15, and learned the next day his test was positive.
“Instead of waiting for the Health Department to call people, right away we just immediately made a list of people that I’ve been in close proximity to,” Perry said.
That included Stubbs, who was tested on Nov. 17.
Both immediately quarantined themselves in their homes.
Stubbs said she and her husband were able to stay separated in her home with her husband, Bruce, sleeping in another bedroom and using a different bathroom.
“We immediately separated and I did not leave the house. Bruce did all of the grocery shopping and whatever needed to be done,” she said.
Her husband was tested 10 days later and had a negative result.
Perry was able to isolate himself in his bedroom and use the attached bathroom while his wife, Deena, slept in another room.
“It was inconvenient that my wife had to move out of our bedroom, but that was really the best way,” he said.
“I literally did not leave my bedroom for almost two weeks,” he said.
Both said they were able to conduct some city business over the phone and even attended meetings virtually. To keep busy, Stubbs said, she cleaned out six file cabinet drawers.
Perry, who said he does not enjoy television and is most likely going to read about theology or study scripture, did find himself drawn to the screen eventually.
“I finally got to a point where I needed to see something,” he said. “So I binge-watched a documentary of Scientology. Ask me anything about Scientology, we can talk,” he said with a laugh.
But Perry did have times where he was concerned about his illness.
“There was twice when I did feel really, really bad and started wondering am I going to live through this,” he said.
Perry said he suspected if he went to the hospital, he would likely be shipped to a larger hospital out of town due to other health conditions he has.
“So do I go to a hospital and risk dying alone, or do I stay home where at least my family is close to me. I just decided I’m going to wait this out, and things panned out,” he said.
“I wasn’t at the point of needing to be put on life support, nothing like that, but you sit in a room long enough, you start thinking these things,” he said.
But Perry did end up going to the hospital on Nov. 30, the night of a special City Council meeting to discuss several action items relating to the pandemic.
Perry started the evening in the council meeting room, oxygen compressor at his side, but went home partway through the meeting. Before he left, he gave an emotional description of how the pandemic has affected his family and his work as a pastor. He was able to later briefly join the meeting electronically.
When he got home that night, however, his oxygen level was at 78%, he said. His wife, a nurse and director of quality at Lovelace Regional Medical Center, convinced him to go to the hospital.
“I’ve always been afraid of taking up space for someone who really needed the space, so I held back. But that night, she made me go and they were able to give me breathing treatments and medications to get my lungs opened up and get my oxygen in the high 80s,” he said.
“You get to a point where you just want relief. I don’t know if fear kicks in because you just want relief and you don’t care how that relief comes. I think that’s where I was the night of the council meeting when I got to the hospital. At that point, it didn’t matter to me what happened. I just needed one way or the other for there to be an end to what I was going through,” he said.
That night, Perry received a call on his cellphone from a number he did not recognize and let it go to voicemail. The message was from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, commending him on what she called a “heroic” personal sacrifice to represent the community that night. He said he found out later the governor and her staff had watched the special meeting online.
Perry — a Republican who has served as chair of the Chaves County GOP — said he believes that shows the governor’s office has shown its concern for southeast New Mexico and listening to people.
“I think they recognize that folks in southeast New Mexico are maybe looking at this virus in a different way. I think they watch to see what city councilors want to do but also to hear what are those constituents saying what is happening,” he said.
“I don’t agree with all the mandates that had been put in place by the Department of Health and the governor by any stretch,” Perry said. “But I have to say this administration has been very good to communicate with.”
Perry said at the beginning of the pandemic, he contacted the governor’s office and spoke with Caroline Buerkle, deputy chief of staff, and Victor Reyes, legislative director, and has been in frequent contact since.
“They’ve been very good to reach back to me and talk to me. As a matter of fact, some of the concerns that I’ve had, they have met those needs that I’ve had,” he said.
Stubbs — a Democrat who has served as chair of the Chaves County Democratic Party — agreed. She said she has known Lujan Grisham for about 25 years but keeps in contact through the governor’s staff.
“Her staff is very willing to communicate and take our texts and point us in the right direction and give us information,” she said.
Both Perry and Stubbs said their experience with COVID-19 has not changed their habits much. They both still wear masks in public and practice social distancing, even though Perry said his doctor told him he is no longer contagious.
One change they have made is not to sit on the dais during City Council meetings, where councilors and the mayor sit only a few feet apart. At Thursday’s meeting, tables had been set on the floor of the council meeting room to allow councilors to sit with more distance between them if they wished. Perry, Stubbs and Councilor Angela Moore took advantage of the change.
Perry said his illness has changed his mind about one thing — getting the vaccine when it becomes available.
“Before this, I would have told you ‘Forget about the vaccine.’ Now I’ve learned I think I would definitely take a vaccine. I don’t know that I could go through this again,” he said.
City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.