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Kayman, 14, was Campbell County’s third confirmed case of COVID-19 and his father the sixth, even though dad brought it home from work to his son.
By GREG JOHNSON Gillette News Record

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) — Not many people are strangers in a small community like Gillette, and chances are even if you’ve never met Kayman and Rafael Tamez, you’ve heard about them in recent weeks.

You may know them as cases Nos. 3 and 6.

Kayman, 14, was Campbell County’s third confirmed case of COVID-19 and his father the sixth, even though dad brought it home from work to his son.

It can take up to a couple of weeks for symptoms of the novel coronavirus to manifest once a person is infected but when they do, those symptoms can hit like a ton of bricks, Rafael said.

March 24 was like every other day, he said. He went to work, came home and laid down for a little nap. It wasn’t long after that he knew something was very wrong.

“I took a nap for a few hours, then that evening it hit me and I just felt weak and dizzy, then the fever and body aches and it progressed from there,” Rafael said.

He also lost his senses of smell and taste like others with the virus have reported. What followed was an illness he described as unlike anything he’d experienced before, to the extreme that at one point, he didn’t want to go to sleep because he feared he wouldn’t wake up.

“At first, it felt like the flu,” he said. “You start getting really bad headaches, really strong headaches. My wife (Robin) put Vick’s (VapoRub) on me and I couldn’t smell it and I thought that was strange. Then the next day I couldn’t taste anything.”

It was March 30 and about a week into Rafael’s bout with the coronavirus when Kayman started showing symptoms. Robin is a nurse and knows threat the virus can pose, and the family took every precaution it could before Rafael became sick. It’s likely he was infected for days or weeks before then.

Kayman has other medical conditions that have left him more compromised to catching COVID-19, so he was tested first. The results came back the next day on March 31 — positive. Rafael finally was tested and confirmed positive April 2.

While both said they enjoy spending father-son time together, being coronavirus buddies wasn’t what either had bargained for.

The pandemic in Wyoming

Rafael and Kayman Tamez are two of Wyoming’s more than 300 COVID-19 stories.

The state’s rate of confirmed cases continues to grow, but at a slower pace, the Wyoming Department of Health reports.

It’s the work people have done to begin to flatten Wyoming’s COVID-19 curve that convinced Gov. Mark Gordon to start planning for how to reopen the state after it’s been mostly shutdown for more than a month. While state coronavirus orders mandating many of those closures will remain in place through April 30, he hasn’t yet announced an extension of them.

“You have done what was asked and have helped to flatten the curve,” the governor said in a prepared statement Friday. “We are, and have been, open for business.”

He said the existing orders are in line with phase one of President Donald Trump’s plan for opening American back up sooner rather than later.

Even so, he said now isn’t a time for people to get impatient and let up with their virus precautions.

“Our transition into a new phase must be health data-driven, not date driven,” Gordon said. “If the people of Wyoming continue to do the right thing and we see the improvements we need to see, we will continue our transition to a stabilized economy. We need our economy back, but we must avoid a resurgence of this virus.”

Those expecting to quickly put COVID-19 behind them will be disappointed, he said.

“We have to get this right,” Gordon said. “We are living in a time where the new reality is that COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future. Until we have a vaccine or treatment, things are going to be different.”

‘I used to think that’

County Rafael and Kayman are among those who advocate for being safe, not only for yourselves, but for others.

Rafael has recovered and was released from quarantine April 9. His son also is feeling fine and was released April 7.

A few weeks ago, Rafael would have given a different response if someone would have asked him about the coronavirus and whether its threat is more hype than substance.

“At first, you were seeing people all over the internet saying it’s a hoax and whatnot, because not a lot of people knew anyone who had it,” he said. “I used to think that. Now I know it’s definitely not a hoax. It sounds a little extreme, but you definitely don’t want that virus.”

Had he not come down with COVID-19 or had seen his son go through it, “I would’ve been just like everybody else complaining on the internet about everything being closed.”

Kayman agreed, recalling how he was scared for his father when he became sick, then again when he got the virus himself.

“I was scared, because I didn’t know what was happening to him at first,” Kayman said. “So, I took care of my brothers and sisters, and then I got sick.”

His experience echoed much of his father’s.

“I had shivers a lot and a lot of back pain, nausea, light-headedness and some chest pain,” he said.

Now he urges people to continue to be as safe as they can, stay away from others and follow the advice of local, state and national health experts.

Kayman’s advice is that people “should care about it, because it can take their lives and it’s a serious thing to have. It can affect you and your life.”

In emergency mode

A nurse at Campbell County Health, Robin Tamez hasn’t had the novel coronavirus, but has helped nurse her husband and stepson through COVID-19 while keeping her three younger children isolated. In fact, now she’s the only member of the family who hasn’t been cleared by Campbell County Public Health to be released from quarantine. That happens Tuesday.

Robin said she “really has mixed emotions” about the virus and the public debate about how soon to emerge from restrictions.

“I see both sides,” she said. “Because it affected our family, you get to thinking that, ‘OK, we have recovered, but some people aren’t that lucky.’ It’s important that people stay away from each other.”

Asked about the position local and state officials are in dealing with the crisis, Robin said she doesn’t envy them.

“Thankfully, I don’t get paid to make those decisions.”

While social distancing and isolating can be a challenge for some families, it hasn’t been much out of the ordinary for hers, Robin said. They haven’t had television for years and already were in a routine that didn’t require much travel and interaction.

“Being a family of six, it’s not hard to stay home because we stay home all the time,” she said. “But you have to take into consideration those around you who may not stay home all the time.”

Robin’s battle with the virus also began March 24 when her husband hit that wall. She was at work and got a text message from her kids.

“I got a text about 10 or 11 saying dad couldn’t get off the floor, dad was shivering and had a fever of 102,” she said.

It also changed her perspective, because in hindsight, she imagined all the times she and her family were around Rafael before he showed symptoms.

“That to me is scary,” she said. “That’s the part that scared me the most about the whole process, that I could walk into the room and he would look totally normal. When I walk into a patient’s room (at the hospital) you can see something’s wrong. I could see none of that in my husband’s case.

“My husband went through the house for four days or more probably without knowing he had it. You can be running around spreading this and you truly don’t know, and that’s truly the reality of all this.”

Their other children — Taylah, 12, Mazik, 4, and Gracelan, 2 — haven’t showed symptoms and also have been released from quarantine, Robin said. Now they’re dealing with the same challenge of remote learning like hundreds of other local families.

Do it for others

Because Kayman likely had the virus before he showed symptoms like his father, his mother Amanda Tamez also had to ride out a home quarantine.

She gets along great with her son, ex-husband and their family, so Amanda was allowed to be quarantined with the rest of the Tamez family, another much-appreciated pair of hands in a house with two recovering virus patients and three other young children also in quarantine.

She also said one of the scariest things about the coronavirus is the realization of how easily it can spread if people aren’t careful. If people don’t want to look out for themselves, they should do it for others.

People don’t realize that someone who make look vigorous and healthy may have a compromised immune system or have a higher risk of getting sick, Amanda said. “People look at others and don’t realize they have underlying health issues,” she said. “Like Kayman. He looks like a normal 14-year-old boy. He plays hockey, he runs around, so if you didn’t know you wouldn’t see he’s at (higher) risk.”

She also said having people know some of their local COVID-19 cases by name and not just a number, maybe they’ll be more thoughtful of others.

“If people can put a face to the virus and a family to the virus, it can make a difference,” Amanda said.

‘He won that one’

Looking back, Rafael said knowing his son likely got the virus from him. Being sick at the same time meant also that he was unable to help Kayman through it.

He also said he’s relieved that his son has shown remarkable resilience by bouncing back much faster than he did. That means some bragging rights for Kayman that his dad is glad to concede.

“When we were sick, we were joking around and we had a competition called the ‘Corona Challenge,’ for who can get better first,” Rafael said. “He definitely won that one.”