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It started with a dinner party: How a William & Mary doctor became one of the first to get the coronavirus in Virginia's epicenter

Dave Ress, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) on

Published in Health & Fitness

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- He was driving home from a small weekend gathering with some friends when David D. Dafashy, medical director at the College of William & Mary's student health center, got the call from the state health department.

He and his wife, the health official said, had been at a dinner party nearly two weeks earlier with someone who had later tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Within days, the couple would be among the first to fall ill from COVID-19 in what's become Virginia's epicenter.

It came first as a bad headache and -- oddly -- as an inability to smell things.

"I couldn't taste my wife's Sunday special pizza," he said. "If I hadn't been aware of COVID-19, I probably would have thought I had a cold."

But by pizza night -- in fact, immediately after the health department's call -- Dafashy, who had been helping the college's emergency management team respond to the virus ever since the first reports emerged from China, had already put himself and his family into quarantine, just to make sure they didn't spread the disease.

 

It made one key task, helping health officials trace others who might have been exposed to the still-somewhat mysterious virus, a bit easier -- Dafashy hadn't been in contact with people after quarantining himself and his family. Health officials believe the highest risk of spreading the illness occurs around the time people start feeling ill -- the theory is that that's when they're so full of virus that they're at the highest risk of spreading disease. That tends to be where health officials focus contact-tracing.

"The idea is to think about prolonged contact -- 20 or 30 minutes," Dafashy said. "If you go to the gas station, hand over a credit card to someone 6 feet a way and leave a few second later, it's probably OK."

Still, Dafashy made a point of calling people he'd been in touch with before quarantining himself to let them know.

One reason: the path he thinks the virus followed to reach him is a reminder of why all the advice about social distancing, handwashing and staying home if you're feeling ill really does matter.

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