COVID-19 patient speaks out; defiant pastor arrested

Published on: April 2, 2020


COVID-19 patient speaks out; defiant pastor arrested

Applauding doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers is another well-intentioned viral opportunity to bond over the spirit that prevails when disaster strikes.

Healthcare workers include the receptionist that signs in visitors and patients, lab technicians who take your blood, the clerical staff that streamlines hospital administration, the housekeepers who clean rooms and equipment and the folks who manage the supplies and deliver them throughout the hospital.

One such worker in my circle of loved ones, a relative, called Monday, March 30, from Connecticut to tell me she tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. She works as a hospital receptionist and her husband, a supply-chain distributor at the hospital, is keeping his social distance. Her daughter, who lives with them and works in a doctor’s office, tested positive Tuesday.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

“Doctors and nurses, we need them, but it’s also all these healthcare workers making $15 an hour or less, who really are the heroes, too,” my relative said. “Even my doctor said it’s going to be so hard to trace where I got COVID-19 because of the work I do.”

While health officials urge people to stay safe at home, we see the flip side of that coin, Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, 58, co-founder of The River at Tampa Bay megachurch, at 3738 River International Drive. He preached two services Sunday despite warnings from law enforcement officials to cancel attendance in compliance with Hillsborough County’s “Safer-at-Home” order, enacted March 28.

“They’re trying to beat me up, you know, having the church operational, but we are not a non-essential service,” the pastor said, in a livestream recording of a Sunday service, despite the county order that does not list places of worship as essential services.

“Suddenly, we are demonized because we believe that God heals, that the Lord set people free, and they make us out to be some kook,” he added. “We’re free here in America to worship God, free, and we believe in laying the hands on the sick and they shall recover, and we believe in casting out devils, and we believe that Jesus heals.”

While some congregants on Facebook supported his move, the backlash was swift and brutal from visitors to the church’s Facebook page, including one that called for a 14-day self-quarantine of congregants.

Indeed, Pastor Howard-Browne was arrested March 30 and released after posting $500 bail.

“The River at Tampa Bay church has an advantage over most places of worship, as they have access to technology allowing them to livestream their services over the Internet and broadcast television for their more than 4,000 members to watch from the safety of their own homes,” Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said, in a video of his March 30 press conference.

Noting the “reckless disregard of public safety” and “repeated requests and warnings,” Chronister said he worked with Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren to obtain a warrant for unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules, both of which are second-degree misdemeanors. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine, if convicted.

Back in Connecticut, my relative battling COVID-19 expressed disbelief at the well-attended Sunday services.

“In a free society, with all our rights, we are not getting it and it’s scary,” she said. “This is why we’re going to be in quarantine longer and longer, and there’s going to be more dramatic things that loved ones and locals are going to have to do.”

People need to fully grasp, “this is a pandemic, it’s not the common cold, and it’s scary beyond measure,” she added. “You don’t even know you have the virus. You can be a carrier and feel well. Your symptoms might not come out for days. So having that crowd in that church is a very big deal. They’re going to go home to their mothers and fathers, their grandparents, or to someone maybe healing from cancer. They’re going to shop in your grocery stores, get gas at your gas stations and get seen by the doctors and nurses and medical staff in your community.”

For a long time I wondered how long it would take for someone I know to be diagnosed with COVID-19, and now I have my answer.

For my relative, it started with a tickle in her throat and a slight cough, no fever, and she told herself, “Oh, man, it just has to be nerves.” She reasoned it was “just spring allergies.”

Her fever came at night, rising to a high of 101, before dropping back to low-grade territory.

She lost her sense of smell, has diarrhea and at one time experienced “hurting eyes,” which she likened to the pain she had when years ago she had mononucleosis, “and it hurt to look up and down.”

Now, as a diagnosed COVID-19 statistic, my relative is determined to heal.

“Before I got tested it was kind of like Russian roulette or a ticking time bomb,” she said. “Before it was, what do I do? What if get it? What if I die? Now, all those worries went away, and it’s more like, all right, you finally got it, and now we deal with it. I’m still worried, but it’s a different phase of worrying.”

For more on the county’s “Safer-at-Home” order, visit For outbreak updates and protection recommendations, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at For state directives, visit

Linda Chion-Kenney is a freelance writer and columnist for The Observer News. Contact her at

“This is what they call social distancing, in this room,” Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, said in a livestream video of one of two Sunday services held March 29 at The River at Tampa Bay church.