DARIEN — If there is anything the community can do for Kristina Gregory, who has been battling COVID-19 for two weeks, it is listen to her advice.

As the number of confirmed cases and fatalities continue to surge in Connecticut, Gregory says everyone needs to take this pandemic seriously. Stay home, she says, and above all — practice social distancing.

“I can’t implore people enough to wake up. This is not funny. Everyone is suffering,” she said Sunday in an interview with Hearst Connecticut Media. “The longer you mess around, the longer this will go on. You think this can’t happen to you — you’re wrong.”

Gregory is a healthy, physically fit 51-year-old woman, but she said, the virus “leveled me.”

The wife and mother of two Darien middle schoolers has been an active volunteer in town — she served as a communications liaison parent for Royle School, and worked with Opus for Person-to-Person, and the YWCA Darien/Norwalk. She now works for Brown Thayer Shedd Insurance Agency.

The beginning

Gregory’s experience began shortly after Darien schools were closed on March 12 and her agency’s office also shut down with employees working remotely.

On the morning of March 14, Gregory said her chest began to feel tight — but she had been doing heavy bench pressing and assumed it was muscular.

The following morning, Gregory woke up feeling symptoms similar to the flu.

“I had body aches, chills, a headache,” she said. Gregory said, in particular, the headache was one of the more painful symptoms. Being aware of the coronavirus pandemic, Gregory’s husband moved into the guest bedroom and she quarantined herself in the master bedroom that had its own bathroom.

Testing

On March 16, Gregory felt worse. She developed a low-grade fever and felt chills and sweats. She reached out to her primary doctor, who advised her to go to the Stamford Hospital emergency department. Gregory waited in the car while her husband signed her in and brought her a mask and gloves.

The hospital brought her to a separate isolation area where she was first tested for flu to rule it out. The flu test came back quickly and she was tested for COVID-19 — that test included swabs in both nostrils and the back of the throat.

She did not register a fever at Stamford Hospital, but Gregory said that was likely because she had taken an Advil for her “excruciating headache.”

Gregory was told the test results would be back in three to five days. Despite no results, she assumed she had the coronavirus. She returned home and informed anyone she had been in contact with in the previous two weeks.

Waiting for results

Gregory said she had no known exposure.

“I don’t know where I got it or how I caught it,” she said.

For several days, her symptoms remained similar.

“I slept a lot — 18 hours a day,” she said. She, along with her family, forced herself to eat to consume needed calories for strength. Gregory’s symptoms still included tightness in her chest but she — who has no history of respiratory issues — was not plagued by the bad cough others have experienced.

On March 21, Gregory lost her senses of smell and taste — and as of Sunday, they have not returned.

Gregory said she was told her test results would be back within three to five days. But Gregory said she waited 11 days and found out Friday she tested positive for COVID-19. Gregory said her family was told the delay was due to a backlog in test results.

Gregory has already registered with Mt. Sinai and the Red Cross to donate antibodies to help others suffering from the virus. Mt. Sinai has announced it plans to initiate a procedure known as “plasmapheresis,” where antibodies from recovered patients will be transferred into critically ill patients, “with the expectation that the antibodies will neutralize it.”

Gregory said she was aware of three other people she had come in contact with who tested positive or had shown symptoms. In terms of how the virus travels, she said her mother visited before schools and the town shut most operations down.

“She returned to her small town, and visited my sister — and now my sister’s boyfriend has tested positive. Did he get it from me? I don’t know,” she said.

Another impact of the virus was on Gregory’s family, who are not showing symptoms but have been separated from her for most of the last two weeks.

Gregory credits her husband for actively cleaning and sterilizing surfaces throughout their home. She has also kept her quarantined area clean.

“My younger son, Nathan, is very attached. He really missed physical contact,” Gregory said. Though she is no longer keeping herself quarantined from her immediate family members in the home, she is still keeping physical contact to a minimum.

Still, there was some positives. Nathan, 11, has learned how to “make the proper cup of tea.”

She also walked her older son, Peter, 13, an eighth-grader, through making dinner on FaceTime.

“Everyone learned a little bit,” Gregory said. She is also back to having meals with her family in person versus on FaceTime, albeit at the far end from them at a long table.

“Each day gets a little better,” Gregory said. “I’m a pretty physical, active person — I do hardcore workouts — and I’m not there yet. I don’t have that kind of strength. I do low-impact stuff and just recently left the house with our family to walk the dog.”

Gregory also said her Darien friends and neighbors have offered support through her ordeal.

The warning

But as much as she loves the community, Gregory is seeing and hearing behavior that leaves her frustrated that this pandemic is not being taken seriously. Gregory referred to an acquaintance she learned of who had flown to Miami with the airfare cheapened by a “coronavirus discount.”

“I’m a very very healthy person and I got absolutely leveled by this disease,” she said. “Playing in your neighborhood, with your friends. You can’t do that right now. You have to stick to your own family, as hard as that is.”

“I was in absolute agony for days and I couldn’t get relief from anything,” she said.

She said it is disappointing to hear that people are “hanging out and not taking this seriously.”

“This is no joke,” she said.