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Surviving The Virus, Part 3: COVID Slams Three Of Four Roussas Family Members



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This is the next in a series of features focusing on Newtown residents who have contracted and/or suffered through the effects of COVID-19.

Unlike the thousands of Connecticut residents who have been hospitalized, or who have been lost to the novel coronavirus pandemic this year, the Roussas family of Newtown has a different story to tell.

In their case, parents Sandy and Nick, along with daughter Eleni, all suffered varying symptoms of the virus, while son Petros, who spent a lot of time in proximity to those immediate family members, has shown no signs of being infected.

“For me it was almost like the symptoms were changing on a daily basis,” Sandy Roussas recalled of her late-March bout with the virus. “The changes weren’t dramatic, but it seemed like each day one issue was more prevalent than the rest.”

For Nick, it started out with dry mouth, then progressed to body aches, which triggered his physician to order he get tested.

Soon the symptoms shifted to head pain — what he described as “the worst sinus infection ever.”

“It was like one of my eyes was getting squeezed in a vise,” Nick Roussas said.

“With Nick isolating in a separate room here, once I started feeling sick, I knew we had COVID in our home,” Sandy recalled thinking.

For Nick, the vicious headaches evolved into fatigue and general malaise with body aches. He also lost his sense of smell for several days, but he has now fully recovered.

Sandy, on the other hand, went from “terrible, terrible headaches,” to malaise, deep chills, shooting pains in her legs, and at night restless spasms in her legs kept her up.

“I could not sleep and I dreaded the nighttime hours,” she said. “Everybody else was sleeping but I had to stay up and keep moving around.”

Sandy’s loss of the sense of smell plagued her for over two months as well — long after she had recovered from all other virus symptoms.

While the onset and period of recovery for three of the four Roussas family members was similar to that of influenza, Sandy said that when she has suffered from the flu in the past, she has been able to sleep her way through it.

“I’d sleep for days when I had the flu,” she said, “but because I was concerned about respiratory issues turning into pneumonia, I tried to keep moving around.”

Quick Test Turnaround

Also unlike so many others, both Sandy and Nick had good experiences and expedited results when they went for COVID-19 testing.

“Nick got his results the very next morning, that came on March 26,” Sandy said. “I remember it distinctly because I had gone to my [law] office on March 23 to do a deposition and we were partially closed at that point. And I was so upset that I could have possibly have exposed others to it.”

Then, on April 9, Sandy went to the same drive-up facility at Danbury Hospital to get tested herself.

“And I got my confirmation April 10 that I had the virus,” she said.

The weeks of April 6 and 13 were the worst for the Roussas family because Nick was already suffering symptoms and a few days after Sandy was found to be COVID positive, daughter Eleni began complaining that she was fatigued and had no energy, signaling she may also have had the virus.

“I didn’t even think too much of it at the time because I was beginning to suffer my own range of symptoms,” Sandy recalled. “And April 9 was her birthday, so that was hard. But thankfully the fatigue and temporary loss of smell were her only ill effects, so she got off pretty lucky.”

For Sandy, it was her sense of smell that went first, and then shortly after that Eleni also lost her sense of smell.

“She was not tested at that point, but it was one of the classic COVID symptoms,” Sandy said, adding that subsequent antibody testing proved her daughter previously had the virus.

“And my son, who stayed very close to me except for a couple of days when I was super sick had nothing — no symptoms, no antibodies — it’s the weirdest thing,” she said.

Looking back, Sandy and Nick determined it was likely Nick who brought the virus home from the 24-hour diner he operates in Bridgeport, although Sandy subsequently learned one of her co-workers was also infected while she was still going into the firm.

“While Nick was taking all the precautions outlined by the state and the Bridgeport Health Department, he was still taking cash for a period of time before he stopped and just took cards for payment,” she said. “So it’s quite possible he got it from handling contaminated money, or from someone he was in close contact with.”

To limit exposure to his wife and kids, ironically, Nick also had also taken it upon himself to do all the family shopping and other out-of-house errands that could have also exposed him to the virus.

“I’ve got it down to one of three scenarios,” Nick said. “It was either counting cash at the diner, because while we were already heavily sanitizing everything else, we were still taking cash up until around March 26. Or I got it from pumping gas, or it’s possible it was from one of Sandy’s co-workers who had it right around the time I got sick.”

Workplace Challenges

Once Nick fell ill, the diner closed for several days for a deep disinfecting, and has long since reopened with even more safety precautions in place.

“I was out of work for 18 days,” Nick said. Since then, one of Nick’s night managers contracted the virus and was out for about three weeks. Unfortunately the manager likely contracted COVID from his wife, who is a nurse, and spent time recovering in a breathing chamber in a local hospital.

Nick also saw one of his other staffers contract the coronavirus, which sidelined that person for over three weeks.

As these collateral cases affected Nick’s place of business, he continued to improve safety and disinfecting practices and implemented a mask-only policy, which had its detractors.

“We all have to wear masks inside,” Nick said of his diner staff, “and we started asking all our customers, which cost me three or four longtime customers — a couple of 30-year customers. I explained that we were all in this together, and I needed their cooperation, and I didn’t want to get fined or get anybody exposed.”

With the diner now outfitted with all types of distancing guides, signage, a mask-only rule, and protective barriers, no other staff have come down with the virus, Nick reported this week.

“I’ve even got a pick-up window being installed because after closing to disinfect when I got sick, we started closing at night,” he said. “Now we’re going back to 24 hours, but from 9 pm to 6 am, we’re not having table service.”

As his staff has scattered, Nick is finding himself hiring new employees who are being trained on packing and fulfilling takeout orders instead of waiting tables.

Nick remains concerned about the virus catching fire again as he observes other businesses basically ignoring all the primary safety guidelines, but all he can do is ensure he, his workplace, and his family are as safe as possible.

“Things are going fine for now,” Nick said warily, “but I don’t know what’s going to happen a few months from now — I’m kind of worried about that.”

Any resident or Newtown Bee reader who would like to discuss their coronavirus experience for possible inclusion in this series is invited to e-mail Associate Editor John Voket at john@thebee.com.

The Roussas family of Newtown had a unique experience with the COVID-19 virus as Nick, Sandy, and daughter Eleni, center, each contracted it and exhibited a range of symptoms, while son Petros, who was in close contact with his mom and sister during their bouts, has managed to miraculously elude the virus completely. — photo courtesy Sandy Roussas
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