Norman Regional Medical Center. BRIANNA BAILEY/The Frontier

It was Friday night, March 13 when Norman resident Manda Nelson first noticed the symptoms — a fever, body aches and chills.

By Saturday morning, the 34-year-old Nelson’s symptoms seemed to worsen. By Sunday, Nelson, who has severe asthma, started feeling short of breath.

Later tests confirmed — Nelson was one of the first handful of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.

Nelson, who as of Wednesday remained self-quarantined, told The Frontier the experience has been “surreal” with “lots of unknowns.”

“Symptoms still coming and going, just focused on getting well,” Nelson said Wednesday. “I keep hoping I am going to wake up from this bad dream.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Oklahoma had 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by novel coronavirus, though testing for the disease, which is performed through the Oklahoma State Department of Health, remained limited.

The state also had its first fatal case of the disease. Merle Dry, a 55-year-old Berryhill man, died in a Tulsa hospital Wednesday night after testing positive for COVID-19, according to a Facebook post from Dry’s church, Metro Pentecostal Church.

During a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Kevin Stitt said the state was also running “critically low” on reagents for testing kits.

The mayors of Tulsa and Oklahoma City on Tuesday declared civil emergencies, and requested that all restaurants and bars in the respective cities be closed to prevent spread of the virus, while Stitt declared a statewide emergency on Saturday and later asked Oklahomans to practice “social distancing” to prevent spread.

State health officials have said 80 percent of those who get the virus do not need to be hospitalized and should self-quarantine rather than go to an emergency room. Oklahoma State Epidemiologist Laurence Burnsed said those with milder symptoms should, if possible, utilize a telehealth system to maintain contact with their physicians and drink plenty of fluids. Using such a system would both help prevent spread among the public and health workers.

“This really is a safe mechanism for individuals to seek care without leaving their home or waiting in a waiting room at a clinic,” Burnsed said.

Nelson said she quarantined herself once the symptoms began to appear on Friday, though her 10-year old son had shown possible symptoms eight days before hers started. He was tested for the flu, she said, but the test came back negative, and doctors said it was a viral infection, though it is unclear what type. Her son recovered quickly, however, and now shows no symptoms, she said.

Nelson said she has not taken any recent trips out of the country or been around anyone who has tested positive for the virus, raising the possibility that her’s could be a case of “community spread.”

“No clue where I got it,” Nelson said. “Haven’t been around anyone who has traveled either.”

Manda Nelson, who was among the first Oklahomans to test positive for COVID-19. Courtesy/Facebook

So when she first started experiencing symptoms, she considered it unlikely that she had contracted the virus.

As her symptoms got worse over the weekend, and she began to feel short of breath, she contacted her primary care physician, concerned about her asthma.

Nelson posted to her Facebook page on March 15 that her doctor told her to visit a nearby emergency room because of her respiratory issues, but the emergency protocols that had been put in place at the hospital prevented her from entering the hospital and getting treatment.

She later learned through the Oklahoma State Department of Health that emergency rooms were not taking people with respiratory issues and would not screen people for the virus beforehand.

“I was contacting them just to get help with my asthma, I didn’t believe I had it,” Nelson said. “However, it was pretty difficult just to get help with my asthma with all the (emergency) protocols in place, very difficult. I know a lot of people are having issues being tested. Once they made the decision to test me, it was easy. But the process of getting help was very hard.”

The state health department was able to locate a hospital that Nelson could go to to be tested for COVID-19 on Sunday.

On Tuesday, the hospital called — the test was positive.

Nelson was in shock.

This is not like the flu,” Nelson wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “I’ve had the flu many times, and it has never affected my asthma like this has. Most people’s symptoms will be mild, but please be mindful of those who have underlying health conditions, this is serious, and scary.”

Her symptoms seem to come and go, Nelson said, and once those pass, it will require two negative tests for COVID-19 to confirm that she no longer has COVID-19.

Nelson advised anyone who feels they are experiencing symptoms of the disease to contact their primary care physician to see if they should get tested, or whether testing is possible.

“If it’s manageable, just take care of it at home. But STAY home,” Nelson said. “Mine was not manageable at home, so I needed the ER, people just need to know their bodies and know what they need.”