The first thing Luiza Nascimento ’21 wants you to know is that she is fine. Now at home in Sergipe, Brazil, Luiza learned March 24 that she tested positive for COVID-19. She is Wellesley College’s first known case.
For the past seven months, Luiza had been studying at the London School of Economics (LSE). Her time there was cut short, however, due to the pandemic.
In the middle of her flight home, Luiza’s head started hurting. When she arrived in Brazil last Wednesday, March 18, she quarantined herself in her room as a precautionary measure. While she could not shake the headache, Luiza figured it was just her body recovering from the hours of traveling. She took some Tylenol, and although she felt a little better, the headache persisted.
“I was not feeling my greatest,” Luiza said.
She then started hearing about friends at LSE who had come down with COVID-19 symptoms: a few had a fever, others were coughing. Another person’s mother began feeling chest pains. But for those students, many of whom reside in the U.K. or U.S., testing was hard to come by since the students did not meet the at-risk populations or traveling criteria.
“All my friends have way worse symptoms, but they’re so young [the hospitals are] not going to ‘waste’ resources,” Luiza explained.
On Friday, March 20, Luiza went to get tested. As luck would have it, her hospital had just started a COVID-19 testing clinic that very same day. She went home to await her results.
The following day, the hospital changed its policies. The clinic now only tests those who have recently traveled to infected areas or are in at-risk populations — such as the elderly and immunocompromised — because otherwise there would be no way to keep up with the demand for tests, Luiza explained.
Luiza found out her diagnosis in a rather unconventional way. Though the clinic had promised that she would hear from a doctor, Luiza learned that she had COVID-19 from a journalist’s Tweet.
Her phone began blowing up with friend’s texts, all asking, “Is this you?” She then began seeing news articles chronicling the diagnoses in Sergipe, her home state and the smallest one in Brazil. The sites reported the recent diagnosis of a “20-year-old woman who traveled from England.”
“No one told me I was positive,” Luiza said of her situation. “It was a massive failure in protocol.”
In Brazil, only the national healthcare system Sistema Único de Saúde (SUS), not private providers, can test for COVID-19. Luiza’s family, using personal connections, contacted an SUS employee about her diagnosis. The employee confirmed on March 24 that Luiza was indeed positive for COVID-19. She received an official call from SUS this afternoon, March 25.
As of this writing, there are over 450,000 confirmed cases and 20,550 deaths from the virus, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker. It originated in China in late 2019, but has spread globally, leading to country-wide lockdowns, economic turmoil and heightened prejudice toward East Asian people. In Brazil, there are 2,297 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 48 deaths as of Wednesday, March 25. The cases are concentrated in Brazil’s major cities, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. As of March 25 , there are 15 cases in Sergipe. The numbers, from the Ministry of Health, were reported by G1, a Brazilian news site.
But Luiza still feels fine. The headache has been gone for a few days, and she says that she has had a bit of a runny nose. News outlets are now reporting that a loss of smell and taste are being considered tell-tale signs, but she so far has still been able to smell.
“It just shows how young people can carry the virus without knowing,” she explained.
Luiza has informed both Wellesley and LSE of her diagnosis. She said that Wellesley in particular has been helpful in the transition from her time abroad, sharing that the communication has been responsive and understanding. The Office of International Study (OIS) has guaranteed abroad students $500 USD to cover airline change fees. According to Luiza, OIS has said it is working on covering the entirety of Luiza’s fees since she is on financial aid.
“I think they actually handled it pretty well. The response from the College was quick,” she said.
She is concerned, however, that her situation is far removed from what would happen if a student were to contract COVID-19 while on campus.
“I feel like my case is not an accurate reflection of what [the College’s] response might look like for students who were on campus this semester and got the virus — and that worries me.”
Jennifer Thomas-Starck, director of OIS, said that while she cannot comment on any specific cases of COVID-19, she has had many reports of students who are now home and self-isolation.
Representatives at Wellesley College, LSE and Brazil’s Ministry of Health could not be reached for comment.
The pandemic has also thrust a new light on global health policies and government responses. Yesterday, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro downplayed the threat of COVID-19, describing the virus as “at most just a little flu.”
“What [Bolsonaro’s] doing is irresponsible,” Luiza said. Speaking particularly about Brazil’s favelas, which are crowded and often unregulated neighborhoods, Luiza feels that the Bolsonaro administration’s economic measures will lead to many unnecessary deaths.
“It’s just a genocide plan,” she explained. “Healthcare is public, but it’s going to take a hit once everyone gets it.”
As Luiza enters another week of quarantine, she urges young people to stay home. “I’m not dying, but that fact that I’m not dying shows how important it is for young people to stay home.”
“But I can definitely now say that ‘abroad has changed me,’” she joked.
Additional reporting provided by Renée Remsberg ’23, News Editor.
This is breaking news. The story will be updated with additional information.