Joey Camp: “How in the world did I get COVID-19?”

For our 21st Century Plague project, we spoke with 17 Georgians about the toll of COVID-19.

21st Century Plague: Coronavirus in Atlanta

Photograph by Audra Melton

Joey Camp: “How in the world did I get [COVID-19]? I have not been to Italy.”For our 21st Century Plague project, we spoke with 17 Georgians about the toll of COVID-19. Below, Joey Camp—a cook at Waffle House in Canton who also drives a party bus part-time—describes what it was like to have the virus and his experience in isolation at Hard Labor State Park. (Camp was interviewed on March 18.)

I started getting pneumonia [in early March]. I felt like I was drowning. The chills had gotten so bad that I could not keep my teeth from chattering. If my teeth weren’t chattering, I was coughing. [On March 12] I went to the emergency room. They did all these tests—a CT scan with contrast, X-rays, everything. They were like, “You got really bad pneumonia. We’re going to put you in a room and monitor you for a few days.” Well, I was in there for probably nine hours when they hung the isolation box on my door. Which is where they keep all these gloves, smocks, and masks that everybody has to put on before they’re allowed into the room. I got a little nervous.

On Saturday [March 13] they tested me for COVID-19 and I got positive affirmation on Monday. I thought, How in the world did I get this? I have not been to Italy, I haven’t been to China, I haven’t been around people, to my knowledge, that have been to those places. I live a very boring life. When they finally told me on Monday, they also released me from the hospital to self-quarantine. The house I was living in had an infant in it. I didn’t want to take the chance of getting that infant sick. So I was like, “I need options.”

Camp was brought to Hard Labor State Park and put in a camper to recuperate until he was no longer contagious. He was there for six days.

It had a nice bed in it. There were cookies in it. The state health officials were super helpful. I asked them to go on a grocery run because a diabetic cannot live on chips and cookies. And they went and got me some bananas, some apples, some cucumbers—all this stuff for me to snack on. I offered to pay for some of the stuff and they wouldn’t have it. They paid for my medicine. They got me a new blood sugar meter. They were just super accommodating. The first few days were rough. The coughing was the worst part at that point. I had stopped having chills, I had stopped having a fever, but I was still coughing my brains out. It was like starting a car. Just whoop, whoop, whoop, just constant. And it just slowly went away. One day I was coughing every three or four minutes, the next day it was every half hour, the next day it was every hour. And by the time I was done I was only coughing very, very rarely, when I got a tickle in the back of my throat. It wasn’t even in my lungs anymore.

I’m a little torn on the response. Because I see the benefit of not spreading an infectious disease. But then, I work in the service industry. Half of my income has been wiped out by this. The party bus industry is on complete hiatus because all the bars are shut down, proms were shut down, all of that. That’s killing my income. I still have bills. Part of me feels like the government shouldn’t be telling businesses to close their doors. I feel like that should be a case-by-case basis, based on the company.

I’m watching my fellow Americans hurting one another for no reason. Up here in Hiram, up here in North Georgia, a guy got stabbed with a wine bottle over a case of water.

People are going to catch the disease, it’s going to happen. Some people are going to get better. Unfortunately, the way major viruses happen, some people going to pass away. And I feel for the people who have lost people, I feel for the families that lose people, but we know that that’s the outcome of diseases. We know that’s an outcome that could happen.

I know that this is going to hurt our economy. Our economy is going to be in shambles by the end of all this, just to be honest, just knowing how economies work. But I want things to go back to normal or go full Mad Max. I want us to make a decision. I’ve got a Camaro. It’ll look really cool when I put all the metal and stuff on it like Mad Max. Or it’ll look really cool if I paint it and live a normal life.

I’m ready to get back normal. Be able to go to the bar when I want to go to the bar. It was St. Patrick’s Day last night, and for the first time, America didn’t really celebrate it. So stuff like that, I miss stuff like that already.

Interview edited for length and clarity.