Bethel Elementary School Teacher Tells Of COVID-19 Experience

Oct 16, 2020

A Gladys Jung Elementary School teacher tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday Oct. 14.
Credit Christine Trudeau / KYUK

A Bethel elementary school teacher tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, Oct. 14. She shared her story with KYUK’s Greg Kim, talking about what her experience with coronavirus has been like.

Kathleen Naneng is a third grade teacher at Bethel’s Gladys Jung Elementary School, but she hasn’t gone to school since Oct. 2. She had taken time off to grieve for her brother, who passed away recently. Then life got even worse when she received a call from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation’s contact tracing team.

“I had gotten a call on [Oct. 11] that a close family member had tested positive,” Naneng said. “When I heard that they tested positive, I knew I had it.”

She said that she suspected that she had the virus because her body had already started to hurt. Still, she hadn’t been tested yet.

“They asked me and my household to stay put in our house and not to go anywhere and, you know, those are very easy and simple instructions for our family,” Naneng said. 

On Oct. 13, she went to get tested. The next day, YKHC called her to tell her that the result had come back positive. She said that the symptoms have been similar to when she had strep throat.

“I've been experiencing body aches, like, I feel it in my elbows, the back of my neck, my knees. And I have chills. And when I'm doing stuff, I feel short of breath,” Naneng said. “To relieve my symptoms, I've been trying to drink a lot of fluids. And I still get up to move around the house with my mask, and dance for my grandbaby for exercise, and I do my best to find something to laugh at. And then I cry when I need to.”

Naneng said that YKHC sent a letter to her employer, the Lower Kuskokwim School District, saying that she wouldn’t be able to work at school for at least two weeks. 

A day before Naneng tested positive, LKSD Superintendent Kimberly Hankins wrote in an email to KYUK that another school district employee tested positive for COVID-19. She declined to say where that employee works, in order to protect their privacy.

Naneng said that she’s grateful her coworkers collected her students’ work packets and dropped them off at her door. 

“Our third grade team, it's a very close team that works well together,” Naneng said.

And since she has been quarantined, Naneng said that family and friends have come by to help with chores.

“I'm so amazed of people that are willing to check my mail every day, and pick up my medicine at the hospital, and shop for us. You know, that's just like true love,” Naneng said.

Community is what has made this pandemic bearable, but it is also what makes it dangerous. Naneng said that people were exposed to COVID-19 during her brother’s funeral. The person with the virus didn’t know it at the time, and if they had known, the funeral would have been postponed. But, she added, it’s difficult to regret inviting loved ones to celebrate the life of her late brother.

“We had to gather for the death of my brother,” Naneng said. “You know, I am happy that those people were there. I’m happy they were there for us.”

On Oct. 12, YKHC issued a public health advisory strongly urging people to avoid hosting or attending gatherings of any kind.

YKHC is offering free testing in Bethel on Oct. 16 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. without an appointment. Free testing is also offered every week on Wednesday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. without an appointment. To schedule an appointment on a different date, call 907-543-6949.