“Going viral” with COVID-19: the unexpected rise of a UW-Madison student to glory amid a global pandemic


Lying in bed and alone in her Madison apartment one evening in March, Amy Shircel believed she was on the verge of death.

A few days after contracting the COVID-19 virus – suffering from headaches, shallow breathing and severe dehydration limited by a fever of 103 degrees – the senior of UW-Madison prepared for the worst .

“I thought I was going to die,” said Shircel. “I was like, ‘I’m going to fall asleep and I’m not going to wake up because I’m just too sick. “”

After several trips to the emergency room and acute symptoms for about two weeks, she released a series of tweets document its course in the treatment of the new coronavirus.

With 292,000 likes and 114,000 retweets, Shircel’s story captured national and international attention as small and large media outlets flooded its account with interview requests.

Despite growing media coverage and his initial intentions to alert his Twitter followers to the dangers associated with the virus, Shircel’s message has remained consistent in dispelling the concept COVID-19 only affects the elderly and those with health conditions pre-existing – and accentuates the potential consequences for younger generations.

Living with COVID-19

Shircel embarked on a spring break with his friends in Portugal in early March. An hour after their flight, the American government imposed a travel ban in most European countries, prompting him to book the first return flight.

After a brief stopover in Lisbon and a stopover in Amsterdam, Shircel landed at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Although she cannot be sure, Shircel believed she had caught the virus in the days leading up to or during her travels.

“I would love to know,” said Shircel. “It could have been anywhere in the airport. It could have been anywhere in my hometown, Madison, Europe. “

Amid growing fears surrounding the new coronavirus, Shircel took self-quarantine seriously, but also tackled the virus with light humor.

Shircel was “not welcome” in his permanent residence in Kenosha. Her mother recently had heart surgery and she returned to Madison to avoid potentially spreading the virus to her home.

“I liked the jokes about it on Twitter. I was making jokes about it myself, ”said Shircel. “I felt a little like the 20 year old invincible who was not going to be hurt by [COVID-19] long-term. “

On March 15, however, Shircel’s luck changed – as did his opinion on the virus.

She felt tired and developed a cough and fever. Shircel called University Health Services and received a test the next day. However, progress has worsened.

On the third or fourth day, Shircel’s nausea turned into continuous vomiting and she could not fall asleep for the next week. As her fever continued to climb, she shivered under five blankets, including an additional warming blanket, and wanted to close her eyes.

After waking up sweating several times – to the point that she had to change her clothes – Shircel resorted to sleeping on towels.

Finally, on the sixth day, Shircel became so dehydrated that she called 911. When entering an ambulance for the first time as a patient, paramedics in personal protective equipment gave it to the doctors and nurses carrying dangerous clothes in the hospital.

No visitors were allowed.

With a “large sign” hanging above his bedroom door preventing people from entering, Shircel was isolated, too weak to speak to his parents on the phone.

“It’s really lonely and it’s dehumanizing when nobody wants to come near you or touch you,” said Shircel. “There really isn’t much that health workers can do for you. There is no vaccine, there is no pill they can give you to feel better. “

The hospital released Shircel the same day he was admitted; however, she returned to the emergency room a few days later with no improvement in her symptoms.

Shircel said the worst part of the hospital was not his stay, but rather the process of leaving his premises. When she asked hospital workers how she could get home, the employees “shrugged” and recommended ordering an Uber, according to Shircel.

” [It] was crazy for me because they wouldn’t hit me with a 10-foot stick, but they would tell me to get into someone’s Uber with just a face mask, “said Shircel.

After 12 days, she called her family and told them that they could no longer take care of themselves. Shircel’s father came to pick her up and brought her back to Kenosha where she continues to recover.

Unexpected “viral”

Shircel never expected to receive such a strong response from his tweets. She initially shared her experience on social networks to alert her friends and followers to take the COVID-19 situation more seriously.

“I had friends who were on spring break. I had friends who went to their friends ‘house, went to their boyfriends’ house and thought they were taking it seriously, “said Shircel. “But in reality, I knew they were a danger in spreading the virus as potential carriers. “

Then a media attack ensued, as Facebook and popular Instagram accounts republished her tweets, and news organizations contacted her on social media for comment.

A total of 23 million Twitter accounts saw Shircel’s tweet, including seven million “interactions” and one million views on his profile.

Shircel recently appeared on ABC News ’20/20 special. She has just recorded an episode of Dr. Phil and has interviewed TMZ, The Terry Show in Australia and The Wall Street Journal. Cosmopolitan Magazine also published a article.

She spoke with KARE TV in Minnesota and Spectrum News in Wisconsin, and Shircel said she would have further interviews with ABC News and China TV.

Even with unprecedented media exposure – receiving articles from around the world on its history and support on various platforms – Shircel remains humble in the face of public response to its impactful history.

“I get all this attention, but in reality, I am quarantined in my parents’ basement. It’s really not super glamorous, “said Shircel. “Millions of people have read my story. It’s a little intimidating, but I’m also very flattered. I’m happy to spread the word, I hope so in a positive way. “

However, not all comments have been positive. Individual accounts have accused Shircel of being a “political pawn” used by Democrats and attributed his weight and food preferences as the underlying reasons why he contracted the new coronavirus.

“You really have to take it with a grain of salt because every time you have a tweet or a post [that goes] viral like that, you have to expect trolls who are sitting behind their keyboards looking to be a hater for someone, “said Shircel.

Ultimately, Shircel’s uplifting tale underscores the greatest lesson that COVID-19 remains blind from age and can inflict life-threatening damage on young people.

Shircel has advocated empathy and selflessness right now by caring for loved ones and protecting the community as a whole.

“Even if you think you are healthy, even if you think you are invincible, you can be like me and feel like you could almost die,” said Shircel. “I think my message is that you should be afraid of yourself because I would not want my experience with the coronavirus to be on my worst enemy. “

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