Erik Swallow is tired.
Not because of the hours he spends as the interim director of the Umpqua Valley Public Defenders office. What’s making Swallow tired is a breakthrough case of the COVID-19 delta variant which spread through the downtown Roseburg office.
“Being tired is a pain in the ass,” said Swallow, who has been dealing with the effects of the delta variant for more than three weeks. “I’m used to working a long day and having energy when I get home. I’m a late night person. I definitely need more sleep than I usually do.
“Fatigue is a real thing.”
Swallow agreed to share his experience with The News-Review after 12 of the 30 people who work at the public defenders office tested positive for COVID-19. All 30 employees had long since completed their sequence of vaccinations against the virus.
“All but one of us had symptoms,” Swallow said in early August, when the public defenders office was added to the Oregon Health Authority’s Workplace Outbreak Report. “We mandated vaccines. We are a public entity dealing with the public and high risk members of the public.
“We allowed for medical and religious exceptions, and nobody took them.”
Of the positive cases in the office, nine attorneys who had been vaccinated contracted COVID-19, and all nine were sequenced to the B.1.1.7 delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
One week earlier, a similar outbreak was reported at the Douglas County Jail. The jail currently has 19 active COVID-19 positive cases including employees, inmates and family members.
Swallow recounted his experience in dealing with the delta variant as hitting him fast and hard.
“Our first person to get sick was (Aug. 4), but by (Aug. 5) it was all of our staff,” Swallow said three weeks ago. “I had tested negative but started feeling ill. By that Saturday, I had all the symptoms.
“When you get this thing, you’re just sleeping,” Swallow said, punctuated by a heavy guttural cough. “For the first 24 hours I had it, I slept for probably 21 hours. Nobody (from the public defenders office) ended up in the hospital, but oh man, it knocks you down.”
Due to the outbreak, the attorneys in the public defenders office and Douglas County District Attorney’s Office got creative. Ever since the outbreak at the public defenders office was reported, clients have been represented by their defense attorneys in court proceedings either via telephone or closed circuit video.
“The court was very flexible in short order to allow us to do remote appearances,” Swallow said.
Three weeks after getting hit with delta, Swallow said he’s still recovering. The cough remains, although not as pronounced. He has all the energy of a house cat lying in the sun on a window sill.
“I definitely don’t feel 100%,” Swallow said.
So why share his experience of his breakthrough case of COVID-19?
“I felt like I had an obligation to be candid about this,” Swallow said. “It’s important to share this.
“All of us were just relaxing like, ‘Oh yea, everything’s better!’ and this is where we landed.”