Richmond couple reflects 1 year after COVID diagnosis: ‘There was a lot of kindness’

'It’s really strange to be known for this specific thing'
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Posted at 5:17 PM, Mar 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-10 21:26:15-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- A Richmond couple who was among the first to go public with their positive COVID-19 diagnosis said they still experience lingering symptoms nearly a year later.

Joseph Papa and his husband, John-Stuart Fauquet, said their doctor called them with the confirmation on March 17, 2020.

The couple, who are in their 30s, was among the first in Richmond to receive the positive diagnosis. Fauquet returned from a business trip to New York City on March 5.

An employee on a different floor in the high-rise where he worked had tested positive for the coronavirus.

“It’s really strange to be known for this specific thing that I think if it happened a week later or two weeks later we would be just a statistic,” Papa explained.

At the time, there were 77 positive coronavirus cases in Virginia and no deaths had been reported. Most people were not yet wearing face masks in public and schools had just shutdown.

Papa spoke about the fear of the unknown regarding the severity surrounding the coronavirus. The science involving how the disease is spread continued to change during the early stages of the pandemic.

“We were also very concerned at the time that we had such an active weekend and week leading up to us getting sick, that we feared we possibly infected thousands of people, because we didn’t know how contagious it was,” Papa stated.

Joseph Papa and John-Stuart Fauquet
Joseph Papa and John-Stuart Fauquet

RELATED: Richmond couple tests positive for coronavirus: 'Take it seriously'

They came forward early on with hopes of spreading awareness to take the virus seriously. Papa described receiving positive and negative reactions from both family and strangers.

“I had close family who I would talk to on the phone when we were sick and they’d say it’s just the flu - that it’s just bad as the flu and I just walked a tenth of a mile out of breath,” he recalled.

After going public, Papa’s previous employer contacted him asking how long it had been since we was last in the building. He had left that job in 2018.

The husbands had also received anonymous letters in the mail condemning them for being gay, but Papa described the goodwill they received as they recovered in isolation away from family and friends.

“There were countless times I’d wake up with Lysol wipes on our front steps just anonymously left there,” he said.

Neighbors and friends also delivered food and supplies to their front door.

Papa said the pandemic forced him to confront what he calls his prevalent white privilege. Following his diagnosis, he didn’t worry about his access to healthcare and was able to continue his job virtually.

Fauquet experienced the brunt of the coronavirus, but both have fully recovered. Papa stated that he still feels an occasional shortness of breath and is thankful his symptoms weren’t more severe.

Now, they wait for their turn to get vaccinated.

“I want to go to a theater. I want to go to a restaurant. I want to go to Joe’s Inn. I really miss that,” Papa said.