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Maryland public officials who’ve survived coronavirus say transparency is important

Maryland House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, a Pasadena Republican who recovered from coronavirus, said he wanted to be transparent about his illness with his constituents.
Maryland House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, a Pasadena Republican who recovered from coronavirus, said he wanted to be transparent about his illness with his constituents. (Nic Kipke)

Being sick with the coronavirus is bad enough. Having to tell the whole world about it is another matter.

Public officials like President Donald Trump who test positive for the virus must weather the virus with plenty of people watching, which isn’t always easy. Two local leaders who have recovered from COVID-19 said transparency is important.

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“I’m used to having things about my personal life be known,” said Del. Nic Kipke, an Anne Arundel County Republican who tested positive in June. “It wasn’t something I was trying to hide from the public.”

Kipke is not only well-known in his district in Pasadena, but he also is the House of Delegates minority leader and has a statewide profile in the Republican Party.

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Kipke got tested after learning grandfather, Matthew Wallace “Buzz” Platt Jr., 85, tested positive. Platt became one of the more than 3,800 Marylanders who died from the virus. Kipke shared his story on his social media accounts and did media interviews.

While Kipke was managing his symptoms — which he said were mild — and his grief, he also waded through online abuse and harassment that a private citizen likely would not have faced.

“There were internet trolls who wanted to criticize me during it, with my grandfather dying, and insinuating that Republicans were the reason that people like him are dying,” Kipke said Friday.

“It’s a sad statement about our culture at the moment,” he added.

But with the trolls came angels who dropped off groceries, supplies and even a bottle of gin as Kipke’s family isolated at home. Kipke’s wife, Susannah, had similarly mild symptoms but tested negative. Their three young children never fell ill.

“There was really an outpouring of support for my family ... It was really sweet,” he said.

Since he’s recovered, Kipke said he’s been beset by questions about his symptoms and recovery. And others who have recovered are eager to compare notes.

The Baltimore County health officer, Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch, said he, too, was buoyed by the support of friends, neighbors and strangers when he became ill with the virus in July.

“I never called and asked for anything,” said Branch.

The fact that even a public health official fell ill shows how ubiquitous the virus is, Branch said.

Once Branch was diagnosed, he immediately told his family. Then he quickly informed the 1,500-member staff of the county Department of Health and Human Services and worked on a news release to notify the public.

Being transparent was important, he said.

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“I felt it should not be something that was hidden,” Branch said. “I don’t want to feel ashamed because I was infected, and I don’t want anyone else to feel ashamed.”

Branch said that for him, the illness felt much like the flu, and it sapped his energy even as he recovered. Working from home, he was able to continue as the health officer and teach a college course. But he took frequent rest breaks.

By being public about his illness, Branch said he hoped to show people that it was OK to tell others and cooperate with contact tracers. Having open communication is one of the best ways to slow the spread, as new cases can be identified.

“If we talk about it more, we are one step further in eliminating the disease,” he said.

Branch said the president’s diagnosis could be a similar teaching moment. Trump has an opportunity to raise awareness of the virus and how to prevent it. Asked Friday to give advice to the president, Branch said: “He should use my example of being very truthful about what he’s going through and by example show people what they should do.”

Branch said Trump needs to remain in isolation and remind Americans of what Branch calls the three Ws: Wash your hands, watch your distance, wear a face mask.

“If he were to do that, I can tell you I truly believe that many of the people who are in his circle would not be quarantining right now,” Branch said.

Kipke said that while the president is enduring a raft of criticism, there may be a silver lining: people of all political persuasions are wishing the best for the president’s health. Trump’s Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, said he’s praying for the president and first lady, Kipke noted.

“Everything we have is fragile and despite how divided the country is, in moments like this, it’s an opportunity for us to come together and be mindful of our own worth in the world, and to ignore the negativity," Kipke said.

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