Off and Running

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced yesterday that Placer and San Diego counties have both been removed from the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list, which dictates a threshold for counties’ reopening plans. The removal follows a weeks-long freezing of any movement on or off the list in the wake of backlog and undercount issues with the statewide database, resulting in inaccurate reporting of positive COVID case numbers. Those issues have now been resolved.

The county had been placed on the list on July 9, with indoor businesses such as hair salons, fitness centers, and restaurants forced to close indoor operations days later following a July 13 state health order.

“We have 40 [counties] today on the monitoring list … We had 42 on Monday,” Newsom said at a press conference yesterday. “The two counties that have dropped off since Monday, these are very encouraging signs, [are] San Diego County and Placer County.”

Newsom advised that San Francisco could soon follow suit provided the numbers fall in line with the requirements.

“We would then have 39 of our 58 counties on that list,” he continued. “So, we want to see this list go down to zero.”

A day earlier at a Placer County board of supervisors meeting, Public Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson had indicated that Placer would be moving off the list. Explaining that the county had met all criteria for removal for three consecutive days, Sisson at the Tuesday meeting said,“This means that Placer County will be removed from the monitoring list tomorrow. Yes, you heard that right. We’re coming off the monitoring list.”

So what does that mean for the future of the county? While it could spell good news for parents hoping to actually send their kids off to school for the first day, it’s unlikely that that may happen just yet. In order to reopen for in-person education — or even some hybrid combination of in-person and distance learning — Placer County must remain off the state monitoring list for two straight weeks.

“If Placer County remains off the monitoring list for 14 days, all K-12 schools may choose to reopen for in-person instruction under the modifications outlined in state guidance without the need for a waiver from the local health officer,” Sisson explained. She said that to-date only seven schools, all of them private, had sought to obtain a waiver to start the year with in-person instruction.

For parents in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, that 14-day timeline would lead to a period of uncertainty for just a few days before the first day of school, during which  the district must decide whether to go with a hybrid option or to stick with the currently anticipated distance learning model for the first month of school. Despite the district’s schools being located in both Nevada and Placer counties, and students coming from as far as El Dorado County, TTUSD falls under the umbrella of the Placer County Superintendent of Schools, and there remains much to consider. To date, neither Nevada nor El Dorado have been placed on the state monitoring list.

Following an Aug. 3 directive issued by Placer and Nevada County health officers, Sisson and Dr. Richard Johnson, stating that schools in the district must open in distance learning, the district set forth its Coronavirus COVID-19 Update and School Opening Plan. While the district looked to the counties for guidance, it also took into consideration the numbers of cases within the TTUSD boundaries.

The case rate in Placer and Nevada counties at the time the school district voted on its reopening plan was 153.8 per 100,000 residents, according to the public health officers. In the Nevada County portion of the school district, the majority of the cases were located in Truckee, where the case rate was 216.7 per 100,000 residents — more than double the 100 cases per 100,000 residents case rate threshold the state set for counties to be placed on the monitoring list.

Following the governor’s announcement, Moonshine Ink reached out to TTUSD seeking comment on whether Placer’s removal from the watch list might have any bearing on the decision to start off the year with distance learning. Coordinator of District Communications Kelli Twomey said that Superintendent Carmen Ghysels, who took over the position earlier this month following the retirement of Dr. Robert Leri, has been in regular communication with both the Placer County and Nevada County health officers.

“The other concern the health officers had is the limited access to testing in our area, coupled with the delay in receiving results,” Twomey explained. “This is part of the criteria that the health officers use to evaluate if we are safe to reopen schools.”

Though it remains to be seen whether there will be a possibility of going back to school in person, Twomey noted that the district has compiled a comprehensive handbook that addresses many of the questions both parents and students might have.

Under the Considerations for Partial or Total Closure section, the guidebook states, “Once a county is removed from the COVID-19 monitoring list and our schools reopen, we are not required to close again if the county is placed back on the monitoring list.” Rather, individual school closures would be recommended “based on the number of cases, the percentage of teachers/students/staff that are positive for COVID-19, and we’ll consult with our local health officers and follow their directives.”

While there may be a glimmer of hope for those hoping for in-person educational instruction, Placer’s removal from the monitoring list does not mean the reopening of businesses closed as a result of a particular county previously being placed on the watch list.

“Businesses like hair salons and places of worship will not be permitted to resume indoor operations following the county’s removal from the list,” said Sisson, explaining that she is working to see that changed. “I will continue to advocate to [California Department of Public Health] to link removal from the monitoring list to reopening of businesses.”

Placer Supervisor Cindy Gustafson mentioned to Moonshine that she heard the county has written more letters to the governor than any other county. The constant questions are important, not only because winter and snow are coming, but also because the infection numbers aren’t pointing to salons, places of worship, indoor dining, etc. to be the reason for COVID’s spread.

“The state has deemed those [places] risky and has closed them,” Gustafson said, “but we’re continuing to look at the information and plead to see if [the state has] information we don’t have that would better indicate those risks. And certainly some of the photos you’ve seen of bars and the spring break indoor group gatherings are more risky, we know that, but if you’re seated at smaller capacity at restaurants and spread apart and wearing face coverings when up and around the restaurant, we believe that works and we believe that really reduces the risk.”

Sisson also said the county’s two testing sites, located in Rocklin and Truckee, continue to operate at or near capacity, although she was happy to note that the wait time for both scheduling appointments and getting test results has decreased. Appointment wait time is now one to two days, down from the previous seven-day wait, while the turnaround time for test results is down from seven days to 2.46 days.

The number of hospitalizations in the county has remained relatively stable over the past two weeks, Sisson said, with 64 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Placer’s three hospitals, 95% of which were admitted because of COVID. Of the 15 confirmed COVID patients in intensive care in county hospitals, 87% were there as a result of COVID.

As of Sisson’s Tuesday press briefing, the number of beds available among the three hospitals remained low, with only eight total adult beds available and only six available in ICU. Sisson said that among the 2,625 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in Placer, there have 28 resident deaths; eight of which were in the past week alone.

“Deaths are a lagging indicator, and while case rates and hospitalizations may have peaked, we predict that deaths will continue to climb,” she said.

Sisson noted that all of the deceased so far had underlying health issues, with many of those who have died having resided in long-term care facilities.

“COVID-19 continues to circulate throughout the community and sadly has resulted in more deaths,” Sisson said. “While we’re only a little more than halfway through August, it has already been the deadliest month to date for COVID-19 with 11 deaths recorded so far.”

Sisson cautioned that residents should not become lackadaisical when it comes to preventive measures in protecting themselves and others from COVID-19.

“I urge our community to continue to exercise healthy habits so that we can stay off this list and allow our schools and hopefully also some of our businesses to move forward with reopening,” she said. “To slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevent further disease and death, we continue to recommend the following precautions: Avoid gathering with non-household members, stay 6 feet apart from people you don’t live with, wear a face covering in public, and stay home if you are sick or have been exposed to somebody with COVID-19.”

Cool as a Cucumber

Summer heat dragging you down? Chill out and lighten things up in the kitchen with these simple cucumber dishes. Cukes are known for their ability to cool the temperature of the blood, which explains why they’re often used in facial care to reduce puffiness of the eyes and face. With a water content of 95%, they’re super light and refreshing, but don’t let that trick you into thinking there’s more water than nutrition: Cucumbers are packed with folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, vitamin C, and five B vitamins.

They can help stave off hunger, so if you’re watching what you eat, try slicing up some cukes for a snack. Kick it up a notch by covering them with hot sauce, then squeeze in some fresh lime juice and a sprinkle of salt.

Much like tomatoes and avocados, cucumbers often are victims of mistaken identity in that they’re technically a fruit, not a vegetable, based on how they grow — at least depending upon who you ask. Horticulturists would claim they’re vegetables because they grow  on an herbaceous plant with no woody stem above ground. Botanists, on the other hand, would say that since cucumbers develop from flowers, they are indeed a fruit, which tends to be the more common definition. And like zucchini, cucumbers are cousins of pumpkins and squash, which also grow from flowers on a vine.

There are three main varieties of cucumbers: slicing, pickling, and seedless/burpless. Slicing cucumbers are typically eaten raw, either peeled or with the skin on. In the U.S., the skin on this variety tends to be smooth and tough compared to those grown in other countries. Picklers are what you’ll find in most commercial pickle brands. They’re shorter and thicker than slicing cucumbers with bumpier skin and range from pale and yellowish to darker green shades. Burpless cucumbers have a thinner skin and are said to be easier on the digestive tract as they have far fewer seeds than slicing cukes. These range in size but can grow up to 2 feet long. Also called greenhouse or hothouse cucumbers for how they’re grown, you’ll typically find slicing cucumbers wrapped in plastic as their thin skin makes them more delicate.

Cucumbers are great for crunching on a hot day and are perfect on their own, in salads, or even diffused in a cold glass of Tahoe tap. There’s still plenty of summer left to try these simple recipes, so head out to your garden or swing by the farmers market and start slicing today!

Aunt Ulla’s Classic
Cucumber Salad

2 cucumbers


1/4 sweet onion

1/2 cup sour cream, but can adjust to desired consistency

1 Tbs vinegar

white pepper

Peel and thinly slice the cucumbers. Sprinkle them with salt and place them in a sieve or colander over an empty dish. Loosely cover the cukes with a piece of plastic wrap and place a heavy bowl on top of them. This will help press out excess moisture. Let them sit in the refrigerator for a few hours and then transfer cucumber slices to a bowl. Slice onion into very thin strips. Add in sour cream, vinegar, and season with white pepper to taste. Makes four servings.

Greek Party Dip

1 17-oz container of hummus

2 cups plain Greek yogurt

6 plum tomatoes, diced

2 large cucumbers, diced

2 2.25-oz cans sliced black olives

1 8-oz container feta cheese

Spread hummus in the bottom of a shallow casserole dish. Spread Greek yogurt on top of the hummus, then layer with tomatoes and cucumbers. Sprinkle sliced olives and feta cheese over the top. Serve with pita chips.

Refreshing Cucumber Gazpacho

1 large cucumber

1 small onion

1 tsp white wine vinegar

1 tsp olive oil

2 cups plain Greek yogurt

1/3 cup milk

½ peeled garlic clove

18 fresh mint leaves

½ tsp fresh dill, chopped

½ tsp salt

In a blender, mix all ingredients, except the cucumber, until smooth. Peel, quarter, and seed the cucumber. Add to the blender and blend just until cucumber is chopped up. Put the blender with soup into the refrigerator and chill well. Just before serving, blend briefly and pour into chilled soup bowls. If you want to get really fancy, serve in large chilled wine glasses. Optional: Garnish with chopped almonds.

Main image caption: COOL CLASSIC: Although they’re a guaranteed part of any decent veggie platter, cucumbers are, by definition, a fruit. Photo by Juliana Demarest/Moonshine Ink

It’s Official

The Tahoe Truckee Unified School District board of education approved the Coronavirus COVID-19 Update and School Opening Plan in a 4 to 1 vote on Aug. 5. This means students will kick off the 2020/21 school year with distance learning with hopes of being able to return to some form of in-person instruction in October.

Whether that happens, however, will be dictated by closely watched COVID-19 case numbers, with the board slated to review a set of criteria at the end of September and determine whether it will be feasible to start returning students to in-person learning in October. If the numbers say it’s not possible, the board will again review come the end of October with the hope of returning to in-person classes in November. The process will repeat on a monthly basis for as long as necessary.

“Our goal is to get out of short-term distance learning as soon as possible,” said the now officially retired Superintendent Chief Learning Officer Dr. Robert Leri. “Thus, we put these short benchmarks in for evaluation.”

Leri, who said he’s been working “tag team” with his successor Carmen Ghysels on the reopening plan, noted that while the district fared much better than other parts of the state during the sudden pivot to distance learning in the spring — particularly in urban and suburban areas — it was duly noted that there was room for improvement. Yet he was sure to recognize the efforts of those staff and faculty members who made the switch possible over a three-day period, noting that the wheels for the possibility of distance learning were already set in motion prior to the governor’s stay-at-home mandate.

“I do believe this is the safest thing,” Leri said, making it clear nonetheless that the district wants to see the students in the classroom for in-person instruction. “Our goal is to get out of [distance learning] as quickly as possible.”

There’s no doubt, however, that should there be a return to the classroom, things will look a lot different. Classes will be split in half and schooldays would be on an A/B schedule, with half of a class attending on A days and the other class on B days, with distance learning filling in the gaps.

Despite the chaos of these unprecedented circumstances, Ghysels made her official board meeting debut with ease, bringing board members and viewers at home up to speed on SB98, a list of minimum requirements districts must fulfill with respect to distance learning. Among provisions like requiring adequate accommodations for ESL and special needs learners, and ensuring access to necessary electronic devices and internet service, the bill mandates a minimum amount of daily instruction time, varying by grade level: three hours for kindergarten, three hours and 50 minutes for first through third grades, and four hours for grades 4 through 12.

Prior to voting on the plan, board members heard a sampling of the 78 comments received from members of the public, half of which were against the plan to start with distance learning, with another 20% neutral and 30% in favor.

Those against reopening with only distance learning cited reasons ranging from having a special needs child who was making great strides prior to the spring pivot and who needs facial cues and one-on-one interaction to alluding to evidence backing up the notion that children aren’t as severely affected by the effects of COVID-19 as adults. Those comments the district considered neutral were those asking questions or making suggestions.

“We fully support the proposal to begin the school year with remote learning, and we would support a decision to continue remote learning beyond the end of September,” read a comment from the parents of a Glenshire Elementary student. “While we understand that this will be difficult for some, the bottom line is that no decision the board could make this evening will make every parent happy, but only one decision can keep every parent — and our community as a whole — healthy.”

And the safety of the faculty, staff, and students was decidedly the main concern for Leri, Ghysels, and the board members.

“Are we going to lose something by being safe for a month or two months,” questioned board member Gaylan Larson, who voted in favor of the plan. “… I think our students are not going to hurt too much … Locally, we don’t really have a choice … I think it’s the right choice.”

For board member Cristina Hennessey, who cast the lone vote against the plan, the process has been an emotional one.

“I feel like I’ve been handed a big bag of impossible,” Hennessey said prior to reading a statement she’d previously penned. “The decision has been made for us … Sadly, this has come at the expense of our children.”

She proceeded to list the range of activities in which kids are permitted to participate under current guidelines, such as gymnastics, summer camps, and club sports, and expressed that school should also fall under such guidelines as education is of the utmost importance. Though she disagrees with having to start the year with distance learning, Hennessey promised, “Once the vote is passed, I will 1000% percent support the mandate.” She also noted the “silver lining” of the vote in the sense of relief teachers and families will have no longer dealing with the uncertainty of wondering what the start of the school year will bring.

Board member Dianna Driller recognized difficult conversations that were put on the table for discussion over the past few months and stressed the need for all to maintain a positive outlook moving forward because everyone is trying to move forward together.

“There is no stamp that says we’re 100% safe,” Driller said. “We’re going to take it and move on. We have a good solid team.”

For parents not comfortable with the possibility of sending their children back to in-person instruction at all, either for health reasons or other concerns, there will be a full-time distance learning option for students through Cold Stream Alternative School. The details of this are still in the works, Leri said, but those preferring this option will be required to enroll in the program prior to the start of the school year, and it would be a commitment through the end of the semester in January 2021. Students will not be permitted to jump from one program to another “absent a serious and compelling reason.”

TTUSD also recognizes the challenges that distance learning may present for working parents. School officials are working with partner organizations to create childcare options for parents during distance learning at a variety of locations throughout the district. Under current guidelines, although schools are not permitted to open, childcare centers are. Parents will be kept up to date on options as information becomes available.

TTUSD’s Proposed Reopening Plan Starts with Distance Learning

The usual excitement that reverberates through the halls on the first day of school will be replaced with the sound of Chromebooks powering up as Tahoe Truckee Unified School District students will likely be starting the year with distance learning.

The Coronavirus COVID-19 Update and School Opening Plan is now available for review as part of the public meeting agenda on the district website, following the Aug. 3 directive issued by Placer and Nevada County health officers, Dr. Aimee Sisson and Dr. Richard Johnson, respectively, stating that schools in the district must open in distance learning. The TTUSD board of education will vote on the plan — proposed in a joint statement from outgoing Superintendent Chief Learning Officer Dr. Robert Leri, who announced his retirement earlier this year, and his successor, Carmen Ghysels, whose role in the district started just this week — at the Aug. 5 board of education meeting.

If the reopening plan gets board approval, the first day of school will be pushed back one day from Sept. 1 to Sept. 2, provided the proposed revised 2020/21 school calendar is also approved at the meeting. (The revision would move the currently scheduled Oct. 5 teacher contract day to Sept. 1, resulting in the same total 180 school days for the year.) If the plan is approved, students will begin the school year with distance learning and the plan will be reevaluated at the end of September with the hope of returning to in-person instruction come October. Of course, the COVID case rates at that time will dictate whether short-term distance learning stays around for the long-term.

As stated in the statement prepared by Leri and Ghysels, it’s understood that some parents may not be comfortable with the possibility of sending their children back to in-person instruction at all either for health reasons or other concerns, and therefore will also be implementing a full-time distance learning option for students through Cold Stream Alternative School. Those preferring the full-time option will be required to enroll in this program prior to the start of the school year and it would be a commitment through the end of the semester in January 2021. Students will not be permitted to jump from one program to another “absent a serious and compelling reason,” according to the statement.

“Locally, we have seen an increase in cases within the boundaries of the school district in Eastern Placer and Nevada counties, as well as the small portion of our district located in El Dorado County between Tahoma and Emerald Bay,” the statements reads, noting that to be placed on the monitoring list, the case rate threshold required by the state is over 100 cases per 100,000 residents.

The current case rate in the school district within Placer and Nevada counties is 153.8 per 100,000 residents, according to the public health officers. In the Nevada County portion of the school district, the majority of the cases are located in Truckee, where the case rate is 216.7 per 100,000 residents.

“In addition to the case rates in the school district, access to timely testing is a major concern for public health officials,” the statements notes. “They have indicated that we would most likely be unable to stay open if we opened for in-person instruction. This is not limited to our school district but to most of the state.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced July 17 new California Department of Public Health guidelines and mandates for schools reopening for the 2020/21 school year. According to the CDPH, “Schools and school districts may reopen for in-person instruction at any time if they are located in a local health jurisdiction (LHJ) that has not been on the county monitoring list within the prior 14 days.”

Of the three counties in which TTUSD schools are located — El Dorado, Nevada, and Placer — only Placer County is on the watchlist, but has been for almost four weeks now with no sign of coming off soon, according to health officials. And despite having schools in three counties, TTUSD falls under the purview of the Placer County schools superintendent.

Based on Newsom’s direction, the statement says, “… it is not feasible nor equitable to open schools in one part of the district while not opening them in the other part of the district. Additionally, the case rate and data in Truckee would not indicate it is safe to physically reopen any school.”

In the statement, superintendents Leri and Ghysels note the tremendous accomplishment of district faculty members who were able to pivot from in-person to online learning in only three days’ time when schools closed in mid-March. They also recognize there was room for improvement and that the district has been working since May to be prepared for the possibility of distance learning come the start of the 2020/21 school year.

State legislation and educational codes mandate certain components be part of a school district’s distance learning plan, including California Education Code sections 43500, 43503, and 43504, which relate specifically to distance learning and requires districts to include the following minimum components:

  1. Provision of access for all students to connectivity and devices adequate to participate in the educational program and complete assigned work.
  2. Content aligned to grade level standards that is provided at a level of quality and intellectual challenge equivalent to in-person instruction.
  3. Academic and other supports designed to address the needs of pupils who are performing below grade level, or need support in other areas.
  4. Special education, related services, and any other services required by a student’s individualized education program.
  5. Designated and integrated instruction in English language development.
  6. Daily live interaction with certificated employees and peers for purposes of instruction, progress monitoring, and maintaining school connectedness.
  7. Documented daily participation for each student on each school day. Daily participation is defined to include:
    • (i) Evidence of participation in online activities (including completing assignment and assessments) or 
    • (ii) Contact between the District and the student or parent/guardian. Students not engaged in daily participation must be marked absent.
  8. Each teacher shall ensure that a weekly engagement record is completed for each student, documenting synchronous and asynchronous instruction for each whole or partial day of distance learning, verifying daily participation and tracking assignments.
  9. Pursuant to Senate Bill 98, the District will develop a written procedure for tiered reengagement strategies for all students who are absent from distance learning for more than three school days or 60 percent of the instructional days in a school week. Certificated staff will be expected to implement the tiered reengagement strategies.

TTUSD recognizes the challenges that distance learning may present for working parents. The plan states school officials will be working with partner organizations to explore childcare options for parents during distance learning at a variety of locations throughout the district.

To hear full details of the proposed TTUSD reopening plan and find out how the school board members vote, tune in for the public portion of the school board meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 5. The meeting can be viewed via livestream through the district website

Dead Man Walking

By all accounts, Mark Redpath should not be here right now. By all accounts, he should have died. As the one and only Tahoe Forest Hospital patient to have been on a ventilator — fighting for his life under the grip of COVID-19 — he wants you to know this thing is real, the biggest misconception out there being that it’s “just a cold.”

TOP FORM: During his battle against COVID-19, Mark Redpath lost 45 pounds of muscle mass. Holly Redpath attributes her husband’s survival to his highly athletic lifestyle. Courtesy photo

The picture of health, 50-year-old Redpath is the last person you would expect to be hit with the ravaging effects of a disease that continues to puzzle research and medical professionals, but appears to target the elderly and medically vulnerable. At only 16 he joined the British military, spending six months at a time deployed in the jungle. Twice he’s biked solo across the country raising money for disabled children. He’s an accomplished triathlete, Ironman, high-elevation endurance runner, and has competed in the 24-hour Toughest Mudder. But today, he couldn’t run a mile to save his life, the life he surely would have lost in the battle against the coronavirus had he not been an athlete of such a high caliber.

“I should have died in that hospital room. I absolutely should have,” Mark said when he and his family sat down for a socially distanced interview with Moonshine Ink in the front yard of their Glenshire home.

Mark gained local fame as the anonymous soul confined to a hospital bed in the background of a photo in which an ICU doctor at Tahoe Forest Hospital held up a hand-written sign bearing the message, Truckee Love. Written in a childlike hand, he had scrawled the two simple words in a few brief moments of consciousness during his weeks-long stay in the ICU. The photo was shared on local social media pages and illustrated the reality that Truckee/Tahoe was not immune to COVID at its scariest.

But the image didn’t even come close to depicting the pure hell Mark was going through at that moment, that he continues to go through three months after being discharged — a miracle if there ever was one.

FAMILY EVENT: Mark Redpath with twins Madison and Hunter. Madison first started with what was thought to be a mild cold but as her father got sicker by the day, they realized she had had a mild case of COVID-19. As Mark ended up in ICU, Hunter found himself under quarantine at home with the same. Courtesy photo

The Onset

The Redpaths, Mark and his wife Holly, are certain that he got it from the couple’s daughter Madison, who with her twin brother Hunter was a sixth grader at Alder Creek Middle School this past school year. Madison recalled that in the week or so before the district closed schools starting March 16, she and a number of other kids in her class had been experiencing cold-like symptoms, including a dry cough.

“I obviously didn’t think anything of it,” Madison said, noting that in those earlier days when coronavirus was just beginning to spread there was a misconception that it wasn’t yet in the area. People at the time, she said, were of the mindset, “It’s kind of here. Only older people are getting it. But other kids in our class started getting sick.”

She started to wonder what was really happening, as more and more kids in class were sick and coughing.

“The cough was bad because I couldn’t control myself,” she explained. “I couldn’t hold it in … It was like having a straw and trying to blow water through it.”

As Madison was on the mend, Mark started to feel weak, lethargic. But unlike his daughter — who never had fever and was feeling and functioning just fine with her seeming “just a cold” — Mark was in worse shape with each passing day.

“That week I started getting progressively worse,” he recalled. “I couldn’t sleep very well. I was taking at least four or five hot baths each day, even in the middle of the night. I would lie there and think, I’ve just got to work through this, I’m just sick. I’ve had the flu but I’ve never had anything crush me like that.”

By the time March 29 rolled around, Holly knew her husband was in bad shape. It was time for him to get to the emergency room. Mark had come out of the bedroom that night around 10 p.m., pulled a blanket of Madison’s around his shoulders, and slid his socked feet into flip flops.

“He was shuffling in baby steps and he was panting and he didn’t talk,” Holly said. “He just came out of the room and I looked at him and, yeah, that was it. He already knew that he was going.”

And that’s when things got real.

“I didn’t know what to do,” recalled Madison. “It happened all so fast … We never even thought about the possibility of him going … COVID wasn’t a thing, not really here. The weird thing was we basically just said, ‘Bye, love you.’ It happened in a matter of five minutes.”

Mark’s thoughts on that moment in time are a somber reflection on the possibility that he could have died: “That would’ve been their last memory.”

The first thing the doctors did was get a chest X-ray of his lungs, which had been filling up with fluid to the point that he wasn’t able to expel any of the mucous and he was actually coughing up bubbles. Doctors told him that had he waited another day or two to get to the ER, he likely would have died at home.

“You basically slowly drown,” Mark said. “The problem with this is it goes from hardly anything to bad and worse, but it goes from worse to deadly in 12 to 24 hours.”

The nurses told Mark they were taking him to his room, which turned out to be a direct trip to the intensive care unit. He has no recollection of getting there but recalls being given oxygen — first nasally and then via a non-rebreather mask, which provided more oxygen and support —during the first two days. At that time, he was still able to communicate with his wife and kids using FaceTime. But on day three, the situation had become more dire and only after the fact did Holly find out her husband had been put on a ventilator.

“I think the hardest thing was him going on the vent and not being able to say anything beforehand, for all of us, was really hard,” Holly said. “And then not being able to talk to him for two and a half weeks after that, that was really hard.”

To add insult to injury, or in this case illness, just after Mark was admitted to the hospital, Hunter started with symptoms identical to his father’s but on a less severe scale. So, after an initial two-week quarantine following Mark getting sick, Holly and her kids found themselves on another 14-day lockdown. Their two-bedroom, one-bathroom house was close quarters for quarantine. Holly and Madison cordoned off an area around the couch so Hunter wasn’t confined to his room. As word spread through the Redpaths’ friends and neighborhood, they found themselves on the receiving end of compassion and generosity, with people dropping off food and checking in to see of what they were in need.

TRUCKEE LOVE: Three months ago, Mark Redpath gained local fame as the anonymous ICU patient on a ventilator at Tahoe Forest Hospital. Although he is now home with his family, his road to recovery is a long one. Courtesy photo

The nightmare begins

By the time he was intubated, Mark was already on a number of different drugs including morphine and other pain killers. He also endured four rounds of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-viral drug used to treat malaria and the benefits of which are still hotly debated, although recent studies are pointing to it not being effective for COVID-19 patients. The hydroxychloroquine causes elevated heart rate, so then he needed another drug to bring his rate down, as well as steroids and other drugs which he can’t even recall.

Hydroxychloroquine alone can cause hallucinations, but coupled with morphine and other pain medicines, Mark did not know he was in the hospital for COVID-19. In fact, the reason he thought he was in the hospital was the product of a severe hallucination: Mark believed he was in the hospital because he had driven his daughter’s volleyball team to a tournament in Santa Cruz and that he had crashed his truck, causing it to roll over and go off a cliff, killing all of the kids inside. His hallucination continued, causing him to think that Madison had been killed by a great white shark and that her twin brother Hunter had lost part of his leg to the shark and that they were going to take part of his own leg to rebuild his son’s.

The images and emotions were so vivid and real that Mark wasn’t even able to bring himself to look at the nurses caring for him because he felt so ashamed. He thought notes written on the white board that hung across from his bed were really text messages from the parents of the children he had “killed.”

“I turned them into hate messages. You die, you S.O.B. You deserve to die in that bed after killing my daughter. I thought, I do deserve to die. It’ll never go away, the torment. I couldn’t look at the nurses.”

He thought the nurses were preparing a party for when he died and that the parents were coming to celebrate as his body got ripped apart by the blades of a helicopter. He thought they had put snakes in his room to kill him. When he’d look at the nurses’ masked faces, he was seeing horrifying images of sharks’ teeth in place of the masks.

“One thing after another,” Mark said, clearly still troubled by the fact that he really, truly believed the “accident” was why he was in the hospital. “I thought the nurses and doctors hated me and wanted me to die like the pig I was. All of [these awful things] and you don’t know you’re in there for COVID.

Three months later and Mark is still haunted and having nightmares, is likely suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and although he knows that none of it was real, it was all connected to things that had really happened: Weeks earlier, Mark had driven Madison and some of her teammates to a tournament in Santa Cruz and they had gone swimming in the ocean. But there was no accident, no shark. The “snake” he saw was the television cord that in his hallucination was slithering. In the heat of one episode, when he was off the ventilator, Mark called a friend at 1 a.m. asking him to call the police because the nurses were trying to kill him. He thought he was in a hospital in a remote mountain top in Argentina, even though the staff members’ ID tags clearly said Tahoe Forest Hospital. He even ripped out his feeding tube at one point.

The entire time, the nurses had no idea what he was going through.

After over two weeks on the ventilator, during which time Mark was mostly laying prone on his stomach so gravity could help his lungs, the nurses called to tell Holly that his oxygen levels were going up and that they wanted to take him off the ventilator. They were afraid to do so, however, because his throat and larynx were so inflamed that they were wrapped around the breathing tube. The nurses were scared his airway would be closed off and he wouldn’t be able to breathe. They pumped him with heavy doses of steroids to bring down the swelling and hours later successfully removed the ventilator.

“They had the entire ER in the room in case, waiting to see what was going to happen,” Mark said, adding that despite all the pain medicine and being told he wouldn’t remember anything from the ICU, he vividly recalls the removal. The pain manifested in another hallucination, in which the nurses were pulling barbed fish hooks out of his throat.

Holly had been told the ventilator would keep his body from working too hard and thus able to get stronger. Only in the weeks after his discharge did she learn that he was close to death and the ventilator was a necessity.

CHECKED OUT: After four-plus weeks in Tahoe Forest Hospital, most of which were in ICU and on a ventilator, Mark Redpath returned home to his family. “The hospital, it’s staff, and the spirit of this community is the biggest reason Mark is alive,” said Holly. Courtesy photo

Homeward bound

“Without the vent, there was no way I was going to make it,” Mark said. “Without the doctors and nurses, it wasn’t going to happen. Me being stronger just bought me more time; that’s all it did. But time was running out.”

Once he was off the ventilator, Mark was moved out of ICU to the COVID unit, where he remained weak but his mind strong. Still believing his hallucination was real, he knew he had to stay alive to face the parents of the children he thought had been in the accident. So, he started to fight, earning the nickname Lazarus, meaning ‘God has helped,’ after the Biblical story in which Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead after four days.

Over four weeks after Mark went to the ER, Holly and the kids went to have a pizza party with Mark at the hospital. Although they would have to remain outside the building and only see him through the window, they were excited. They had no idea of what was to come next.

“We went to go have pizza with him,” Holly recalled. “He came out and he’s like, ‘I’m coming home.’ They didn’t tell me!”

Mark, however, has a different version to tell. “So here’s the truth of it,” he said, with Holly cutting in laughing and saying, “He’s a little persuasive in getting out.”

“I was like, I need to get out, and the only way I was going to get out was if I could prove I could walk a certain distance,” Mark said. “I just started trying to walk around in the room but out of range of where the camera could see me in my bed. I would walk around and a couple of times I actually fell onto the bed and I was like, God, if they saw me, I’m not getting out. I’m not getting out.

He kept trying, holding onto a walker for balance and shuffling but not really walking. He convinced everyone looking after him that he was feeling great. Of course, they also didn’t know he had fallen a few times in the bathroom and struggled to get himself up without calling for help.

“Technically, I cheated my way out of the hospital because they would’ve had me in there another week or two,” he said with a laugh and Holly adding, “I don’t know how he managed to pull that off, but he did!”

While Mark is out of the hospital, he’s not even close to being out of the woods. He lost 45 pounds of muscle. He’s got significant scar tissue in lungs. His body feels sore every day. He’s got pain in his joints, hips, and back, but keeps pushing himself to get out and moving, exercising so he doesn’t further deteriorate. And that doesn’t even address the emotional and psychological effects like continued nightmares and PTSD as he still is processing that the car accident hallucinations were not real.

“I hope I can get close to back where I was but at this rate it’s not looking like I’m going to,” he said. “I think this is life-changing but I’ve got to give it time, I guess.”

A perfect storm

As if it weren’t enough for Mark to almost have lost his life, his family to have lost their husband and father, the Redpaths are facing the financial aftermath not just of Mark’s hospital stay — which a week after his discharge was said to be in the “hundreds of thousands” but the number could very well keep climbing. The Redpaths are like so many others in this country who are caught in the middle: They have no health insurance, making too much to qualify for assistance yet not enough to afford a policy.

While Mark knows the doctors would like to run further tests and bloodwork, he can’t afford to let numbers keep climbing. He would like to be able to seek help for his PTSD and therapy for the entire family because the ordeal they’ve been though has been nothing short of harrowing. It’s not financially possible.

On the way home from the hospital, still suffering hallucinations though to a lesser extent, Mark questioned all the rainbows he saw lining the windows of the stores in downtown Truckee. Madison explained that the bright colors had come to symbolize hope, strength, and support for those on the medical frontlines, adding, “Part of it is because of you.”

Before personal athletic coach Mark was hit with COVID, as the novel coronavirus was just starting to creep across the nation, Holly’s home-based business, Sierra Essentials, which features all-natural and eco-friendly personal care products and candles, started to take a hit as nonessential business closures and stay-at-home orders were going into effect. It was supposed to be their “break-out” year, she said. Instead, orders were canceled, retailers and wholesalers closed, and retail shows were postponed indefinitely or canceled altogether. Like many others, the Redpaths were able to defer payments, but now those service providers are looking to start getting paid. They are on the verge of losing their house and their only vehicle — a truck Holly needs to run her business — and they are scared.

“There are so many layers of stress, so many layers of events. There are layers of situations of things happening the whole time,” said Holly, taking a deep breath and holding back the tears that kept threatening to flood her eyes as she and Mark recounted their ordeal. “We’re behind. We’re way behind. It’s like a perfect storm for an absolute and utter disaster — like a hurricane. That’s the way it feels to me. It’s like all the ingredients are creating a situation that we have absolutely no control of fixing. It’s physical, it’s mental, it’s financial, it’s spiritual. It’s such a weird dichotomy of all the forces that have been at play at this house, at the hospital.”

Holly and Mark initially dismissed the idea of a GoFundMe, explaining that their entire life has been spent as hard-working and independent individuals, so it’s not easy to know when to ask for help. With life coming at them from every possible angle, they came to terms with putting aside their pride and accepted that asking for help doesn’t mean looking for a handout.

“To think that everybody helped and then we could be out of the community because the COVID has completely decimated our savings,” said Mark, is difficult to come to terms with. The thought of having to lose the life they’ve worked so hard to build is crushing for the family.

Facing no other alternative, the Redpaths have created a GoFundMe account to help defray medical costs and try to save their life in Truckee. In less than 24 hours, nearly $8,000 had already been donated. The Redpaths also noted that without the hospital, its staff, and the spirit of the community, Mark would not have survived, and they have pledged to donate any funds received in excess of what they need for medical expenses and to get on their feet to Tahoe Forest Hospital.

“There is a space on the other side of the rainbow that is blue sky,” Holly said. “And we’re not in the blue sky right now but we will be on the other side of the rainbow. Mother nature is in charge and we know that, but this is the ugly side that we can’t see.”

HOME SWEET HOME: Holly, Hunter, and Madison had gone to the hospital to have a “pizza party” with Mark through the window of his COVID unit room. They sure were surprised to learn that they would instead be taking him home with them. Courtesy photo

The greater message

If there is one thing Mark has to say it’s this: Wear a mask! You’re not wearing it for yourself, you’re wearing it to protect those around you, he said, going on to explain that you just don’t know what someone is going through. Perhaps the person behind you at Safeway just finished chemotherapy or has a compromised immune system. To Mark, it’s a simple thing that for some can mean life or death because, as Mark stresses in his conversations with the community, with COVID-19, so little is known. Researchers still don’t know why some people are asymptomatic or barely get more than a cold, why some people are laid up for weeks, or some people like Mark end up near death. They don’t know if Mark can get it a second time and he knows that if he did, he would not survive. Holly equates not wearing a mask to playing roulette: There is no way to know if you’ll be that one person whose life is changed forever.

It wasn’t long after his discharge that Mark was starting to get out and about and one day went to Home Depot, of course wearing a mask, when an employee commented to Mark that he is “a pussy, and that I needed to grow some real some balls, and take off that mask in order to be a real man.” Not wanting conflict, Mark turned and walked away. The employee screamed at something to the effect “another liberal coward hiding behind his skirt.”

Sharing the interaction on Facebook, Mark hopes his message gets shared enough that the Home Depot employee sees it: “You don’t know me at all. What did you think you knew about me? I was wearing a mask! What if I was wearing the mask because I was having chemotherapy and I could not get germs that would hurt my immune system? You just assumed that I was a political rival. Shame on you sir … if only you knew how delicate I was at that point. Instead of insults from you, what I really needed was a big hug.”

The incident, during which the employee lamented that having to wear a mask impedes his free speech, moved Mark to compile for social media his list of the “Top 15 Coolest Infringing-Experiences in the ICU.”

A few of the highlights:

  1. It’s a really cool feeling to have the metal intubation tube dragged out of your throat. It feels like your spine is getting pulled through your body. For me I thought the nurses and doctors were removing fishing hooks from my throat. Even cooler is when you are given a tube to suck spit from your mouth and you use it as a tool by forcing it down your throat to try and suck out the remaining hooks — all because you are hallucinating that you still have hooks in your body.
  2. It’s cool to have to defecate in a pull cart and the nurses wipe your butt. It smelled so bad that the nurse would gag; the nurses thought it was cool, too.
  3. When you are really thirsty, it’s cool not being able to lift a small cup of ice water because you lost 45 pounds of muscle mass and don’t have the strength to give yourself water. It’s amazingly fun and cool to stare at a cup of ice and desperately want to put the ice in your mouth.

“So the next time you think it is not cool to wear a mask and that you want to make a political statement, and you think that a mask is infringing on your liberty and human rights, well, think about your family, the doctors, the nurses, your child that might have to pick you off the toilet and wipe your butt,” Mark advised. “Think about how cool it is having all your humanity, your soul, your heart broken — ripped from you in an ICU room.

“The bottom line is that when you go to the ICU room in a horrible critical state, you don’t ask the nurses and doctors if they are Republican, Democrat, straight, gay, Black, White, or if they wear a mask or not. You ask them to save your life, regardless. So let’s wear a mask for our fellow human beings, and let go of the political and racial hate, if only for a little while. Can we please use a little humanity and kindness with one another?”

Even Madison and Hunter have seen it among their peers. The mindset of, “Oh yeah, it’s happening but the rules don’t apply to me because I’m young or whatever,” said Madison, who sees that it’s even more dangerous for younger people to get it because they may be asymptomatic or have a very mild case but can pass it on to others.

“It’s been hard because I feel like it’s kind of my fault, but it’s not, because I can’t control it,” she said, tears welling in her eyes. “But I feel like if I didn’t pass it on to him then we wouldn’t be in this situation. So I kind of do blame it on myself, which I know I shouldn’t.”

Her dad pulled her in for a hug. “She passed it on to me,” Mark said. “She didn’t want me to get it. She didn’t intend for me to get it. That’s why we have to get the message out.”