GC80 Deputy Update: Contracting COVID at General Convention
by Betty Bowersox and the Rev. Tamsen Whistler
SO – How does it feel to serve as Co-chairs of the Missouri Deputation to General Convention for three years, helping everyone to prepare for our work here in Baltimore, only to be stricken with COVID in our first days of all the action? HORRIBLE!
Yes, together with Bishop Deon Johnson, we were three of the 26 people who reported contracting Covid at the General Convention. The first day was so exciting in the House of Deputies – decorating our “MISSOURI” pole with symbols of our Diocese, getting set up as a House and holding our first worship service with Eucharist. We fought the troublesome WiFi that prevented smooth voting, walked around to see some of the deputies we knew from other dioceses, and celebrated being together as “The Church” despite the one-year pandemic delay and the significantly shortened convention due to the continued effects of COVID-19.
Tamsen was the first to succumb, testing positive on Saturday morning.
“I started having a dry cough on Friday afternoon but, as I otherwise felt fine, decided that the air was just dry behind my mask. Scratchy throat. Check. Obviously dry air. Slightly sniffly. Dry air again. Eyes a little itchy. Dry air, absolutely. (You can see where this is going.) By Saturday morning, when I woke up with a raging sore throat and other symptoms of a very bad cold, I knew that the daily test we were required to take would indicate COVID, but I kept hoping. We’re supposed to wait a full fifteen minutes to be sure of the results, but in less than five minutes, the two lines were clear.
“With that, we kicked into pandemic protocols prepared for the General Convention. I informed Canon Doris Westfall, our Clerical Alternate, and the Bishop. As the clerical co-chair of our deputation, I sent an electronic change of deputy status for Saturday’s first legislative session so that Canon Doris could replace me. Lay co-chair Betty Bowersox took charge of the special card for votes by orders and picked up my deputy lanyard and ID card to take to registration to meet Canon Doris and the Bishop. Alas, registration had already closed, so the Bishop had to file a new deputy status change form to allow Canon Doris to begin voting after lunch.
“The next part of the protocol was to contact the GC80 medical director —we’d been given his number during the House of Deputy’s orientation on July 1. I had dutifully put it into my phone, never expecting to need it. Dr. Rodney Coldren immediately texted and called me back. He went through symptoms and told me, ‘At your age, you are eligible for the antivirals and should take them.’ That required a tele-health appointment with a medical care provider licensed in Maryland. The process for that had already been worked out by the GC80 planning team. The Nurse Practitioner on the other end of the phone sent a prescription to the pharmacy, but it was very close to their closing time. So, Dr. Coldren himself hurried to the pharmacy and left the drugs for me at the hotel desk. A medical angel!
“Our deputation stepped right up, dropping off food, coffee, prayers, and bottles and bottles of water. The first day, I mostly slept and drank as much water as possible. I drank the coffee, too — tastebuds functional – and started the medicine as soon as I got it. I was really very sad — all that preparation, the opportunity to function as a Senior Deputy, the general excitement even of a highly shortened convention, the election of a new President of the House of Deputies — I could only watch on an iPad from my hotel room. So, mostly, I slept. (O, woe is me.) But once I stopped feeling sorry for myself and my worst symptoms began to subside, I realized I could still be useful and still involved. Better living through chemistry AND technology!”
Betty started feeling a little ‘something’ in her throat on Saturday.
“I noticed as the day went on that my voice was getting huskier, but not wanting to believe it was COVID, I tested before going to bed – and it was negative. Yippee!! However, the Sunday morning test showed the dreaded double-pink lines. Oh, No!! Another scramble to get the lay alternate (Pat O’Brien) to switch out credentials so she could vote as a deputy! It’s really difficult to watch the work of the House of Deputies stuck in your 20’ x 25’ room when you just feel like you have a mild summertime cold!”
The Legislative Committee that reviews the resolution workload and lays out the legislative calendar for each session is called the Dispatch of Business. This happens to be the committee that Betty (and Liz Yount) had been assigned. “On top of everything else, I was also upset not to be present for the second half of the convention considering my committee responsibilities,” Betty said. She was very grateful to the remainder of the Missouri deputation who dropped off breakfasts and dinners, plus treats and fluids outside her door, and the prayers of her committee chairs. And since neither Tamsen nor Betty could contaminate each other, they were able to hang out together (with the doctor’s okay), snacking and watching the convention livestream on Betty’s laptop. When Bishop Deon tested positive on Sunday night, Dr. Coldren told him he could hang out with Betty and Tamsen, too.
So yes, we were both very, very disappointed to have missed part of our long-awaited convention, but we were also gifted with the assistance and prayers of our deputation who made sure we were taken care of. We still felt a ‘part’ of things through the deputation’s use of WhatsApp (a texting app on our phones), which we all used throughout our time in Baltimore. And we were very grateful that all three of us — Tamsen, Betty, and the Bishop -- experienced non-serious symptoms of the virus.
And now it’s time to say goodbye. The work of both the House of Deputies and House of Bishops concluded before lunch on Monday. Three of our deputation changed their flights and got home Monday night. When her quarantine period ends on Thursday, Tamsen meets up with her husband, sister, son and his girlfriend to vacation for a bit. Two of the deputation are leaving early Tuesday morning for their drives home, and the Diocesan staff arranged for a rental car for Bishop Deon so he can drive back to St. Louis, bringing Betty with him since neither can fly until the end of the week and prefer to complete their quarantine at home with family. What an adventure!