Penn speaks about COVID

Thu, 04/09/2020 - 5:45pm
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The first thing Bill Penn wants to tell the island is how sorry he is. Sorry for exposing people to the coronavirus, which he tested positive for, and he’s apologetic for making people uncomfortable.

The second thing he wanted people to know is that the Medical Center has tested everyone Penn may have come in contact with during his time on the island when he had the virus, and those tests have come back negative. Dr. Mark Clark of the Medical Center corroborated that on Wednesday, April 8.

Penn spoke to The Block Island Times from his room at Yale-New Haven Hospital, where his oxygen levels were still being monitored as of Tuesday, April 7. He is expected to be released by Friday, April 9 or soon after.

This frightening journey began, Penn said, back on March 12, when he travelled down to Bronxville, New York, where he and his wife Sally have an apartment. “We had planned to have a small family dinner, but then it became apparent that there were going to be travel restrictions, so we cancelled the dinner,” Penn said. They practiced sheltering-in-place, but they did have to travel into New York City on March 16 for medical procedures both he and his wife had scheduled at New York University Hospital. He said they traveled by car, valet parked, had the work done, and returned home to Bronxville.

He traveled back to the island on Thursday, March 19.

On Saturday, March 21, Penn said, “I started getting sniffles and a head cold, but by Wednesday (March 25) I was short of breath. I called Dr. Clark and he took a look and did some tests, and the coronavirus swab. It’s not very pleasant.” Without waiting for the test result, Penn said, “We talked to my cardiologist at NYU and it was decided to get off the island as soon as possible. My cardiologist said don’t come to NYU, it’s a mess.”

Between that Thursday and Wednesday, on those seven days, Penn said he visited the Block Island Grocery and the Depot a couple of times, as well as the Post Office.

On Thursday, March 26, the day after Dr. Mark Clark of the Medical Center took the tests, Penn said he got in his car, and working with Interstate Navigation’s Director of Security Bill McCombe, stayed in his car during the trip “so that there was no possible contamination on the boat.” At the dock in Pt. Judith he was picked up by his wife, and they drove to Yale-New Haven.

At Yale, Penn was tested, and admitted to the Intensive Care Unit.

“They put me under observation,” said Penn, who was let out of the ICU last weekend. “I actually have a rather mild case of it, but it’s a respiratory disease and they are following my oxygen intake 24/7, trying to clean out my lungs and get my oxygen up.” He said he and his wife tried to keep his condition “under the radar,” but the day after his admittance he said he got a call asking how he was doing.

Penn added, “I did not have to go on a respirator. That’s something that people should understand. If you get the virus the likelihood of getting on a respirator is very small.”

When the results came back positive, Penn said, “it was very scary. The first thing I thought of was being stuck on a ventilator. The statistics of people on a ventilator are not very good.”

He said his wife Sally also tested positive and “is in our apartment in New York and is practicing self-quarantine.”

“I just want to let everybody know that I really apologize not only for putting them at risk, but also for making people uncomfortable,” Penn said.

He said that there were 300 coronavirus patients at Yale-New Haven, and that right now the priority for him and his healthcare providers is to get his oxygen levels back up.

“I feel good. My breath is good,” he said. “It was pretty scary there for a while. I’d walk a foot or two and I’d have to catch my breath, but in the next couple of days I should be free and clear and should check out of here.”