The diagnosis left Columbia Mayor Chaz Molder and his wife, Liz, breathless.
The 37-year-old Columbia lawyer found out July 15 that he and his wife, the daughter of former gubernatorial candidate and Tennessee House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, tested positive for COVID-19.
The coronavirus has ravaged the country and world since it was declared a pandemic March 11, and scientists have raced to find a vaccine.
The results took their breathe away, literally and figuratively, landing squarely in their Columbia home.
Liz lost taste and smell and was very fatigued for two weeks. She experienced difficulty in breathing several days later. The mayor said he was very sick for three days. The children’s health was unaffected by the ordeal.
“I tell people I have been sicker in my lifetime, but never that kind of sick,” Mayor Molder said. “I would not want to go through it again. I had extreme fatigue and trouble breathing. It was like something was pounding on my chest with every breath.”
Hundreds of thoughts ran through their heads. Among them: How would the Molders take care of their three children during the pandemic? Would their lives be in jeopardy, even though they were young and strong? Could the mayor continue to serve while in quarantine? How did they catch the virus in the first place?
“We literally did everything by the book, washing our hands and wearing masks, since the beginning of the pandemic in March, and we still came down with the virus,” Molder said.
The city mayor has been a strong advocate of wearing masks, often criticizing Gov. Bill Lee’s statewide response to the outbreak. Molder wanted county mayor Andy Ogles to declare a mask mandate for Maury County after Lee gave county executives the authority to do so, but the Republican mayor declined, citing residents’ rights to individual liberty.
“We felt like it was important to practice what we preach,” Molder said. “I am trying to convince the community to do the right things, so it’s important for me to do the right things.”
Liz, 38, said her initial concerns were the children, Marley, 10, Hugh, 7, and Bebe, 4. The Molders immediately reached out to their pediatrician, Dr. Carol Broadway of Columbia Pediatrics, who provided assurances and comfort.
“Our best course of action was to keep the kids with us instead of risking exposing others,” Liz said.
The staff at Maury Regional Medical Center provided the family with information, and they continued to communicate with Broadway and several others in the medical community.
“We knew it was important to quarantine immediately and for the full amount of time,” Liz said. “We did not want to risk exposing others.”
The first few days of the 14-day quarantine were difficult. Fortunately, their symptoms were mild overall, and they were able to stay with their children.
“We tried to remind ourselves during the 14 days of quarantine that we probably would never be in a situation like this again,” Liz said. “We tried to make the best of it. We were very fortunate for friends and family who dropped many care packages and meals at our front door, and we were lifted up by the prayers of so many in our community.
“Our kids were troopers during the process. The experience is likely one they will never forget,” she added.
Liz said she has lingering symptoms, mainly with her breathing. Overall, she and the mayor have recovered and “feel very fortunate.”
“The lesson I would pass to others is: no one would want to go through the COVID experience, so it is important that we all do what we can to help limit the spread of this virus in our community.” Liz said. “And, this experience also served as a reminder of how fortunate we are to live in such a wonderful and caring community.”
Mayor Molder said he regrets how political the coornavirus debate has become, even though he was in the middle of it. Some Democrats have encouraged him to run for governor in 2022 because he stood up to Gov. Lee.
“There we people who were posting things on my Facebook page like, ‘Molder got COVID even though he was wearing a mask.’ It was very political,” he said. “Wearing a mask isn’t to keep yourself from getting COVID. It is keep from spreading it.”
Many mistook Molder for Ogles, who proudly sidestepped a mask mandate in the county and supported having the Maury County Fair last week in the middle of a pandemic.
“I got it from both sides,” Molder said. “I even got the emails, thanking me for standing up for their liberties, when that was meant for someone else.”
Molder was able to work from home, maintaining his law practice and staying on top of issues as mayor. The health concerns made it a roller-coaster, he said, emotionally and physically.
“I am not an emotional guy, but we were a little scared at first,” Molder said. “My wife was very emotional. During one of our darkest days, a 48-year-old man passed away at Maury Regional with COVID. That hits close to home.”
Maury Regional reported three deaths in the county last week for a total of 17 since March. Its critical care beds remain nearly full.
“We are seeing some progress and some stabilization of numbers,” Molder said. “On the other hand, we cannot let out foot off the gas until there is a vaccine.
“There is a balance of getting back our sense of normalcy,” he continued. “Listen, I don’t want to wear a mask. No one wants to wear a mask. It’s uncomfortable. But if it leads to a greater good, surely most people can agree it’s something we can do.”
James Bennett is editor of The Daily Herald. Contact him at [email protected]