SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - After doing all he thought he could do to avoid the coronavirus, Santa Barbara City Councilman Oscar Gutierrez is on the rebound.
As an elected official he comes away with a perspective that combines what he has learned from his position on the council, and now, as someone who has personally dealt with it, within his family setting.
Gutierrez and his mother, who he lives with, went through the illness and quarantine at the same time. His girlfriend was not affected.
"The (first) three days where we really felt the symptoms, they were terrifying," said Gutierrez. "I feel extremely lucky, grateful that we got a case that was fairly mild, it didn't get to the point where we have to go to the hospital"
The virus was believed to be transmitted at a small gathering over Thanksgiving, that Gutierrez did not attend, but his mother did. Even with precautions it was not enough to stop the infection, and from there, the spread.
Gutierrez has been home during the pandemic conducting his council work via zoom meetings.
As an elected official since 2018 in Santa Barbara, he chose to make his illness public as soon as he tested positive. In a meeting via zoom he told the city, "unfortunately I've got, I have tested positive for COVID- 19."
He was battling the virus when he urged the public immediately to take it seriously.
"Wear your mask, wash your hands, keep your distance because this is painful. It really hurts."
There were times when he wasn't sure if he was going to hold off the increasing issues. "I was constantly debating with myself at one point should I go to the hospital? We felt the fever, the body aches, the headaches, the painful coughs, the the difficulty breathing. We felt that for a few days and gradually we started feeling better."
There were many sleepless nights. "It was a lot psychological fear as well and that was keeping us up," he said.
Vital signs were watched carefully including blood pressure and body temperatures. "We were monitoring ourselves constantly and taking vitamins every day and making sure we got an hour of sunlight every day," said Gutierrez while outside in his front yard, wearing a mask and keeping his distance.
After mixed feelings about how it all came to be, with months of preventative efforts, "we just just shifted our attention to keeping each other safe and healthy during recovery and luckily we did. Yeah it was a shock."
Now, he's got a deeper insight to the deadly pandemic, his role to keep his constituents safe and a message to the public for the holidays.
Gutierrez does not waver when he urges the community to keep their guard up. "It's not worth it. I know you miss your friends and family but it is not worth the risk. There's going to be holidays next year just wait, just skip this year and do it double next year."
He also says it's still unknown what the virus will do to him in the years ahead. "We don't know how this is going to affect us."
He recently tested out his recovered body with an outing around his neighborhood. "I went on a bike ride the other day and didn't get winded!"
The mixed recovery time was also an education. His mother was better in three days. "I took about three weeks," he said. His doctor told her there was no point in testing too soon. "We are going to be testing positive for a few weeks but it doesn't mean we are contagious. I took a test and it came back positive but the doctor said I'm not contagious anymore," said Gutierrez.
The whole experience made him take a new look at life. "So many people came by to drop off food and supplies. I never really liked the movie 'It's a Wonderful Life," he said. Watching it recently, he said, "now I get it. I cried like a baby."
The emotion of the virus has hit deeply.
Looking ahead, the city is facing multi-million dollar economic challenges from the loss of revenue in many areas including tourism, hospitality and sale taxes.
Gutierrez was elected in a special election in June 2018 to fill the seat of Cathy Murillo who was on the council and won the Mayor's race. He is now 36.
Gutierrez was appointed to a five-year term in August 2019 prior to the November election, when he had no opposition in the race.