Margaret Goggin started her morning Thursday by taking her 12-week-old boxer puppy, Marigold, for a walk in the sagebrush.
“I’m collecting woad. It’s a leaf that you can use to dye cloth a cornflower blue. You have to collect it in the spring,” she said over the cell phone from her makeshift camp in the desert.
There are no people around for miles. Only cows lowing in the morning and coyotes singing at night.
“I loaded up the RV and I’m near Gabbs, off a dirt road, in a valley. It’s peaceful. It’s pretty,” said Goggin, 55.
She cheekily refers to the past few weeks since coronavirus began its deadly spread as the “longest decade of my life.”
Goggin left town earlier this week after her son, a student at the University of Nevada, Reno and a worker at the Wilbur D. May Museum, came down with a sore throat, a dry cough and an unrelenting fever that’s floated around 100 degrees for days now.
On Wednesday, a physician tested her son for strep. Negative. And the flu. Also negative.
‘We assume my son has it’
While the entire family has asthma, Goggin is living with a number of health conditions that affect both her heart and lungs, putting her at particularly high risk if she is exposed to the COVID-19 virus.
Goggin and her husband tried to get their 23-year-old son tested for COVID-19, but the staff at Northern Nevada HOPES, a community health center, said that he wouldn’t qualify under the current testing criteria that the Washoe County Health District is adhering to.
“You don’t meet the criteria unless you’re in respiratory distress or you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive. If you can’t get tested without having been exposed to someone who’s tested positive, how is anyone getting tested?” said Goggin, describing herself as a terrified and enraged mom.
Far from home
Goggin is frustrated because it feels like there is no safe place to go, she said, except this patch of high desert two hours southeast of Reno.
Not just any slice of nowhere, it’s the spot where the Goggin family rock hounds.
“I knew my husband would know where I was if I started feeling sick,” she said.
As soon as their son fell ill a week ago, Goggin and her husband realized that the family needed to split up. It was no longer enough to take the precautions they’d been taking since January, when she saw news of how the virus was sweeping through China.
“We assume my son has it, but he’s young, so he should be fine,” Goggin said.
Her husband, who recently was hospitalized for the flu, also has a reduced lung capacity, but fewer chronic conditions overall. He’s staying home to care for their son.
“We all decided I was the one that was most likely to die,” said Goggin.
Goggin packed up the RV they had bought for their retirement in a few years. The camper has a heater, a stocked fridge and freezer and running water. The cupboard is filled with beans, rice, granola bars and other staples.
She has a book, “Lady Hotspur” by Tessa Gratton. Some yarn for knitting. And she took the puppy so it couldn’t carry the virus around the home.
In two weeks, she may have to run to Fallon for groceries, but she’ll otherwise stay put.
Goggin’s husband calls to check in each day, updating her on their son’s condition and life in quarantine. Her son’s not sleeping at night. His body is tired from the fever. His father places meals at the base of the bedroom door a few times a day and spends much of the rest of the day cleaning.
The only time her son is allowed to leave the room is to go outside for a moment.
“He’s going stir crazy, and if he leaves the room, he’s going to glove up and mask up and not touch anything, and my husband is going to sanitize everything after, the door knobs, the railing, everything,” she said. “He’s going outside to just see the sky.”
While Goggin misses her family, she realizes the exile could save her life.
“It’s wide open nothing,” said Goggin, who has little more than sky above and the vast empty desert ahead.
Jenny Kane covers arts and culture in Northern Nevada, as well as the dynamic relationship between the state and the growing Burning Man community. She also covers the state’s burgeoning cannabis industry (Check out her podcast, the Potcast, on iTunes.) Support her work in Reno by subscribing to RGJ.com right here.
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