He survived COVID-19. He's broke. But he thinks America is overreacting

Jenny Jarvie

For three days, he was hooked up to an oxygen tube. For six days after that, he was cooped up in a 26-foot RV in a special quarantine camp run by the state of Georgia.

So when Joey Camp, a 30-year-old Waffle House line cook, learned he no longer had COVID-19 and could go home, he figured things were getting back to normal. Immediately, the former National Guardsman started making lunch and dinner plans: all-you-can-eat wings at Hooters? A super burrito from Los Arcos Mexican restaurant?

"I'm making zero dollars for the foreseeable future," Joey Camp said. "A person who makes $50,000 or $60,000 a year just isn't understanding what this means."  (Carmen Mandato / For The Times)

Soon, heavier concerns loomed. The divorced father of two made $10.65 an hour at Waffle House and has lived with friends since being evicted last year from his apartment. After leaving quarantine, he worked just one shift before his boss cut his hours because so few customers were coming in. His other part-time gig, as a party bus driver, went away.

“I’m making zero dollars for the foreseeable future,” Camp said. “A person who makes $50,000 or $60,000 a year just isn't understanding what this means.”

Almost every day since he got out of quarantine, Camp has squeezed into his dusty black ’98 Chevy Camaro with its cracked windshield and driven, seat belt unbuckled, to a string of restaurants: Hooters and Applebee’s, Waffle House and Buffalo’s, Los Arcos and Huddle House.

Inside, he has sought to resume small acts: greeting a server, sitting in a booth, perusing a menu.

A Waffle House in Cartersville, Ga., is serving only takeout after the mayor signed a countywide emergency joint resolution that closed all bars, dine-in restaurants and theaters.  (Jenny Jarvie / Los Angeles Times)

Until now, COVID-19 has mostly been experienced through the lens of metropolitan areas: Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York. But as the virus spreads into rural and small-town America, significant numbers of Americans continue to dismiss calls for more aggressive social distancing and shutdowns.

Media sensationalism and liberal fear-mongering, they say, will destroy the economy.

“With all the craziness going on in the world, America should show people that this is not something that should shut down countries,” Camp said after wiping his hands at a sanitizing station posted at the entrance of 7 Tequilas restaurant. “We need to be the adults in the room.”

Public health officials say that such doubters pose a major obstacle to efforts to reduce the spread of the virus and prevent mass casualties.

The coronavirus is at least 10 times deadlier than the flu and can be transmitted by people who are infected but asymptomatic. Even though many cases are mild, especially in the young, widespread infection could lead to hundreds of thousands or even millions of deaths.

A libertarian who voted for President Trump in 2016 and plans to vote for him again, Camp compares COVID-19 to the flu.

“It’s not going to kill the vast majority of the population,” he said. “People are hearing 3.4% mortality. They're not hearing the 96.6% survival rate.”

Polls show that Democrats and those living in large cities and suburbs have significantly more anxiety about COVID-19 than Republicans and residents of small towns and rural areas.

While Democratic strongholds like California and New York have banned public gatherings and closed restaurants, reaction to the pandemic has been slower and more uneven in Republican states, like Texas and Florida, where distrust of big-government regulations coincides with suspicion that the media is overplaying worst-case scenarios.

A good chunk of conservatives have also taken their cue from Fox News, whose pundits were late to take the virus seriously and are now backing Trump's call to reopen the economy. (Camp doesn't have cable, but he uses his smartphone to follow commentary on Daily Wire, Fox News and CNN.)

Cartersville is a fast-growing farming and manufacturing hub of about 20,000 people northwest of Atlanta. Here, pastures with horse fences increasingly give way to subdivisions and strip malls.

It also is one of the epicenters of the coronavirus in Georgia. More than 80 people in Bartow County have tested positive and a 69-year-old man has died. The local medical center has erected outdoor triage tents and a large sign saying, “We are all in this together.”

Joey Camp begins his job hunt. "It's like everybody's holding their breath, waiting for either society to collapse or society to get back to normal," he said.  (Carmen Mandato / For The Times)

In Georgia, where more than 1,200 residents have tested positive, with 394 hospitalized and 40 dead, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has been reluctant to institute widespread business closures. On Monday he ordered bars to close and banned public gatherings of more than 10 people, but he has yet to shutter restaurants.

Bartow County officials have taken matters into their own hands, closing all bars, dine-in restaurants and theaters.

While Camp distinguishes himself from his father, a conventional Southern conservative who he said would march with Trump to the gates of hell, he insists there are still too few coronavirus victims to warrant extreme government intervention.

“We have probably more owners of chickens in this county than we have coronavirus victims and there aren’t that many farms around here,” Camp said as he stood outside his friends’ home on a rolling green pasture dotted with ducks, Canada geese, turkeys and chickens.

As if on cue, a rooster crowed in the background.

::

When Camp came down in late February with a cough, he figured he had the flu or pneumonia and could tough it out. After growing up in poverty in a trailer park — the son of a construction worker father and drug dealer mother — Big Bad Joey could take care of himself.

So he carried on with his commitments, officiating at the wedding of one of his best friends and frying bacon over a hot grill at Waffle House, until eventually the chills and body aches became so severe he had to hole up at home.

Finally, when curling under the covers wouldn’t stop his chills and chattering teeth, he went to an emergency room.

A diabetic, he was diagnosed with pneumonia. After a few days, he tested positive for the virus.

Camp had no clue how he contracted the virus and assumes it came from someone who was asymptomatic. He hadn’t been overseas. He hadn’t taken a cruise or ventured to the West Coast.

After four days in the hospital, his symptoms abated. He decided not to self-quarantine at home — he was living with a family with an infant son — and became the first Georgian to live in a special quarantine site at Hard Labor Creek State Park, about 50 miles east of Atlanta.

As he recuperated in his trailer, watching Star Wars movies and "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off," Camp was aghast as officials closed schools, urged people to work from home, and shut down major sporting events.

Camp made light of the situation on Facebook, sharing a stream of memes (“I want to get quarantined with you — flirting in 2020”) and a Tik-Tok video of a pole dancer dressed up in a white hazmat suit, black platform stilettos and orange rubber gloves spraying anti-anti-disinfectant on a pole (“When there’s a coronavirus outbreak but you have bills to pay”).

Leaving quarantine, he was shocked by what seemed like extreme behavior.

At a Circle K gas station, he watched a man put on surgical gloves to go to the restroom, take off the gloves when he came out, wipe his hands down with baby wipes, pump gas and then wipe his hands with baby wipes again.

“It’s like 'Mad Max,'” he said as he drove down a four-lane highway, passing very few cars. “It’s kind of weird. It’s like everybody’s holding their breath, waiting for either society to collapse or society to get back to normal.”

When Camp returned to the Waffle House, which had temporarily closed after his diagnosis, for his first shift after the quarantine, Camp urged folks on social media to drop in and meet “King Coronavirus.”

Walking back into the diner, Camp felt like Michael Jordan returning to the Chicago Bulls in ’95 after his foray into baseball.

Andrea, a server, wrapped her arms around him.

Two other servers gave him elbow bumps.

It was like he never left.

Tristan Thurman, 22, a Waffle House server, is struggling to earn money.  (Jenny Jarvie / Los Angeles Times)

But only a smattering of customers sat in the restaurant. As business slowed, his next shifts were canceled.

With minus $3.33 in his checking account and no savings, it wasn’t like he wasn’t any better off than his co-workers.

“If I have to, I’ll make a bow and arrow and go hunting in the woods,” he said after driving past the nearly deserted Waffle House.

If things got really desperate and society collapsed, at least his roommate, Trey, has a couple of pistols, an AR-15 and a 12-gauge shotgun.

A few hours later, he was on the porch with Trey when his boss called: the diner would close, at least for now.

“It doesn't make any sense,” he said. “When Waffle House shuts down, that's crisis mode."

He paused, shaking his head.

It didn't feel like crisis mode. All around him, everything was calm: wind chimes tinkled softly in the spring breeze; birds chirped as they flitted around a pair of blooming Bradford pear trees.

“I don't know how to deal with it,” he said. “It does not compute at all.”

But when he picked up his cellphone to check the number of new coronavirus cases, doubt crept in. Was he wrong? Could he get reinfected?

"Worldwide, it's starting to kill more people," he said. "Maybe this thing is mutating and becoming more deadly. And that worries the hell out of me, because that puts me back in the pool."

By Wednesday, he had found a temporary job — making hand sanitizer.

  • Trump sees 'hard days' ahead in coronavirus fight, with as many as 240,000 Americans dead
    Yahoo News

    Trump sees 'hard days' ahead in coronavirus fight, with as many as 240,000 Americans dead

    Nearly a quarter million people in the United States could die as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, Trump administration officials said Tuesday. In what was presented as a best case scenario in which millions of citizens across the country adhered to intensive social distancing guidelines promoted by the Trump administration, between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans are still expected to be killed by COVID-19. “We're going to do everything we can to get [the U.S. death toll] significantly below that,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whose forthright manner has made him a star of the coronavirus briefings.

  • Liberty University students choose sides after fallout from coronavirus reporting
    Yahoo News

    Liberty University students choose sides after fallout from coronavirus reporting

    The New York Times reported this week that almost a dozen Liberty University students have come down with COVID-19 symptoms since the school reopened last week, according to a bombshell article published Sunday that cites a local physician in Lynchburg, Va., where the evangelical university is situated. “We've lost the ability to corral this thing,” Dr. Thomas W. Eppes Jr. said he told Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., according to the article. The Times identified Eppes as the head of the school's student health service, but he does not appear on the Liberty University website and a school spokesman told Yahoo News he has no official connection to the university.

  • Kellyanne Conway Keeps Attacking Joe Biden for Staying Inside
    The Daily Beast

    Kellyanne Conway Keeps Attacking Joe Biden for Staying Inside

    While leaders across the country are urging Americans to stay in their homes to stop the spread of the coronavirus, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway is openly mocking former Vice President Joe Biden for setting that example. During a press gaggle outside the White House, Conway called it “completely unhelpful” to have the former vice president “in his bunker in Wilmington just lobbing criticisms” at the current president.

  • China under-reported coronavirus cases and deaths, U.S. intelligence reportedly concludes
    The Week

    China under-reported coronavirus cases and deaths, U.S. intelligence reportedly concludes

    There has been some skepticism about China's reporting on the novel COVID-19 coronavirus for some time, especially as smaller countries like Italy surged past the world's most populous nation in both overall cases and deaths. On Wednesday, U.S. intelligence officials told Bloomberg on condition of anonymity that the skepticism is valid. Per Bloomberg, the U.S. intelligence community reportedly concluded in a classified document that China, where the pandemic originated, has under-reported its totals.

  • 12 Buildings That Show the Beauty of Deconstructed Architecture
    Architectural Digest

    12 Buildings That Show the Beauty of Deconstructed Architecture

    From Zaha Hadid's majestic MAXII in Italy to the stunning beauty of Frank Gehry's Vitra Design Museum, these structures elevate the environment they were built in Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest

  • China starts to report asymptomatic coronavirus cases
    Reuters

    China starts to report asymptomatic coronavirus cases

    Chinese health authorities began on Wednesday reporting on asymptomatic cases of the coronavirus as part of an effort to allay public fears that people could be spreading the virus without knowing they are infected with it. China, where the coronavirus emerged late last year, has managed to bring its outbreak under control and is easing travel restrictions in virus hot spots. Up to now, the number of known asymptomatic cases has been classified, and it is not included in the official data, though the South China Morning Post newspaper, citing unpublished official documents, recently said it was more than 40,000.

  • Chinese Doctor Disappears after Blowing the Whistle on Coronavirus Threat
    National Review

    Chinese Doctor Disappears after Blowing the Whistle on Coronavirus Threat

    Wuhan doctor Ai Fen, who expressed early concerns about the coronavirus to the media, has disappeared and is believed detained by Chinese authorities. Fen, the head of emergency at Wuhan Central Hospital, was given a warning after she disseminated information about the coronavirus to several other doctors. The reprimand from her boss came after Fen took a photo of a patient's positive test results and circled the words 'SARS coronavirus' in red.

  • One country is refusing to shut down to stop the coronavirus
    NBC News

    One country is refusing to shut down to stop the coronavirus

    While officials from Montreal to Moscow have placed populations under some form of lockdown designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, one man continues to hold firm to the notion that the rest of the world has lost its mind: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. “It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees!” Lukashenko told a Belarusian television reporter Saturday when asked whether the coronavirus could stop him from hitting the rink for a propaganda-filled hockey game. Lukashenko, one of the longest-serving leaders in the former Soviet Union, has been in power for over 25 years.

  • The US paid millions of taxpayer dollars to a company for thousands of much-needed ventilators. But the company is busy selling more expensive models abroad.
    Business Insider

    The US paid millions of taxpayer dollars to a company for thousands of much-needed ventilators. But the company is busy selling more expensive models abroad.

    Millions of taxpayer dollars were spent on developing portable, easy-to-use ventilators to prepare for a national health crisis like the coronavirus pandemic — but not a single one is in the federal stockpile. The US Department of Health and Human Services signed a $13.8 million contract with health technology giant Royal Philips N.V. to produce portable, easy-to-use ventilators to add to the federal stockpile. Although HHS ordered 10,000 units of the ventilator in September 2019, the company began selling two higher-priced commercial versions of the same ventilator around the world.

  • Trump Threatens ‘Heavy Price’ If Iran Attacks U.S. Troops
    Bloomberg

    Trump Threatens ‘Heavy Price’ If Iran Attacks U.S. Troops

    President Donald Trump warned Iran against what he said was a possible “sneak attack” the Islamic Republic was planning against U.S. troops in Iraq. Trump indicated in a tweet that the U.S. had “information” about a possible attack but didn't elaborate. He said Iran would pay a “very heavy price” if there's an attack.

  • Trump responds to questions about whether impeachment diverted his attention from the coronavirus outbreak
    Yahoo News Video

    Trump responds to questions about whether impeachment diverted his attention from the coronavirus outbreak

    President Trump on Tuesday responded to the idea that the impeachment trial kept his attention away from the growing coronavirus outbreak around the world.

  • Great Recession showed countries can’t fight the coronavirus economic crisis alone
    USA TODAY Opinion

    Great Recession showed countries can’t fight the coronavirus economic crisis alone

    As the world economy enters an unprecedented crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and policymakers in Washington and other global capitals prepare record fiscal stimulus plans, stakeholders should heed an important lesson from the last financial downturn in 2008: Recovery is only possible through coordinated global action. A little more than 10 years ago, as the world was entering the Great Recession, stakeholders had to look far back in the rearview mirror to the Great Depression for policy guidance. While the actions of the 1930s did offer important lessons for 2008 — most notably the need to expand the money supply — the economy of the 1930s was fundamentally different than the global economy of the early part of this century.

  • Almost 30 spring breakers test positive for coronavirus following Mexico trip
    The Week

    Almost 30 spring breakers test positive for coronavirus following Mexico trip

    Almost 30 students who recently traveled to Mexico for spring break have tested positive for COVID-19. Health officials in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday announced an investigation into a "cluster" of COVID-19 cases among a group of roughly 70 people in their 20s who traveled in a chartered plane to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for spring break about a week-and-a-half ago amid the coronavirus crisis. "Currently, 28 young adults on this trip have tested positive for COVID-19 and dozens more are under public health investigation," the Austin Public Health Department said.

  • Serbia sets the stage for Beijing's mask diplomacy
    AFP

    Serbia sets the stage for Beijing's mask diplomacy

    When six Chinese doctors landed in Belgrade two weeks ago, Serbia's president greeted them with elbow-bumps before laying a kiss on their country's flag, a gesture of gratitude that sent Chinese social media aflutter. For weeks China has been showering European countries with millions of face masks, test kits and other aid, recasting itself as the hero in the battle against coronavirus. EU officials have started to warn against a Beijing propaganda campaign -- spun through the "politics of generosity" -- that is distorting China's initial missteps in managing a contagion that started on its soil and has now killed more than 40,000 people across the globe.

  • U.S. records 700 coronavirus deaths in a single day for first time
    Reuters

    U.S. records 700 coronavirus deaths in a single day for first time

    The U.S. government raced to build hundreds of makeshift hospitals to ease the strain on overwhelmed healthcare systems as the United States marked 700 deaths in a single day from COVID-19 for the first time on Tuesday. Nearly half those deaths were in New York state, still the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pleaded for reinforcements from the Trump administration, saying the worst may still be weeks away. De Blasio, a Democrat, said he had asked the White House for an additional 1,000 nurses, 300 respiratory therapists and 150 doctors by April 5 but had yet to receive an answer from the Trump administration.

  • Lindsey Graham Calls on IG Horowitz to Testify in Further FISA Hearings after Scathing New Report
    National Review

    Lindsey Graham Calls on IG Horowitz to Testify in Further FISA Hearings after Scathing New Report

    Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) plans to call DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz to testify before congress regarding his office's audit of the FBI's FISA application process, which was released Tuesday and revealed potentially systematic abuses of the transparency measures required of the Bureau when agents interact with the FISA court. I have just been briefed on Inspector General Horowitz's audit of FISA applications involving American citizens. This random audit shows discrepancies regarding verification of the information under the Woods Procedures,” Graham said in a press release.

  • A Doctor Who Met Putin Just Tested Positive, and Russia’s COVID-19 Crackdowns Could Get Real Ugly.
    The Daily Beast

    A Doctor Who Met Putin Just Tested Positive, and Russia’s COVID-19 Crackdowns Could Get Real Ugly.

    MOSCOW—Amid a growing uproar in newly locked-down Russia, news broke on Tuesday that a doctor President Vladimir Putin met with just a week ago during a highly publicized visit to a coronavirus treatment facility has now tested positive for the infection himself. Widely disseminated photos of the visit showed Putin donning an orange hazmat suit, but he had also talked to Dr. Denis Protsenko extensively without protection and photographs show them together with very little "social distancing." Putin's spokesman says the Russian president is tested frequently for coronavirus infection and is just fine.

  • U.S. is swiftly deporting migrant children at the border
    CBS News

    U.S. is swiftly deporting migrant children at the border

    Citing a public health order to curb the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration is swiftly deporting unaccompanied migrant minors apprehended near the U.S.-Mexico border, upending a long-standing practice required under a federal law designed to protect children from violence and exploitation. Despite initially maintaining that the new measures would not apply to unaccompanied minors, Customs and Border Protection on Monday said its officials could deny entry to children who cross the southern border alone under an order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. The agency said some minors could be excluded from the CDC directive if a border official "suspects trafficking or sees signs of illness."

  • Republicans say impeachment distracted Trump from coronavirus. But the president golfed and held rallies during his trial while downplaying the virus for weeks.
    Business Insider

    Republicans say impeachment distracted Trump from coronavirus. But the president golfed and held rallies during his trial while downplaying the virus for weeks.

    Republicans are now blaming impeachment for President Donald Trump's bungled coronavirus response. "It came up while we were tied down in the impeachment trial. And I think it diverted the attention of the government because everything every day was all about impeachment," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday.

  • Woodworking Can Bring Solace in Times of Uncertainty
    Popular Mechanics

    Woodworking Can Bring Solace in Times of Uncertainty

    When things get stressful, it's worth slowing down and appreciating the simpler things. From Popular Mechanics

  • China Concealed Extent of Virus Outbreak, U.S. Intelligence Says
    Bloomberg

    China Concealed Extent of Virus Outbreak, U.S. Intelligence Says

    China has concealed the extent of the coronavirus outbreak in its country, under-reporting both total cases and deaths it's suffered from the disease, the U.S. intelligence community concluded in a classified report to the White House, according to three U.S. officials. The officials asked not to be identified because the report is secret, and they declined to detail its contents. But the thrust, they said, is that China's public reporting on cases and deaths is intentionally incomplete.

  • Iran warns U.S. over Iraq deployment amid virus
    Yahoo News Video

    Iran warns U.S. over Iraq deployment amid virus

    On Wednesday Iran warned the U.S. it was “warmongering during the coronavirus outbreak,” after it deployed Patriot air defense missiles to Iraq.

  • Netanyahu reportedly mistook a Hallmark series clip for proof of an Iranian coronavirus coverup
    The Week

    Netanyahu reportedly mistook a Hallmark series clip for proof of an Iranian coronavirus coverup

    Netanyahu recently showed his cabinet a video he claimed was evidence Iran was engineering a novel coronavirus coverup, Axios reports. Tehran has reported more than 47,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,000 deaths, but those figures have been eyed with suspicion by much of the rest of the world, including Israel, which, to put it gently, does not get along with Iran. The video showed people dumping bodies into garbage dumps, two cabinet ministers told Axios.

  • Reuters

    'It's just impossible': tracing contacts takes backseat as virus spreads

    Faced with more than 70 cases of the novel coronavirus and a deadly outbreak in an assisted living community in his town, Ed Briggs is overwhelmed. The health director for Ridgefield, Connecticut, says there is no way that he and his staff of two can identify and isolate all the people who have interacted with an infected patient, not at the rate cases are multiplying across the town. Known as contact tracing, this vital but labor-intensive process is becoming increasingly difficult for stretched health departments in towns and cities across the United States, which has more than 160,000 cases, more than any country in the world.

  • Coronavirus: 'I don't want a flight voucher, where's my refund?'
    BBC

    Coronavirus: 'I don't want a flight voucher, where's my refund?'

    Hundreds of flights have been cancelled as fleets are grounded and the process of reimbursing people is under strain. EasyJet has faced particular anger as rebooking is done online but refunds require calling customer services and getting through is almost impossible. Holly Fitton, writing on Facebook, said: "I have been told to ring you for a refund.