Hayward nurse Buffy Riley, left, and state Rep. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, each contracted the coronavirus and survived painful battles with COVID-19.
Hayward nurse Buffy Riley, left, and state Rep. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, each contracted the coronavirus and survived painful battles with COVID-19. (Contributed photos)

Bowen was the first state legislator to catch the virus. Riley went to New York to help overloaded hospitals; then she caught it.

Rep. David Bowen and nurse Elizabeth “Buffy” Riley could not have had more different experiences with coronavirus — but both contracted it and have lived to tell the tale.

In a joint interview with UpNorthNews, the Democratic state legislator from Milwaukee and heroic nurse from Hayward compared their experiences and talked about everything from anti-lockdown protests to the Trump administration’s deeply flawed response to the pandemic.

“There’s still a lot of mask-wearing,” Riley said. She is still recovering from coronavirus and occasionally had to cough through her answers during the interview.

Riley contracted coronavirus after spending most of April volunteering at a hospital in New York City, the epicenter of the United States’ outbreak. She could not get a test in New York City, so she had to fly home in late April before learning she had caught the virus.

Bowen announced on March 23 that he had tested positive for coronavirus. He was the first — and so far only — state legislator known to have contracted it. He has now fully recovered, but he said he suffered from a fever of about 104 degrees and had to wear a winter hat inside his home because the chills were so intense.

“It was undersold as ‘just the flu,’” Bowen said. “It was the longest ‘just the flu’ I’ve ever had…. Essentially, two weeks of fever and coughing and shortness of breath. It really does impact your lungs. You feel it.”

Riley said she initially had trouble getting a test because she never had a fever while battling the virus, illustrating how it can affect its victims in vastly different ways.

“They said as long as you don’t have a fever, you don’t get a test,” Riley said. “I never had a fever with this.”

Bowen said President Trump’s consistent downplaying of the threat the virus poses — Trump once said the virus would disappear, and he claimed that again last week — has had disastrous effects on the country’s response.

“Now we’re seeing that’s not the case (that the virus did not pose a threat), 70,000 deaths later,” Bowen said. “You just know for a fact that there’s a better way.”

Since the interview was recorded, the national death toll has surpassed 90,000.

“The Trump response was absolutely abysmal, and that administration needs to shoulder the blame for a lot of this,” Riley said.