‘It scared the hell out of me’

After month-long battle with COVID-19, Voorhees Mayor Mignogna is back

Voorhees Township Mayor Michael Mignogna recently tested negative for COVID-19 and pneumonia after a 28-day quarantine due to the global pandemic. Knowing his personal and family history, Mignogna was fearful after being originally testing positive.

Voorhees Township Mayor Michael Mignogna knew something seemed off in early April.

With breathing issues and a bad cough, he immediately sought a doctor’s visit. Having had double pneumonia about two years ago, Mignogna recognized similar symptoms and feared he had it again.

His doctor originally suspected the flu, but as the mayor’s symptoms intensified, it was recommended he get tested for COVID-19. Having not knowingly come in contact with anyone who had COVID, Mignogna wasn’t sure what to expect, until a blood test came back positive on April 9 and an X-ray showed pneumonia.

“Initially, it was scary,” admitted Mignogna. “I’m in a high-risk category: I’m 61 years old and I have a history of cancer. Being diagnosed with COVID was frankly very scary because nobody really knew what would come of it … The progression that we normally saw for people that were diagnosed with it was that you test positive, you go into the hospital, you get put on the ventilator and you die,” he added.

“Frankly, it scared the hell out of me.”

For the next 28 days, Mignogna quarantined in his bedroom to battle COVID and pneumonia. He did breathing therapy four times a day. So he wouldn’t stay bedridden, he walked laps around his bedroom to keep at least partially active.

Mignogna also took his temperature and oxygen levels on an hourly basis during the day. He was thankful he never ran a fever and didn’t experience a dip in oxygen levels.

With each positive test came approximately 10 days of isolation back to his bedroom as he waited to be tested again. After the initial diagnosis, Mignogna had two more positive tests during his 28-day quarantine before receiving his first negative result.

“It went from scary to challenging to frustrating over that time,” Mignogna recalled. “And the most challenging part of it all was that none of my doctors — from my family doctor to my infectious disease doctor to my oncologist — had any hard answers throughout the process. It’s new to them too. 

“All I could do was monitor my symptoms and that’s almost the only way to tell how you’re doing.

“It’s frustrating to them (doctors), too, because they’re trying to treat patients for a condition that has no straight answers for … “ Mignogna added. “It’s an entirely new ballgame.”

While quarantined, Mignogna says the support he received from residents in the community was overwhelming. From words of encouragement to home-delivered meals, the mayor appreciated those who encouraged him during his fight with a new disease.

In his absence from local government, Deputy Mayor Michelle Nocito took over delivering township and county updates on Facebook in regard to  COVID-19. After his diagnosis, Mignogna asked Nocito to share his positive test with the community to highlight the seriousness of the disease.

Moving forward, Mignogna says now is not the time to relax social-distancing guidelines as South Jersey continues to see new positive cases.

“We have a long way to go in this battle,” he said. “This is not the time to let down our guard; we have to keep doing what we’re doing and be mindful of others throughout this process.”

On the date of Mignogna’s diagnosis in April, Camden County had just passed 1,000 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases. By the time he received his negative result, that number had ballooned to 3,750 total cases in the  county, with 207 deaths.

In large part, the majority of deaths in Camden County have been  attributed to infection at long-term care facilities, with over 75 percent of COVID-19 cases happening within one.

With Voorhees having 14 long-term care facilities, more than any other municipality in the county, Mignogna said the township has reached out to the state for help.   

“In working with the county, we have reached out to the state to ask them to intervene in monitoring and coming up with solutions for these facilities,” Mignogna added.

“It’s horrible to think of those vulnerable people in these facilities that are battling this disease, but also can’t see their families during times like this.”  

Having had the opportunity to see for himself how the community is responding to the pandemic, Mignogna said he’s encouraged by what he sees from residents in Voorhees, and he has one simple message: 

“Stay home, wear a mask and continue to help others throughout this.”