As the play-by-play broadcaster of Boston College basketball, UMass football, and the Pawtucket Red Sox, Josh Maurer is more interested in relaying stories than being one. Yet from his apartment in Providence, where he’s been self-quarantining with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, it became increasingly difficult to remain quiet.
On Monday — the 10th day in which he’d been experiencing symptoms (foremost fever and shortness of breath) — he disclosed his condition in a series of posts on Twitter. He did so not for the sake of attention but over concern that in daily press conferences over the weekend, Governor Gina Raimondo had cited the relatively low number of positive tests for the coronavirus in Rhode Island as a rationale for the state not taking more aggressive measures.
“Each time [Raimondo] said that, I thought, ‘How can you be going off that number? You’re not testing anyone. Of course you don’t have any confirmed cases,’ ” said Maurer. “How could they be expected to make accurate and informed decisions based on information that is clearly faulty? Clearly the number of cases you have is underreported.”
Maurer draws that conclusion based on the fact that he’s gone untested — an outcome that he understands given the scarcity of available kits. As a 39-year-old without underlying conditions, he’s not in a high-risk demographic.
‘I’m not living in a sports bubble. I was very well aware of what the situation was in the world and what’s starting to happen in our country. It was the worst week possible to be doing that — and I knew that. It wasn’t even in the back of my mind. It was in the front of my mind.’
His symptoms — fever, chills, cough, and at times painful shortness of breath — have been uncomfortable but at no point left him fearing for his life. Even so, he recognizes the dangers of the pandemic given the circumstances that led him to self-quarantine even before he started experiencing symptoms.
During the week of March 6-12, his BC duties took him on round trips to Tallahassee, Fla. and Greensboro, N.C. With connecting flights to and from Providence, Maurer took eight flights to seven airports in a week. Even before the start of that stretch, he felt anxious.
“I’m not living in a sports bubble. I was very well aware of what the situation was in the world and what’s starting to happen in our country,” said Maurer. “It was the worst week possible to be doing that — and I knew that. It wasn’t even in the back of my mind. It was in the front of my mind.”
He took precautions, carrying Lysol wipes for his seat, tray, and seat belt. He washed his hands frequently, kept his distance from others where possible, and limited the frequency with which he touched his face.
Still, he was in close proximity to hundreds of people on planes, and thousands at sports arenas. The enormity of that circumstance became even more daunting on March 11, the night following BC’s season-ending loss to Notre Dame.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 — with the NBA immediately announcing the suspension of its season. The connecting flights from Raleigh (through Philadelphia) back to Providence the next day were unnerving.
“You just saw people who were flat-out afraid to be doing what they were doing,” said Maurer.
Maurer had been scheduled to visit his parents in Philadelphia over the weekend but decided during the week to cancel that trip.
“That was quickly kiboshed by my father earlier in the week. He said, ‘I love you, but stay away. After all the travel you’ve been doing, please don’t come here right now.’ I agreed,” relayed Maurer. “Thank God.”
Given the number of people to whom he’d been exposed, Maurer also resolved to isolate himself for at least 14 days upon his return to Providence. He went grocery shopping on the morning of March 13 and hunkered down. But that night, he started to feel mild achiness.
A fever arrived the next morning, followed by shortness of breath while sitting on the couch later that day. A Google search quickly revealed that Maurer’s symptoms were common starting points among coronavirus patients.
He contacted the Rhode Island Department of Health, which told him to contact his primary care physician. Maurer — who is not a year-round employee of any company (he’s a contract employee with the broadcasters of BC and UMass, and is full-time with the PawSox only during the baseball season) and receives his health care through the federal government-run Marketplace — doesn’t have one. He was told to find an urgent care facility that could offer guidance, which he finally did, speaking by phone with a clinician at an Attleboro clinic on Saturday evening.
The symptoms intensified the following week, the shortness of breath at one point convincing Maurer he might pass out while showering. He again sought advice, this time getting it from a consultant to the Red Sox medical team via text.
“He said, ‘You should be the poster child for people that are getting tested for this considering the traveling you did and the symptoms that you’re displaying.’ But then he just said very candidly, ‘The way things are right now, you’re not going to be able to get tested for it unless you’re admitted to a hospital,’ ” said Maurer. “His advice and the advice of other doctors I talked to was that you have to assume you have it.”
And so, he followed the guidelines for those who are infected: remain isolated, hydrate often, take Tylenol for fevers, and go to the hospital if breathing problems become severe. As of Tuesday, Maurer described himself as “very, very cautiously optimistic” that he was “turning a corner.”
Still, he’d like confirmation – knowing if he’s had the coronavirus, and if so, knowing when it’s no longer in his system. But for the immediate future, he’s been told that he’s unlikely to be tested for confirmation — an eventuality that led to his disclosure on Monday.
Among the many responses Maurer has received, one in particular stood out. A member of Princeton’s broadcast team informed Maurer that Noah Savage, the Princeton basketball analyst with whom Maurer broadcast a Feb. 28 game at Brown, disclosed (via Twitter) on March 15 that he’d tested positive for the coronavirus. Given everywhere Maurer had been after that broadcast, the news was chilling.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my God.’ I had talked all this time about the travel I’d done in Florida and North Carolina, the people I’d come in contact with, and it hit me, 'Maybe that was it — I got it from this guy 3½ weeks ago,’ ” said Maurer. “I shudder to think how many people I might have put at risk … That’s the part, I can’t go there in my head."
That sinking thought — and the ease with which asymptomatic people can become vectors for the virus — are prominent in the broadcaster’s thoughts. His own experience suggests the dangers of assuming that the pandemic can be defined by those who have experienced symptoms sufficiently extreme to receive a test.
“We need to overreact, rather than underreact … We need to be proactive,” Maurer said. “I’m afraid there are too many people who are seeing numbers of confirmed cases and saying this is what the problem is … It’s malpractice. It’s the wrong number. It’s out of context, using it to make decisions about the populace or how a person acts.”
Staff reporter Amanda Milkovits of the Globe’s Providence bureau contributed to this report.