Father, Daughter, Face Family’s Confusing COVID Encounter: ‘If she was negative, why would I be positive?’

A family quarantine photo at home on the patio in Las Vegas before James, in the blue shirt, and his daughter, in the purple shirt, became ill.

Q: Hey, James. We have to stop meeting like this. But thank you, once again, for allowing me to talk with you about a timely topic; this time, COVID-19, and your family’s encounter with it.

But first, a little background for those who don’t know you as a couple, James Santos, and Brian Catanio. You and Brian have two children, and currently live in Las Vegas. You’re originally from Redding, and are both superstars in your own right. Brian is a respected leader in the fitness realm, and you are a master choreographer, director and show creator for such notable productions as Cirque du Soleil.

You are and I go way back decades ago when I profiled you as a story subject when I worked for the paper. You were a 20-something rising Redding star. (One of the youngest profiles to appear in the paper at that point, I do believe.) We’ve kept in touch via social media after you, Brian and your kids left Redding for your globe-trotting adventures.

Oh my gosh. I just pulled up that photo from when you guys were in Portugal. Look how little the kids were then. But somehow, you and Brian never age. You always look the same.

James Santos, Brian Catanio and their children in Portugal.

James, we chatted in 2014 after you came home for a summer to choreograph the blockbuster musical “Chicago” at Shasta College. But I think the last time we caught up was November of 2015 when you were in Paris during the terrorist attacks.

Here’s a more recent family photo. I just can’t get over how grown-up the kids are looking. I remember your baby shower for your daughter!

Q: Before we get to the reason I wanted to talk with you today – your brush with COVID-19 – what have you been up to since we last spoke?

Hi, Doni! I was on a show called Amaluna as Artistic Director for Cirque du Soleil, which took us through Europe and South America.

In September 2018 I took another project to build a show in Argentina for the government. I really was directing and choreographing as normal, but working as a consultant in addition to all of that, as the area had never had their own professional company resident show.

I would fly back and forth from Vegas to hold auditions and rehearsals in 2018 and 2019. I hired all local artists. The show opened in April 2019, and I returned home to Vegas and the show ran until the end of the year, which was the best scenario plan for the city. I worked teaching pre-school here this last year, but ultimately have been looking to get back to my roots.

Q: You never cease to amaze me, James. Just hearing a description of your work the last few years makes me tired. I know you’re busy, so I really appreciate your taking the time to chat with me here on ANC.

Today, we’re talking about the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and how it’s recently affected your family. Would you mind telling what happened?

Last Tuesday afternoon, our daughter appeared wrapped up in a blanket in the afternoon on the couch while the temperature outside was a good 105 degrees or or more. And she was not talking, so I immediately knew something was wrong.

Q: Did her symptoms come on suddenly?

Yes. She had been fine all morning as we did our routine of working out at the gym, and she’d had a good rest the night before. She is almost 14, so sleeping in until 11 a.m. is not uncommon for her.

I took her temperature and sure enough, 101 fever. We then decided to take her immediately to the urgent care, as we were informed that was the only way to go during these times. Sometimes as a parent we choose to wait for a day or so when the kids get sick, but right now, that is not really an option. We need to watch out for one another.

Q: What happened when you took her to urgent care?

At the doctor’s office they took a strep test, which came back negative. And then they did a swab of the nostril for 10 seconds for the COVID test. In addition, they prescribed antibiotics for what we thought could be strep throat. They told us it would be up to four days to get the COVID results, so off we went home. At that time Brian was also required to come home from work and quarantine until we got the results.

After we got home that evening and through the next day it really did appear like her symptoms were more like strep in some ways. Her fever continued and she was achy. She woke up the next morning and threw up, which at the time we figured was from postnasal drip, which happens every time she has strep.

After that, we cooled her down, and back to sleep she went. She woke up later and things turned quickly. She felt like eating. Her throat was still little sore, but nothing like strep. Her fever did get up to 102 that second day, but we kept her sleeping, eating and drinking. The third day she was up and almost back to normal. No fever.

Q: Sounds like by then she was in the home stretch and doing better. But you were still waiting for the test, right?

Yes. So on Friday morning I contacted the doctor’s office to ask about the test results, and the office manager (who had been filling in at the front desk because they have three office people out on quarantine) told me our daughter’s COVID test was negative. We both had a moment of celebration on the phone and we hung up. Brian returned to work the next day and we all continued “normal” life. I, too, returned to working out at the gym on Saturday.

Q: At that point, you were thinking that whatever illness your daughter had was on its way out, and you could safely resume regular life because her COVID test was normal. But that’s when you started having symptoms of your own, right?

Right. On Sunday I worked out at a park with a group of people and then came home and I came down with my own fever. I was in bed for two days, similar to our daughter’s symptoms, but could not get in to the doctor as they had no tests. But I figured if she was negative, why would I be positive? So I wasn’t worried that it could be COVID-19.

On Wednesday, after I started recovering, the doctors office called me and told me our daughter’s test results were actually positive, and that the office manager read the the wrong line when I called the week before.

Q: I cannot even imagine how you took that news, especially since, based upon what you thought was a negative test result, your whole family basically resumed your normal activities. Of course, you had no way of knowing you were actually infected, but you were potentially exposing others to the virus as you returned to your life routines.

When you started comparing and contrasting your and your daughter’s symptoms, you must have assumed by then that, test or no test, you also were infected with COVID-19. What were the differences in your symptoms?

Our symptoms varied a little. She had a little sore throat and was achy. I had a little chest congestion, but no coughing. I was so achy, mostly in my upper back by my spine, and the last night of fever I sweat so much I had to change my clothes.

On my second day I was able to eat and drink, which I loved because you know how important getting fluids is when your sick. But then at the end of the day my body purged itself of that, which I will save you the details on.

Q: I think we get the picture, thanks. So, how are you two feeling now?

We are both feeling much better. Interesting enough, we both have had our sense of taste affected from it, and also smell, which I am just realizing this morning. I hear it may go on for a while, so that will get really boring fast.

Before COVID-19, James and Brian’s daughter made a cake to celebrate July 4th.

Q: Any clue how you two became infected with the virus?

I have no idea where I caught it, but I imagine I got it from her, but for my daughter, and where she got it, I’m not sure.

Q: How about the two remaining members of your family unit? How are they doing? Any symptoms?

Brian and our son are both healthy. They normally have the immune system of an ox, so I am not surprised they have not had symptoms. But we will see.

Q: As you look back before you and your daughter became infected, how have you and your family responded to the pandemic? Have you been taking it seriously?

We were very good about quarantine, until June. Then Brian went back to work. Even so, still, we have not been in a restaurant to eat, and we only spend time with a couple of the same families. We always are in masks in any store, first, because it is required, but also out of respect for others.

Family quarantine photo at home on the patio.

We do go to the gym, and according to OSHA our gym is the best at their procedures for keeping its members safe, but who knows.

I will say that Las Vegas during this entire pandemic has showed great respect for the rules set forth, and also for each other. Our city was shutdown industry-wide and I think it made a difference in how everyone has seen that, because of their individual contributions, things are starting to open up a little.

Q: What an ordeal for you all! Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I will say besides my concerns about our Divided States of America, I am very concerned about the future of entertainment. I have many friends all over the world, including myself, who need work. We want to create new work, and we have very few places to produce.

Q: James what a terrible situation for someone like you, whose entire life has been in performing arts, to have your work shut down. Are you guys using this time to re-calibrate, and maybe consider some other options?

This may be helping me feel like it’s time to get back to the country a bit, or start to find a new place to build something new. This actually is the positive side for so many of us; the chance to start fresh, reacquaint with the past and embrace the future.

Q: You’re an optimist, my friend. I like your attitude. Beautifully said. With all my heart I hope that these bizarre times will open new doors for other creative opportunities.

Thank you. I am sending love to you and our town of Redding, a place with so many good memories, and one of the most beautiful places to be.

I will be even more honest when I say we have been looking to get back to Nor Cal, or somewhere closer to the trees and our family. If anyone has a barn that would be perfect for shows, just let me know, or a theater you need managing. HA!

Q: You say “ha” but I think that’s an outstanding idea, James. I promise to keep my eye open for that perfect barn for your productions. Whatever you do, it will be brilliant. Whatever you and James touch will be golden.

I wish you and your family complete recovery and continued health. Thank you for sharing your story, and your cautionary tale. Stay safe!

UPDATE: On Aug. 6, 19 days after being tested for COVID-19, James Santos tested positive. 

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.

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