Stillwater prison guard looking for answers after testing positive for COVID-19 twice

The Minnesota Department of Health says contracting COVID-19 a second time is extremely rare and there have been no confirmed second cases in Minnesota. However, health officials say they rarely have the proper tools to confirm if a person has contracted the virus a second time. 

Kris Ehresmann, Director of Infectious Disease Prevention and Control for the Minnesota Department of Health, says the only way to know for sure if someone has contracted the virus twice is to have access to their original sample. The genomes of the first sample are compared to the second sample to confirm a later positive test came from reinfection, not as a result of COVID-19 still lingering in the body.

“What we don’t know is if it’s persistent positivity or a new infection and, like I said, the only way to do that is to compare the genetic sequence and we rarely have access to the specimens so that is really the challenge,” Ehresmann said. 

Ehresmann says the state has investigated 125 situations where a patient tested positive a second time, more than 90 days after the first. In a few of those instances, health officials say they had access to originals swabs to do genome testing. None of those cases have resulted in a confirmed and documented reinfection. 

This leaves people like 24-year-old Bobby Steveson looking for answers. Steveson is a correctional officer at Stillwater Correctional Facility. He says, in July, a friend who he had been in contact with tested positive for COVID-19. On July 18, he got a COVID test that came back positive a few days later. 

Steveson says he followed proper COVID protocol, used his “COVID leave time” from work and recovered from the virus with minor symptoms.

Steveson says in early October he was tested for COVID again as part of routine testing for staff through the Department of Corrections. He says that test came back negative. 

About a week and a half later, Steveson says he started experiencing similar, but more intense COVID symptoms. On October 22nd he got another test which came back positive. 

“It was kind of weird to me how I felt a lot worse this time. Everything was times 100 with my body aches,” Steveson said. 

Steveson’s positive case comes as the Stillwater Correctional Facility, here he works, is experiencing a spike in COVID cases. The facility’s first case wasn’t confirmed until late September. In mid-October cases started quickly climbing. 

Currently one out of every three inmates at the facility have COVID-19. So do roughly 13 percent of the facility’s staff.

Steveson says he worries health officials don’t know enough about the virus yet to confirm if people are susceptible to getting it a second time. He worries he could get the virus a third time and it could be even worse.

Steveson also used all of his allotted “COVID leave time” during his first go-round with the virus. After this second positive test, he needs to quarantine at home but says this time he’s not getting paid for it.

“I sent the paperwork in and now I’m out of work again and I’m not allowed to get COVID leave so like I’m taking the hit for being sick,” Steveson said. 

On Wednesday, Ehresmann said through genome testing there have been ten confirmed cases of reinfection of COVID-19 in the world.