ALBANY — As touchingly sweet and simple as the message was, it was even more horrifying.

“Me and Travis, we done got the COVID,” Dakota Page said during a Thanksgiving-morning call, his already languid vocal delivery rendered even more drawn out by a voice that registered both fatigue and fear in equal measures.

The Page brothers, namesake members of the Adel-based Page Brothers Band, have since recovered from their bout with the pandemic that currently has the world in its grip, despite ramped-up injections of emergency-approved vaccines. But memories of those two-plus weeks of hell that COVID-19 wrought on their bodies — as well as their psyches — are not going away anytime soon.

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Nor will they completely be brushed aside by a growing number of southwest Georgians who have lived through their own experiences with the virus that has killed more than 400,000 Americans since it made its way onto these shores some 11 months ago.

“I’m fortunate; I had what turned out to be a milder case of the virus,” Albany Herald President/Publisher Scot Morrissey said days after the worst of his bout with COVID was in the rearview mirror. “There were several days, though, when I woke up feeling so tired. I like to move, to get around and do things, but it was like all the energy had been drained out of me. At times like that, I would force myself to get up and move, to walk around, to be active.”

Other southwest Georgians have spoken of experiencing varying symptoms that left many of them fighting at times for breath and forced others to spend time in Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, thankfully, it turned out for most, as a precautionary measure.

The less fortunate, though — friends and family of some 235 Dougherty County citizens and 11,670 Georgia residents at last count — now must speak of their loved ones in the past tense, loved ones who succumbed to the virus. And still others are only now doing battle with the pandemic whose mutations are reportedly even more easily passed on.

“When COVID started, I took washing my hands seriously; I did it constantly ... took no chances,” Tyler Elizondo of Tifton said Saturday, two days after testing positive for the virus. “Five or six months in, I started getting lazy, not taking it so seriously. I started washing my hands less and less. I wore my mask out in public most of the time.

“The only place I didn’t wear my mask was at work, and because I rarely go out in public, that’s where I think I got it. I believe someone unknowingly gave it to me. I’m on my second day right now.”

The latest figures issued by Phoebe Friday showed that 1,768 persons who have checked into the hospital with the virus have been released. Similar numbers are being reported at health care facilities across the region, although a post-holiday surge has pushed COVID numbers in the southwest Georgia to levels that have approached or surpassed levels recorded in spring and summer months, when the virus first started to leave its mark on the region.

“While we hope we are reaching the peak of this dangerous winter surge, it is too early to tell,” Phoebe Putney Health System President/CEO Scott Steiner said.

“We know the virus is still very active in southwest Georgia, and it is making many people critically ill. Our intensive care units continue to operate at or near capacity, and we continue to add staffing resources to ensure every patient receives the level of care they need.”

Travis Page said weeks after he and his brother were determined “out of danger” that his experience with the virus was a bit more serious than brother Dakota’s.

“My heart rate fluctuated and would go way up,” he said. “I had a fever for several days that stayed around 102 degrees. I had to go to the ER for fluids because I did not feel like I could eat anything. It took me 10 days to feel even a little bit better, and it was 13 days before I started to feel a little like my old self.”

Dakota Page said his experience with COVID-19 was even more frightening than it might have been because of his brother’s illness.

“I’ll be honest with you; I thought Travis might die,” he said, the fear of that time etched on his face. “I didn’t have it as bad as Travis, and that’s a good thing. I ended up staying up most nights to take care of him, making sure he took medication to try and keep the fever down. It was as mentally exhausting for me as it was physically.”

Morrissey and members of his family met in Florida for a Christmas gathering, and he said he believes the lax manner in which employees and patrons at a restaurant kept their faces covered was responsible for himself and four other members of his family testing positive for the virus.

“I had a rapid test the day I left to go down to Florida, and everyone else had one, too,” the newspaper executive said. “Everyone was good when we got there. My son started feeling bad (after the meal at the restaurant), and a couple of days later, on the way back to Albany, I started feeling a tickle. I didn’t go into a panic because I never really ran a fever, but I was very tired and I lost the sense of taste and smell.”

Morrissey said contracting the virus brought a sense of irony.

“I’d been very safe the whole time of the virus; I took every precaution we were told to take,” he said. “People said there was no truth to COVID-19; it was very much a truth for me. I’ve known all along that it was bad, that it’s highly communicative. Here I was, sitting alone at my place pretty much all the time, and I’ve personally used two gallons of hand sanitizer. But I got it.”

And while he says he feels fortunate to have survived the ordeal with few lingering effects, Morrissey admits he does not consider the pandemic “over” for himself.

“I am not super overconfident now, even after going through this once,” he said. “You better believe that I will continue to follow all the protocols.”

Elizondo, meanwhile, said that while he has so far weathered his own personal COVID storm with only minor effect, it still is taking a toll.

“I feel good,” he said, noting that he’s so far had a persistent cough and has lost his sense of taste and smell. “The worst part is not being able to hug my (3-year-old) son. I’ve worked almost every day since the pandemic started (including weekends), and time with him has been one of the things that has made it easier for me. Now I can only hear him play with his mom in the next room and visualize his sweet face. How I see it, I’m lucky to have that ... 400,000 people don’t have that anymore.”

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