Farris Leonard is director of job training and safety for the N.C. Electric Cooperatives. In that role, he coordinates safety and training programs for the state's 26 distribution cooperatives as well as the statewide association and generation and transmission co-op.

During the 2020 hurricane season, he successfully coordinated a North Carolina response team as part of a mutual aid project involving more than 1,000 co-op personnel and contractors without any major pandemic-related issues.

In April of this year, Leonard tested positive for COVID-19, contracting the virus just before his first vaccine dose. He is now recovering from a serious bout with the disease, which nearly led to his hospitalization. He shares his experiences and observations below.

Leonard: I spent a year reading, listening and learning about COVID-19 and how to help keep people safe. I'm the safety guy, not just at work, but at home and in my community. People know I take it seriously, and this pandemic has been a major safety issue. So when I met the requirements to get vaccinated, I quickly signed up, lined up and was glad to get my first Moderna shot on March 29.

I still don't know how I got COVID-19. I've thought about it and believe I was somehow exposed four or five days before I got my first vaccine. And even though I did not notice any symptoms, I was probably a bit run-down when I got the shot.

When my symptoms started, I was having chills and perspiring heavily. The next day I was tired—and although the fatigue got worse over the next four days, there were times when I felt great and would then quickly run out of steam.

One week after the onset of my symptoms, I drove myself to the emergency room. I felt like someone was tightening a strap around my ribs and it was hard to breathe. I'm 59, and I thought I was having a heart problem.

My breathing was labored, and when I checked my oxygen levels, they were low. That's when I contacted my regular doctor by text. He called me back and within minutes determined I was in bad shape. He considered having me admitted to the hospital, but he was able to get me enrolled in a clinical trial treatment for Regeneron monoclonal antibodies.

I received infusion therapy that afternoon. Within a few hours, I felt good enough to rest well. Over the next few days, I continued to improve and I was able to eat a real meal for the first time in nearly a week.

Within three days of the infusion therapy treatment, my chest tightness was easing, my energy level was up, and I was getting stronger.

I'm sharing my COVID-19 story because I know I was headed in a real bad direction, and even though I lost a week of my life, I am alive and feeling better today.

Safety is a big part of my life, and this pandemic is one of the biggest safety issues we've faced in more than a generation. I still don't know how I got COVID-19, and no one was ever sick in my circle. That's why even as more people get vaccinated and other therapies become available, I'm urging people to remain vigilant.

I'm still working from home and resting more and won't change that routine until I'm fully released for regular duty by my doctor.

There's a lot of misinformation out there about the COVID-19 threat, and it's easy to get caught up in some of the noise we see on social media. Good sources of information are the doctors we trust to take care of our families.

This is a dangerous disease, and when you can't breathe, it's very serious. COVID-19 can affect people differently, so everyone needs to pay close attention to their bodies.

We also need to do what we can to reduce the risk of infections to others. I went a whole year taking all the precautions and didn't have a problem until April, and COVID-19 hit me hard. Things may be getting better in a lot of places, but we're just not in the clear yet. This is no time to let down our guard.

I am thankful for the support from my co-op family, especially everyone at statewide. The text messages, calls and, most of all, prayers gave me strength and the momentum to get better. As the “safety guy," I share this story with hope and care that it will help inform others and to ask everyone to remain vigilant.