MARICOPA — When Linda Patterson attended a couple of campaign events in Maricopa and Arizona City in mid-March, her mind was occupied with how many signatures she’d need to seal the deal on her run for state senator.
Patterson is running for a Senate seat in Legislative District 11 as a Democrat, hoping to oust Republican Vince Leach, who has held the position since 2019. Also in the running is Democrat Joanna Mendoza.
Patterson passed her pen and clipboard to several hundred people that March weekend, not knowing that one constituent had passed the COVID-19 virus back to her along with a signature. The next day her campaign manager fell ill.
It was another seven days before Patterson began feeling sick. She consulted her doctor right away, but her only symptom was extreme and persistent chest pain.
“I was working with two physicians and not feeling well, and they said, ‘Well, we don’t think it’s COVID because with COVID you’re supposed to have these three symptoms, (but) I wasn’t getting better,” Patterson said.
Patterson self-quarantined anyway, and 10 days after her symptoms began, her doctors suggested she get tested. She went to the Pinal County Health Department and tested positive for COVID-19.
Patterson is a retired teacher and principal who spent “33 happy years” in education. She came to Arizona when she was recruited as a principal to help turn around a struggling Tucson school. She considers Arizona to be home now to her and her partner, Carol Trunell, who also worked in the education field as a special education director before retirement.
Patterson found her love of politics when she was in high school in the Pacific Northwest, attending city council meetings and participating in local and state politics.
“I’ve worked for every presidential campaign since then and worked with local candidates. (I) always have been grassroots,” Patterson said. “Always in the back of my mind, there was this idea that someday I might want to run for state Legislature. After retiring, the time was right, and I thought I could contribute because public education is on the minds of 95% of polled Arizonans.”
State Sen. Victoria Steele has endorsed Patterson for Senate in Legislative District 11. If she wins, Patterson will be the only state senator with a background in education. Her main platform issues include improving access to health care, lowering unemployment rates, expanding affordable housing and increasing public funding for education.
Having to get tested for the novel coronavirus stunned her.
“I remember the night when they said I needed to go get a COVID test, I was in shock because the only thing we had seen on TV was from New York City, where people were going into the hospitals to get tested and were immediately put on ventilators,” Patterson said. “I hung up the phone and said to my spouse, ‘Hey, I’m really concerned because if I go to the emergency room right now and they put me in the hospital, we won’t see each other.’ I was kind of in a panic state, it was very stressful.”
Though her chest pains were ongoing, Patterson said she didn’t have the spiked fever or cough symptoms commonly reported. The 64-year-old has no pre-existing conditions, and she chose to remain at home after testing positive.
She now says she’s about 80% recovered and attributes that to being generally healthy and able to remain at home to battle the illness. Her campaign manager has also made a recovery, and Patterson’s spouse never showed any symptoms of the virus.
“After almost a month of being infected by the COVID virus, I believe that I am moving away from its effects on my body,” Patterson wrote in an April 20 newsletter. “For the past few days I have noticed my ability to breathe improve, my appetite resume and I have the feeling that the worst days are behind me.”
Patterson worked through her illness at the same time she was working her campaign, and she said her experience only strengthened her belief in her constituents to enact change.
“(I was) posting on my Facebook because I felt like I wanted to allow people to realize what it’s like to go through this (virus),” Patterson said. “What I became acutely aware of is that it’s really important for all of us to hold onto hope throughout COVID-19. I truly believe that hope is what causes us to take action to change what is happening.”
Now that Patterson is on the mend, she is back to working on her campaign, focused on the Democratic primary on Aug. 4, when she hopes to secure a run against Leach in the November general election.
But contracting COVID-19 changed her perspective on the reality of reopening the state before it is ready, and she urged caution.
“Being a COVID survivor, I’m really concerned that we follow the science and follow the experts in looking at how we’re going to reopen our society. I’m very concerned that we’re opening our state maybe a little bit sooner than the experts would want us to do,” Patterson said. “I’m afraid of reopening up too quickly, then we’re going to have a lot of people that are going to be very, very ill.”