Actor Ashlie Atkinson (“Mr. Robot, “BlacKkKlansman”) is a Little Rock native, a Hendrix grad and a former intern at the Arkansas Times, so we were dismayed to hear last week that she and her husband, Leon, had tested positive for the coronavirus. They spent the last couple of weeks in recovery at home and are emerging to make more cool shit— like this, and this.
We caught up with Atkinson yesterday about the virus, its impacts on the New York economy and why you should listen to the folks telling you to STAY HOME.
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How do you feel?
I’m feeling a LOT better, and so is Leon. We had a real rough week — a lot of chills and nausea and fatigue —and then a week that was a little better each day, and now we’re just a little tired and he’s got a cough. I think I’m actually recovered enough to go out if we need things, which is a relief. Leon has to wait until three days after his cough goes away. Not that either of us are in any hurry, honestly — we were sick enough that we don’t want to risk getting anyone else sick.
When did you find out you’d contracted the virus, and do you know how you got it?
Well, like I said, we had a really crummy week of crazy symptoms — losing my sense of smell and taste was not the worst, but it was definitely the weirdest — but no shortness of breath, so we just stayed miserable in our apartment. But then two things happened:
We read in the New York Times online that an usher at a Broadway show we had seen two weeks before (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”), starring Laurie Metcalf and Rupert Everett — it was an incredible show) had tested positive. So our sick little selves were like, “Uh oh.”
I then pulled out a pulse oximeter, which is a little thing you put on your finger and it tells you how much oxygen is getting into your bloodstream. A cheap one will run you $25, and it probably saved my life — if you can, get one now. So it showed that I had a pretty dang low oxygenation, and around then I started to feel lightheaded, so we walked to our City MD Urgent Care a few blocks away. We were going to go to the hospital, but it was a further walk and we wanted to limit the possibility of infecting anybody else. They gave us a flu test (which took 10 minutes and was negative) and then x-rayed us. The x-ray showed that I had pneumonia, but Leon’s came back fine. Because we had a possible chain of infection that we could put a name to, and our flu tests were negative but we had all these symptoms, they tested us for COVID-19. Four days later, they called us with our positive results.
I want to be clear that we do not know if the usher at the show infected us. We are both pretty active social people and we were at a friend’s concert two days after that, so who knows? But knowing that the usher was positive was required before we could obtain a test. It’s not right. There should be enough tests for everyone, you shouldn’t have to be able to prove a line of transmission in order to get one, but it’s 2020 and this is where we are.
You’ve been in New York for a while now, and it must feel pretty surreal these days. Can you describe the scene to us?
Honestly, not really! Other than the two hours spent at CITY MD on March 14, neither Leon nor I have left the apartment except to take out trash since March 9. It’s the 24th today. I know some of my friends are going outside to walk their dogs, help deliver stuff to their neighbors, and as an infected person I am really feeling like I wish I could help but I would only make matters worse. I’m on a text chain with friends I play poker with, and three of them have tested positive as well. Several of my friends are sick and have been told to stay at home and not get tested because they don’t feel short of breath and the hospitals are already so overwhelmed. There are donation funds set up for all the bars in the neighborhood because everybody is out of work and starting to worry about how they’re going to pay rent. Most folks I know in New York don’t have any savings. Most local businesses I know in New York don’t have a month’s earnings in reserve. This is going to be financially devastating for a lot of us, but the people I know and love are so aware of the massive health risks that we’re all playing it smart and staying at home.
We’ll figure it out. We’re a community. I worry about the people who don’t have a community, who don’t have anyone to help them. We know it’s going to get worse before it gets better and we just hope everyone makes it out alive.
What are you watching/streaming/listening to most these days?
I’ve been consuming a lot less media than usual because as a sick person I was sleeping 18-20 hours a day. Now that I’m feeling better, isolation is not much different than being a chronically underemployed actor except now I can’t leave the house, and I’m worried about my family and friends and basically everybody. So, that.
Since feeling better, we’ve been making a fair amount of stuff! Leon’s been working on his music a lot — he just released a new song, his first one in a while — and I taped a monologue for the 24 Hour Plays. I’ve had two auditions I taped at home, which is like, whoa, unbridled optimism if you ask me, but I’m into it. As far as watching stuff, we’ve been watching all the movies on Amazon Prime we didn’t have time to watch before now. “Hustlers” is fantastic. We were also excited to finally see our friend Craig Zobel’s new movie “The Hunt,” which got yanked from distribution months ago and then landed in theaters only a couple of days before nobody in New York could go to movie theaters anymore. Just the worst timing. So thankfully they sent it to streaming early, and we got to watch it. It’s hilarious and gross and smart and it really got my mind off of the virus for a while. Oh, and of course we watched “Tiger King.” What a train wreck in slow motion.
Lend us some wisdom; if there’s something to be taken away from this whole disaster — like, some greater good that can come from this upheaval — what do you think it is?
Oooh Lord. A greater good? I don’t know about that. I think we’re just at the beginning of this thing. I think a lot of people are still not taking it seriously, and that includes a lot of our leaders and the current administration. The news out of Spain is terrifying and I think that our situation could easily be worse given the callous indifference of some of the people in charge. I mean, New York has been in lockdown for like barely a week, and some Lieutenant Governor is already suggesting that grandparents sacrifice themselves so that the rest of us can continue to live in the manner to which we have become accustomed, economy-wise?
And what about the people who were just scraping by before? Or who weren’t even scraping by? What about them? I can’t call it a good thing, it’s actually the worst thing, but it’s become clear that some of our leaders are ready to let poor people die so that rich people don’t lose any money. They’re just saying it right out loud now. And maybe we will finally get our shit together and demand leaders who care about the poor, the working class, the elderly and the most vulnerable among us.
If there’s anything else I could add, it’s LISTEN TO THE DOCTORS. We survived, and most people will. But if you are preventative, and very, very cautious, and listen to doctors when they tell you to wash your hands and stay put, you cut down on your chances of giving it to someone who can’t survive it. We need to put on our community hats and reach out through the phone, check on your people and anyone you know who might be alone, and STAY HOME. PLEASE.