BOSTON (CBS) — Massachusetts Department of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel returned to work Friday after being out work for nearly four weeks after being diagnosed with the coronavirus. She said having the virus herself changed her perspective on the outbreak.

“It was one thing to intellectually understand this evolving disease, and an entirely different thing personally experiencing it,” she said during Gov. Baker’s daily news conference.

Bharel was diagnosed at the end of March. At first, she thought her symptoms were just stress from work, but then her daughter, and later husband tested positive.

“My husband and I and our children all got sick around the same time. My husband is also an essential worker in health care, so we had both been working,” she said. “My kids were home practicing social distancing. Once we were diagnosed we were all isolated at home.”

Monica Bharel returning to work Friday. (WBZ-TV)

Bharel’s symptoms got worse, and she was sick for three weeks. She started working from home once she felt better before appearing before the press Friday. She said she learned a lot from having the virus herself.

“There’s multiple ways this virus presents itself,” she said. “…All of us are vulnerable to potentially get this infection, to pass it on to others. Even if you don’t have underlying conditions that put you at risk, like myself, you can get this virus and that’s why this is such a community effort to stay safe together.”

Gov. Baker said he is very glad Bharel is back working with him. He said her diagnosis was a scary time for all involved.

“It was also a little bit of a wakeup call for all of us, that this is not something that anybody is immune from,” he said.

The commissioner offered condolences to anyone who knows someone who has died from the coronavirus, and wished a speedy recovery to anyone who is sick.

“Many of us now know someone who has had COVID-19, and all of our lives have been impacted by this brutal virus,” she said.

But Bharel also offered a message of hope: “People can and do recover, and we need to remember that.”


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