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Former mask skeptic joins public service campaign after getting coronavirus

ABC News logo ABC News 8/5/2020
a woman wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Ta'Marsh Pope, of Silverton, Ohio speaks about her experience with COVID-19. © RC3 Ta'Marsh Pope, of Silverton, Ohio speaks about her experience with COVID-19.

Ta'Marsh Pope, 47, of Silverton, Ohio, has gone from COVID-19 skeptic to a harbinger of the pandemic's dangers.

The single mother and eligibility technician at Hamilton County Job & Family Services in Cincinnati told ABC News she was one of the many Americans skeptical about mask wearing and the seriousness of the coronavirus back in the spring. At the time, she said that she believed social media posts that questioned the coronavirus data and coverage in the press.

"I was doubting it. Everyone who was dying ... how did we know it was COVID-19?" she said to ABC News.

MORE: 30-year-old dies after attending 'COVID party' thinking virus was a 'hoax'

Things changed on Father's Day when she was diagnosed with the disease and for over a month she battled the headaches, severe breathing problems and sleepless nights where she said she thought she wouldn't make it to the next day.

"It was a horrible experience, and I never want anyone to go through this," she said through tears.

a woman wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Ta'Marsh Pope, of Silverton, Ohio speaks about her experience with COVID-19. © RC3 Ta'Marsh Pope, of Silverton, Ohio speaks about her experience with COVID-19.

Pope is sharing her story as a warning sign to other skeptics out there that this disease is real and to send the message that masks save lives. She is now featured in an ad spearheaded by the Cincinnati Regional Chamber and The Health Collaborative's COVID-19 and Procter & Gamble , "Masks On."

In the video, which launched over a week ago, Pope tells viewers about her monthlong ordeal where she had to be separated from her 14-year-old son while she battled the virus for over a month. Pope said all the old notions she had against mask wearing and other health precautions are "out the window."

"I look at my life differently now, because that could have been me, six-feet under," she said.

Pope said she felt a headache on June 17 and it expanded into more pain throughout her body as the week went on. On June 19, her boyfriend, Nate Allen, drove her to a COVID-19 testing center and her temperature was 104 degrees.

"My entire body was in pain," she said. "Everything felt like it was shutting down."

A day later, the pain got worse, she was having breathing problems, and was taken to a hospital in an ambulance. It was there that she learned she was positive for the coronavirus.

Because her blood oxygen level was still high, the doctors told her she would have to fight the virus at home and remain isolated. Pope had her son stay with his father while Allen remained at her home to take care of her.

"I kept thinking about my son," she said. "I may not be able to see him graduate high school. I may not see him get married."

Over the next month, Pope described her experience as harrowing. There were nights where the pain was so intense, especially in her lower back, that she couldn't get out of bed.

Other nights she said she woke up in the middle of the night gasping for air.

"I'm pretty much staying up hoping and praying that I don't die at night," Pope said. "At times, I thought I wasn't going to make it."

Pope kept in contact with her son and her parents through phone calls and video chats, but she said she didn't have the energy to respond to all of her friends and family who checked in on her. She posted updates on her condition through her Facebook page whenever she had the strength.

"It was the only way to get to so many people at once," she said.

MORE: COVID-19 could be controlled in 1-2 months if people wear masks: CDC Director Robert Redfield

On July 21, Pope had good news to share: she tested negative for the virus and her son could return home. After posting the update on her page, she said she received a message from Regina Carswell Russo, the executive director of the Regional COVID Communications Center or RC3.

a car that has a sign on the side of a road: A Medical Worker in full PPE prepares to conduct COVID-19 tests on patients at The Ohio State East Hospital, July 31, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio. © Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images A Medical Worker in full PPE prepares to conduct COVID-19 tests on patients at The Ohio State East Hospital, July 31, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio.

Russo congratulated Pope on her recovery and asked if she wanted to tell her story as part of the group's latest campaign to educate Ohio residents on wearing a mask. Russo told ABC News that the nonprofit had been putting out PSAs over the last few months to raise awareness about health precautions. In July, Procter & Gamble approached RC3 about creating a version of their MasksOn campaign that would focus on Black Americans because of the disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases within the Black community, according to Russo.

"African Americans when they see someone who is impacted … it hits home," she told ABC News. "We needed real voices."

Cincinnati has 4,061 total coronavirus cases and 78 related deaths, according to the city's Health Department. Since June 1, the city has seen 2,980 new cases, an average of 45 new cases a day, according to the health data.

Pope, who still has a cough, said she jumped on the opportunity to help with the COVID-19 mask campaign and recorded her story. She said her message is simple, wear a mask to protect the ones you love.

"This is not a virus to be played with," she said. "When I said [I had] pain, I mean pain. Sometimes it's unbearable pain. You don't want to go through that."

Pope said she hopes that her personal experience can help sway the other skeptics and in turn, they can tell their friends and family before it's too late.

"I thank God every day that I'm here and I think God I can tell my story," she said. "I hope it reaches people young and old."

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