A New York makeup artist who recently contracted COVID-19 is sharing his experience with the “virus from hell” in hopes that people will take it seriously and stay home.
Brooklyn resident Matthew Allen tells PEOPLE he was a healthy individual with no pre-existing health conditions before he contracted the coronavirus earlier this month.
“I’m a perfectly healthy person who’s not — in any way, shape or form — compromised. I take care of my body. I eat right … and this just nailed me,” the national makeup artist, 38, admits. “It felt like I had been hit by a truck.”
While many of those who are ill have been unable to pinpoint exactly when or how they were exposed to the illness, Allen says he knows it happened on March 13 after meeting up with a small group of friends.
“It was very low key. We just shared a bottle of wine, hung out for a couple of hours,” he explains. “Nothing that would have been outrageous or something that you would have thought warranted a transmission of this.”
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The following evening, one of Allen’s friends contacted him to let him know that he was showing symptoms and experiencing a low-grade fever. Despite not feeling great himself, Allen didn’t think much of it and banked on his good health to get him through.
“I was feeling not wonderful by Saturday but I kind of assumed maybe I had one too many glasses of wine,” he says. “By Sunday morning, when I woke up, I had definitely felt feverish and super achy. I had chills and that’s the moment I kind of knew, like, ‘Uh-oh’ … It just speaks to how contagious it truly is.”
Realizing he may have the virus, Allen says he immediately “felt this overwhelming sense of shame, fear and denial” that prevented him from wanting to tell his father, who works as a physician in Kansas and is typically his go-to for all medical issues.
“Anytime I’ve experienced anything with my health, I would just reach out to him or get a prescription and we’d kind of tackle it,” he explains. “Because it was so fresh, it was still such a scary thing. I was honestly scared to tell him.”
“We’ve all had a cold, we’ve all had the flu and this felt unique, this felt different,” he adds. “This felt like something my body had never been through before.”
Allen eventually did tell his father and later attempted to get a thermometer at a local pharmacy, making sure to cover his face with a bandana and sweatshirt. While he was there, the makeup artist notes how he felt ashamed and unwanted.
“These people would look directly at me and say, ‘No, we are sold out,’ and kind of gave me a look like, ‘Get out of here,’” he explains. “I know I looked like death, but at that point, I was just terrified and I had to know what was happening.”
After his unsuccessful attempts, Allen headed to his local Urgent Care. On his first visit, he was given medication and told not to come back unless he was in critical condition. But a few days later, when his illness didn’t get any better, Allen returned and begged them to test him for COVID-19.
Nurses administered Influenza A and B tests first — both of which came back negative — before giving Allen the COVID-19 test and recommending that he go home and quarantine himself.
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So that’s exactly what he did. Over the course of the last week, Allen has been home by himself, suffering from debilitating pain and exhaustion.
“There was one moment where I literally laid in my bed for 22 hours straight and only got up to pee one time,” he recalls. “I felt like my body was truly just giving up on me. It was just so much just to even lay there and rollover.”
Allen also says he’s been struggling with social isolation, especially as someone who works with people face-to-face for a living.
“It’s been very, very hard. I’m very much a social person. … I just wish I did have a hug,” he explains. “It’s been, like, 15 days without any human contact. And when you’re sick, no matter what age you are, you just want your mom, you want your family, you want someone who can be there for you. And I think that truly has been worse than this sickness itself.”
Despite not feeling his best, Allen found it in himself to publicly share his story on Facebook. In a March 25 video, the makeup artist explained to his followers what had happened and how “no one is safe from the sickness.”
“With the outbreak and the spread, I was just really upset because I was seeing people taking their kids out for small playdates, and still getting together for happy hours,” he explains of sharing the 10-minute clip. “It honestly scared me.”
“I wanted to be accountable to what was happening to me,” he adds. “I thought it was something that people needed to hear.”
Since then, it has been viewed thousands of times with over 500 supportive comments, many of whom are from people Allen hasn’t heard from in years — something he says was a breath of fresh air amid his recent difficulties.
“I definitely was not expecting that whatsoever,” he says. “It really kind of brought me back to life in a way. I was so emotionally spent, mentally spent, physically spent and reading all of that was like, ‘Ugh, this feels so wonderful.’”
As for what he wants people to know about the virus?
“No matter what you believe, just be accountable for what’s going on. This is killing people,” he says. “Whether you feel great or you feel terrible, we’re being asked to stay inside for a reason. This is science. This is medical. This is not an agenda. This is not political. This is just about making sure that we can do everything that we can on our own to help prevent what is happening.”
As of Friday afternoon, there have been at least 100,973 cases and 1,572 deaths attributed to coronavirus in the United States, according to the New York Times. New York currently leads the country with at least 44,635 cases and at least 519 deaths.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.