Anyone who stumbled on the tweet sent out by Renard Bell at 2:41 p.m. Friday would understand why the Washington State wide receiver is smiling again.
“My grandma is fully recovered from COVID-19,” Bell posted with two emojis – the first depicting a set of hands praying and the second of a heart.
Until about a week ago, Maxine Williams’ trajectory wasn’t looking as positive, and the smiles weren’t coming out nearly as often for Bell, a senior inside receiver for the Cougars who counters his slight frame with a famously outsized personality.
“When he gets more or less depressed about something, or something is bothering him, he just gets real quiet,” Bell’s father Reginald said Friday afternoon. “He gets real quiet and you don’t hear much from him. He lays around a lot. So I had to get him out. ‘Let’s go do something. Let’s try to get some workouts in.’ ”
For nearly a month Bell’s grandmother was grappling with a severe case of the deadly coronavirus that’s taken the lives of more than 62,000 Americans since early March.
Comparatively, Williams’ home state of Louisiana – and in particular her home city of New Orleans – has seen more cases and deaths per capita than almost every state in the country. According to an interactive map from the New York Times, the Orleans Parish has witnessed 1,666.9 cases and 112.2 deaths per 100,000 people. Bell’s home county, Los Angeles County, reports just 239.8 cases and 11.6 deaths per 100,000 people.
In March, members of Bell’s immediate family traveled to New Orleans so extended family could meet Reginald III, Renard’s nearly 9-month-old nephew. For the next four days, various family members and friends trickled in and out of Williams’ home to greet the baby boy and offer well-wishes. Renard, father Reginald, mother Yarvelle, older brother Reggie and Reggie’s girlfriend Audrianna then traveled home to Los Angeles.
Nearly two weeks later, the family received a phone call notifying them Williams had been taken to the hospital. A few other family members had contracted COVID-19, including Renard’s uncle, Damon Bell, aunt Janice Duplesiss and another uncle, Darryl Duplesiss, along with three family friends, Curtis Brass – Reginald’s best friend – his wife Monique Brass and son Curtis Brass Jr. Only Williams and Monique Brass had symptoms that were severe enough to require hospitalization.
“A lot of people came over, saw the baby,” Reginald said. “Which is where I think it probably happened because everybody that was at that house ended up testing positive. Except us.”
Renard and Reggie also grew sick not long after returning to California, but their illnesses subsided before any tests were required.
“They swear they had (coronavirus),” Reginald said. “Because they got sick, they did get sick.”
Meanwhile, Williams’ situation in Louisiana worsened. Bell’s grandmother, in her mid-70s, was placed on a respirator not long after being admitted to University Hospital in New Orleans. Brass was also deemed critical enough to warrant the use of a respirator.
“We weren’t hearing anything good about the respirator. It was almost like, you put a person on a respirator, it’s a wrap,” Reginald said. “So we were all just scared, praying like, ‘Please don’t let this happen right now. I’m just not ready.’ You’re hearing about the services, people are not being able to have services because of the virus. It was a mess.”
Before doctors planted a tube in Williams’ throat for respiratory support, Bell was still able to communicate with his grandmother, who affectionately refers to her youngest grandson as her “chocolate baby.” That helped in the short term, but the introduction of the respirator and many of the updates that followed offered more of a grim outlook.
“He definitely felt better when he heard her voice,” Reginald said. “Just hearing her voice, it made him feel a lot better because you hear about the respirator and it’s all bad.”
The family was lifted by the news that Brass had been taken off her respirator, although Williams’ situation still seemed more dire because those older than 70 have proven to be at a much greater risk of dying than those under the same threshold.
Doctors were calling the Bell household in California daily to provide updates on Williams – a signal she was still fighting – and approximately a week ago the family was informed she no longer required a respirator. Williams was transported to a rehabilitation facility, where she’d be able to rebuild her strength and recover from the blood clot, fever and general fatigue that were induced by the respirator. But for all intents and purposes, she was in the clear.
Good news from the Big Easy prompted a mighty celebration in the City of Angels. The Bells rejoiced, jumping around the same way they have after Renard’s touchdown catches at WSU.
“When they said they were going to take her off the respirator,” Reginald said, “we started dancing a little bit.”
Renard is still stationed in Los Angeles with family, finding creative ways to stay in shape until he and his Cougar teammates are given a green light to return home to Pullman. Initially, Bell was working out with his high school track and field coach, Chris Mack, but stay-home orders in California forced those sessions to a halt, so now the receiver does most of his training with free weights at home.
WSU’s returning leader in TD catches will be glad to leave March and April in the rear-view mirror.
Bell’s concerns about his grandmother were supplemented by the tragedy of losing teammate Bryce Beekman, whom the receiver grew close with during Beekman’s lone year at WSU. The two were often paired together in the same group during strength and conditioning session and Bell referred to Beekman as his “workout partner,” according to Reginald.
Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic that hit uncomfortably close to home, Reginald said it’s still essential for Americans to consider social distancing measures and “take it serious” even as various states introduce plans to reopen the economy.
“Because, based on my experience and what I’ve seen especially from my family back at home and hearing them tell me about it, it’s not your typical flu,” he said. “It’s a monster, it puts you down. There’s a lot of pain involved in it and aching, things like that. It was bad. They felt bad.”