Coral Gables Police Lt. Nestor Carbonell Back on Job After Battle with COVID-19

The first hint that something might be wrong came when Coral Gables Police Lt. Nestor Carbonell could not taste or smell the strong black coffee he drinks every morning. “That had never happened before,” says the 15-year law enforcement veteran, a patrol supervisor.

After his wife read an article linking sensory loss to the coronavirus, Carbonell inventoried his other symptoms ­­– a dry cough, sinus pressure, a sore throat – and in late March drove to Broward County for a test. About six days later he got confirmation: He had the coronavirus.

What followed were weeks of anxiety for the 40-year-old officer, his wife, their two young children, ages six and three, and his wife’s elderly grandmother who lives with them. “After being told I had the virus, and hearing all this negative stuff on the news, I had the worst night ever,” he says, even though his symptoms by then had begun to abate. “I couldn’t sleep. I just started questioning, ‘Am I fighting this off, is it coming back?’”

Carbonell says he even downloaded cell phone apps to measure his heart rate and oxygen intake. He drank a lot of fluids and took an antibiotic prescribed by his doctor. “I was never really bedridden,” he says. “I might have gone to work if COVID wasn’t in the news.” He declined to speculate on how he might have contracted the virus. Four other Gables officers, and two civilian employees, have also tested positive since the outbreak began.

Carbonell has served on the Gables SWAT team and been in what he calls “hairy situations” on the job. But like many parents in this extraordinary time, he learned that some of the most stressful, tiring work takes place when quarantined at home with children. 

While home, he says, “I spent a good five hours a day playing Barbies with my 3-year-old, and helping the 6-year-old with schooling. It’s been challenging, and so different from what I’m used to. Way different.”

Back on the Job

After about a month off the job, Carbonell recovered and is now back at work. He brings with him a new appreciation of his own health and the dangers posed by the coronavirus. After his shift, he goes straight home to bathe and disinfect. He has donated blood plasma, which contains antibodies that could help the immune system of new patients. And he recognizes some residual anxiety from his bout with COVID-19. He had his heart checked, wondering, “What did this do to me that I’m not aware of?”

When emergency restrictions on public spaces and restaurants were eased, Carbonell says he noted an overnight change in behavior. “A lot of traffic, people in restaurants, on Miracle Mile, lots of activity. People are quick to return to their old ways,” he says. Yet, Carbonell adds, “The survival rate for this virus is good, but you have to be selfless and think of others. This thing is highly contagious. We are not in the clear yet.”