Pushing 100, La Jolla married couple survive COVID-19

Norman and Sivia Mann.
Norman Mann, 98, and his wife Sivia, 96, contracted but overcame COVID-19, which has a high mortality rate among seniors. Norman was briefly hospitalized.
(Courtesy of Stacy Mann)

Norman and Sivia Mann, married for 76 years, are back side by side


Rachel Smith, a physician with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, knew the prognosis was not promising when she learned her grandparents in San Diego had contracted COVID-19 last month.

“I told my grandfather when he went into the hospital that if he recovered, I’d tell everybody about it,” she said.

That was Nov. 30. Today, she’s thrilled that she made good on her promise.

They appear to have beaten the odds, and both are back home and well after recovering from a disease that has claimed almost 1.6 million lives worldwide and has been especially fatal to older people.

Her grandfather, Norman Mann, will be 99 in March. Sivia Mann, his wife of 76 years, is 96. The couple have lived in San Diego since 1953 and now live at the senior community Vi in La Jolla.

Smith, who lives in Atlanta, said her grandparents may have contracted COVID-19 from a caretaker. She immediately sensed their lives were in danger because of their advanced age.

In San Diego County, more than 1,100 people have died of the disease this year, and almost half were 80 or older.

The family was prepared for the worse, especially for Norman, who was briefly hospitalized.

“We were all worried he was going to die,” Smith said frankly.

But the effects of COVID-19 have been hard to predict. Some people exposed to the disease may get it, and others may not. It can be fatal or send some people to the hospital, while others who test positive may not even have symptoms.

In the case of the Manns, Smith said her grandmother believed she only had a cold, while her grandfather developed a nasty cough soon after his diagnosis and had to be hospitalized and placed on oxygen.

Smith’s mother Stacy Mann, daughter of Norman and Sivia, said she was wearing a mask and sitting on her father’s bed and talking to him shortly before she learned that they had been exposed to someone who tested positive.

“As soon as I found out they had been exposed to COVID, I thought, ‘I have to go now,’” she said. “I’m 71 and I don’t want COVID either.”

She was tested and was negative, but she had grave concerns for her father, who has Parkinson’s disease and other health issues.

“It’s scary because it’s a fickle disease and you don’t know who it’s going to affect and who it’s not going to affect,” she said.

Norman Mann was placed in the COVID-19 ward at Vi and later hospitalized, but he never felt too ill. He asked for a bean burritos, rice and French fries while in the COVID-19 ward, and came home from the hospital Dec. 2 after a couple of days.

“We were all worried he was going to die,” Smith said. “And he came home in a couple of days. Our whole family was trying to figure out what we’d do if he passed away.”

“We were thinking, this is probably it,” Stacy Mann said, adding that the family was even discussing whether they should agree to put him on a ventilator if his condition worsened.

Norman and Sivia were not available to be interviewed, but Stacy said she had a conversation over the phone with her dad Friday.

“I asked him how he felt when he found out he had COVID-19,” she wrote in an email. “He said he wasn’t really sure that that is what he had. He didn’t realize that it was a deadly virus and thought perhaps it was a different virus.

“He was surprised when I explained to him that it was deadly as he was feeling pretty much normal for him,” she wrote.

While her father said he never feel too bad while he had the disease, she wrote that he did feel pretty bad being briefly separated from his wife of 76 years. ◆