"I've struggled with body issues and I have just been so critical of my body in the past, but it was my body that fought the virus and kept me safe. That's my realization," the country star tells PEOPLE

By Tricia Despres
May 11, 2020 04:50 PM
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Jennifer Wayne
| Credit: John Scherrer

There were many places where Runaway June's Jennifer Wayne could have contracted the coronavirus (COVID-19). She could have caught it when she was overseas with her country trio bandmates back in March, or on the plane ride home, or as she traveled to her mom and stepdad’s house in California.

But actually, Wayne thinks she got it at the grocery store.

"I was quarantining here in Malibu and there was one time that I went to the grocery store without my mom," Wayne, 38, tells PEOPLE in an interview days after testing negative for coronavirus following a grueling experience with the illness. "They were only allowing 20 people in the store at the time and you had to wait outside in line. I was standing behind a girl that was coughing. It was really windy that day and in my mind, I was thinking, 'Oh my gosh, this is how I am going to get it.'"

Four days later, her symptoms started.

"March 31 was my mom's birthday and that was the day I woke up with a dry cough," recalls Wayne, who made history alongside her Runaway June bandmates last year when the success of their single "Buy My Own Drinks" marked the first time a female trio had broken into the top five on the Mediabase Country chart since the Dixie Chicks in 2003.

"The next day was my birthday and my entire body started aching. I mean, I was in excruciating pain. It felt like someone was literally crunching my back together. I knew something was very, very wrong."

Wayne quickly called her doctor and was told to self-isolate, since at the time there was not extensive testing for the coronavirus available. And in the days that followed, Wayne would not only experience the anxiety surrounding her possible illness, but a major fatigue that she had never experienced before.

"I would get up to go to the bathroom and I would be so exhausted that I would have to come back to bed and sleep for hours," said Wayne, who treated the virus via a healthy dose of natural sunshine, vitamin C, vitamin D3, Zinc, medicinal mushrooms and an enormous amount of water. "That lasted for a good five days. And then, I lost my sense of smell. That’s when I knew I had it."

Five days later, Wayne said she woke up — and felt fine. Yet her battle was far from over.

Wayne was determined to find out not only if she officially had COVID-19, but if she was still contagious. After traveling to a local medical facility and waiting in a never-ending line of cars, she got the test and found out she was indeed positive, even though she was feeling better.

"My parents got tested at the same time, and I don't know how both of them came back negative,” Wayne recalls. “I mean, there was a time when I didn’t know I had it. I was washing hands and being diligent, not even knowing that I had it. I'm just so thankful that I had a mild case and my parents didn't get it. I'm the luckiest person alive."

Now that Wayne has finally tested negative for the coronavirus, she is finally getting to take a deep breath in terms of her physical health. But now, the emotional repercussions of her ordeal have started to settle in her heart.

"I'm so hard on myself," she admits. "I've struggled with body issues and I have just been so critical of my body in the past, but it was my body that fought the virus and kept me safe. That's my realization. I'm so thankful for my health and that I was able to fight off this virus. I definitely think this has changed me."

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Wayne plans to return to Nashville later this month to reunite with Naomi Cooke and Hannah Mulholland in the hopes of regrouping and starting rehearsals again to work on new songs and such.

"They are like my sisters," Wayne said of her Runaway June bandmates, who wrote or co-wrote a majority of the tracks on their critically acclaimed debut album Blue Roses. "They have been through all of this with me, always checking if I was okay. I felt every single prayer that people sent to me. I can't wait to be able to get back on the road and thank everyone."

Yet, for now, Wayne is staying in California with her parents and looking forward to the day she can donate her plasma in the hopes it helps someone else.

"That’s so important to me," she says about recently applying for Red Cross plasma donation. "At least I know I can help. It's a little piece of positive news with all of this."