A stage-three testicular cancer survivor, Steven Avila has already "seen dark times when it comes to my own health" — and wants to give back once he's recovered

By Nick Maslow
March 18, 2020 11:51 AM

Many Americans expressed outrage as people across the country appeared to ignore the CDC’s social-distancing recommendations over the weekend, documenting their activities for all to see on social media. Meanwhile, 30-year-old coronavirus patient Steven Avila watched from his New York City apartment during a two-week quarantine alongside his boyfriend.

“It’s frustrating, to be honest,” Avila tells PEOPLE for this week’s cover story, pointing out how the elderly are the most vulnerable to the virus, while the nation’s youth can be asymptomatic and unknowingly pass it on to others. “Young people feel invincible — until we don’t. Something that I think about a lot are my grandparents and the people who are going to be impacted way more dramatically than we are.”

Avila, a consultant and former analyst for the Obama administration, recalls seeing a popular meme that evoked the spirit of the Greatest Generation in World War II: “Your grandparents were called to war. You’re being called to sit on your couch. You can do this.”

“People who are out and about are pretty selfish, frankly,” he says.

Steven Avila
Steven Avila
| Credit: Courtesy Steven Avila

As of Wednesday morning, there were at least 5,879 coronavirus cases in the U.S. and 107 people had died, according to the New York Times.

While some cities in Northern California are now under shelter-in-place orders that limit people to essential activities (grocery shopping and doctor’s visits) in an effort to slow the spread of the potentially deadly virus, New York City is considering a shelter-in-place after closing many businesses, telling restaurants they can only offer takeout and delivery, and limiting group gatherings.

Not every part of the country is taking the threat as seriously. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has refused to shut down the Sunshine State’s beaches, even as helicopter footage shows crowded shores of people soaking up the sun.

“I hope people begin to take it seriously,” says Avila. “It looks like people are, thank goodness, but hopefully folks hear that message loud and clear.”

3/30 cover of people magazine

Otherwise people might find themselves in Avila’s situation. Speaking with PEOPLE, he describes the creep of symptoms that eventually landed him a diagnosis of coronavirus.

“About two weeks ago I had body aches, felt like something was coming on,” he says. “The following day I woke up with chills and sweats. At urgent care the flu test came back negative and my lungs were clear, so they said go home.”

He was told to take a pain reliever, rest and drink fluids.

“I did that for five days, and my fever did not subside, and I felt this pressure in my chest,” he says. “I called back urgent care, and they recommended I go to the emergency room for a COVID-19 test. I didn’t want to get on the subway or take an Uber. So I ended up walking.”

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Steven Avila Recovery
Steven Avila and Ryan Price
| Credit: Courtesy Steven Avila

In the days since he tested positive, he and his boyfriend Ryan Price, 29, have been holed up in their Hell’s Kitchen apartment.

“It’s been pretty miserable between the fever and the body aches and the coughing,” he says. “I was completely immobilized for a week. But so many people have offered to bring me food, make sure I have everything at the house. I’ve been really encouraged, but I miss being outside.”

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Though Price has been asymptomatic, he’s also under quarantine due to his exposure to coronavirus.

“He’s working from home, as has most of his office, because of his exposure through me,” says Avila. “But he’s doing really well and I feel very grateful to have Ryan because he’s been helping take care of me and making meals and has been in high spirits.”

At the conclusion of his quarantine and after another test confirms that he is negative, Avila says he wants to give back to others who face the effects of coronavirus.

Times Square
By Monday, the streets of New York City’s Times Square were nearly empty
| Credit: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty

“If there’s one silver lining in all of this, it’s that I hope that I’m building an immunity to this now, and then in two weeks I can go pay it forward and volunteer to help others that may need help,” he says. “I’m definitely leaning in on friends and family now, but hopefully I can pay it forward when I’m healthy.”

“I think you realize when something like this happens that there’s so much out of your control, right?” he adds. “I can’t control how my body reacts. I can’t control the fact that I got this virus in the first place. But what is in my control is what I choose to do with my feelings, my energy, and my health when I do get better. That’s ultimately what gives me the energy to go forward.”

A stage-three testicular cancer survivor, “I certainly have seen dark times when it comes to my own health,” Avila says. “Knowing that experience, knowing that people aren’t alone, because people have stepped up for me throughout my life, I just really feel compelled to do it again.”

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.