By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
A veteran corrections officer at the St. Albans prison, who has tested positive for the deadly COVID-19 virus is offering daily podcasts and videos with updates on his health condition while also pumping out musical tunes for his loyal listeners and friends as he lives out his self-quarantine.
Matthew Engels, a shift supervisor at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans Town, is among 16 staffers and 33 inmates to test positive for the deadly virus at the prison.
“I could have caught it anywhere,” Engels said in a newspaper interview.
Engels said he had no sense of the virus being present before his nasal swab test, which he noted was unforgettable.
“It goes way up your nose. I thought it was touching my brain,” Engels said in the phone interview.
He learned he was positive last Thursday and was sent home for 14 days.
Engels said he remains in self-isolation at his Franklin County home.
His wife, Katie, learned on Sunday that she tested negative for the virus. His wife was sent home from her job until she could be tested, Engels said.
They live in a large Victorian home so they are still keeping their social distance, he said.
Engels said he also knows that his illness is not as bad as some people have experienced.
Engels said he had felt a small cough, but had no real symptoms associated with COVID-19 until this past weekend.
By Saturday night Engels thought he had lost his sense of smell. As a test, he put some men’s cologne in his hand and sniffed. There was no smell, he said.
By the next day, Easter Sunday, his sense of taste also was gone.
He has no temperature and his eating habits have changed.
“The COVID diet is fairly effective. I’ve lost like six pounds so far,” he said Monday.
Engels said he doesn’t crave for food, but has been living on some grilled cheese and chicken noodle soup.
He said his daily update videos, which last up to 2½ minutes, are designed to help him check in with friends, co-workers and others – and reduce the number of repeated questions. The videos also are educational because he shares information with people that may be wondering about the deadly virus.
Engels said some of the other prison staff that tested positive are sharing among themselves their stories, symptoms and conditions to see if they are having the same experiences.
“It’s a good way to check in on one another,” said Engels, who grew up in Williston. “It’s a well-being thing.”
Engels, 52, had worked at several jobs -- journalist, bartender, disk jockey and at IBM -- before settling in with the Vermont Corrections Department more than 12 years ago.
He has been honored multiple times with the “Preservation of Life”’ award from the Vermont Department of Corrections.
Engels, who graduated with a journalism degree from St. Michael’s College, said some of his time is filled reading and watching documentaries.
He said a Vermont Health Department worker also checked in early on to see how he was doing and if he was keeping his social distancing.
He has cranked out at least 70 musical podcasts on Hair One and still shows a sense of humor. When his test came back positive on April 9, he did a podcast that day and dubbed it, “Got Them COVID Blues.” The podcast featured Blues music -- classic, rock and contemporary, he said.
Engels pumped out a two-hour Doo Wop show on Sunday complete with background information.
“It’s always more than the music,” says Engels, a huge Green Bay Packers fan. The backdrop to his videos are filled with Packers swag.
His daily podcasts about his condition also offer a reminder to wash hands and to keep the proper distance.
Editor’s note: Writer Mike Donoghue has known Matthew Engels for over 30 years. Engels is a former student in a Media Law class taught by Donoghue as an adjunct professor of journalism at St. Michael’s College for many years.
Gov. Phil Scott (left) was on hand when Shift Supervisor Matthew Engels (in uniform) received a Preservation of Life Award from the Department of Corrections last June. Former Agency of Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille (right) and former DOC Commissioner Mike Touchette also attended. The award, which also went to two other co-workers, recognizes a DOC employee who takes spontaneous action in response to a life-threatening illness or injury to a staff member, inmate or member of the public.