Testament's Chuck Billy on Getting Coronavirus: 'Things Changed Overnight Really Quick'

It was just one day after Testament returned home from a five-week European tour earlier this month that the thrash-metal band’s frontman, Chuck Billy, started to feel ill. “I had an achy body, headaches, coughing, tight chest, I lost my sense of smell and taste — the whole thing,” he says. He texted his bandmates and road crew and heard that others were experiencing the same things. After a few days of feeling horrible, he and his wife got tested for COVID-19 and were not surprised when they heard the results. Chuck Billy and his wife, Tiffany, had the coronavirus.

When the band was on tour — previewing its upcoming album, Titans of Creation, with support from fellow Bay Area thrashers Exodus and Death Angel — everyone was feeling fine. The trek had kicked off in early February in Copenhagen, and found them playing all over Europe, the U.K., and Ireland. (The band canceled two shows over global coronavirus worries.) Once everyone was home, they thought they were in the clear. “By the time we got home, within a 24-hour window amongst a group text we have going with everybody, people were just not feeling well,” Billy says. “We were like, ‘Let’s watch it and lock yourself in, and see how it goes.’ And as time went, we just all started feeling the same.”

Several Testament crew members ended up contracting what they believe is the coronavirus — the band’s bassist, Steve Di Giorgio, is also suspected to have the virus but could not get tested — and members of the other bands on the tour have gotten sick. Gary Holt, who plays guitar in Exodus, as well as Slayer, was recently tested and is still awaiting his results. Death Angel drummer Will Carroll is in intensive care, though it has not yet been revealed whether he’s battling the coronavirus. Billy says he’s monitoring everyone’s status.

In the meantime, Billy says he has started to feel better. Although he hasn’t tried to sing, he feels he’s 85 to 90 percent himself again. “I’m doing pretty good, actually,” he says. “I’m not all the way better, but I’m definitely feeling more like myself. My wife got her symptoms a day before me and started recovering a day before me, but I think we’re over the hump. I’ve never been sick that long. I’ve been sick before, but not that long like that.”

Let’s go through this from the beginning. Were you worried about the virus on tour?
We were nervous just being in Europe. At first, we started hearing about it, and we were concerned. The tour was doing very well. When we got to the show in Italy, that was the first one to cancel on us. We were like, “What’s to come here in the near future?” On the night of [March] 10th, right before the doors were gonna open, they informed us that the next night — the last show of the tour, which was a sold-out gig in Hannover [Germany] — was canceled. We’re like, “Oh, man.” We were in Belgium at the time, and the promoter of that gig told us that it was recommended to cancel the show, but he decided to let us play.

At that point, we were like, “This is starting to go downhill now.” None of us were feeling ill. None of us got colds on tour. Everybody was pretty healthy until we left. Within the next 24 hours, all hell broke loose with the sickness.

Were you considering canceling shows on your own?
Not on our own. If you cancel one and you keep canceling, it’s going to be a devastating financial hit and the tour would just have to fold. So when we lost Italy, we just kind of kept going, saying, “Oh, man. It would suck to lose some more.” We were down to the last two shows, like, “All right. We’re gonna make it through the tour and get home and get through this.” And then things changed overnight really quick.

“Within the next 24 hours, all hell broke loose with the sickness.”

Did you feel like you had all the symptoms?
Yeah. Right away, it was the shortness of breath. The first or second night, I was walking to the bathroom just huffing and puffing. I’m like, “Oh, my God. This is one of the symptoms.” I didn’t know about the body aches and the headaches. But we just couldn’t get comfortable. We were achy. We didn’t get the fever though. I don’t know if it’s because we were taking aspirin. It was just the coughing and the headache and the achy body.

I’d say the first 10 days, we did nothing. We were joking, “Look, the dog puked right there. We’re two feet away and we can’t even clean it up.” We were that wiped out. That was the joke; looking at dog puke for two days.

Did everyone on the tour feel that way?
Once we hit the ground, we just kept in contact with each other, and one by one, people just weren’t feeling good. And then talking amongst the other bands, other people weren’t feeling well, either. It was this common thing that was occurring in this 24-hour window amongst all of us that were traveling together. So we all just stayed in touch and had the suspicion that we all had the same body aches and the headaches. And we just felt really wiped out. For us, we could have mistaken it for jet lag. You know, “Tour’s over, we’re tired, we traveled a long way.”

Was it easy to get tested?
No, it was tough. Tiffany started feeling bad the first day we got home. She hasn’t left the house since then. So we decided we should be proactive: Let’s call the doctor. How can we just go test? Our doctors were like, “If you don’t have any symptoms, we don’t want you to test.” We were like, “We’ve been in Europe for five weeks, traveling everywhere. We just made it out of there, and now we’re not feeling well.” But they wouldn’t give us one. Then two days later, when we really started feeling bad and called again, that’s when they finally said, “Come on in. Go to Kaiser [Permanente hospital] and do the drive-through and get tested.” So we jumped in the car and didn’t even have to leave the car. We just rolled down the window. They swabbed your throat and your nose and you’re on your way.

I hear that it’s not a pleasant test.
It’s painful. It’s, like, gagging in the throat, and then they stick that swab to touch the top of your skull. That’s what it feels like as they scrape the inner nostril. I swear, me and my wife both said, “After that scrape, my nose just feels itchy and irritated.” I just felt I was sneezing more at that point. It was awful [laughs]. It’s not fun.

How long did it take to get the results?
It took us seven or eight days. From that point, we of course went home and quarantined ourselves. They didn’t give us any medication, so we just rode it out. We just hunkered down. And we were fortunate enough to have friends and family dropping off groceries and food here and there.

“Nobody is covered for an immediate loss of work. Especially when you have your year planned out and your touring planned out.”

Do you wish you’d gotten medication?
Two of the people that were traveling with us tested positive. Their doctors gave them the malaria medication. But they’re still in the same process. They’re just recovering. They all say the same thing: “We feel better, but we don’t feel like we’re still not sick. There’s still something there. But we feel more like ourselves.”

When did you start feeling better?
Three or four days ago. I was like, “I’m not feeling wiped and dizzy when I got up.” We were feeling more normal. We’ve just been getting out back and enjoying the fresh air. We started washing our clothes every day and our sheets, just trying to sterilize everything. Now I want to get out of the house. The doctor says I’ve probably got a good four, five days left. And we should be OK to at least shop and wear a mask when we go out.

How many people from the tour ended up getting the virus?
I don’t know the other results. In our group, at least six of us [got sick]. And in Death Angel, they have a couple of their crew people, and we’re still waiting on [Exodus guitarist] Gary [Holt’s] results back. He got tested. We’ll just wait and see.

I’ve been following Will Carroll’s story, too. I hope he’s getting better.
There’s no news. We’ve tried to find out updates, and they just said, “No updates at the time being.” We did find out that his blood pressure stabilized. That was the last thing we heard, and that was a good thing. We’ll see what happened. It’s just positive thoughts.

Who else in Testament got sick?
Steve Di Giorgio seemed to have all the symptoms. And when he went in, the doctor didn’t want to test him. But he has the same symptoms. So we assume that’s what it is. But he’s doing the same thing. They didn’t give him any medication. He’s just riding it out. I know he was down for days. I know the last couple of days, he’s been communicating and writing with us and must be feeling better as well now.

“Everybody is just carrying on like it’s vacation time … People need to take it a little more seriously.”

Does Testament have health insurance?
I have my own personal health insurance. Everybody, I’m sure, is covered that way. But nobody is covered for an immediate loss of work. Especially when you have your year planned out and your touring planned out. To not be able to get to go perform takes a hit on everybody. So we’ll get through it. That’s all we can do. We have a new record coming out and decided to not postpone it and keep forging forward and stick with the plan of attack and get it out there.

I’m sure your fans will be excited to hear the album.
I think a lot of people got time on their hands right now.

Having gone through this, what advice do you have for people right now?
Something like this is so mysterious. Right now, it takes everybody to be involved. Here in California, our governor is shutting down all the state parks and the beaches, because we’re having people flooding these places and ignoring the six-foot rule [for social distancing]. And the beaches are just packed. And everybody is just carrying on like it’s vacation time. It seems to be leaning towards more of a younger crowd. So I think with something like this, people need to take it a little more seriously.

What more could the government be doing to address the issue?
It’s a tough issue. As you can see, we’re low on ways to test people with kits and masks and supplies. It’s an example of how fast things can change and to be prepared and have a plan. I think we’ll learn a lot from this once we get through it. But it’s something new and maybe the government is capable of creating more remedies and how things should be more prepared.

It’s certainly a changing world.
It makes you think, people lived on this planet thousands of years ago. Is this just a repeat process that’s happening again? [Laughs]

What else would you like people to know?
It hits so close, because being the ones on the road, watching people talk about it on the internet with conspiracies and don’t take it so seriously. Their attitudes are like, “What’s the big deal?” But we’re actually the ones living out there and being part of it. To be sick from it … people need to understand, it is a real thing. It’s happening and it’s happening really quick.

We’re not prepared for it. These numbers that we see that people are testing are totally off, because I’m sure there’s much more people who have been tested and can’t get the results fast enough. It’s bigger than they make it out to be, but it’s real.

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