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MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, who's been off the air in quarantine since Nov. 6, returned to her show Thursday, explaining her absence in a sweet tribute to her longtime partner, artist Susan Mikula, and delivering an impassioned warning about the danger of COVID-19.
The cable news host, broadcasting from her home office and explaining her makeup-free appearance with humorous self-effacement, revealed that the "close contact" she had been exposed to, as her quarantine had been explained during her absence, was Mikula, her partner of more than 21 years.
Maddow, 47, named Thursday to the Out100 list of notable LGBTQ+ celebrities, activists and journalists, said she's tested negative for coronavirus but that Mikula, 62, became seriously ill with the virus after testing positive two weeks ago.
"Susan has been sick with COVID these past couple of weeks. And, at one point, we really thought that there was a possibility that it might kill her. And that's why I've been away," she explained, adding that Mikula is now recovering.
Coronavirus quarantine: MSNBC's Rachel Maddow in quarantine after 'close contact' tests positive for COVID-19
In an unusually personal digression, Maddow, a Rhodes Scholar who's known for deep analysis of national politics, talked movingly about her relationship with Mikula, as a way of explaining to viewers the deep fear of losing a loved one.
Maddow: Don't get this thing. Do whatever you can to keep from getting it.
Rachel Maddow reveals that her partner, Susan, tested positive for Covid-19 and is still recovering, and implores viewers to consider their loved ones when they calculate their own Covid-19 risk. pic.twitter.com/oUz2DBLG63
— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) November 20, 2020
"If you know anything about me off of TV, if you know me personally at all, then the foremost thing you probably know about me is that I am in love. Susan and I have been together for more than 21 years. It was love at first sight. That has never waned. She is the center of my universe," Maddow said, shortly before taking off her earpiece and walking away from the camera to investigate a sound in the room. ("Something's making a noise. I'll be right back. See, I'm at home. I have to do this myself," she said, adding that she had to "MacGyver" the home broadcast.)
When she returned moments later and reattached all her broadcasting wires ("This is how the sausage is made"), she went back to describing her relationship, with Mikula as planet and her as satellite: "I am one of the lucky people on this earth who has a life like that. She is the center of my life. She's the organizing principle of my life. My relationship with Susan is the only thing at the end of the day that I would kill or die for without hesitation."
With that as a preface, she explained the fear of losing Mikula before presenting the good news: "The bottom line is that she's going to be fine. She is recovering. She's still sick, but she's going to be OK. And we're not scared anymore like we were, but it really didn't feel like it was going OK at the outset."
And then she used her "warts and all" story as a warning to people to do whatever they can not to get COVID-19, including canceling Thanksgiving travel as she acknowledged: "That's going to suck." She offered a broader warning about the pandemic's escalation and hospitals being too full to accommodate any more sick people, but then brought it back to her personal story to try to hit home with those watching.
True! 9PM ET tonight, live from quarantine.
Had to MacGyver mic, camera, lights, etc (not to mention hairdo) so it might all look ridiculous, but ah well!
So looking forward to being back & grateful to Team TRMS and the great @AliVelshi for holding down the fort.
See you at 9! https://t.co/xpjlqgsbWK
— Rachel Maddow MSNBC (@maddow) November 19, 2020
"Whatever you think of your own life and however much risk you are willing to take on for yourself, that's not how this works," she said. "What you need to know is that whoever is the most important person in your life, whoever you most love and most care for and most cherish in the world, that's the person who you may lose or who you may spend weeks up all night freaking out about and calling doctors all over the place and trying to figure out how to keep that person breathing and out of the hospital."
She continued: "I would have moved mountains for it to have been me who was sick these past couple of weeks instead of Susan. I still would give anything for that. But this thing does not give you that choice," she said. "It won't necessarily be you. It'll be the person you most care about in the world. And how can you bear that? And all you can do to stop that is move heaven and earth to not get it and to not transmit it."
Maddow concluded: "This thing is scary as hell and whatever you've been willing to do to risk getting it, don't. Just don't do it. So that is what's been going on with me."
Maddow then explained her quarantine will end soon and that she will do her show from home until that time. And then she began discussing the day's news.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MSNBC's Rachel Maddow gets personal about partner's COVID-19 illness