Last Friday, I started feeling poorly, “like crap.” I wasn’t right, but couldn’t put my finger on it. I wasn’t running a fever; my throat wasn’t sore; I wasn’t short of breath; my chest didn’t hurt. I felt something between a case of heartburn, body aches, fever (without the temperature), and an overwhelming tiredness. I’d never felt like that before. Interestingly, Friday was also the day the president disclosed that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
Saturday was more of the same, but add an on-again, off-again low-grade fever. That’s when I decided to get tested–but the first testing slot was not available until Monday morning, October 5.
By Tuesday, I was waiting for my test results; while my low-grade fever episodes had stopped, the bellwether symptom of loss of smell/taste had begun to show up. That’s when I knew: welcome to the “fall wave.”
I’ve learned a few things from this experience, that I thought it would be useful to share. Of course, we’re all flooded with the “my COVID-19” stories, which range from “I binged on Netflix for two weeks” to “I was dying.” And over 200,000 have in fact died in the U.S. I don’t want to minimize that in any way.
Here’s the five things I’ve learned from my experience.
1. The “fall wave” is real
Over a million have died worldwide, and nearly 36 million cases of coronavirus have been recorded worldwide since the start of the pandemic, according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard. The New York Times Covid in the U.S. tracker shows evidence of a fall wave, a 6% uptick in the last 14 days, with 42,553 new cases on October 6.
Of course the results vary by state and region, with the New York/New Jersey area continuing to remain the biggest cluster, and showing a marked increase. Georgia, where I live, continues to experience lower caseloads, but the virus is out there, because we continue to see new cases.
It seems the largest spikes in new cases are in the upper midwest and the west, with the northern states coming off a previous spike.
But it really doesn’t matter where you live. Coronavirus is everywhere in America, and the odds of getting it are non-zero. All you can do is take countermeasures to reduce the risk.
2. I got it in spite of countermeasures, possibly on the same day as the president
I was one of the early writers who recognized the voracious nature of coronavirus. I never believed the rosy reports coming out of China in January, while the nation was consumed with impeachment drama. I still believe the CCP has cooked the books on deaths and infections, to the tune of an order of magnitude. China still claims 90,678 cases–an unbelievable number. I’d say they are off by a factor of 100.
What does that have to do with countermeasures and the president? Good question.
I understood at work and at home that the best way to keep the virus out is to take countermeasures seriously. My workplace locked down pretty quickly, and remains so. We require daily temperature checks for all employees, and many are masked. Conference rooms all have maximum capacity to allow for 6-foot distancing, but most meetings are by remote video conference, even inside the building.
At work, we clean, deep clean, wipe down, disinfect, and don’t use our filthy little fingers on door handles or other items other people touch. Sick people get sent home (including yours truly).
At home, we’ve limited our “circle” of people we see. The kids have done virtual school since the beginning of the year, and only now have begun to go one day a week in person. Of course, that’s stopped since we’re quarantined at home.
I limit my retail visits to one place a day. I mask up in public. I use hand sanitizer.
We don’t do silly things like bleach our groceries (we did at one point spray them down but stopped doing that). I said all that to say that nothing has changed since the beginning of summer.
I haven’t changed my schedule. I didn’t stop doing the things that kept the virus out for months. But somehow, somewhere, in a state where the virus case load is declining, I picked it up.
There was one event I attended outdoors, masked, with coworkers on September 26. It lasted a few hours, and, to the best of my knowledge, none of the others who attended have the virus. That could have been the day, however, because it matches the timeline. I just don’t know for sure.
The president also attended an outdoor event on September 26. It was with 200 of his coworkers and guests, and most of them were unmasked. Of that group, at least a dozen have since tested positive for COVID-19. Yet they were all–every single one of them–administered rapid tests before attending, and they all–every single one–received “negative” results. But clearly, not all of them were negative.
Tests are not infallible. Masks are not impermeable. As much as anyone can reduce risk, there’s very little you can do, besides living like a hermit, or a germaphobe Howard Hughes, to fully eliminate the risk (and even then, you can get it). People get coronavirus in the hospital, with full PPE and medical-grade countermeasures. You can get it, and it’s still spreading.
Why? Because other people, like the Chinese government in January, or a group of unmasked people at the White House Rose Garden, aren’t being responsible.
3. I didn’t know I had it while I was contagious (and therefore neither did President Trump)
A few studies cited by MIT indicate that COVID-19 patients may be contagious between 2 and 0.7 days before showing visible symptoms. Symptoms typically show up between 7 and 14 days after exposure. This means that I was likely exposed to coronavirus within the last few weeks, and I was potentially spreading the virus (“shedding viral load” in medical speak) for days before I experienced symptoms.
Could I have been irresponsible in walking around the neighborhood outdoors, unmasked? I have to question myself.
As an example, let’s look at President Trump and the September 26 Rose Garden ceremony. The president first tested positive by a rapid test (possibly the same flawed test given to Rose Garden visitors?) on Thursday, October 2nd, and didn’t disclose the results while waiting for a second, confirming test.
On Friday, the president was showing significant symptoms, which means he was likely contagious for most of the week, like I was. Who did he meet with? Is the White House doing any contact tracing of people who were in Trump’s presence? How about the two fundraisers he attended right before getting his test results?
I felt lousy on Friday, and did not return to work because I wanted definitive test results before I put anyone at risk. Trump had a positive test and continued to be around people, unmasked. If I did that, I’d expect to be severely criticized, even disciplined, for my recklessness.
4. COVID-19 is a unique feeling of unwellness
So many people have reported feeling badly in a way they’ve never felt with coronavirus. Back in March, Rep. Ben McAdams said it was like “being hit by a truck.” I’ve had the flu, and been sick in bed where I couldn’t get up, couldn’t taste or smell anything.
I’ve had bronchitis, bad allergies, colds, and the like. But the feeling of unwellness, aches, tiredness, lack of energy, and the speed with which these symptoms develop is unique to COVID-19. It is its own thing, like nothing else I’ve had.
I knew on Friday I felt “bad,” and I suspected it was a different kind of bad than I’ve had before. I expect that others who have that experience would act on it by seeking a test, and keeping out of the way of others. Feeling that way should be a bright red marker indicating that you are likely contagious.
The fear comes in later, trying to determine which way the sickness will “break.” Will it break and release you into a week or two of recovery, waiting for the contagious period to end and therefore quarantine to end? Or will it break the other way and send you to the hospital, gasping for breath?
In my case, it seems have broken in the mild direction, as it does for most people, but others are not so fortunate. Doctors are helpless here, as there simply is no definitive treatment. They can try things but not cure this. Believe me, being diagnosed with an incurable disease with no known effective treatment, and at the mercy of a statistical death wheel of fortune is not a very reassuring feeling.
5. Having COVID-19 gives me a greater feeling of responsibility for not spreading it
Folks who go out unmasked in close proximity to strangers, who touch things that strangers have touched and fail to use hand sanitizer, who continue to live as if coronavirus is not here, seem much more reckless to me now that I have the virus.
If I could reverse time back to March and relive those months, I’m certain I’d wear a mask more often. I’m certain I’d carry hand sanitizer more often. I’m certain I’d be more careful about bending my rules of where I go and who can visit my home.
Yet there are people today who deny that the virus is dangerous. They think wearing a mask is an intrusion against their personal liberty and therefore unworthy of consideration. Yeah, yeah, technically stopping for a stop sign is an intrusion on my personal liberty to drive my car where I want it to go, too, except when my failure to drive responsibly results in someone’s injury.
Failing to wear a mask, use hand sanitizer, wipe down surfaces you touched, failing to social distance with strangers, is irresponsible and will injure others just as surely as running a stop sign.
There is no “herd immunity” for COVID-19. Maybe one day we’ll all be exposed to it, but hopefully by then there will be a robust vaccine to protect the most vulnerable. There are people with significant risk factors like lung cancer, asthma, obesity, diabetes, and age, who simply cannot afford to get this virus.
I am blessed to have my health, and to have a strong enough immune system to fight coronavirus without putting my life at significant risk. But I still have the capacity to carry and spread the killer virus to someone who can’t fight it. Simple precautions like hand-washing, mask-wearing, wiping down surfaces, and social distancing (isolation in my case) can keep us much safer and healthier than recklessness in the name of “liberty.” (I deliberately used “scare-quotes”.)
When I am through with this quarantine, I will continue to be more responsible, if only by example. I don’t know if I can’t get this thing again, or become contagious again, so I’m not going to take any chances.
You won’t catch me climbing to the peak of my roof, for example, ripping off my mask with great drama, and saluting the setting sun in defiance. That’s not victory. It’s the act of an ungovernable teenager, or a contumacious president. Don’t be that guy.
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