I haven’t forgotten COVID. I still wear a mask and rarely dine inside a restaurant. For two reasons. One, I am at high risk and second, I have enjoyed these past years of health. Before I wore masks, I had 1-2 colds per MONTH. It feels good not to be sick.
But this past weekend I had guests, so I relaxed my standards. We dined at several local restaurants and even attended an outdoor concert with my family.
You know how this ends.
I got COVID. And I am not alone. Three close friends also got it, all from different points of origin, one from the airport, another from a ballgame, another from who knows where…and me, from a family member. All of us had been vaccinated and boosted.
My May booster must have worn off while this new variant of COVID is ascendant. My fellow sufferers have also struggled and had to eventually take Paxlovid.
The CDC recently announced that there is a new dominant variant, called EG.5. It is a mutation from the Omicron variant, and it is rapidly invading, up 5% in a week. Experts believe that since it derived from the Omicron strain, existing vaccines, boosters, and antiviral medicines should be effective. But scientists have also discovered that this variant is capable of evading antibodies and infecting people who were vaccinated months ago. (New vaccines that incorporate this variant should be available in September.)
For the third summer in a row, there is an uptick in hospitalizations. Upticks normally occur in Autumn when kids return to school, but COVID refuses to read the rule book and likes to get an early start.
Experts are advising that we should get vaccines for flu, COVID booster, and RSV as soon as they become available, because this combination of viruses foretells a tough fall season. Despite getting vaccinated, we may still get a milder form of the disease. These respiratory virus vaccines were designed to keep us out of the hospital but are not as good at preventing milder infections.
While experts aren’t as concerned about this variant, I can say anecdotally that my group has experienced severe and very unpleasant symptoms. One of my friends has already rebounded, and the rest of us still have residual coughs.
But curiously none of my infected friends’ spouses got COVID. My visitors tested negative as well. As did my entire family.
Some experts believe that some people that have been exposed may have been infected, but their vaccine protection reduced their viral load to undetectable. Nevertheless the CDC still recommends that if you have been exposed, or if you have symptoms, but test negative, you should isolate or wear a mask in public for 10 days.
Enough about them, let’s talk about me. It took me two days after the first symptoms appeared before that second bright pink line appeared on the test strip. For the first two days the vaccine antibodies were doing their best, but by the late evening hours of Day Two, the second line was no longer a whisper.
As for symptoms, all of us reported mild/moderate headaches, fever, upper respiratory congestion, difficulty breathing, sore throat, chest pain, brain fog, and lots and lots of coughing. I got my first fever in 50 years (fevers are your immune system’s response and my immune system prefers to attack me instead of foreign agents). Symptoms persist long after the medicine.
This is a bad one.
Unfortunately my doctor wasn’t available the day that I realized I needed Paxlovid. A quick Google search revealed a number of telehealth solutions. I chose the University of Maryland and within 20 minutes of completing the appointment application online, I was connected to a telehealth Physician’s Assistant who quickly called in the medicines to the local pharmacy. She assured me Paxlovid has been very effective, and her patients felt better within 48 hours.
One of my big worries was my dog, Gus. Gus knows when something isn’t right. Gus also believes that cuddles and snuggles are a universal cure. (Gus clearly has no medical training.) After each coughing fit, he would snuggle next to me, imploring me with his soft, brown eyes to get better. Dogs can get COVID and given Gus’s advanced age and heart condition, I tried to keep him away. He wasn’t having it. I relaxed when I learned that the risk of pet infections (especially dogs) is low.
It has been a week now and while I am better, I still don’t feel great. Lesson learned, I am going back to masking and take out.
But I have learned a lot.
Despite our imperfect, messed up healthcare system, we have come a long way. Self-administered test kits that provide results in 15 minutes are ubiquitous. Vaccines that prevent or minimize the virus’s impact (for hospitalizations) are readily available. Once infected, there is an effective anti-viral medicine (Paxlovid) to prevent permanent damage and hospitalization. Universal telehealth care is available within an hour. Thanks to scientists and the government’s response we have tools that we didn’t have in 2020. While this virus is nasty, it is now beatable.
And I also learned that good things don’t change. People are wonderful. Every day, I had numerous offers of assistance. Friends and family members brought me groceries. Another friend helped me get healthcare. A family member picked up my prescriptions. And other friends made me chicken soup. Even today, friends and family still check on me. (And I lost 3 pounds, but I do not recommend this as a weight loss solution.)
With family and friends like these, it’s easy to find the silver lining.
Disclaimer: This was written with COVID brain, so the author is not responsible of any typos, grammatical errors, partial sentences, extra words, weird phrasing, or incomplete thoughts.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.