I spent 2 years writing about COVID and avoiding it. Omicron finally got me


On May 19, a group of Bay Area doctors and scientists released a preprint study examining the evolution of COVID-19 symptoms over the past three outbreaks. It’s an interesting report, and I spoke about it a week later – while isolating myself at home after finally contracting COVID myself.

I tested positive the day before this study came out. I was too sick to work that day, or the next day, but when I finally caught up with the paper, I was fascinated by how it reflected my own experiences. Omicron, they found (among other findings), causes more upper respiratory tract symptoms in vaccinees than previous variants. As I read, I ticked my own boxes: Cough? Yes. Congestion? Yes. Fever? A little. Aches? No.

After more than two years of writing about this virus, it was finally weird to get up close and personal with it. I’ve written before that the pandemic felt more like an obsession for many people, especially in the early months when we were all locked down and few people were infected, even as the coronavirus dominated our daily lives. But as more and more people became infected in my social circles – summer delta, when it first snuck up on the vaccinated, and omicron, when it seemed almost inevitable to catch him – I still avoided him.

I’ve been cautious throughout the pandemic, but not remarkably. I’ve put myself in the slightly more liberal end of COVID-caution, by Bay Area standards: Since getting vaccinated, I’ve masked and unmasked as cases increased and were decreasing, I went to very crowded bars and ate inside, and I hugged my nephew a lot even when he had a runny nose (I did that before the shots too). I wasn’t too worried about myself, being in my otherwise healthy 40s, but I didn’t want to give COVID to the vulnerable people in my life.

I don’t know exactly where I finally got infected, but I guess it was during Sunday brunch at a restaurant, two days before I started feeling sick. It came quickly – felt bad Tuesday night, tested positive Wednesday morning (very positive – home test lit up on contact with my sample). I told friends that I felt like I had to tick the last box on my pandemic bingo card: writing about COVID while having COVID.

Health journalists very often write about subjects that we do not know personally. This is true for journalists in general. This pandemic has been a unique experience for me, in part because I’ve been so directly affected, like everyone else, by the fallout. I’ve written hundreds of stories about the pandemic to date, some of which have affected me deeply — about testing and vaccination and public health responses like mask mandates. Having COVID makes it even more personal, but also reminds me that my experience remains atypical in many ways.

When I first felt sick, my editors immediately told me to take time off. I ended up having to write a story when I wasn’t feeling well, but then I hung out a lot for two days. When I was ready to work again, I was blessed with the ability to work from home and have the resources to have supplies delivered to me and friends checking in that I had what I needed. There was no pressure to return to work in person while I was sick – in fact, I’m pretty sure I would have been sent home had I tried to show up in the press room.

And unlike most people who get COVID, I had easy access to infectious disease and public health experts. Throughout the pandemic, I have been consistently impressed by the patience these experts have shown and the care they have shown journalists like me – taking calls early in the morning and very late at night, guiding through complex science and challenging, nuanced public health discourse.

Obviously, I didn’t call them for advice on my own illness. But what if, while writing this study on the evolution of COVID symptoms, I asked a few personal questions? They were happy to entertain them. When I told Dr. Diane Havlir – an HIV expert whom I’ve interviewed dozens of times over the years and who led the latest COVID study – that I was frustrated that I was still testing positive on Day 10 of my illness, she was sympathetic.

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She confirmed that I was probably safe to resume some normal activities, such as going grocery shopping with a mask or hiking with a friend, but she agreed that I might want to stay away from vulnerable people. to serious illnesses until I tested negative. That is, she agreed that I probably shouldn’t visit my parents over the Memorial Day long weekend.

It’s a disappointment. I couldn’t wait to get out of town after being locked up for a week and a half. But I am fully aware and grateful for my good fortune – even, or perhaps especially, after more than two years of covering this disaster.

Erin Allday is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @erinallday


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