I was the most careful. For 20 months, I lived pretty much in a bubble. There were times when, thinking that COVID-19 might be over, I ventured out only to get scared and scramble back into the rabbit hole. I’m a social person, but I didn’t go to parties. I wore masks until they were worn-out. I wiped down packages long after we learned it was OK not to.
I had two vaccines and a booster on time. When I went to a movie theater once someone coughed and I never went back. I declined invitations to baby showers, weddings, meetings, business travel, lunches and breakfasts. Dr. Anthony Fauci could have made me a poster child for COVID-19 safety. I give myself an A for following all protocols.
Was I careful enough?
In mid-December I took a chance and decided to go to a company holiday party and see how people freed from the Zoom cage looked in real life. There were so many who had joined our firm over the months and I was excited to meet them. The party rules were you had to test negative within 24 hours before going to the party. I did. You had to be vaxxed. I was.
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But still I debated and debated. I couldn’t get the iconic Clash song out of my head: “Should I stay, or should I go now?"
The party was in a mid-town office building with low ceilings. Buffets were copious and people were breathing on trays of passed hors d’oeuvres. The Clash song continued to ring in my ears: “If I go, there will be trouble, and if I stay it will be double.”
After one drink and a 20-month hiatus, most people picked up where they left off. Hugging, gossiping, close-talking and forgetting the virus horrors. It was liberating after so many restrictions.
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I loved the party. My two-hour trip to a pre-COVID era was fun and liberating.
That was a Thursday night. Friday night my wife and I ate indoors in a packed restaurant. By Sunday I said to my wife I had a scratchy throat. That night I had chills, so in the morning I took another COVID-19 test. I was positive.
I told my firm, and they sent out an email to the party attendees saying that someone tested positive shortly after the party (me). Naturally, they found many others who got sick that night.
I left my wife and daughter and began my quarantine. I cancelled our family trip scheduled for the following week.
Since I’m in the vulnerable age group, my son told me to get the monoclonal antibodies infusion. I was able to get it at a local hospital days before it ran out. That was day five. I was sitting in a chair socially distanced from another COVID patent while I got the infusion. A firefighter, he seemed very sick. In total, it was 12 days of sore throat, coughs, rashes, crazy soaking night sweats, loss of smell and chest heaviness. And we all thought this was over.
What do we know?
As I lay in bed coughing looking at a deflating helium “get well soon” balloon and eating my edible “feel better” arrangements, it was clear no one knew or expected this latest wave. And they are trying to assess and advise with little knowledge. So I keep checking my oxygen levels and my temperature.
A week after my monoclonal antibodies treatment, the symptoms were easing but I still tested positive. After 10 days the Binax test showed blue and pink; I was still positive. My daughter said she had a friend who after her asymptomatic COVID-19 infection, tested positive for 30 days. The constant positive readings caused me tremendous anxiety and kept me quarantining.
I kept Googling “what if you keep testing positive after the symptoms are gone?" and the answer seemed to be: Stay isolated. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says you can stop isolating after five days if you have no symptoms. It's also possible that rapid tests are not as accurate as we thought. Confusion reigns.
I ran out of rapid tests. I drove to every pharmacy, CVS and Rite Aid within 30 miles and they were gone. We are into the third calendar year of COVID, and there still are not enough tests.
Finally, on the 14th day without symptoms, I tested negative.
When will it end?
Yes, the vaccines are largely keeping us alive and out of the hospital, but this disease is taking a great toll on everyone’s mental state. Even the vaccinated like me are experiencing tremendous guilt and confusion during the onset of omicron. My mother-in-law told my wife that I only have myself to blame for not being careful. The next day, she was coughing and tired but told my wife she had a cold.
Ilene Weingarten, a marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, explained the narrowing of our lives this way to The Washington Post:
“We’re still absorbing the shock of March 2020, but we’re still in it. ... It has an immense mental health toll, immense; with omicron in particular, there’s been a spike in disheartened feelings, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.”
And just like that, we are again avoiding indoor dining, not seeing family, taking out food, Zooming with friends, and listening to every word from the experts, but the more this goes on, the less it seems we know and the more fatigued and confused we are.
Let’s hope 2022 is better and we can get to the other side.
Edward Adler is a partner at Finsbury Glover Hering, a global strategic communications firm. He spent many years as head of communications at TimeWarner (now WarnerMedia).
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Will everyone get COVID-19 eventually? If only we had answers.