“Accept the terrible responsibility of life with eyes wide open.” – Jordan Peterson
I’ve written at least a half-dozen essays on the coronavirus and COVID-19 since the beginning of April.
I was positive that the original case fatality estimates were wrong. I was right about that.
I was positive that we would get a second wave because of the successful slowing of the virus and herd immunity. I was right about that.
My earliest projection of the US death toll for COVID-19 was that it would be between 60,000 and 600,000. (I know. Right now, it seems like an easy guess. But I made it when the projection was 2 million to 3 million.) I’m sticking with this.
And then I was sort of positive that I could go back to grappling without catching it. I was wrong about that.
On Wednesday, I found out that I was positive.
As you can imagine, I have mixed feelings about this. I have zero worries about myself. I am as healthy as a bull. But I am very worried that I might have shed the virus to someone more vulnerable during the 8 days that I had it but didn’t know I had it.
Worse, I’m ashamed of the fact that I went back to training, confident that I wouldn’t get infected when the disease was spiking like mad all over Florida. In retrospect, it seems insane. I cannot attribute it to anything but self-delusion, self-indulgence, and arrogance.
I’ve had some bad moments since finding out. What if I infected someone that gets badly sick or dies from it?
I thought about offing myself. But my sense of ex-Catholic guilt wouldn’t allow that. I thought of going quiet. My sense of Judeo-Christian morality wouldn’t allow that. Finally, I summoned up Zeno and the Stoics and decided to stop worrying about what I could not control and work on what I can control. And so I’m writing about it.
Today, I’m going to share a few of the emails I wrote to the dozen or so people with whom I was in contact between catching the virus and discovering I had it.
Memo 1: Monday noon, June 29, 2020
I’m writing to let you know that I had bad flu-like symptoms Sunday night and today. I’m feeling better now after a long rest. But to be safe, I’m going to get tested for COVID-19 today.
I’m writing, obviously, because we were in contact in the last two weeks. I’ll let you know what the results are.
Memo 2: Tuesday evening, June 30, 2020
I was hoping I’d get the results today. No dice. My doc said I’d have them tomorrow morning. I’ll let you know as soon as I do.
Memo 3: Wednesday noon, July 1, 2020
I tested positive. I have COVID-19. I am feeling fine. My symptoms were strong only for about 18 hours, and I slept about 14 of them.
But you have been exposed. So you should consider getting tested.
Memo 4: Wednesday afternoon, July 1, 2020
In my email to you this morning, I suggested that you should get tested ASAP. According to a bit of research I’ve done since then, ASAP is the correct time to get tested only if you have been exposed and also have symptoms.
If you have been exposed (as you have) but don’t have symptoms, the best time to get tested is 7+ days after exposure. The reason for this is that the reliability of the current testing is very low the day of and the day after exposure and then improves to about 95+% at 7 days.
So when was I infected?
It was the morning of Saturday, June 20th.
I know that because it was the day I took a BJJ lesson from a friend who was diagnosed positive last week.
If you were in contact with me from that date till June 26, you can get tested right away. If you were in contact with me within the last 7 days, you should schedule your test for 7 days since the day we were together.
You can, of course, can get tested as soon and as often as you wish. Just remember that getting tested before the 7-day lapse will give you a result you can’t trust.
Note: The test I’m talking about is the swab test – not the serology test. The swab test determines whether you have COVID-19. The serology test determines whether you had it before and recovered from it.
Also note that during the first days of infection, the amount of viral material in the body may be too low to be detected. If, for example, you get tested on the day of contact, your chances of getting a false negative (the test says you are negative, but you are positive) are 100%. If you wait 4 days to get a test, the chances of a false negative drop to 40%. At 7 days, the chances of getting a false negative are quite low.
That’s why the CDC guidelines recommend getting the test about 7 days after contact.
Except, of course, if you develop symptoms sooner than that.
Memo 5: Wednesday afternoon, July 1, 2020
First, some hopeful news: No one that I am writing these emails to has had any symptoms so far. According to the CDC and a report that I’m reading from Harvard, the most common incubation time is 3 to 4 days. That period of time has passed for all of you. That doesn’t mean you are out of the woods. The virus incubated for 8 days in me before showing itself. In rare cases, they say, it can incubate up to 14 days.
Second, you’ve asked about my symptoms: They were as follows: Initially (Sunday night), I noticed a loss of appetite and a lack of focus. I was tired and couldn’t concentrate on my work. I went to sleep and woke up the next morning with fairly severe flu-like aches and pain in the joints. I could barely get out of bed. I had a strong suspicion that I had contracted the virus. After making an appointment to be tested that afternoon (by my doc) and writing to all of you, I went back to bed. When I woke up later that afternoon, I felt 90% recovered.
Today, I feel 100%. That means, I hope, that the viral load I took on was relatively small and the viral load I have been shedding is relatively small as well. But we can’t be certain.
Memo 6: Thursday morning, July 2, 2020
The hopeful news: I’ve been reconstructing the details of my contacts since June 20. Of the 14 people I’ve been in contact with, I’m quite certain I kept a good social distance from all but 4. Those were K, J, G, and R. If you remember differently, let me know.
Also, since I was asymptomatic during this time (no fever and not coughing or sneezing) and since my symptoms were brief and not very severe, I’m hopeful that the viral load I was shedding was low.
The annoying news: Since you have been exposed, you will have to follow the recommended protocol. That means self-isolation as much as you possibly can, and wearing a mask and keeping social distance if you have to be around people. I am very sorry to have put you in that position. But believe me, you don’t want to be in my situation now – worrying that you might have infected someone else.
Memo 7: Thursday afternoon, July 2, 2020
Two people asked me, “How long after I am infected will I continue to be contagious? One person asked, “At what point in my illness will I be most contagious?”
The answers come from Harvard Health Publishing:
People are thought to be most contagious early in the course of their illness, when they are beginning to experience symptoms, especially if they are coughing and sneezing. But people with no symptoms can also spread the coronavirus to other people if they stand too close to them. In fact, people who are infected may be more likely to spread the illness if they are asymptomatic, or in the days before they develop symptoms, because they are less likely to be isolating or adopting behaviors designed to prevent spread.
Most people with coronavirus who have symptoms will no longer be contagious by 10 days after symptoms resolve. People who test positive for the virus but never develop symptoms over the following 10 days after testing are probably no longer contagious, but again there are documented exceptions. So some experts are still recommending 14 days of isolation.
One of the main problems with general rules regarding contagion and transmission of this coronavirus is the marked differences in how it behaves in different individuals. That’s why everyone needs to wear a mask and keep a physical distance of at least 6 feet.
Here is a more “scientific” way to determine if you are no longer contagious: Have two nasal-throat tests or saliva tests 24 hours apart that are both negative for the virus.
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