So I finally tested positive for COVID last month.
I have taken the pandemic seriously from the start. I got my vaccines as soon as they were available (I’ve received 5 so far). I continue to exercise caution, wearing a mask while I am out shopping, and taking tests before and after symphony rehearsals. I usually self-test before large get-togethers.
I wrote a three-part blog series about the pandemic. I interviewed friends in healthcare, shared stories of former skeptics, and did my best to convince others to get vaccinated and exercise caution.
So nearly three years after the start of the global pandemic, I finally caught and tested positive for COVID.
Information about the virus has been changing and confusing. Different strains of the virus have caused consternation with an ever-changing array of symptoms, varying levels of contagiousness, and rare unknown and troubling long-term effects for some.
People have understandably become fatigued by the restrictions, the social isolation, and impact to commerce, and so much more.
In that kind of environment, it is understandable there are many skeptics, deniers, and even protests regarding safety protocols. This piece does not intend to persuade or convince anyone. It is merely to tell my story, what I have learned, and what conclusions I draw.
1. Getting Infected
I started to develop a really bad headache. Bad headaches are rare for me, so I decided to take a nap. For safety’s sake, I took a rapid at-home COVID test. The initial control line darkened, and then I saw the dreaded second line appear. I was positive for COVID.
I immediately contacted everyone I had seen recently, and they all tested. Out of the group of a dozen, one other person was shocked to find they were also positive. They had no symptoms.
Although my symptoms ended up being mild, this first day was the worst. My sinuses were completely blocked and I had a splitting headache. Over-the-counter decongestants and painkillers made it bearable.
Days 1 – 5
I stayed in bed, hydrated, and isolated. My headache wasn’t bad, and I suffered mostly a runny nose and some coughing. I had no fever, and I didn’t suffer any body aches, difficulty breathing, or other more serious symptoms. I did partially lose my sense of smell.
I contacted my healthcare provider about getting antiviral drugs, but given my age, relatively good health, and mild symptoms, I was told such drugs were not suggested. I was instructed to just continue to rest, hydrate, isolate, mask, and wash my hands frequently. I was also told not to start testing again until day 5.
However, on about Day 2 I was feeling really good, suffering only a runny nose. For the heck of it, I tested, and the second line on the COVID test immediately appeared, dark and bold.
I started testing on Day 5, and I was still positive. Testing subsequent days, the 2nd line on the COVID rapid tests grew gradually fainter. Finally, on Day 11, no trace of the second line was visible. My sense of smell gradually returned, too.
I was happy to finally be testing negative, but I continued to isolate, mask, and wash my hands religiously. I decided to sign up for a drive-through PCR test. Two days later I received my result: Inconclusive.
I scheduled another PCR test, and two days later I again received “Inconclusive.” Frustrated, I signed up for a third PCR test, and after waiting again a couple days, the result came back: POSITIVE!
2. Confusing Instructions
Frustrated and confused, I started contacting various healthcare professionals to find out what I should do.
Various articles from reputable sources suggested that I would only be contagious the first 5 days of my infection, or if I still had serious symptoms. I learned that PCR tests are much more sensitive, and that you can test positive up to 3 months after your infection.
The CDC’s website states “Any positive COVID-19 test means the virus was detected and you have an infection.” It continues that you should isolate, take precautions, tell people you recently contacted and monitor your symptoms.
Elsewhere on the CDC website it says “You may end isolation after day 5” if you have no symptoms after day 5. You are instructed to wear your mask through Day 10. You may remove your earlier mask if you have two sequential negative tests 48 hours apart. Of course, if your symptoms recur or worsen, you should restart isolation and talk to a healthcare professional.
So what to do with negative antigen (rapid at-home) test results and a positive PCR test result?
With consistent negative antigen test results, I should be okay to relax my isolation and masking protocols (although I’ve never stopped masking while going out shopping, etc., nor to I intend to). But with a positive PCR test result, the CDC says I should assume I have an infection and take precautions.
Calling the Red Cross
I am a frequent blood platelet donor. I wanted to know when I would be eligible and safe to donate again. Calling their donor line, I was told I would not be eligible to donate if I have symptoms, or if I tested positive in the last 10 days.
I protested that I was symptom-free and consistently getting negative results from my antigen rapid at-home tests, but got a positive result from a PCR test. They repeated that as long as any test was positive, I should wait 10 days. Conclusion, don’t test for 10 days (unless my symptoms return or worsen). After that, I should be eligible.
This did not reassure me.
Calling My Physician
Although it was a long holiday weekend, I decided to call my physician’s office and speak to the on-call nurse. I received a callback late in the evening. Here is what the nurse told me.
1. Unless your symptoms remain or get worse, you are only contagious for the first 5 days of infection
2. You should only test when you have symptoms or if you suspect you have been exposed to COVID
3. After getting infected, your immunity against reinfection is very high for the first three months
She reiterated that rapid at-home tests can often detect COVID and report positive up to a couple weeks after infection, and that the more sensitive PCR tests can test you as positive up to 3 months after infection.
Her message was that testing should be used to a) verify you have COVID, and b) try to determine the start of your infection. From that point, you can start counting the days. 5 days later, you can assume you are no longer contagious. 10 days later you can decide to stop masking. What COVID tests are not good at is for determining the end of your infection.
3. My Conclusions
As I said before, given the conflicting and changing information about this virus, it is unsurprising people are confused and will draw very different conclusions. These are the conclusions I have drawn:
1. I will continue to mask when I am in public indoors even when I feel completely healthy. Two people I know who felt no symptoms tested positive in the last month. So rather than risk either infecting people unknowingly, or exposing myself to possible infection from people who are asymptomatic, I will continue to mask.
2. I will rely more on rapid tests for the next three months, then try PCR testing after. Previously, I had signed up for PCR tests often. I would test before and after symphony rehearsals, and before big in-person get-togethers. Since I may test positive for 3 months, I will rely more on rapid tests until this spring.
3. Stay informed. Information continues to come out, new strains of COVID may come out, and recommendations will change. It’s tiring and confusing, but I’ll try to stay informed on the latest recommendations. I encourage you to do so as well.
Stay safe out there, friends!
Sad to learn you’ve had a grim time of it, but at least you’re on the mend!
Thanks. My symptoms were mild and I believe I fully recovered. It could have been significantly worse.
It may be inevitable that just about everyone catches this virus at some point. However, I refuse to take a fatalistic view and drop my guard. I will continue to wear a mask when I go shopping and test before any big in-person meetups.
Hit Toby! Sorry you had to go through the Covid thing. My understanding about the testing is that the rapid at home tests test for the antibodies, whereas the PCR tests for the actual virus material itself, which can remain in your system, though dead, for quite a while, (three months). The PCR if it even detects dead virus material will come back positive. And yes, it’s a pain because it doesn’t really tell you if you’re contagious or not. Glad to hear you’re feeling better.
I’m in Roanoke again with my parents, and both of my siblings are here this time. Knock on wood none of us are testing positive. Mom has had a spurt of energy and is doing fairly well. Dad is struggling with deciding what to do about the house and where to live.
Take care my friend! Love, Adrian
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Be well and take care, Adrian!