For two-plus years, I have been a model of safety, consistency and restraint in the face of the covid-19 pandemic. I was among the first to stock up on supplies for the lockdowns; one of the first to acquire, and rely on, KN95 masks; one of the most cautious in public spaces. I made my family mask up in the most innocuous of situations and maintained a useful wariness everywhere I went. Everyone in my household was vaccinated and boosted at the earliest eligible moment.
We let our guard down when we could—socializing more during the summer 2021 ebb, throwing my son a mask-free bar mitzvah reception in October (negative tests required)—but to this day I am easily identified as the guy with the mask hanging around his neck, putting it back on as soon as appropriate. Never mind that many people are moving on from masks; never mind that in many parts of the country, covid-19 infection rates are fairly low. Better safe than sorry.
Two weeks ago, when we embarked on eight days of outdoor activity in the national parks of the American Southwest, guess who brought his mask everywhere? Me, that’s who. Stuck on a line? Talking to the hotel concierge? Mask up. My younger son joined me, two lonely beacons of caution in an increasingly carefree world. Covid’s still out there, and we weren’t going to be caught off guard.
Well, guess what.
I woke up Saturday morning in Phoenix with a pesky cough. (I also threw my back out in the shower; I don’t believe it was related, although it made things much more interesting.) I had virtually no appetite but chalked it up to the cough and the backache. I flew home uneventfully, masked in my KN95 all the way.
Sunday morning, my cough was worse, and seemed like a sinus infection was brewing, so I popped across the street to my local urgent care. They took my vitals and swabbed my nose. In came the doctor: “What seems to be the problem today?”
“Well, I sometimes get sinus infections, and I have all the signs of one, so here I am.”
“You don’t have a sinus infection,” he said, with just enough levity, “you have covid.”
The ensuing days have been… tiring. I began isolating immediately, although I’d already spent the evening and morning with my family unawares. Urgent care helpfully pescribed me a course of Paxlovid, which Alto pharmacy unhelpfully delivered three hours late, whereupon I headed to my in-laws’ empty house in suburbia to isolate. Too late: on Monday, my wife tested positive, and on Tuesday, my younger son, he of the diligent masking, got it as well. I brought him out of the city to ride out the virus with me.
It’s Wednesday, and the three of us have experienced a full slate of covid symptoms. I will personally remind you, dear reader, that covid-19 is no joke, no matter how many people tell you it’s “just like the flu” and “not a big deal.” We have coped with fever, chills, achiness, congestion, coughs and substantial amounts of fatigue. I think the Paxlovid made a real difference in reducing my viral load, but it still wiped me out, and I’ve had waves of tiredness all day today, my fifth day of symptoms.
“Covid sucks,” my son keeps saying. He has been a model of perseverance and good-naturedness despite (in adult terms) really feeling like shit. I’m on the mend but there’s a ways to go for us all.
Next week, I look forward to leveraging my brief immunity around New York: I’m going to dine out, get a massage, go to WeWork without unease. But I’ll still have my mask around my neck, ready to wear. Because if the last thing I wanted was to get covid-19, the last thing I want going forward is to get it again.