Thursday, December 30, 2021

An Unexpected Twist

My Covid-anxiety ramped up in the days after Christmas, in that familiar way we all knew from the start of the pandemic. We’d gotten comfortable at understanding how to avoid the illness—get your shots, wear a surgical or cloth mask, whatever is comfortable. Don’t go to crowded, indoor places unless you have to (like a subway, for example). 

In fact, as vaxxed, brainy sorts of people, my colleagues and I felt comfortable enough to have a few meetings back in the autumn months. And as you all know, I was happy enough with my vaxxed-and-masked status to fly to Portugal and Italy earlier in the year, and those mild risks had paid off in empty tourist quarters and bargain rates.

I’d gotten a booster as soon as New Jersey had decided to make them available to all, and that bit of insurance had gotten me through the initial news of omicron.

I barely remembered the paranoid uncertainty of 2020.

And then came the breakthrough cases. Just a few. Going to my mom’s for Christmas was fine, I thought, when I booked the flight. And then the few cases turned into waves, and then the waves turned into everyone knowing someone with a breakthrough case, and then the knowing someone part turned into people I know firsthand testing positive.

“Santa got me Covid for Christmas,” quipped one colleague. A business correspondent in Manhattan told me “Sorry for the delay, I got Covid and so did all my coworkers. I had a restful holiday. Very restful.”

I couldn’t find any at-home tests after Christmas, since everyone else is on the same “Oh, this shit is real” timeline I am on. But my only symptoms were sleeping in one morning after getting home late on Christmas, so I seem to have made it through that journey unscathed.

But now I was puzzled about what was acceptable and what was risky behavior. The omicron news was too new for serious research. Was it true that the breakthrough cases were fairly mild? Or was that just anecdotal, as in pretty sure that’s real but only based on personal reports and a few quick studies? It’s all too soon to really know. And when they say “More contagious,” what does that mean in terms of daily actions? I get sitting on a crowded subway car for 20 minutes in a surgical mask is risky. But what about sitting on that same car in an N95-equivalent? What about a fast trip to a coffee shop or supermarket in a cloth mask?

It’s all a bit soon to know for sure, I suspect.

Thinking about all this is how I found myself shivering in the cold Jersey City winter in my drafty 1895 row house ground floor apartment for two days, wondering if it was Covid-anxiety or just a normal reaction to winter stopping me from wanting to go outside except to feed the orange tomcat and his mewie tabby bestie. I’d stopped eating outside with friends because of the weather, and omicron-paranoia had me not wanting to eat in restaurants. I’d been googling patio heaters or those little Solo stoves as possible ways to sit outside with friends, but I hadn’t pulled the trigger on anything yet.

The difference between pre-omicron and now, I think, was the feeling of control. We knew what it was before, and we had a pretty reasonable chance of modifying our own behavior to avoid illness. But now, we were learning we might not, in fact, have any control, and yet that may not matter if it’s true that symptoms are mild on triple-vaxxed people. If I get tired for a few days, that’s an acceptable result in a global pandemic that has killed more than five million people.

It only took me a bit more than a day to get tired of myself. I needed solutions, even if they were just fiction.

I ordered some home Covid tests, bought PF94 masks, and booked tickets to somewhere warm.

And that is how I ended up in New Orleans on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. I walked 18,000 steps on Tuesday and 20,000 on Wednesday, only ate outside or in my hotel room, and wore a mask indoors and in crowded areas I couldn’t avoid.

And today I am in Austin to get a private look at the Daniel Johnston exhibit at the Austin Contemporary. I will not see any friends due to my high-risk category, and I will only speak to the exhibit curator from behind a mask, several feet away.

I fly back home tonight, where I will be quarantining for five days. My tests arrive tomorrow. I’ll take one tomorrow, and another in a few days, then another a few days later. There is no doubt that I have been exposed to Covid in the course of this journey. I’m fairly confident in triple-vaxxed/heavy-duty masked status, but what indeed does “more contagious” mean? Perhaps I will find out.

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