My positive COVID test and how we dealt with it

I tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday. So far, I’m fine. Here are some thoughts on that experience for you.

How I got the virus

I don’t know how I got the virus.

My family and I are all fully vaccinated, having completed our vaccine doses months ago.

My family has limited our outside contacts. Over the last few months, we had relaxed a bit, gone to a few restaurants, met out of doors with friends, and did food shopping without masks. At the time, since we were vaccinated, we were following the guidance of our local health authorities and the CDC.

In the last few weeks, as it has become clear that the Delta variant is far more contagious and can spread even from vaccinated individuals, I have worn a mask in stores and other public settings.

The other members of my family have tested negative. I probably didn’t get it from them, although it is theoretically possible that they had the virus with no symptoms and passed it on to me.

It is most likely that I got the contagious Delta variant while unmasked in a public setting.

Given my experience and the guidance of health authorities, my advice to you is to use masks and social distancing even if you are vaccinated, to avoid becoming a carrier and spreading COVID to others, or getting a “breakthrough” case like mine. This is especially true if you live in parts of the country with low vaccination rates.

I’m grateful for the vaccine

Even though I have tested positive, I still think the vaccine is a modern miracle.

My symptoms are extremely mild, just a nagging cough. I have no fever and no other physical problems.

The latest studies have shown that when a vaccinated individual is exposed to the Delta variant, they may become a carrier, but are unlikely to get seriously ill and have a very low chance of dying. That’s what the vaccine has done for us (and for me) — it has turned COVID into a minor problem that can still spread.

If you have not taken the vaccine, though, the Delta variant poses a significant risk to you. You could end up in the hospital, on a ventilator, or dead. Although the unvaccinated now make up a minority of Americans, they represent 97% of COVID hospitalizations. Delta is as contagious as chicken pox — your likelihood of exposure is much higher than it was with the original COVID.

I recognize that without the vaccine (Moderna, in my case), this disease could have put me in the hospital or killed me. This case is annoying, but doesn’t feel deadly.

What I’m doing now

It’s now possible to get a $40 test at any drugstore and find your COVID status. You could find out you are positive, too. To help you think this through, I’ll share what I ended up doing once I saw the positive test.

First off, I had already been thinking about what I would do, so it wasn’t a huge shock. Since my symptoms are minor and I am vaccinated, I was not too worried.

The first thing I did was to have everyone in my family and everyone I had recently had contact with get tested. Thankfully, no one tested positive.

To be safe, though, the members of my family are remaining at home as much as possible, and using masks and reducing the duration for the few things that need to do outside the house. We will test again in a few days and make sure they have not picked up COVID.

Fortunately for me, my house has a space with a small bedroom and a bathroom on the third floor that can be sealed off from the rest of the house. My kids had been using it as a computer gaming room, but I made them clear everything out. I am now living in that space. I retrieved and reassembled a twin bed we had stored in the attic, and there is a desk here. I can work from here just fine. In fact, I’ll be delivering a writing workshop from this space next week. (My attendees may wonder why the walls are pink, but I can deal with that.)

Decision making in a crisis

While this post is about my COVID test, I can’t resist describing how we decided what to do here.

First, months ago, we all decided to get vaccinated at the first available opportunity. That was a long-term decision that paid off yesterday.

Before I bought the test, I thought through what a positive result might mean. This meant I had mentally rehearsed the alternatives. This made it much easier to act when the test came back positive.

Once I got the test result, I did first what was urgent:

  • Called the doctor to get advice.
  • Told my wife to get everyone in the house tested.
  • Figured out how to set up a quarantine space for myself, and packed essentials into a suitcase.

Once we knew everyone else was negative, I built the bed and moved into the quarantine space. We put off further planning until this morning, since everyone was a little freaked out.

This morning, my wife and I walked through the things we need to do in the next few weeks — and those are quite complicated, given that we are preparing to move and sell our house in the next few months. For each thing we had to do, we figured out a plan for how to do it without my needing to come into contact with anyone else, and for my family to minimize contact as well.

In a crisis, I am good at determining alternatives quickly and acting decisively. My wife is better at evaluating such plans and pointing out where they can be improved (or are just stupid). This is a good combination.

There’s never any value to panicking. There are always alternatives to evaluate, and plans to adjust. And you’ll always be grateful later for decisions you made reduce risks for your future self — like our decision to get vaccinated.

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  1. First, I wish you, your family, and those you were in contact with well.
    Second, I’d like to ask why you decided to get tested. No fever, slight cough…? What made you think to take a test and not take an allergy medicine.

    I’m curious because I’ve been fighting allergies for months, like many pollen and hay fever (and cat allergy) sufferers. I’ve never thought to get a test for such minor, but nagging, symptoms. Many others may be doing the same.

    Full disclosure: I’ve had a couple of COVID-19 tests for medical screening procedures, so my symptoms are likely just allergies, not something worse. I can’t afford to take a $40 test every day, just to be sure.

    1. That is a reasonable question. I also have allergies and the cough seemed very much like it was an allergy reaction to pollen. I had increased my allergy medications but they had little effect.

      However, I recently visited two older people who had health conditions that would put them at risk for COVID. They were vaccinated, but I wanted to know if there was any chance I had exposed them.

      In retrospect, it would have been better to get tested before I visited them, but I figured it was better to know. That’s why I got tested.

      1. Symptoms of a breakthrough infection in the vaccinated overlap with allergies- sneezing, runny nose, cough due to post-nasal drip. I’ve asked myself, “How can I distinguish my allergy symptoms from a breakthrough infection?” (no answer). And, “what’s the most pragmatic reaction to this problem?”. It’s not practical to get a Covid test every time my allergies flare up (multiple times per week).

        I’m not so worried about myself. I’m vaccinated, so trust that the shots will prevent me from getting the serious symptoms. But, I also don’t want to contribute to spreading this virus.

        So, I’ve returned to wearing a mask in indoor public places.

        Re Covid testing: If I know that I will be spending time with someone who’s at risk, I can get a Covid test in advance.

  2. Get well soon, Josh. Thanks for sharing this info in such a matter-of-fact way. It’s funny that the expression “in the pink” means good health. So, be back “in the green” soon!

  3. Best wishes for a quick recovery, Josh.
    Seems like you have done everything right in preparing and responding appropriately.
    Your unfortunate situation demonstrates that no strategy is perfect. The law of large numbers still works – and even “99% effective” means a sizable number of folks will, in fact, be “breakthrough” cases. And the vaccines are not 99% effective, as it turns out, although they are still very good.

  4. Having lost my sense of smell in December when I got Covid, I encourage you to get some oregano oil – it’s supposed to help with that – a few drops in water. I did not do it quickly enough and I still can’t smell. Good luck. It’s not a fun virus at all!

  5. I’m glad that you’re mostly feeling okay. I’m hearing about a few people I know getting breakthrough cases (you’re the third). If you extrapolate the number of people I know, the vast majority are vaccinated. Clearly Delta is tougher than we thought.
    From a communications perspective, since that is your forte, I am getting frustrated with the messaging that Delta is just as transmissible as the chickenpox. What does that mean, exactly? I can recall when I was a kid that if someone had it the rest of the parents who knew the family would rush to expose us so we got it out of the way. Aside from that, and given that there’s now vaccination for chickenpox, it doesn’t feel like a useful point of reference anymore. Does a young parent in their 30s know the experience of being intentionally exposed? What about a young parent in their 20s who has the vaccination?

    1. I pointed that terrible comparison on a testing subgroup. Just another example of CDC’s incompetence. Embarrassing for sure.

  6. Get well and soon.
    For others, PCR testing is still widely available at no charge; results in 24 or so hrs. Rapid tests available for $20-100 at pharmacies and more; results in 15 or so minutes. There are technical differences that might be real differences depending upon your situation. Antibody testing is also widely available for free. There are variations of tests, but antibody can give clues on immunity, a loaded word.
    If you are interested in controlling COVID, cheap rapid testing (~$1/test) and generous sick leave are necessary, along with vaccinations.

  7. I second Clay’s comment.

    And thank you for sharing your process – that helps me think about where our household needs to think about X or Y thing.

  8. Thanks for sharing your story. No doubt if I test positive for the virus at some future time I will remember this post and stay calmer because of it. Hope the illness continues to be mild.

  9. Unless I somehow missed it in your article, it would be interesting to know what prompted you to get a test? If you’re vaccinated, and following some degree of “clean” living, and, assuming you felt okay, why would you just go out and get a test? . . . . which urges the question, should I just go out and get tested?

  10. Since this was published, I have had two negative tests, including the more accurate overnight PCR test.

    If I ever had an infection — which is not certain, as the over-the-counter tests do sometimes show false positives — it appears to be gone now.

    I never had any real symptoms. I feel fine. I will continue to mask at home for a while, and in public. But I don’t think I or those around me are in any more danger at this point.