I tested positive for COVID-19 in December after testing positive for the virus in November 2020.
My symptoms were mild both times, but the differences came in testing and the reaction of others.
I didn’t think I could get COVID-19 twice. But I couldn’t have been more wrong and spent Christmas experiencing symptoms, scrounging for tests, and figuring out how to deal with COVID-19 all over again.
On December 23, I tested positive for COVID-19 just 13 months after first testing positive for the virus in November 2020 and 9 months after receiving both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
After testing positive for COVID-19 the first time, my world stopped. But I knew what I had to do to isolate and quarantine. I was living with my parents at the time and retreated to my bedroom for a strict 14 days, having meals delivered and emerging, with a mask, only to use the bathroom. My parents even fled the house for two weeks when my sibling tested positive in early November.
My symptoms were fairly mild, consisting of fatigue, chills, sore throat, and loss of taste and smell. Still, calls to friends and family members yielded gasps and extreme concern.
While I felt fine, the knowledge that I had a virus inside of me that had killed more than 1 million people around the world weighed heavily on me. And as someone who is considered high risk, there was always the worry that even if I felt OK in the moment, things could get worse.
The 14 days passed slowly, but after my isolation and recovery, the pandemic seemed over for me. I didn’t think I could contract the virus again.
Then I did, and my experience with COVID-19 the second time could not have been more different.
On December 20, I felt a tickle in my throat that I could tell was the start of something bigger. I thought it was just a cold, given my recovery from COVID-19 in 2020, but decided to get tested in advance of Christmas.
The testing apparatus in New York had gone from stellar to abysmal seemingly overnight. All of my go-to testing sites I tried to use had been overrun and people on social media were reporting that wait times soared to more than three hours at some locations. Result times have also been markedly longer at some locations, I’ve found.
Since testing sites were proving slow and unreliable, my first stop was a CVS Pharmacy to buy an at-home test, even though I thought it was unlikely that I contracted the virus again. But a run on COVID-19 tests meant that CVS was sold out. My local independent pharmacy, to my surprise, had the tests in stock.
Store clerks were calling customers to tell them about the newly arrived supply of tests. It cost $30 to purchase a two-pack of rapid antigen tests, and I took the first test as soon as I got home. The result was negative.
The next day, I woke up and signed on to work feeling lethargic and fatigued, in addition to the sore throat, but still tested negative. I was also intermittently coughing up phlegm but the cough didn’t persist.
I signed off early as I felt weak and rushed to lie down. I didn’t run out to get another COVID-19 test because of the negative result I had received the night prior.
The next day, a live-in family member called to tell us she had tested positive, even after testing positive in 2020, and we had all been exposed. I bought two more packs of tests from the same pharmacy, which had increased the price from $30 to $35.
My 15-minute test had immediately come back positive. I ripped open the second test and 10 more nostril swabs revealed the same result.
But unlike November 2020, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t immediately know what the quarantine requirement was for a vaccinated individual, I didn’t know if there were any exceptions if that person had COVID-19 before, and I didn’t know what resources were available to me.
My immediate family, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, immediately came to terms with the fact that if I had the virus, they likely had it as well, and didn’t feel the need to stay away from me. That was the most confusing to me: they seemed alright with contracting same virus of which just last year they were all afraid.
Calls that I made to friends and family either resulted in surprise that someone could get COVID-19 twice or them telling me that they had tested positive themselves.
Getting COVID-19 in New York City had seemingly gone from taboo to inescapable. Canceling Christmas was not on the table in my house since we were all intimately exposed to the virus. I wasn’t opposed to isolating for the holiday but we resolved to quickly inform all of our planned guests so that they could make their own decisions on whether they would come.
Some of our guests canceled, understandably, but others came as if nothing had happened.
I spent Christmas day, around five days after my first symptom, wearing a mask, and staying away from visitors, who were also undeterred by the COVID case in the house. I was mostly able to stay six feet away from others but declined to participate in some festivities and took my meals in a different part of the house.
My family members didn’t treat my COVID diagnosis as a threat at all and that was something I couldn’t fully comprehend. Even if the symptoms are mild, I wondered why anybody would want to increase their chances of getting sick.
“Come downstairs and take your mask off,” one family member who had also contracted the virus in 2020 said, despite the fact that he obviously could contract the virus again too.
I’ll end isolation soon. The symptoms weren’t life-threatening and were no worse than a mild cold. The worst of my symptoms ended up being a sore throat and feeling fatigued for a few days — though each person will experience this virus in their own way. I didn’t even fully lose my sense of taste.
Contracting COVID-19 is not the same as it was in 2020 and we have the tools to help ensure that many who contract the virus have a mild experience. I credit my quick recovery to being vaccinated plus having natural immunity from my first round of COVID-19. If my recovery hadn’t been quick, I’m heartened by the fact that new drugs are coming to market that can help reduce symptoms.
I hope that, for me, the pandemic is finally over. But I’ve been wrong before.
The experience of the author may be different than the experience of others that contract COVID-19 in the severity, type, and duration of symptoms.
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