It started Thursday night with mild pain in my shoulders that spread to my neck. A headache soon joined the party.
In less than half an hour, the chills had taken over me so much that I wrapped myself in a duvet on one of the hottest nights of the year.
After evading it for two and a half years, it was finally my turn. I had caught COVID-19. And it took a big hit.
This is the story of how I caught the virus and dealt with it in quarantine over the 4th of July weekend.
My case comes as a new vaccine-resistant offshoot of the omicron variant—the BA.5 subvariant—became the dominant strain in the United States.
But it takes a process called genomic sequencing to determine a specific variant, so I won’t know if it’s BA.5, which accounted for 53% of all new cases in the United States at the end of June. Still, it was probably a form of omicron, which spreads easily but has less severe results. After omicron’s initial surge in December and January, key metrics such as hospitalizations, ICU admissions, ventilator use and deaths hovered around the same level for at least two months in the New Jersey with no wild swings. There were 885 New Jersey hospitals with COVID as of Tuesday night, a far cry from the more than 6,000 a day at the height of the omicron wave in January.
By the time my symptoms started, it had been 850 days since New Jersey’s first case of coronavirus. I had spent much of that time writing over 300 articles documenting the pandemic. But writing about it and experiencing the symptoms first-hand are two different things.
My symptoms began Thursday evening hours after my wife, young daughter and I landed in New Jersey after a week-long stay at Disney World, where it soon became clear that I had brought home more than mouse ears.
A friend of ours who was staying at the same hotel had tested positive earlier in the week. But our interactions with him have been few and generally brief.
My best guess is that I caught COVID just because I was around a ton of tourists from all over the world crammed into buses, monorails and rides, and I wasn’t as alert as I was. had been for most of the pandemic.
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Here’s what I did wrong: I didn’t wear an N95 or KN95 mask which helps prevent the wearer from getting the virus. The ones we had were tight, hurt my ears, and felt stuffy in the hot Florida sun. Instead, I wore a much less protective paper mask.
I also didn’t wear my mask as much indoors as I should have. I only put one on when there were a lot of people. I plead guilty to COVID-related fatigue.
I am 46 years old, relatively healthy and active. I’m fully vaccinated and got a booster shot in December – it all developed before we knew anything about omicron subvariants.
A friend in the health field told me that the doctors she works with only prescribe the COVID drug Paxlovid to immunocompromised people. So I did what most people do these days – endured a healthy dose of Tylenol and Gatorade.
We had landed in Newark Liberty on Thursday afternoon and I had been feeling fine for several hours.
But around 9 p.m., I started getting chills. I went to bed early and woke up a few hours later shivering. I checked my temperature. It was 101 – not the highest in the world but it had been a long time since I had had a fever.
It was almost impossible to go back to sleep. My skin was so hot it felt like you could fry Taylor ham in it.
I hadn’t felt this sick in years.
I didn’t want to get out of bed. My body was incredibly weak. Just crossing the room took serious effort.
Half an hour later, I was pushing a rapid test swab into both nostrils. Two stripes. And the one indicating the infection was dark while it is often faded.
The first thing I did was write e-mails and texts to everyone I had come into contact with the day before – a source I met at the Orlando airport, family members who shared a condo with us at Disney and half a dozen neighbors who had welcomed me into their homes the night before.
My fever rose to 102.7 in the afternoon. But after a long nap, the fever had gone and I felt better. The chills were gone.
I slept 12 hours straight. As an insomniac, I didn’t even think I could.
My temperature hovered around 101 most of the day. I thought I had an extra bottle of Tylenol in the back of the medicine cabinet. Turns out he was the kind for the kids. So I swallowed gum-flavored acetaminophen. Disgusting at first, but it grew on me.
Luckily my wife and daughter replenished the adult supply. They were great at cooking meals for me, leaving them at the bedroom door, and cheering me up with conversations in a hallway. So did my neighbors, a group of whom volunteered to run errands for me.
My temperature dropped below 100 for the first time.
And then the urge set in.
I was in quarantine on the 4th of Julye weekends, my favorite time of year when the days are long and life easy. I firmly believe in making every summer day count before the cold and gray weather hit us. And I’m stuck inside.
Worse still, my apartment is right above a pool where my neighbors were having parties. I opened the window and heard the cry of wading children, including my own.
I reminded myself that this was a small price to pay compared to the 34,000 New Jersey residents who never made it past their 40s.
But if it happens again, God please let it be a dreary week in January, when the rest of New Jersey is just as miserable.
But not for me.
I did a quick test in the morning and it came back positive. I also developed a small cough – the first sign that this virus had entered my lungs. It faded as the day progressed.
I checked on a tool developed by the Centers for Disease Control called the “COVID-19 Quarantine and Isolation Calculator”. It indicated that I could leave my apartment in two days because my fever had gone down.
So I thought back to that day when fireworks danced across the sky and the smell of charcoal and lighter fluid seeped in through my bedroom window.
My wife and daughter left in the morning for a planned stay with my in-laws.
And that meant I could walk out of my room for the first time in almost a week. It wasn’t exactly de Gaulle parading under the Arc de Triomphe, but I’d be lying if walking into my kitchen didn’t feel liberating.
I still felt tired but the cough was almost gone and the fever seemed like a distant memory.
I celebrated the end of my quarantine by putting on a mask and taking out the trash. I then went downstairs to do some laundry. We dream big in my house.
I also thought of a conversation I had last year with Chris Aldrich, a firefighter from Toms River, who came down with a difficult case of COVID even though he had been fully vaccinated.
“If I hadn’t been vaccinated, it would have been much, much worse,” he told me last June. “I strongly believe it saved my life.”
My immunity to vaccines has definitely waned. And the jury is still out on how effective these antibodies are against all of these omicron subvariants. But like Aldrich, I’m glad I have them.
I hear people through my window splashing in the pool. I will continue to be cautious over the next few days. There will be enough time to seize summer by the horns.