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Two years after the coronavirus became the focus of all of my reporting as a science reporter for The Times (and all of my thoughts of every waking hour), it happened: I tested positive for the virus.
My case was mostly mild, as the virus generally affects any healthy person in their 40s. But the experience nonetheless gave me a perspective that I would not have gained from reading academic papers or interviewing experts.
In the last two years I have written hundreds of articles about the coronavirus – about asymptomatic infections, testing, our body’s immunity, breakthrough infections and boosters. I myself have been interviewed dozens of times to answer questions about the disease, the pandemic and the US response to the virus.
But all along, my relationship with the virus remained academic, impersonal. Even when the Delta variant swept through India and I lay sleepless and worried about my parents, it wasn’t quite at my door.
To be honest I’m surprised it took me this long to catch Covid. As someone who reports on infectious diseases, I am not squeamish about pathogens, and my family and I have taken some risks during the pandemic. My husband teaches indoor squash, often without a mask, my children have been going to school personally – albeit masked – since autumn 2020 and I have traveled by plane, including on a 20-hour trip to India in the middle of the Omicron shock.
But we’re all vaccinated and boosted (with the exception of my 10-year-old daughter who doesn’t qualify for a booster shot yet) and relatively healthy, so we knew that while we might develop some symptoms if we did get Covid, we would most likely recover quickly. We have been cautious, especially with vulnerable people like my mother-in-law and friends who have young children.
Over dinner (indoors) in early March, a friend and I marveled at how our families had escaped Covid. The virus appeared to be on the mend and cases in New York City were at their lowest in months. We thought we were in the clear.
I should have known I was tempting fate.
Three days later, I found an email in my spam folder from the city’s school testing program, alerting me that my son had tested positive for the virus. I immediately informed the school. That evening a kind man who worked for the city called me to give me some information. He started with “Covid is a disease caused by a virus called coronavirus”. It was almost dinner time and I was still finishing my story — on the science of coronavirus, of course — so I asked if we could continue. But he had to go through every detail about the disease, the symptoms and the quarantine protocol.
After 16 minutes of this one-sided discourse, he asked me if I had any questions. I didn’t, and I’m lucky not to need the city’s quarantine shelters or free supplies.
That was Thursday March 10th. Looking back, my husband was feeling sick earlier in the week but a quick test showed he was virus free. My son also had a sore throat but put it down to seasonal allergies. As the experts I interviewed said, the symptoms were indistinguishable.
Even though my rapid test came back negative, I decided to pretend I had Covid. I alerted my colleagues. I went on a trip with friends. My children have canceled all their activities. I finally tested positive.
On Friday evening my daughter came down with a slight fever but was bouncing again the next morning. As expected, we adults were hit the hardest. I was overcome by a bad cold and an unrelenting malaise. The following Wednesday I was too ill to work. I’ve learned that even those with a mild case can have serious symptoms.
I am privileged to have the luxury of working from home when I feel able and taking time off when I am not. And I’m also fortunate that my children are old enough to not need constant care and that they attend a school that allows for distance learning. I knew before I had Covid that the disease was having a hugely disproportionate impact on underserved communities, but as I said on The Times podcast The Daily, being ill with the virus has put that knowledge into sharp perspective.
I’ve written about many diseases – HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, leprosy, polio – that I’ve never had. I could have done without this experience of getting Covid. I’m not worried about these symptoms lasting too long – vaccination greatly reduces the risk of what’s called long covid – but I still love napping excessively.
I’m grateful to have gained a richer, broader immune defense against the virus. But most of all, I’m glad to have a deeper understanding of what our readers experienced.