I’m writing this from the place so many of us have gotten to know so well since March 2020: Home quarantine.
As we all know, the latest variant of COVID-19 is still running wild. I tested positive on May 7. Cases are surging in the Northeast and on May 9, ABC News reported Boston is one of America’s “hotspots.” We may not be in for a “wave,” but a “swell.” Could that swell be part of a new surge?
I have now joined a majority of Americans, nearly 60%, who’ve been knowingly infected. I don’t feel great, but I know it could be so much worse. I’m practically giddy thinking about all those antibodies I’m building up. Always look on the bright side of life, as the old Eric Idle song goes in “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.”
I’ve been following the science on this thing from the beginning. I wore my mask. I practiced social distancing, as best I could. I had my first round of vaccination shots as soon as I was eligible. (Moderna was my roll-of-the-dice jab.) When it came time for the boosters, same thing. Shot 1, then shot 2 when eligible (just about a month ago). I knew the vaccines wouldn’t necessarily prevent me from getting the damn thing, but would at least likely keep me out of the hospital and away from death’s door. I’m 65 and have type 2 diabetes.
My policy throughout the pandemic has been to try to follow the ever-evolving CDC guidelines, as fine-tuned by the city or town I was in. It’s not always easy and it doesn’t always make sense. As many have said, why have we been masked entering and exiting restaurants but unmasked while eating? It’s not as if the virus was polite enough to say: “Hey, you’re noshing. Not gonna harsh on your good time, but, hey, watch out when you get up!”
I don’t feel great, but I know it could be so much worse.
Part of the frustration of life during COVID is the surfeit of contradictory messages from those who know and the loud flat-out ignorant boasts from the anti-vaxxers who don’t. (They’ve done their own research, of course.) For most of us, there’s the idea of self-protection, linked to the imperative to do the right thing for others. And also try to live life as much as possible like it was before March 2020.
I don’t know for sure where I got it, but I did go to two concerts in Boston in late April. Neither one required proof of vaccination or a mask — and I didn’t wear one.
I also went to see the Red Sox lose again on May 4, a chilly night. Fenway doesn’t require a vaccination card or masks either — wearing one is a thing of the past now, I guess, for me and pretty much everybody else. There are 20,000-plus people in the stands, watching the Red Sox cough up runs, but it was open air and that’s supposed to be safe-ish, right?
I came home that night hoarse and cold, but shook it off and felt OK the next day. I played golf on May 6 and may have had what seemed like seasonal allergies, but nothing out of the ordinary. An intense sore throat came a-calling Friday night. Hmm. A bit of fatigue. I felt the same upon waking Saturday.
My wife and I had picked up several of the at-home COVID-19 tests some time ago, just in case. I swabbed my nose, dipped it in that special six-drip sauce and waited the requisite 15 minutes. Then I saw the two parallel pink/purple lines. The disease had landed. (My wife tested negative initially, then positive a couple of days after me, on May 9. A 24/7 Blue Cross Blue Shield nurse told her that if your partner has COVID, it’s a pretty safe to assume you do, too, and act accordingly).
The only option, clearly, is to wait it out. But I do have a little help from my new pharmaceutical friend, Paxlovid, the oral antiviral medication ...
I was of two minds. First thought: “Godammit!” (Think Cartman’s voice in “South Park.”) Second thought: Experts say, most everyone’s going to get this, and it's better that I’m having my turn in the isolation tank now than it would have been in, say, the spring of 2020. Back then, a positive COVID test could’ve meant a hospital stay or even a death sentence.
Regardless of my rational mind, a positive diagnosis sent a wave of abject fear racing through the brain. After all, the U.S. has had 1 million COVID deaths (or we will soon cross that gruesome threshold, depending on your source).
Now, what, for me?
Well, I canceled my plans. No “Riverdance,” no golf, no restaurant dining. The only option, clearly, is to wait it out. But I do have a little help from my new pharmaceutical friend, Paxlovid, the oral antiviral medication that I had barely just heard of before my positive test.
The drug, made by Pfizer, was granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and Massachusetts has made it relatively attainable. Two health care companies, one called Color and another called Wheel (seriously) have partnered up. You reach them by logging into the Mass.gov website. You fill out the questionnaire and, if you meet the criteria, you’re connected to a board-certified clinician.
In my case, a very knowledgeable and personable practitioner was video conferencing with me within a half an hour. Less than a half hour after that, she put the prescription through at a CVS, which is a five-minute walk from my home. Cost for the consultation and the prescription was $0. No insurance necessary.
It's three-pills-at-a-time, twice a day, for five days. According to Healthline, the medication includes two primary agents: nirmatrelvir, which disrupts the novel coronavirus’s ability to replicate, and ritonavir, which slows down how quickly the body processes the drug.
To be eligible for the meds, you must test positive — you upload a jpg of your test to the website — and have symptoms that started within five days. If you’re 65-plus, you’re in. If not, you must be at increased risk of developing a severe case of Covid — heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity, among others, to get access.
Given the current abundance of supply, eligibility may soon be expanded (just as it was for the vaccines). The White House says it wants it to be available to all Americans.
“We’re awaiting results of a randomized control trial that is studying Paxlovid for treatment in standard risk individuals,” Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Hospital told me. “But a BMI [Body Mass Index] of 26 or greater gets you Paxlovid and that’s most adults in U.S."
With Covid cases on the rise, how safe or unsafe is it out there?
“The unvaccinated need to vaccinate not as much to prevent getting infected as much as an antidote to reduce risk of severe illness,” Ellerin said. “Wear a mask to protect the vulnerable, especially when indoors in crowded area or with prolonged exposure to people that you don’t know their COVID status.”
As I write, I’ve had five doses — I’m at my midpoint — and I can report all my symptoms have greatly lessened. The sore throat? Very slight and fading. Congestion? None. Headache? A sliver left. Fatigue? A bit.
One side-effect, as I was fore-warned, was a bitter taste that lingers in my mouth. I have found that a modest dish of Hood’s East Double Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream swirl does a very good job of taking that bitter taste away. For a few minutes at least.