Pandemic Endgame: What ‘Endemic’ Covid Means—And When We May Get There

Nearly two years into the pandemic, weary politicians and governments are pushing to treat Covid-19 like any other problematic but manageable illness like the seasonal flu, but experts warn the approach could be premature and paints an overly optimistic picture of what “living with Covid” actually means.

Despite the contagious omicron variant driving huge waves of infections, countries including the U.K., Denmark and Sweden have dropped almost all pandemic restrictions as leaders stress we must “learn to live” with the virus and transition from treating Covid-19 as a pandemic illness to an endemic one.

But “with few exceptions, politicians do not understand the meaning or significance of endemicity,” warns Dr. John Swartzberg, an infectious disease expert at the University of California at Berkeley school of public health, who told Forbes endemic means the “stable or constant presence of a disease” within a set area.

Dr. Aris Katzourakis, an evolutionary virologist at the University of Oxford, expressed a similar degree of uncertainty and told Forbes that while he couldn’t say how soon we might reach it, “it’s not going to be in 2022.”

Endemic doesn’t mean mild or infrequent disease either, both experts caution—”endemic means that it is with us to stay,” Halloran said—and many of the world’s biggest killers like malaria, tuberculosis and HIV are endemic.

What We Don’t Know

What endemic Covid would mean for our everyday lives. This would depend on “what level the endemicity arrives at,” Swartzberg said, meaning how common the disease will be. If Covid were to be endemic at a very high level, “we will be limited in our options,” he explained, and may have to keep on using social restrictions and non-pharmaceutical interventions like masks.

At a very low level, “life will return toward the pre-pandemic state.” We have some control over the level of endemicity through vaccination, Swartzberg said, which would also reduce the chance of a new variant emerging.

Key Background

Calls to just live with the coronavirus have been prevalent since the pandemic began and many—including a not-insignificant number of politicians at the highest levels of office like former President Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro—controversially compared it to seasonal flu to illustrate the point.

Though symptoms between the two diseases are similar, the comparison misleadingly downplayed the severity of the coronavirus and showed ignorance of the death toll influenza exacts every year (up to 650,000 people worldwide).

Calls to treat Covid-19 as a more predictable and regular illness grew in popularity as restrictions continued into a second year of the pandemic and vaccines were rolled out and gained new momentum with the rapid spread of the delta and then the omicron variant. Though the latter variant caused higher rates of infection—which reached record levels in many countries—there were relatively low levels of hospitalization and deaths compared to previous waves.

In addition to parts of Europe, leaders in many states are renewing the push to return to normal, with a number of governors feeling it’s time to treat Covid as endemic.

Chief Critic

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the leader of the World Health Organization, warned last week against countries lifting restrictions and claiming victory over the virus prematurely. “This virus is dangerous, and it continues to evolve before our very eyes,” he said. Continued restrictions are vital to stop transmission of the virus, he added, in response to countries relaxing measures.

What To Watch For

“Stealth” omicron BA.2. A close relative of the omicron variant—known as BA.2 and called “stealth omicron” by some scientists—is more infectious than the original omicron variant and is rapidly overtaking it in some parts of the world. It does not appear to cause more serious disease, as with the original variant, though experts warn it could lead to more hospitalizations and deaths with more people getting infected.

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I am a London-based reporter for Forbes covering breaking news. Previously, I have worked as a reporter for a specialist legal publication covering big data and as a freelance journalist and policy analyst covering science, tech and health. I have a master’s degree in Biological Natural Sciences and a master’s degree in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge. Follow me on Twitter @theroberthart or email me at rhart@forbes.com 

Source: Pandemic Endgame: What ‘Endemic’ Covid Means—And When We May Get There

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Critics:

Europe is entering the “plausible endgame” of the coronavirus pandemic, a director of the World Health Organization has said. Dr Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said the region had recorded 12 million new COVID-19 cases in the last week, with 30% of all cases since the pandemic began being reported this year.

But he said “for now, the number of deaths across the region is starting to plateau”. He said there is an “opportunity to take control of transmission” because many are immune to Omicron through either natural infection or vaccination.

Dr Kluge said there is a “favourable seasonal pause as we move out of winter”, while the “lower severity of the Omicron variant” is also helping. “This context, that we have not experienced so far in this pandemic, leaves us with the possibility for a long period of tranquillity and a much higher level of population defence against any resurge in transmission, even with a more virulent variant,” he said.

“This period of higher protection should be seen as a ceasefire that could bring us enduring peace.”

More contents:

Don’t Treat Covid Like Flu, WHO Says, As Nations Ditch Restrictions And Live With Virus (Forbes)

COVID-19: endemic doesn’t mean harmless (Nature)

We’re Thinking About Endemicity All Wrong (Atlantic)

Pfizer sees revenues double to $81bn thanks to COVID-19 vaccine

COVID-19: Hundreds of thousands probably died due to ‘bad behaviour’ from politicians over AstraZeneca vaccine, says Oxford scientist

Sir Keir Starmer in the clear over claim he broke lockdown with office beer

Do Rapid Tests Work With Omicron? Should I Swab My Throat? Covid Test Questions Answered

Should we be swabbing our noses or our throats for at-home tests? Do rapid tests even detect omicron at all? Are PCR tests the only results we can trust right now?

Guidance about how to approach testing in the omicron era seems to be evolving by the day. ​​A recent real-world study that followed 30 subjects likely exposed to omicron found that PCR saliva tests can catch Covid-19 cases three days before rapid antigen tests, which use nasal swabs.

These findings, which have not been peer reviewed, follow the Food and Drug Administration’s announcement in late December that, while they do detect omicron, rapid antigen tests may now have “reduced sensitivity.” But that doesn’t mean rapid tests don’t play a key role in our pandemic response going forward.

This is all confusing to a public that’s been pulled in several directions over the course of the pandemic when it comes to guidance and testing. Long delays for PCR test results, a shortage of at-home rapid tests, and the wait for more definitive science about the omicron variant have all made it more difficult to figure out when and how to to get tested. Nevertheless, public health experts say that, as more become available, rapid tests will be an increasingly vital tool for diagnosing Covid-19 and reducing its spread.

“We don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good”

So you might be wondering: What’s the point if rapid tests aren’t as accurate as PCR tests? Well, rapid antigen tests, which look for a specific protein on the Covid-19 virus, remain extremely effective at confirming positive cases. Put simply, if you test positive on a rapid test, you almost certainly have Covid-19.

If you test negative, in some cases, you might still test positive on a PCR test, which is much more sensitive because it tests for genetic evidence of the virus. Rapid tests may not pick up positive cases in people who have been vaccinated or who have recently recovered from Covid-19, since they may produce less virus, one expert told Recode.

Rapid tests can also reveal a positive case faster than the labs that process PCR tests, since they can take several days to share results with patients, especially during big waves of infection. Perhaps more importantly, rapid tests can indicate whether someone is contagious enough to spread the virus to others, which is what many people are most worried about.

“Given that a rapid antigen test is often the most feasible or available option for many, we don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good,” Joshua Michaud, the associate director for global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Recode. He explained that every Covid-19 case that’s caught by someone who could take a rapid antigen test but not a PCR test is a win for public health.

Taking rapid tests more frequently also makes them more effective. Most at-home rapid test kits are designed to be conducted over the course of two days, which is why kits typically include two tests. Because each test is a snapshot of the moment it’s taken, multiple tests help reduce the chance of receiving a false negative.

Of course, all of this is assuming that you can get your hands on a rapid test. In the weeks since omicron started to spread, rapid tests have been incredibly hard to find in some parts of the country. These tests are out of stock because neither test manufacturers nor the Biden administration anticipated record levels of Covid-19 cases, which have boosted the demand for rapid tests.

To confront the shortage, the White House plans to buy and distribute 500 million free rapid tests in the coming weeks. When that happens, these tests could help catch more positive cases and lower the number of people infected with Covid-19.

How accurate are rapid tests when it comes to omicron?

The accuracy of a rapid test depends on how often you’re testing yourself and whether you want to identify a Covid-19 infection or measure your contagiousness. But if you test positive on a rapid test, you should trust the result, assume you’re infectious, and isolate for at least five days. If you test positive again after five days, the CDC recommends isolating for five more.

Rapid tests, however, are not perfect. Research indicates that antigen tests are less accurate than PCR tests — this has been the case since the beginning of the pandemic. PCR tests are processed in a lab, where sophisticated equipment can identify and amplify even the tiniest genetic evidence of the virus that causes Covid-19.

These tests are so precise that patients can actually test positive for weeks after they’ve recovered and are no longer contagious. The results of rapid tests, meanwhile, can vary based on how much virus is in a patient’s nose at the time the sample is taken and how far along they are in their infection.

Scientists explain the difference between rapid tests and PCR tests in two ways: specificity, which reflects a test’s false-positive rate, and sensitivity, which reflects a test’s false-negative rate. Both PCR and rapid tests have high specificity, which means that their positive results are very trustworthy. But while PCR tests tend to have near-perfect sensitivity, rapid antigen tests tend to have a sensitivity around 80 to 90 percent. This means that rapid tests tend to produce more false negatives than PCR tests do.

“Most at-home tests are still able to detect infection by omicron because they target a part of the virus that doesn’t mutate that much”Omicron makes testing even trickier. The sensitivity of rapid tests may be even lower for omicron cases, according to early research from the FDA and other scientists.

Another problem is that omicron may propagate more in the throat than the lungs, and it could take longer for Covid-19 to show up in nasal samples, even if someone is symptomatic. It’s possible that vaccinated people and people who have recently recovered from Covid-19 are noticing more false negatives on rapid tests because they tend to produce less virus overall.

“At-home tests are mostly effective when the person has high viral loads, a time when the person is more likely to transmit the virus,” Pablo Penaloza-MacMaster, a viral immunologist at Northwestern’s medical school, told Recode, “Most at-home tests are still able to detect infection by omicron because they target a part of the virus that doesn’t mutate that much.”

Separate studies from both the UK’s Health Security Agency and researchers in Australia found that antigen tests are as sensitive to the omicron variant as they were to earlier strains of Covid-19. Again, the FDA does still recommend rapid tests to diagnose positive cases, and test manufacturers say they’re confident in their products’ ability to detect omicron.

While early research indicates saliva tests might detect Covid-19 more quickly, right now most of the PCR tests and all of the available rapid at-home tests that have emergency use authorizations from the FDA use nasal samples.

How to use rapid tests in less-than-ideal circumstances

Which brings us back to the question of whether you should be sticking nasal swabs in your throat. There is evidence that saliva samples may be a quicker indicator of Covid-19 cases, but that doesn’t mean you should stop following the directions that come with your test kit.

The FDA says that people should not use rapid antigen tests to swab their own mouths. Some experts say you might consider doing so anyway, and point out that other countries, including the UK, have approved rapid antigen tests that use throat swabs and released very careful directions about how to do so.

“​​I personally do swab my throat and my nose to get the best sensitivity when I use over-the-counter tests at home,” Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard, said at a Thursday press conference. “There are risks associated with that, but the biology does tell us that they might be getting better sensitivity earlier.”

But the concern with rapid test kits right now is not that people are swabbing their noses, but how often they’re swabbing their noses. A single test could miss a Covid-19 case and produce a false negative, but taking two tests over a 24 to 36 hour period reduces this risk.

The more rapid tests you take, the more you reduce your chances of a false negative, and the more times you test negative over multiple days, the more confident you can be that you’re not spreading Covid-19.

Still, the biggest problem right now is that rapid tests are pricey and hard to find. Pharmacies have limited the number of test kits people can buy, and many are completely sold out. A single test can also cost more than $10, which means that testing yourself regularly gets expensive quickly. Opportunists have even hoarded tests and engaged in price gouging, which has exacerbated the shortage.

If you don’t have enough tests to test yourself regularly, it’s best to test yourself right before seeing vulnerable people, says Mara Aspinall, a professor who leads Arizona State’s testing diagnostic commons and a board member for the test manufacturer Orasure, told Recode. “I’m heading to a vulnerable person [or] I’m going into a health care setting, and therefore need to test right beforehand.”

For now, the best test kit is the test you can get (Wired has a handy list of the brands currently available). If you’re planning to go somewhere and don’t want to spread the virus, you should take one rapid test the day before traveling, and then a second test immediately before you go. If you only have one rapid test, take it right before you see people.

Testing yourself should become easier as more rapid tests become available. In addition to the 500 million free rapid tests that the White House will distribute beginning later this month, people with private insurance will also be able to get their rapid test purchases reimbursed starting next week. You should also check with your local health department, as they might be distributing free tests.

Even though the rapid test situation is still less than ideal, there are other strategies we can use to protect both ourselves and other people from Covid-19, like getting vaccinated, getting boosted, and wearing a mask. And if you do happen to find some rapid tests, go ahead and grab them. They might just come in handy, especially if you use them correctly.

Correction, January 7, 10:30 am: An earlier version of this story misstated in one instance the kind of false results that might appear more often on rapid Covid-19 tests among vaccinated people and those with immunity from recent infection. The false results are false negatives, not false positives.

Rebecca Heilweil

Rebecca Heilweil is a reporter for Open Sourced, covering emerging technologies, artificial intelligence, and logistics. Her Twitter handle is @rebheilweil.

Source: Do rapid tests work with omicron? Should I swab my throat? Covid test questions, answered. – Vox

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More contents:

CDC Recommends Cutting Covid Isolation Time To 5 Days For Some Healthcare Workers

With hospitals in some areas struggling with staffing shortfalls amid a nationwide surge of Covid-19 cases, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control revised its guidelines Thursday to recommend that healthcare workers who contract Covid-19 but display mild-to-moderate symptoms and are not moderately or severely immunocompromised can return to work five days after symptoms first appear, down from 10 days previously.

Key Facts

Healthcare workers who contract the virus should also wait until at least 24 hours after their last fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and must wait until symptoms like coughing and shortness of breath have improved, according to the guidelines.

Some hospitals have voluntarily adopted a seven-day isolation period for infected staff, the New York Times reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises someone who tests positive to go into isolation for 10 days. Critics say that the policy does not take into account how the pandemic has developed over the last two years.

Omicron is now the dominant strain in the U.S. Although more transmissible than prior variants and amid a spike in breakthrough infections among the fully vaccinated, the strain so far appears to be causing milder symptoms.

The CDC also recommended that hospitals cancel all non-essential procedures and visits if necessary to mitigate staffing shortages. Other new CDC guidelines also revised rules for workers who have higher-risk exposure to Covid-19, such as having their eyes, nose or mouth exposed to material possibly containing the virus, but who are not confirmed to have been infected.

In general, asymptomatic workers who have been exposed to the virus in this way do not require any restriction from work if they have received all recommended vaccine doses, including boosters, the CDC said.

Fauci told CNN reducing the 10-day isolation recommendation would help those without symptoms return to work or school, although added “no decisions” had been made yet.

Key Background

As the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant raises infection rates across the U.S., hospitals have struggled with worker burnout and understaffing. In Massachusetts, New York and Ohio, the National Guard has been deployed to reinforce overburdened hospital staff, Spectrum News reported. “When it comes to the workforce, it’s fair to say we’re facing a national emergency,” American Hospital Association President Rick Pollack told NPR.

Tangent

Airlines for America, a trade association representing most of the nation’s largest airlines, asked the CDC on Thursday to shorten its quarantine recommendation to five days for fully vaccinated people who have a breakthrough Covid-19 case. A4A CEO Nicholas Calio cited potential worker shortages and operation disruptions amid the omicron coronavirus surge if the quarantine time isn’t reduced.

However, flight attendant union chief Sara Nelson pushed back against the airlines’ call on Thursday, saying it would pose health risks. “Although breakthrough infections are mild, the 10-day isolation is extremely disruptive to people’s lives,” he told Newsweek. “It’s unnecessary if a person is contagious for a significantly shorter period of time,” Adalja noted.

Omicron is the most dominant COVID strain in the U.S., comprising of 73 per cent of new infections last week. But even if proven to have milder systems, there are fears the health care system could be overwhelmed if infections put medical workers out of action.

I cover breaking news for Forbes. Previously, I was editor for The Cordova Times newspaper in Cordova, Alaska. In 2018, I obtained a Master of Journalism

I am a Hawaii-based reporter covering breaking news for Forbes. I graduated from the University of Hawaii with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and

Source: CDC Recommends Cutting Covid Isolation Time To 5 Days For Some Healthcare Workers

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Related contents:

Good Vibes Are Contagious

One of my favorite threads of research shows just how interconnected we humans are. Studies reveal that if you bear witness to someone else experiencing pain—whether it’s a friend stubbing their toe, a person experiencing homelessness on a damp street corner, or a somber face in the waiting room of a hospital—you’re likely to experience some degree of pain yourself. The Association for Psychological Science (APS) dubs this the “I feel your pain” effect, and most everyone experiences it from time to time.

“When we witness what happens to others, we don’t just activate the visual cortex like we thought decades ago,” Dutch neuroscientist Christian Keysers told the APS. “We also activate our own actions as if we’d be acting in similar ways. We activate our own emotions and sensations as if we felt the same.”

Pain isn’t the only contagious emotion. Researchers from Yale University closely monitored just under 5,000 people living in the small town of Framingham, Massachusetts, for more than three decades. They found that when someone became happy or sad, that emotion rippled throughout the entire town. Another study, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, showed that even below-the-surface emotions, such as motivation, are contagious.

If someone is working in the same room with people who are internally driven, their attitude also improves. If, however, someone is working in the same room with those who aren’t too excited about their work, then their motivation decreases. A 2017 study out of Northwestern University found that sitting within 25 feet of a high performer at work improved an employee’s performance by 15 percent. But sitting within 25 feet of a low performer hurt their performance by 30 percent. That’s an enormous effect!

Emotions even spread virtually. Another study, aptly titled “I’m Sad, You’re Sad,” found that if you are in a negative mood when you text your partner, they are likely to pick up on it and experience a lower mood state themselves. The same is true of Facebook posts, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Emotions like happiness, sadness, and anger spread like wildfire on the platform. (Not that you needed a study to prove this.)

Instead of meeting sadness with sadness, you can meet it with compassion and support.

This science all points toward the same basic truth: we are mirrors reflecting onto each other. The people we surround ourselves with shape us, and we shape those around us, too. The implications of this truth are important and actionable.

For starters, you’d be wise to associate with people you admire and aspire to be like. It’s not so much rote skill that is contagious as it is the motivation and emotions that lead to skill development. In other words, it is much better to work with the scrappy but less-talented performer than the all-star who phones it in. This is every bit as true on the playing field as it is in the office.

What’s more, just being aware of how easily emotions spread allows you to change yourself and, in turn, change those around you. For example, if you receive a text message that suddenly makes you sad, or if you read a social-media post that makes you angry, rather than immediately reacting, you can pause for a moment and then respond thoughtfully.

Instead of meeting sadness with sadness, you can meet it with compassion and support. Instead of meeting anger with anger, you can try to meet it with understanding (or just ignore it altogether). The flip side is also true. When you are feeling good you’re liable to spread it—though my hunch is that this happens naturally, without trying.

None of this is new, of course. Over a decade ago in the foothills of the Himalayas, before much of the above science unfolded, I asked a Nepali Sherpa named Indra about the prayer flags that were all over. “It’s simple,” he told me. “When you are feeling a strong emotion, you plant a flag. Since the beginning of time, my culture believes the wind will spread that energy and the universe will receive it.”

Brad Stulberg (@Bstulberg) is a performance coach and writes Outside’s Do It Better column. He is also bestselling author of the books “The Passion Paradox” and “Peak Performance.”

Source: Good Vibes Are Contagious

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Related Contents:

Barrett LF, Mesquita B, Ochsner KN, Gross JJ (January 2007). “The experience of emotion”. Annual Review of Psychology. 58 (1): 373–403. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.58.110405.085709“Emotion |

Definition of Emotion by Oxford Dictionary on Lexico.com also meaning of Emotion

“Listening to Your Authentic Self: The Purpose of Emotions

Scherer, Klaus R.; Shuman, Vera; Fontaine, Johnny R. J.; Soriano, Cristina (2013), “The GRID meets the Wheel: Assessing emotional feeling via self-report1Cowen AS, Keltner D (2017).

“Self-report captures 27 distinct categories of emotion bridged by continuous gradients”“Emotion and decision making” (PDF). Annual Review of Psychology.

66: 799–823. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115043.

PMID 25251484“Different Types of Emotions in Psychology All Questions Answered”Caroline Blanchard, D; Hynd, April L; Minke, Karl A; Minemoto, Tiffanie; Blanchard, Robert J (1 December 2001).

“Human defensive behaviors to threat scenarios show parallels to fear- and anxiety-related defense patterns of non-human mammals”.

Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 25 (7): 761–70. doi:10.1016/S0149-7634(01)00056-2. ISSN 0149-7634. PMID 11801300. S2CID 24732701“History of Emotions | Max Planck Institute for Human Development”

.Kleine-Cosack C (October 2006).

“Recognition and Simulation of EmotionsScherer, K (2005).

“What are emotions and how can they be measured?” (PDF). Social Science Information. 44 (4): 695–729. doi:10.1177/0539018405058216. S2CID 145575751

What It’s Like To Have Breakthrough COVID

The contagious nature of the Delta variant has meant breakthrough COVID cases are on the rise. Seven people tell us what it was like to have one.

In case you hadn’t already heard, COVID-19 numbers are ticking up again, even among people who are vaccinated. While unvaccinated people in the U.S. are contracting COVID at a much, much higher rate than those who’ve gotten the vaccine, the contagious nature of the Delta variant has meant breakthrough cases are on the rise, too.

Cities like Los Angeles have already reinstated mask mandates in response, while New York City has begun imposing vaccine mandates for people who wish to visit bars, restaurants, and gyms. Meanwhile, case numbers continue to climb. We spoke to seven people from around the United States about their breakthrough COVID experiences—the symptoms, the testing process, and how they’re feeling post-quarantine.

Do you know how you were exposed to COVID?

Brian Morgan, 48, Los Angeles, CA: I got my first dose of Moderna in January 2021 and my second February 2021. COVID symptoms started July 20th. I have an idea of where I think I may have gotten it, but it was definitely during the time where California’s government said it was safe to gather indoors without masks. I was at a few large indoor gatherings without a mask a week before the new mask mandates went into place.

Kyle O’Flaherty, 29, Brooklyn, NY: The weekend before I got sick, full admission, I had a bunch of social engagements kind of all stacked together: two birthday parties on Friday, a wedding on Saturday, and then like a day party on Sunday outdoors. Most of the things were in big spaces, I wouldn’t call anything necessarily “enclosed.” But they also kept me up late. I didn’t get a lot of sleep.

Daniel Merchant, 25, Brooklyn, NY/Portland, OR: I got vaccinated on April 7th at a public vaccination drive in Co-Op City, Bronx, right when the vaccine was made available to 18+ people. I got the J&J vaccine. I knew that I’d been exposed because three to four days before I started showing symptoms I was at a funeral, and then right after I started showing symptoms, I found out that my grandpa’s wife, who was there, tested positive (she’s a breakthrough case as well). Really unfortunate timing, because I went to another funeral the day before I found out I was exposed, so I had to text a ton of people that they’d been exposed too. Only one other person got it (also a breakthrough case!) which is a huge relief, but still a nightmare.

Jacob Hill, 42, Gonzales, LA: I was in meetings with one of the only other people who is vaccinated in my workplace, my boss. He got Johnson and Johnson, I had the Pfizer vaccine. We were in his office Tuesday and Wednesday, less than six feet apart and no masks;  he calls me Thursday morning and says, ‘Hey, man, I’m running a fever.’ I was like, ‘Oh my god, like, all right, I’ll kind of start watching myself for symptoms.’ Then he went to get a COVID test and he was like, ‘Look, I’m positive, you’re gonna have to isolate.’ The next day is when the headache started.

Marc Dweck, 30, Brooklyn, NY/Jersey Shore, NJ: For the summer, we live with family in New Jersey—there’s 16 of us in the house. We’re not sure who got it first. I was the first one to test positive, but a few people in the house weren’t feeling well before me. So who knows?

Silena Palazzola, 25, Los Angeles, CA: The first time I heard about a friend getting it was this last month—and I couldn’t tell you which one of my friends gave it to me, because two of them independently got it, and then I was exposed to both of them. They made the calls, that awkward, ‘Hey, she had a great time seeing you this weekend, but also you might want to go get tested and give people a wide berth for a few days.’

Chantal Smith, 38, Brooklyn, NY: I got vaccinated in April and I actually got Johnson&Johnson. My boyfriend was vaccinated in April, and he got Moderna. In mid July, I went to the US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. You had to show a PCR test before you flew, and they had a mask mandate there. Flying back, we had an incident on the plane where someone wasn’t wearing a mask correctly and was sort of being belligerent. They actually got kicked off the plane—the police had to come on, and it was just a big pain in the ass. Two days later, my boyfriend started to complain that he felt like he had a summer cold.

What were your initial symptoms?

Smith: First, I had itchy eyes. The next night, I started to feel really sick—I had body aches and was feeling like I had a fever. I was like, this feels exactly what I felt like after I got vaccinated. I woke up the next day and said to my boyfriend, ‘Look, I think we should both go get tested.’

O’Flaherty: On the first day, I woke up tired and was tired at work. I had an ear infection and post-nasal drip on the left side, both of which are common for me. But later that night, my throat felt a little… interesting. The next day, I woke up tired again, but I still went into work. In the middle of the day, I started getting a headache and feeling that kind of hot, cold sensation. As soon as that happened, I just cancelled the rest of my day.

Merchant: I first started experiencing symptoms at the very end of July, maybe July 31st? I had a bit of a runny nose, some sneezing, and it felt like I had a minor sinus infection or allergies (not unusual when you’re in Oregon in the summertime). I realized I was fucked when I was making dinner with my mom, cooking something that involved garlic, lime, jalapeños and chili paste and I couldn’t smell a thing. Stuck my face in a bag of coffee, nada. Right after that, I told my parents to stay away from me.

Morgan: Mostly body aches, but later light sniffles and sore throat. After a week or so, I started developing a lack of smell and taste. I can taste basic sweet/sour/salty sensations now, but nuances of flavor are still diminished. Sense of smell is starting to come back, but still diminished.

Palazzola: I started feeling a tickle in my throat and then after three days of that, I was like, oh no, it’s getting worse.

What kind of test did you get, and where did you do it?

Merchant: I’ve had a few PCR tests post-vaccination. Another friend of mine was a super super early breakthrough case (like late April) so I got one at CityMD on Manhattan Ave in Greenpoint. My most recent PCR test (which confirmed that I had it) was OHSU in Portland.

Palazzola: I went into a Carbon Health urgent care center and did a rapid and it came back positive within an hour.

Dweck: I work in the wholesale industry; two weeks ago, I wasn’t feeling well, so I decided not to go to the office. I went to the doctor, the doctor said it was most likely an upper respiratory infection so there was no need to get tested, but if I wanted to, sure. So I got tested. The following morning, as I was waiting for results, I lost taste and smell. Then I knew that it was going to be a positive.

Morgan: Test was super easy here in LA. I got a nasal PCR test at a public testing site. Almost no wait on a Thursday morning.

Smith: I went to a CityMD urgent care in Williamsburg. There were a bunch of people outside.

O’Flaherty: I rode a bicycle to get tested at my doctor’s office, so it wasn’t like I was doing that badly. The irony is, I did have an ear infection. That’s one of the first things they found. It just happened to coincide with positive COVID.

Hill: We have a hospital here called Our Lady of the Lake Ascension. I called them, told them what my symptoms were, and they scheduled a test for me in the parking lot. I went there and I was like… number 170 in line. There were so many people there. And we’re not in a city—this is a small town.

What were your symptoms and how long did they last?

Morgan: All symptoms were pretty mild. In general, it felt like a very minor cold or flu. Body aches lasted maybe 4-5 days total. Sniffles and sore throat started a little later and lasted about 3-5 days. Lack of smell and taste is slowly coming back.

Palazzola: My symptoms got progressively worse for the next three or four days. I had a really bad sore throat—like, where swallowing anything hurts—and crazy fatigue. Then I got a little bit of congestion, but not much.

O’Flaherty: I was laid out for a bit. I quarantined for 10 days, but I was in a place where I would have called out sick from working for at least three if not four of those days, even in a world where there was no COVID. I was sweating through four or five t-shirts in a night,  massive headaches, massive sinus pressure, not really a cough but lots of post-nasal drip. There were a couple days when I got back to work after I was negative and everything was fine, but I was just working half days, and then I’d come home and take a nap. I required tons of sleep.

Merchant: I couldn’t smell a goddamn thing. Strangely enough, I didn’t lose my sense of taste at all. Fair amount of sneezing, and a runny nose + sinus pressure. A few times I felt a little out of breath, but I didn’t have any crazy coughing fits. A little bit achy here and there. I felt absolutely exhausted for a while. I slept like 12-14 hours for like 4 days straight, which is really unusual for me. I’d say I had symptoms for a week.

Smith: It was maybe five or six days of just feeling that achy, tired, fevery sort of feeling and then a cough and a runny nose—but it was more of a body thing.

Hill: The day after my boss called is when the headache started. It’s funny because like, on a scale of one to 10, it was probably a three—nothing too punishing, just nagging.  I think I ran a fever overnight once, because I woke up and I was sweating, but after that zero fever. Then I started getting a little bit stuffy in the nose, but that’s as far as it ever went with me. The stuffiness started to subside about four days into it, and that’s when I lost my taste and smell. That stayed gone for about another six days and then that came back. Nothing else for the entire duration.

Dweck: The first night I saw symptoms before I got tested, I had the chills, fevers, night sweats—exactly how I felt when I got vaccinated, which was sort of a red flag for me. And then I continued to have that and I wasn’t able to sleep for like four days in a row. I had body aches, congestion, fever throughout, just felt like garbage. As soon as I was able to sleep on the fourth night, I started to feel a little bit better and continually got better.

How are you feeling now?

Hill: I still feel a little bit foggy sometimes and I still feel pretty fatigued in the mornings—like my batteries are still a little bit lower than they should be. That’s got to be an after effect of COVID because I’m a real morning person.

Merchant: I’m finishing my isolation period today, and I feel pretty much completely normal, minus my smell, which has recovered maybe 20 percent? I can smell really strong odors, but it’s definitely not where it used to be. My guess is that it will come back with time (I really, really hope so).

Dweck: I still feel kind of weak and lethargic sometimes. My whole family got it, and we were all vaccinated, and our kids got it, who weren’t vaccinated unfortunately, because you can’t vaccinate babies. It’s annoying, but everyone’s doing good. Thank God.

Smith: For all intents and purposes, I’m better but I still feel kind of like shit. Every morning I wake up and I feel like I’m hungover even though I haven’t even had a drink. I’m coming into the third week of feeling like that—my boyfriend said he feels like he’s 60 percent better, and I’m maybe 80 to 90 percent better. We’re hoping that the next few days or the next couple of weeks, it’s going to go away, because it’s just been going off forever.

Morgan: Other than the lack of smell, I feel 100 percent recovered. Maybe even a little extra energy than before contracting COVID? I’ve heard of this effect with others, as well… increased energy post-recovery.

Any advice for people worried about breakthrough COVID?

Smith: If you have a scratchy throat or something that you’re not sure about, get tested. It is a pain but it’s free.

Morgan: On a spiritual level, just allow it and don’t resist that you have it. Don’t dwell on fear or negative effects. Have compassion for yourself and others during this challenging time. We’ve been given an opportunity to come together in a time when many forces are trying to divide us. Choose love and understanding and try to see yourself reflected in the people you encounter.

Hill: Wear the mask, take your precautions. But then again, if you’ve had the vaccine, go out and live your life. Take all the safety precautions, but if you’ve been vaccinated, you’re in pretty good shape. It’s just gonna take 10 days out of your life, that’s all.

Dweck: Trust the medical professionals that are recommending whatever care or procedures they’re recommending, for sure. And I’d definitely recommend getting vaccinated, because who knows—I could have been the person who ended up having to go to the hospital, instead of just being at home and not feeling well.

Merchant: I think it’s totally reasonable to reconsider how much we’ve been socializing, and that we’ve got a long way to go before things truly get back to normal, but I don’t think it’s helpful to freak out about it. The data shows that the vaccines are crazy effective at preventing serious illness, and we should rely on that rather than random anecdotes about people who got sick.

O’Flaherty: I have my own physical therapy practice, so I’m super active, and pretty fit. And I’m glad I had the vaccine—that was my biggest surprise, was being like, Oh, OK. This is what it’s like having it even with the vaccine.

Source: What It’s Like to Have Breakthrough COVID

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