Sunday morning around 7 a.m., my spouse and I were three hours from heading to JFK airport when two pink lines materialized on my Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen test.
Catching the coronavirus after nearly two years of dodging exposures was extra disappointing because it meant disrupting a wedding event for the second time during the pandemic. After the lockdowns scuppered our original plans, my spouse and I took legal vows in September 2020. This week, we were due to travel across the country to hold a “second ceremony” – an outdoor Jewish wedding reception on New Year’s Day.
The guest list was mid-sized, with approximately 100 people — all of which were fully vaccinated or boosted. We were also providing rapid home testing kits to every guest and requiring that they take one the day before the reception and the morning of the main event.
Most of these plans were made before the omicron variant was detected in Botswana and South Africa in November — and before California reinstated an indoor mask mandate for all. So, we decided to move forward, feeling confident that the multiple layers of protection could keep the odds low of an infection spreading.
But no amount of precautions can guarantee staying COVID-free – a lesson I’ve learned countless times as a health news editor who has covered the pandemic from its earliest stages. My partner, coworkers and family would undoubtedly describe my adherence to protocols as above average. My exposure potentially happened while I was wearing a mask indoors – but sharing space with someone who wasn’t wearing one. My standards lapsed one time, and omicron got me.
I’m disappointed but also grateful because I have access to both testing and COVID-19 vaccines. Without the at-home tests, which we were lucky enough to order before the omicron wave exploded and drained supplies, I would have walked by hundreds of fellow travelers on Sunday, potentially exposing the people sitting next to me on the plane and imperiling my senior citizen in-laws upon arrival.
My vaccinations, meanwhile, likely kept the worst outcomes from happening, even though my symptoms rapidly intensified after I tested positive. Aside from the rudimentary runny nose and a strong cough, it initially felt like someone was occasionally stepping on my chest just below the collarbone. I began Sunday without a fever, and then my body temperature rose to 102 degrees Fahrenheit in less than three hours. My back and spine ached.
“Think about the worst cold you’ve ever had,” said Dr. Mark Horowitz, a physician based in the Financial District, who didn’t diagnose me but who described why most people might not have a solid sense of what “mild COVID” truly means. “And, about 10% of the time, a truck hits you on your way to Duane Reade.”