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COVID-19 Comes to Call

After two years of talking about COVID-19 with the public and press, I, unfortunately, can now say that I have first-hand experience with the illness. It has not been a pretty experience, despite being relatively young and healthy and having received the initial shots as well as a booster. In hopes that it is helpful to others, I’m sharing some lessons I’ve learned in this process.

It may seem like a given, but no one wants to get COVID-19. After experiencing teeth chattering chills, weakness, and body aches for several days, it’s hard to imagine what individuals who are unvaccinated go through with this virus. The message of staying up to date with your vaccinations is so important; unfortunately, less than half of adults and only two-thirds of the elderly are boosted according to the CDC. People are understandably tired of the pandemic and the restrictions that have come along with it, but as the death toll from COVID inches toward 1 million this week, they shouldn’t be tired of staying current with vaccinations. With new variants emerging, it is also imperative that our vaccines improve to better match circulating strains—continued funding support from Congress is vital in this effort.

I have also gained a better appreciation of my privilege. While it should not be a privilege for me to be able to telework, have paid sick leave, and/or to arrange for childcare if needed, it is indeed a privilege that many aren’t privy to. We need to ensure that the healthy choice is the easy choice, that having to isolate or quarantine while you are sick does not have a lasting impact on personal finances and livelihood. Unfortunately, our policies have not kept up fast enough to support Americans in this way during this pandemic.

Equitable access to treatment is still a struggle. Back in December 2020, both my elderly parents became ill with COVID-19. I knew that quickly obtaining a monoclonal antibody infusion therapy which had recently been granted an emergency use authorization from the FDA was likely the only way to prevent severe complications in my parents. They were probably one of the first in the state of Michigan to receive that therapy because of my medical knowledge, contacts with local health care systems, and my persistence. We have made it too hard for Americans without these connections or education to access the interventions they need to stay safe. The launch of COVID19.gov is one step forward in this area.

With three of my five household members now having COVID-19, our family’s concern is our youngest who just turned five and therefore has not yet been vaccinated. If he becomes symptomatic, though the risk for severe complications in young kids may be low, the anxiety created by not knowing how his immune system will handle the virus is real. Vaccination rates for the 5 to 11 age group are also suboptimal, and recent surveys show that parents of children under 5 would most likely hesitate to vaccinate their children when a vaccine becomes available. For me, the risk-benefit calculation is straight-forward: a safe vaccine that could provide even some effectiveness to prevent poor outcomes would be welcome.

With the hyper-transmissible variants currently circulating, household transmission is difficult to prevent because the virus is usually one step ahead. It’s important after the first case in a household to take stringent measures, including asking everyone to mask at all times, regardless of symptoms or COVID-19 status. It’s also helpful to have each household member isolate at the first sign of symptoms as opposed to when the rapid antigen test becomes positive. These measures become more difficult with children but remain essential to contain further spread.

Living in this new normal of COVID-19 will take continued vigilance. Masking if exposed, testing prior to attending public events and reporting positive results to public health authorities are important actions that should be ingrained as habits. We as a country will experience setbacks but living in this “new normal” beats living in the emergency phase of this pandemic.

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