Dec 21, 2021

My Covid-19 story

My Covid-19 story

Here's how it happened.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Six days ago, I tested positive for Covid-19. A lot of readers have asked me to share various details about what happened: How did I get sick? Did I infect people around me? How sick was I? Do I think I have the Omicron variant? Others have simply asked me to write about my experience, curious what I've learned or if any of my views related to the pandemic have changed.

We've all been living alongside Covid-19 for two years now. About 50 million people in the U.S. alone have gotten the virus, and about 274 million people worldwide have. So my experience is anything but unique. However, it does come at a unique time, and I thought the experience itself was illuminating.

So, today, I've decided to take a brief break from our typical Monday-Thursday newsletter to grant those requests and share the story about what happened, how insidious this virus still is, and how broken all our systems to address it still feel. If this is your first time reading Tangle, I apologize (an archive of our posts is here if you want to check them out). At the end of this essay, we have some quick hits from the day and our "Have a nice day" story.

We'll be back with your regular programming tomorrow.

I. The lead up

One of the most important elements of my positive Covid-19 experience was what was happening about 10 days before I tested positive.

I was feeling sick.

From about Monday December 6th to Friday December 10th, I had what I can really only describe as allergy-like symptoms. A runny nose, a cough at night, waking up with a little congestion. Of course, in the Covid-19 era, all my mind could think was that I had somehow come down with the virus. So I did what I'd been told to do: I got tested. On Thursday, December 9th, that week, I took a Covid-19 rapid test. Like the dozens of tests before, it came back negative, and with it my fears about whether I really had anything to worry about melted away. By Friday, I didn't have any symptoms and felt pretty much the same way I always do during the winter: a dry throat when I wake up, maybe a little runny nose here or there after being outside.

On Friday afternoon, my wife Phoebe and I had a cleaning service come to our house. This is not a typical practice for us, but Phoebe was gearing up for finals and sending out all her law school applications (more on that in a second) so we decided to treat ourselves rather than spending the 3-4 hours it'd take to deep-clean our apartment. I promised to be the one to stay home to let the cleaners in, so my wife stayed out at her office and then at a coffee shop around the corner while I "handled" it.

The two women came to our house and spent about 4 hours cleaning. One wore a mask the entire time she was inside. The other took hers on and off, something I noticed but didn't really think much of in my pre-Omicron, pre-outbreak state of mind. Pretty much everyone in New York City is vaccinated, and pretty much everyone is loose with all the other Covid-19 regulations because of that.

On Saturday morning, I felt great. Phoebe's friend Sam and her boyfriend Trevor (who happens to be Tangle's podcast editor) came over for brunch. Trevor and I have done a ton of remote work together, and this was only our third time meeting in person — despite working on the Tangle podcast for months — because of Covid-19. It was a really nice, laid back brunch and they were here in our apartment for a few hours.

Around 5 p.m. that night, Phoebe and I went to a local CVS and got our booster shots. We had tried scheduling it for about two weeks, and this was the earliest appointment we could get on a Friday or Saturday, which was important, since neither of us could spare time for being sick from the booster shot during the week.

On Saturday night, a couple hours after getting our boosters, we went out to dinner with two friends. We ate indoors at a lovely restaurant I won't name because I don't want to tarnish it, but — like all New York restaurants — they checked our vaccine cards and IDs at this restaurant. Unlike many New York restaurants, they actually seemed to look closely at our cards and IDs and didn't just let us waltz in. We had a great time, had three or four rounds after dinner, and ended up staying in the restaurant for close to four hours.

On Sunday, I got crushed by the booster (I swear it wasn't the booze). I woke up with a fever, my body ached, and my skin felt sensitive all over. It felt identical to how I felt after my second Covid-19 shot. I was happy it was working, and annoyed with Phoebe, who — as with both of her first shots — didn't get any symptoms at all. Then I did what I do every Sunday afternoon in the fall: I watched football all day and worked on the Tangle newsletters for the week (it's a 6 day work week). Phoebe spent the day studying. I felt fine by that night. All in all, it was a pretty run-of-the-mill weekend — one just like dozens of others I've had since being fully vaccinated last spring. One that was near-normal.

On Monday, when I woke up, it was more of the same. My booster shot symptoms were all gone. I had a little bit of a runny nose, as I had most days the week before, and after blowing my nose a couple times felt pretty much normal. I went into my shared office space with a few friends and then went to play a pick-up game of ultimate Frisbee at a park in Brooklyn. It felt great to run around. We got into a fight over the fields with some local softball guys, so I piled into a car with a few friends and drove 10 minutes to another field. We played, I gave a friend a ride home, and then I went to bed.

On Tuesday, I worked all day. Around 5 p.m., I got on a train to head into Manhattan to go to Madison Square Garden to watch the Knicks vs. Warriors game. This was, in no uncertain terms, a lifetime event. I'm a sports junkie, I’d never been to a Knicks home game, and I had bought the ticket a couple weeks before on the prospect that Steph Curry, the greatest three point shooter of all-time, might break the NBA record for 3-pointers made while inside the mecca of basketball, Madison Square Garden. The bet paid off in glorious fashion, and Steph was just two three-pointers short heading into the game — making it a damn near guarantee we were going to witness history. That "we" was me and a few other basketball-loving friends who had sporadically bought tickets and were sitting in various spots throughout the arena for the game.

I remember, now vividly, sneezing into my mask on the subway. It's a gross experience, and it was something that hadn't happened to me very often over the last two years. Given the week I'd just had — the symptoms, the negative test, the booster shot, not knowing anyone with Covid — I'll be honest and say I basically thought nothing of this. I had some tissues in my pocket for my usual wintery runny nose, so I used them. I went on with my night with little other thought about it.

At the Garden, my four friends and I met up for food beforehand, and to sit down and watch Curry's legendary pre-game warm-up routine (it was worth the price of admission). After about 30 minutes, I went to sit in the upper level seats with a friend, and the other three guys stayed in the seats they were in. Throughout the game, my symptoms seemed to get worse. I sneezed a few more times, and was blowing my nose often toward the end of the night — right there in the middle of a packed, sold out Madison Square Garden, sitting next to a friend with a four-month old baby at home.

By the time I got home, I was feeling like I had the week before when I got the negative Covid test. With a long day ahead of me, I knew I needed some sleep and wanted to attack it. So I took some Nyquil, a Halls cough drop, and went to bed.

When I woke up in the morning, I was sick.

Not as I'd felt the week before, or the night before, but actually sick. It felt like I had a gnarly head cold, and I felt exhausted. I blew my nose a few times and felt a bit better, then chalked up the fatigue to the late night at the basketball game. But as the morning went on, I was gripped by sneezing and coughing fits, and finally broke out one of the Abbott Covid-19 tests I had at home. I was in the middle of writing Tangle (an edition about the Kentucky tornados and the debate over workers rights, which was never released) when I took the test.

This was, probably, something like the 30th Covid test I'd taken in the last two years. As with every single other one, I expected to be reminded that there are other ailments out there than Covid-19. Unlike every other one, though, the second line on the test turned dark pink almost immediately.

I was positive.

II. The chaos

The way a test like this drops a grenade on your day is tough to explain, but I'll try.

For starters, I attempted to do what I'm supposed to do in moments like this: I emailed the cleaning service and told them I had received a positive test (they said their cleaners were tested regularly and were okay). I alerted all the people that I had seen in the previous few days: the brunch guests, the dinner date, the guys I played pick-up with, and the guys who were in my car maskless for that short drive to our back-up fields. Then I had to text the friends I had been with at Madison Square Garden. That text sucks to send. You feel guilty, like a leper, and as if you're about to ruin all of their days, too. Two of those friends have young kids at home. This is what I wrote:

"Hey dudes. I have horrible news. I just took a rapid covid test this morning and it came back positive. Not really sure what to think. I had taken one Monday cause I’ve just been testing but it was negative. I started getting a runny nose last night at the game but thought it was just allergies or something. Took nyquil, woke up and it was still there so I took a covid test. Im going to go get a second rapid and a PCR at noon."

I'd been testing so regularly and thought so little of it that I didn't even peg the testing timeline right. Phoebe, who has a habit of remembering everything, told me that the rapid test I took was before the weekend, not after it. The friends, being good friends, responded mostly with sympathy — and then with questions. Do you have symptoms? Did you get a PCR test? Are you sure it's positive?

Yes, I had symptoms. But they weren't your standard Covid-19 symptoms (body ache, fever, skin sensitivity, etc). It just felt like I had a cold. It also felt like I had "symptoms" last week, and then I tested negative, and then I had a few days where I felt perfectly healthy. Yes, I was sure this test is showing a positive — but I have no idea if it's a false positive. And no, I did not have a PCR result, but I was going to get one.

Realizing the necessity to figure this out ASAP, and with my sickness seeming to get worse by the minute, I drafted a quick note to Tangle readers to let them know I'd be off that day. I took another at-home rapid test, which also came back positive. Then I went to the urgent care clinic around the corner with Phoebe. We both took rapid tests — mine came back positive, the third consecutive one showing the same result. Phoebe's came back negative. We both took PCR tests, too, which they told us would take about 24 hours to return results. Phoebe’s came back negative two days later — mine never came back at all.

The doctor at the clinic gave us the standard spiel you've probably read about in the news: Hydrate, rest, treat your symptoms with Tylenol. Perform 10 days of quarantine from symptom onset, and then, if you have no symptoms and a negative test, you can leave quarantine. But when did my symptoms come on? Tuesday? Or the week before? Or Wednesday morning? I had a break in symptoms, does that count?

And what about Christmas? We were going to be leaving to go upstate to celebrate with my wife's family in four days. He suggested we get accustomed to the idea that's not happening. I pushed him. Maybe, he said, 8 days is okay, but only if you really have no symptoms and get a couple negative tests in a row. Entering journalist mode, I asked him about what he was seeing at the clinic. He had been a front-line ICU nurse for the whole pandemic, and he responded confidently that "something was definitely going on." He said he had seen more positive tests in his tiny little Bushwick urgent care than at any other time since the beginning of the pandemic. It had been about two weeks since I'd written about the Omicron variant, and I wondered if maybe this was the beginning of the outbreak here in the U.S.

As we walked home from the urgent care, I basically broke down. Not because I was scared of the virus — I'm healthy, 30 years old, double vaccinated, boosted and in good shape. But because of what it meant. Christmas was exactly 10 days away, and we were supposed to be finally getting out of the city and going upstate in a matter of days. This time, for a real, stress free holiday break. But with a 1-year-old in the family, I knew this meant I'd be kept away until then. It also meant I was about to be locked inside for at least a week, and locked inside alone. Phoebe was heading into finals week and couldn't afford to get sick, so we were going to quarantine on separate sides of the house.

Being who she is, Phoebe generously gave up the TV room and our bed. She took the guest room office, which has a mattress, and we wore masks anytime we were in the kitchen or the bathroom.

It was, in a word, awful. Phoebe has been juggling a full-time job, finishing her undergraduate degree, and going to law school for the last year. With me running Tangle, our time together was limited enough. It has been a long, stressful few months in our house, and this was the light at the end of the tunnel. With her heading into finals, this was also supposed to be the week I stepped up to help her out, all with the payoff of a vacation at the other end. Instead, we just had the cord cut.

Meanwhile, I had to try to figure out where I had gotten Covid and who I might have infected.

III. Contact tracing

Was it the cleaners? They're in people's homes all the time. One of them had her mask down on her chin at times. They were in the house for hours. I got it, and Phoebe — who was out when they were in — didn't. But the cleaning service said they were testing negative.

What about Trevor and Sam? They both work in restaurants and bars, so — like millions of Americans — they've been at constant risk throughout the pandemic just by virtue of going to work. Trevor heard of some positive cases at work, but only after I tested positive and all from people he didn't directly work with.

What about dinner? We were inside a restaurant for four hours, sitting across from two friends. Neither of them were sick or got sick, but even with a vaccine mandate we know people at the restaurant could have been infected.

And what if none of those people had anything to do with it, but I had been carrying it all weekend? What if my negative test on Thursday was a false negative, and the symptoms I had before were actual symptoms? We know the latest Covid-19 variants have an incubation period of about 3-7 days, on average. The original Covid-19 incubation period was as long as two weeks. Exactly a week before my symptom onset, I was sitting in a movie theater watching Licorice Pizza (great film, for what it's worth). That would seem like a perfect place to catch Covid-19, except the group of friends I saw that movie with was the same group of friends I went to the basketball game with, and none of them had tested positive except me.

Still, I could have gotten infected on Tuesday, tested negative on Thursday, and had a real symptom onset Tuesday night.

Then there's the basketball game. By then, it's a sure thing I was spreading the virus. Was the 30 minutes of watching the warm-up with friends enough to infect them? Two would test positive in the next few days. But one of those two had been with a pair of friends four days before who also both tested positive — so he had two exposures, one from me and one from them. And to make it even more confounding, he would test positive on a rapid test, but then negative on a PCR test later. The third friend we sat with during warm-ups escaped without any symptoms or infection.

Head spinning yet?

As for the friend I sat with during the game, the one with the four-month-old at home, his symptoms came on a few days later. Classic body ache, chills, etc. But he has continued to test negative on rapid tests and was still waiting for PCR results, after three days, as of this writing.

One of the unlucky friends I sat with during the warm-ups also happened to be Phoebe's brother, Evan. After spending 30 minutes next to me, he spent the rest of the game sitting next to the other friend who had been exposed (but did not have symptoms at the game). This was a double-whammy — both another threat to our Christmas plans and generally the most scary scenario, as he had our 1-year-old niece at home. He continued to test regularly, and by Saturday (three days after my positive rapid test, and four days after being exposed to me), he had some slight symptoms. Then he got a rapid test that looked like this:

A family member's rapid test around 8 a.m. on Saturday morning.
A family member's rapid test around 8 a.m. on Saturday morning. 

When I saw it, I told him what I thought: It was positive. That very slight line looked like the onset of a positive test, and given his exposure and slight symptoms I told him he should act accordingly. A few hours later, he took another test. This time, it looked like this:

A second rapid test on Saturday, just a few hours later.
A second rapid test on Saturday, just a few hours later. 

This was a clear positive.

By now, it was December 18th, three days after I had tested positive. The positive test not only forced Evan out of his house, but it ruined Christmas, with the 10-day quarantine period taking us to December 28th. Phoebe's other brother promptly turned around to get back to Los Angeles before he caught Covid-19 or got sick (assuming he might have contracted it but wasn't yet showing symptoms). Evan went alone to the house where we were supposed to be celebrating Christmas together to isolate from his wife and daughter by himself.

As this news was breaking in the family group chat, I was sitting on the couch texting with Evan, and the door to my quarantined family room opened up. Phoebe, without a mask, walked in and dropped herself on the couch. It was Saturday around noon, and I knew what it meant.

"I'm positive," she said as she wrapped herself in a blanket on the couch she'd been deprived of for three days. "And I feel awful."

IV. The damage

As of this writing, here's what I know about my Covid-19 contacts:

Trevor, who I had brunch with on Saturday, tested positive and got hit with a 101 fever and serious body aches. He was fully vaccinated. His girlfriend Sam, who also came to brunch and who he spent that weekend with, had a few days of symptoms but has continued to test negative.

Our friends who we went out to dinner with that night are fine. Both are vaccinated, neither are boosted, and neither is displaying any symptoms or positive tests more than a week later.

Two of the four friends I sat with to watch Steph Curry warm up have tested positive since the game. The friend I sat with for the duration of the game, the one with the four-month-old son, has had classic Covid-19 symptoms, but continues to test negative on the rapid tests and is still awaiting his PCR results.

Phoebe, who was exposed to my symptomatic self when I climbed into our bed Tuesday night and walked around the house sneezing throughout the morning on Wednesday, has gotten quite sick. She got a negative PCR result on the same Wednesday I was testing positive. By Friday night, she was showing symptoms. By Saturday, she had a fever, chills and body aches. She's now on Day 4, and is completely exhausted — sleeping for 12 hours every night — with a very painful sore throat, cough and congestion. She's also had some odd symptoms, like brief but extremely intense fits of nausea that pass after about 90 seconds.

To give a small but real-world example of the kind of carnage this bug can cause, consider some of this: Phoebe’s law school applications are out, but she's in the middle of her finals for her last grades that her schools will receive. She asked her professors for an extension on the finals because she can barely lift her head up, but they cautioned her that this would mean her transcripts would be sent out to schools with an "incomplete" grade until she gets her finals in. So they can grant her the extension, but only with the knowledge she'd be throwing up red flags on her grad school applications. So pick your poison: Fight the Covid-19 symptoms and take the finals, or risk the schools you applied to getting transcripts with incomplete grades.

Evan, her brother, is a maniacal athlete who works out seven days a week. He is the kind of guy who has 12% body fat (and knows that he has 12% body fat) and has a resting heart rate of 46 (and knows what his resting heart rate is). I asked him how he was doing yesterday and he told me "it's the sickest I've ever been." He has both vaccines and was exactly a week out from his booster shot when he tested positive. He has a chest cold, headache, body ache, he’s congested and he can't get his heart rate below 60, the closest thing he'll probably ever have to a serious health problem. Today, four days after his positive test, he got a fever.

My own symptoms were mild by comparison. Both Phoebe and I completely lost our appetites (which is especially notable for me, as I'm a bit of a glutton). I was exhausted for two days, and had a relentless runny nose and cough that I'm still shaking six days later.

There were oddities, too, some I'm not sure exactly what to make of. For example, a few times in the first couple of days I had these passing body aches, but they came with the very odd sensation that my entire body was really small. I don't know exactly how to describe it, but when I wrapped myself up as the chill came on I was struck by this sensation that my limbs and shoulders felt fragile and smaller than ever before. The first time it happened I thought I was in some kind of half-dream state. The second and third time it happened I paid closer attention to the sensation and tried to memorize it.

On day three my energy came back, and by day four my symptoms during the day had mostly subsided. Now, six days later, I feel pretty much normal, save a dry cough and a stuffy nose.

By the time Phoebe and Evan had tested positive, on December 19th, just three days after I had, the virus was everywhere. New York was setting consecutive daily records for new cases, and about 20 of my friends in the city (most of whom I had not had any contact with over the last week or two) had tested positive. That’s the most I'd ever known of at any point during the pandemic. On Monday, the CDC announced that Omicron is now the most common coronavirus variant in the U.S., accounting for nearly 75% of all cases. 298,761 new cases were reported in the U.S. yesterday alone.

V. It's all broken

So much of my experience exposed just how bad we still are at handling this virus.

First, for just about everyone I know who was exposed to Covid or showing symptoms of it, testing became nearly impossible to get. Lines in Brooklyn were hours-long, and appointments were hard to find. Walgreens and CVS were out of stock on at-home tests, even if you tried to order online.

Even worse, the PCR test I got to confirm my three positive rapid tests has still not come back. I've called the clinic twice for it, and each time they told me they were really busy and they'd call me back with the results. It's now been six days and there is nothing in my online portal and no call has been returned. The friend I sat with at the basketball game, the one showing symptoms with a 4-month-old kid at home, is also still waiting for his PCR results. Other friends have reported that some of the major Covid-19 testing sites are telling them in advance that the 24 hour return window is now gone, and they should expect their PCR tests will take a few more days, thanks to delays at the lab.

Of course, it's also worth noting that this doesn't change much for me. Rapid tests are very good at telling you if you're contagious and telling you if you're positive when you have symptoms. But PCR tests are, in a way, more sensitive — meaning they are great at telling you if you're positive but not the best to use in order to "test out" and ensure you're no longer contagious. Every doctor I've spoken to says PCR tests are still the gold standard, and I know a few people who have gotten false positives on a rapid test only to get a confirmed negative from a PCR.

But for folks I exposed who have no symptoms and wanted to see if they had the virus before traveling, the wait times on the PCR tests have made the actual tests essentially useless.

Treating the virus is even more difficult. My cousin, a doctor, suggested I just load up on Vitamin C, D and Zinc, which I've been doing. Finding other proven treatments, like monoclonal antibodies, is impossible. Pfizer and Merck's Covid-19 treatment pills would be perfect for someone like Phoebe who desperately needs to beat the virus quickly, but they are still inaccessible and probably will be for some time. Other popular treatments — like ivermectin — are not something I'd ever take without my doctor's prescription or suggestion, which I haven't gotten. The best advice is still to drink water, use Tylenol, and ride it out.

Two years in, the contact tracing we have is also nearly non-existent. The clinic where I tested positive did not follow-up, they just asked that I report it to my doctor — a primary care physician in Chinatown who has neither the time nor interest to do anything with such information besides keep an eye on me. Even if I had the PCR result that I still haven't gotten, it would not tell me which Covid-19 I have — Omicron or Delta or something else — which would be helpful in comparing with other infected friends and for my own understanding of what's happening now. For instance: Did I get Omicron and Phoebe got Delta, is that why my symptoms are like a cold and hers are much worse? If I had a different variant than, say, the friends I went to the basketball game with, it could help us figure out where they got the virus and who we spread it to.

Pretty much the only person I'm sure I gave it to is the friend I sat next to for the entirety of the basketball game at Madison Square Garden, which probably means I gave it to the other people sitting around me, but I have no way of reporting that to MSG or those fans. And since my friend still doesn't have a PCR result, and has gotten no positive rapid tests (just symptoms), I actually can't say for certain he's even infected. Meanwhile, the Biden administration just announced they were going to make 500 million at-home Covid-19 tests available for free, beginning next month, an announcement we could have used about six weeks ago.

It's now been six days since I tested positive. I'm a journalist and (I like to think) a conscientious citizen, and I have no idea where I got Covid-19, who exactly I gave it to or what kind of Covid-19 I have. It took me days to get my hands on at-home tests in the most populous city in the U.S., and it required a family member shipping them in from out of town. I'm still waiting for my PCR results and, for someone like Phoebe who is still really sick four days later, our treatment options are basically to take Tylenol and to go to the hospital if she has trouble breathing.

There were other moments throughout the experience where I felt like what I was doing was simply asinine, even when I was following the rules: At the restaurant, I wear a mask when I walk in and then take it off once I’m seated among dozens of other patrons. At Madison Square Garden, I wore a mask while waiting in line outside until I went through security and showed my vaccine card. Then, once inside, I got to take it off. When I went to go get tested at the clinic, I sat (masked) in a waiting room with 6 or 7 other people (all masked, too) for 20 minutes waiting to get tested, probably exposing all of the ones who weren’t actually sick to my virus.

Then, of course, there are the vaccines. I can only imagine that my Covid-19 experience would have been a lot worse had I not been vaccinated, and I'm grateful to have them. Of course, I still think everyone should get vaccinated and get boosted. But it's not as if we're doing badly: 85% of American adults have at least one shot, including 95% of those 65 and up. 73% of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated and 88% of adults 65 and up are fully vaccinated. Yet we’re still getting hit by another wave, even while millions of people are getting the booster shots.

And speaking of the boosters, a lot of people are asking questions there, too. Anecdotally, many of my friends who got Covid-19 got it within a week or so of their booster shot. When I announced my Covid-19 diagnosis, and that I had gotten my booster shot a few days before, I received a deluge of emails from readers either sharing similar stories or suggesting that I was scratching at a major conspiracy.

Of course, part of this is just a simple odds game: Thousands of people are getting Covid-19 in New York City, thousands of people are also getting boosted every day, and there's bound to be some overlap. Before this outbreak of Covid-19, I wasn't really hearing of a lot of people who were getting boosters and then getting the virus a few days later. The boosters are obviously not "infecting" anyone, because, well, science. That's simply not how these vaccines work.

A lot of people, though, sent in pieces like this one or studies like this one suggesting that both the first Covid-19 shot and the booster actually suppress the immune system for the first 7-14 days before they build an immune response. This kind of writing is particularly tantalizing for a few reasons: 1) It matches a lot of my own anecdotal experience, as I got sick from the booster and then got sick from actual Covid-19 just a few days apart. 2) It would have major implications for moments like this. For instance, if thousands of people in New York are responding to this latest surge of Omicron cases by rushing to get their booster shots, and booster shots actually suppress their immune systems for the first week or two, they could actually be exacerbating the spread rather than helping to contain it.

Of course, if this were true, it would also mark another colossal turn of knowledge in the pandemic, reminiscent of the initial guidance not to wear masks, or that the virus was spreading on surfaces, or that breakthrough cases were going to be extremely rare. There are some reasons to think it's possible, like, for instance, the fact that many early studies were measuring the immune response two weeks after the first and second doses of the vaccine to understand how well the they were working, and perhaps overlooked a critical period in the first week or two after someone gets vaccinated.

So, is it possible? Sure. I don't really see why not. We've learned a lot of things throughout the pandemic, from the odds of a vaccine causing heart issues to the efficacy of masks, and I've no longer got the gall to say what's what. Do I think it's likely? Not particularly. And I certainly don't think a Substack author named "el gato malo" writing in all lower case should be an affirmative source on this kind of thing. If it were true, I would think by now we'd have some good data to flesh it out. I sent some of these pieces to a few friends who are experts in the field. One, my “doctor cousin,” called it “gobbledegook” and expressed a fear he was “getting dumber” the more he read. He pointed out several inconsistencies in the pieces that made it seem like the person did not understand the underlying science behind immune systems and vaccines.

I also find this idea unlikely because there are other, simpler explanations for the phenomenon: Such as the fact that people (like me) who get boosted are probably changing their behavior immediately, and thus becoming more reckless, even though they haven't yet had the immune response from the shot that is supposed to come a couple weeks out. That alone, just that behavioral response, could explain the “link” between boosters and the rise in cases.

VI. The end

Like every other edition of Tangle, I'm not sharing this story to tell you how to feel or what cautions to take or what to believe. I'm just telling you the story because it's real and it's true and it happened to me and it seems relevant. You can take from it what you wish. If you really wanted, you could pull at any single thread in my Covid-19 experience and come to whatever preconceived notion you already have.

But here's my reflection: Covid-19 sucks.

It's just an unpredictable, insidious, awful thing that I feel has dampened two years of my life that I'll never get back. It has divided us and dumbed us down. It has made people with WiFi connections feel like experts and left experts feeling like they're screaming into the void. It has exposed the flaws of groupthink and institutions and people with cushy government jobs. It has shown us the frightening allure of a heterodox idea, even when that idea is obviously wrong. It has, probably, killed or helped kill something on the order of 800,000 Americans, and left millions of others with lingering symptoms, or jobless, or buried in medical debt. And there are, sadly, many more coming now.

It has changed the way we live and injected society with a level of anxiety and fear that now feels familiar rather than absurd. I can remember the way those first few weeks of the pandemic felt, and how new the feeling of isolation and anxiety were. But I can no longer remember what it felt like to go out before Covid-19, what it was like not to have that tiny voice in the back of my head urging caution at every decision I make, or sneeze I hear, or stuffy nose I have.

It's also true that I wasn't exactly cautious these last few months. In fact, I was probably the opposite of that. Shoot, just look at the week I had before I tested positive: Movies, indoor brunch, indoor dinner, team sports, basketball game at Madison Square Garden and five days of shared office space. Plenty of people are going to read this and just think I'm a reckless idiot. And maybe they're right. Plenty of others are going to read this and think there's just no way to avoid this thing without locking yourself in your room. Maybe they're right, too.

The hardest part, for me, has just been the emotional toll. It's been seeing the woman I love the sickest I've ever seen her, and not being able to go grab her a bottle of medicine to help. It's been the isolation, away from family and friends during the holidays, and knowing that's not going to change any time soon. It's been the frustration of avoiding this virus for two years, being three days out from my 3rd vaccine, and still getting sick. It's been the fear, wondering if the symptoms for me or my wife or my friends will stay around for months, as they have for so many others, or simply disappear. It's been the annoyance of feeling as if I'm back in March of 2020, bringing my office home, recording my podcast out of my bedroom closet, and wondering when I can go back to "normal life."

All of it is miserable, but that stuff is the worst. And there's nothing to do but drink water, take some Tylenol, and wait it out.

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Tangle is an independent, ad-free, non-partisan politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from the right and left on the news of the day. Today's edition was a special essay, but if you'd like to get our content in the future, you can subscribe below:

Quick hits.

  1. Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) announced that they won't seek re-election next year, bringing the number of retiring Democrats in Congress to 22, compared to 12 Republicans. (The announcement)
  2. Yesterday, former President Donald Trump told an audience that he got his Covid-19 booster shot, and insisted his supporters take credit for the vaccine rather than denigrate it. (The comments)
  3. President Biden announced that the U.S. is purchasing 500 million at-home Covid-19 tests that Americans will be able to order for free through a federal website. (The tests)
  4. The January 6th select House committee is weighing the possibility of criminal referrals against former President Trump and his allies. (The idea)
  5. The Environmental Protection Agency finalized tougher fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, meaning by 2026 new cars will be required to achieve 40 miles per gallon. (The rules)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.

Have a nice day.

A teenaged employee at McDonald's became a hero this week in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. 15-year-old Sydney Raley was working the drive-thru window and had just handed over the first part of a McDonald's order to a customer. She popped back to the window to let her know that the rest of the food was on its way out, when she noticed the woman was choking. Sydney instructed her manager and the woman's daughter to call 911, then she jumped through the drive-thru window to help the customer. Remembering her Red Cross babysitter training she got when she was 11, Sydney performed the Heimlich maneuver on the woman and with the help of another bystander was able to clear her throat. Local police gave Sydney a $100 reward for a good deed when they arrived on the scene. CNN has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.
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