My worse fear after testing positive for COVID-19 for the second time two weeks ago is that I had inadvertently infected family members, friends, and even some community leaders.
This is a concern that more people in our city should share as infections rise here and as local medical and health experts tell me that the growing underage in COVID-19 transmission is creating a false sense of security in the public.
“As a physician working in this area, I’m sure you will understand why I do not want to be quoted,” wrote a local COVID-19 expert after reading my Thursday column. “The public has been outright vengeful to public health officials and doctors who have tried to help them. I value my privacy and safety.”
Afterwards, we talked for a long time about this column. This public health expert, who has been deeply involved in COVID-19 treatment and prevention for two years, reiterated others who have told me in recent days: The undercurrent and the current increase in infection are severe and the virus is spreading because people are no longer taking precautions . Several readers who contacted me after they or family members or friends recently received COVID-19 said the infections surprised them.
Just two days before my positive test – and from Saturday I have tested positive for 11 consecutive days – I arrived at the Twig Book Shop at the Pearl to moderate a conversation with Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff about his new pandemic memoirs, The Mayor and the Judge. I had tested negative a day earlier for safety’s sake.
One of our son’s close friends and a couple of her friends had been tested positive after attending a local club concert. Our son did not attend the concert and he and other family members, including Hilde Maeckle, my 89-year-old mother-in-law who lives with us, were also tested negative.
Wolff and I shared a restaurant table after leaving Kvisten, where we both connected with friends and bookstore staff we both know – most in the vulnerable age group of 65 or older.
The next day, I looked past the San Antonio Report’s newsroom, conferred for a few minutes with editors, greeted a few journalists, and then met Angie Mock, the report’s CEO and publisher, and an eight-year-old donor for lunch at an indoor restaurant.
I was back to living my life pre-pandemic. No mask, then social distancing, no fear. I felt comfortable being in an indoor public setting with others. I thought I was behaving responsibly – just as I imagine you are living your life today.
If there is one thing we have learned about this persistent coronavirus in its ever-mutating variations, it is that vaccines and boosters are largely effective in preventing serious illness and hospitalization, but they do not completely block the transmission of the virus.
For many Americans, it can mean an infection similar to a common cold, flu, or an asymptomatic experience. For aging Americans and other vulnerable people, it can be a matter of life or death. Even seniors living an active, healthy life without serious pre-existing conditions should reassess the risks.
The morning after spending time with Wolff and others at Pearl, I woke up with a sore throat and congestion, which I attributed to allergies and San Antonio’s deteriorating air quality. Then our son called to say he had tested positive.
I tested negative again, but my symptoms got worse and my test two days after the incident on the Twig was positive. Then I did what medical experts tell me, too many people fail to do because of a misunderstood sense of guilt, fear, or shame: I started calling everyone.
People responded with appreciation instead of anger or blame. None of them, as it turned out, would test positive. My wife, Monika, moved upstairs to a guest room, and since then I have isolated myself at home, kept distance from the family, and settled for a daily outdoor walk, masked, with our dog.
I also reported my positive test result to my family doctor, who in turn registers the positive case with public health authorities.
The local doctor and longtime medical school professor who contacted me pointed to what she identified as revealing data showing an increase in early March in the presence of the virus in sewage. click here to view the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wastewater monitoring data and guidance.
“I saw this increase in infection come in early March and I started to change my behavior at that time, but I have smart friends who are surprised to hear that they have got COVID,” the doctor said. “If you look at the city’s website, it seems like things are normal, that risks are low, but because of the problem with the counter, it’s not accurate.”
One day after my column was published, a full 10 days after I was first tested positive, and two days after giving a big speech at a North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce event attended by about 450 people, Wolff, 81, and his wife, Tracy, tested positive for COVID-19. You can read our coverage here. The article by reporter Andrea Drusch also noted that San Antonio Police Chief William McManus is also isolating himself at home after being tested positive for COVID-19.
Although Wolffs are fully vaccinated and boosted, their resumption of public life had overtaken them as it did with me.
“I was embarrassed to test positive for COVID-19 at the same time, anecdotally, that I heard about lots of friends who also tested positive,” said a business executive who asked not to be identified. “I thought I was very aware of the data available and there was nothing out there that indicated an increase. I feel sympathy for local officials because they are unable to encourage the public to wear masks and practice social distancing. now. It’s just not possible politically. “
The doctor agreed: “It’s hard to get complex truths out to people, and public officials can’t use the M word.”
Vaccination is still the best weapon society has to control the spread.
The flu season is usually 26 weeks long each year and results in 30,000 deaths spread over that time nationwide, or 150 deaths a day. COVID-19 is present at different levels for 52 weeks a year, and the current national death rate is double that of the daily. COVID-19 is not a flu.
San Antonio can not shut down again. Neither can the country or the world. However, individuals can reduce their risk. I go back to outdoor dining with friends. I wear masks in public places like the grocery store. I take advantage of the easily obtainable free home tests that the government has provided.
As I approach my 70th birthday, I am figuring out how to make life changes that can last as long as I am. I do not necessarily like it, but the alternative, to live a high-risk life that must be shortened, is not an option.
To Nelson and Tracy Wolf and Chief McManus and all the others who lay low with COVID-19, get well soon.