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Two years after the coronavirus became the focus of all my coverage as a scientific reporter for The Times (and all my thoughts every waking hour), it happened: I tested positive for the virus.
My case was mostly mild, as the virus is usually for anyone healthy for 40 years. But the experience, however, gave me a perspective that I would not have gained by reading scientific articles or interviewing experts.
Over the past two years, I’ve written hundreds of articles about coronavirus: about asymptomatic infections, tests, our body’s immune defenses, innovative infections, and reinforcements. I was interviewed dozens of times to answer questions about the disease, the pandemic, and the U.S. response to the virus.
But all the while, my relationship with the virus remained academic, impersonal. Even when the Delta variant devastated India and I fell asleep, worrying about my parents, it was still not on my doorstep.
To be honest, it surprised me how long it took me to catch Covid. As a person who covers infectious diseases, I am not disgusted by pathogens, and my family and I have taken some risks during the pandemic. My husband teaches pumpkin indoors, often without a mask, my children have gone to school in person, albeit in disguise, since the fall of 2020 and I have traveled by plane, even on a road trip. 20 hours in India in the midst of the rise of Omicron.
But we’re all vaccinated and strengthened (except for my 10-year-old daughter, who still doesn’t meet the requirements for reinforcement) and relatively healthy, so we knew that while we might develop some symptoms if we had Covid, chances are that it recovers quickly. We were careful, especially with vulnerable people, such as my mother-in-law and friends who have small children.
During an (indoor) dinner in early March, a friend and I marveled at how our families had fled Covid. The virus appeared to be receding and cases in New York City were lower than they had been for months. We thought we were clear.
I should have known he was tempting fate.
Three days later, I found an email in my spam folder from the city’s school testing program warning me that my son had tested positive for the virus. I reported it immediately to the school. That evening, a nice man who worked in the city called to give me information. It started with “Covid is a disease caused by a virus called coronavirus.” It was almost dinner time and I was still finishing my story, about coronavirus science, of course, so I wondered if we could move forward. But he was asked to review all the details about the disease, the symptoms and the quarantine protocol.
After 16 minutes of this one-sided speech, he asked me if I had any questions. I didn’t, and I’m lucky I didn’t need the city’s quarantine accommodation or free supplies.
It was Thursday, March 10th. Looking back, my husband felt unwell earlier that week, but a quick test said he was virus free. My son had also had a scratched throat, but had attributed it to seasonal allergies. As the experts I interviewed said, the symptoms were indistinguishable.
Although my quick test turned out to be negative, I decided to act as if I had Covid. I alerted my co-workers. I went on an excursion with friends. My kids canceled all their activities. I finally tested positive.
On Friday night, my daughter had a low fever, but the next morning she was full of rebounding. As expected, we adults were the most affected. I caught a cold and a relentless malaise. The following Wednesday, he was too ill to work. I learned that even those with a mild case can experience severe symptoms.
I have the privilege of having the luxury of working from home when I feel capable and of taking time off when I am not. And I’m lucky, too, that my kids are old enough not to need constant attention and that they attend a school that encourages distance learning. I knew even before I had Covid that the disease has a hugely disproportionate impact on neglected communities, but as I said in the Times podcast “The Daily,” getting sick from the virus put that knowledge in a clear perspective.
I’ve written about many diseases — HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, leprosy, polio — that I’ve never had. I could have done without this experience of having Covid. I don’t care if these symptoms persist for too long (vaccination significantly reduces the risk of the so-called long Covid), but I still disproportionately like naps.
I am grateful to have gained a broader and richer immune defense against the virus. But most of all, I’m happy to have a deeper understanding of what our readers have been experiencing.