Grand scientific study of Covid testing for triple vaccinated people (sample size = 1, 16 Feb 2022)

It’s been a while since I wrote on my blog but I figured let me share this personal example, and my two conclusions right away:

  1. vaccines work!
  2. even being fully asymptomatic, the shit stays in your body for awhile: even rapid antigen testing is very sensitive and can return positive test results 11+ days after first (very mild) symptom.

5 Feb 2022 marked the first morning that I woke up with a sore throat in ski paradise Snowbird, UT (hotel altitude 8,100ft = 2,470m). Soreness disappeared after about 1 hour. I didn’t think any of it and attributed it to a) very dry mountain air; and b) I had put a humidifier overnight on my night stand that directed humid air onto me which could lead to a sore throat. I did have a great day and felt completely normal.

This pattern repeated for about 3 days. When I reached home (Evanston, IL) my spouse Shannon wondered: “hmm, perhaps you have covid?” This came as a total surprise to me as I had not even considered that possibility. (Yet I have learned to recognize that I sometimes underestimate the probability that possible events may happen: In 2004 when Shannon was pregnant and we were looking for a new car she wondered aloud: “what if we have twins?” Upon which I answered: “possible but probability zero, honey.” Later that year our twins were born πŸ™‚

Aiming to be a responsible citizen, I decided to get tested at my institution’s formal testing facility before going to work at Northwestern University on Tuesday Feb 8. Lo and behold, my test result came back positive! I still have no idea where I would have gotten infected as I was double vaccinated and boostered and had masked everywhere (airport, cabs, in hotel, etc except at the table or outside), admittedly only with a surgical mask. (The first flight that I did not double mask with an N95 mask.)

Being fully asymptomatic on Tuesday, CDC guidelines stipulate isolation for 5 days:

People with COVID-19 should isolate for 5 days and if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), follow that by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others to minimize the risk of infecting people they encounter. The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after.

It’s unclear to me whether the 5 days start from first symptom (Feb 5) or first positive test (Feb 8). Regardless, according to these CDC guidelines, isolation would end either on Friday Feb 11 or Monday Feb 14.

Yet my institution, and I, are going beyond the CDC guidelines: To get out of isolation β€œearly” according to Northwestern University, I need a negative test administered at NU or a reputable place (no self-tests) on day 5 (Sunday Feb 13), where day 0 is the day of the first positive test. Hence, I did get tested again on Monday Feb 14 yet the test returned still positive. Hence, one must continue in isolation until day 8 (Wednesday Feb 16, which is today and the second chance to get out of isolation). Sadly, the test again came back positive! Therefore I shall continue isolating = not going to my University office (even though I am fully asymptomatic and according to the CDC am “free”). Upon fulfillment of the full 10 day isolation on Friday Feb 18, I shall be free to return to my University office (no more test to be taken).

Some reflections:

  1. vaccines work! Aside from about 1hr of a slightly sore throat for 3 mornings, I felt completely fine and normal (e.g., I completed my hard Zwift cycling workouts each day without any issue)
  2. even being fully asymptomatic, the shit stays in your body for awhile: even rapid antigen testing is very sensitive and can return positive test results 11+ days after first (very mild) symptom. (I was told that PCR tests would return positive for 90 days after first positive test. I wonder how long rapid antigen tests remain positive, but my scientific study completes today: I will never know because I do not need to take another test for another 90 days. [Update (Sat Feb 19): Being curious, I self-administered a rapid antigen test Friday morning Feb 18, 13 days after first light symptom: it was finally negative. End of story πŸ™‚
  3. I am grateful to science and vaccines that my infection is without any negative impact. Now I should be highly immune for “sometime.” It is unclear for how long but the stringent NU policy states: “Fully vaccinated individuals or those who have tested positive for COVID -19 in the past 3 months who are exposed to COVID-19 or identified via contract tracing will not be required to quarantine.” So no more quarantining (let alone isolation, which is the word for positive cases) for me for at least 90 days. Yahoo!
  4. Everyone can now ponder whether these countermeasures (stipulated in CDC or NU policies) are balanced by the cost inflicted in environments with 98+% vaccination. I’m a professor and my work continues totally fine (I was teaching from home two days ago on Feb 14), but I wonder how parents with school-age kids, people whose work requires them to be onsite, or business owners feel when asymptomatic, vaccinated employees must isolate? At the same time, how many people will follow these guidelines, and how many run around–knowingly or unknowingly–with covid? These last two years of covid have demonstrated that there are no easy policies that will appease everyone. Yet as I write this, the public sentiment is changing towards risk acceptance as people want to move on and do not want a third Covid-summer. The future will tell how it all will play out…
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