It started Thursday night with a mild pain in the shoulders that spread to the neck. A headache soon joined the party.
Within half an hour, the chills washed over me so much that I wrapped myself in a duvet on one of the hottest nights of the year.
After two and a half years of dodging, it was finally my turn. I was infected with COVID-19. And it took a hit.
This is the story of how I got the virus and coped with it in quarantine over the weekend of July 4.
My case comes when a new vaccine-resistant offshoot of the ommicron variant – the BA.5 subvariant – becomes the dominant strain in the US
But it takes a process called genomic sequencing to determine a specific variant, so I don’t know if it’s BA.5, which accounted for 53% of all new cases in the US at the end of June. Still, it was probably some form of ommicron, which spreads easily but has less serious consequences. After the initial surge in omicron in December and January, key metrics such as hospitalizations, ICU admissions, ventilator use, and deaths for at least two months in New Jersey have hung around the same level with no wild swings. There were 885 hospitals in New Jersey with COVID on Tuesday night, a far cry from the more than 6,000 a day at the peak of the ommicrowave in January.
By the time my symptoms started, it had been 850 days since the first case of coronavirus in New Jersey. I had spent much of that time writing over 300 articles documenting the pandemic. But writing about it and living the symptoms firsthand are two different things.
My symptoms started Thursday night hours after my wife, young daughter, and I landed in New Jersey after a week-long stay at Disney World, where it quickly became apparent that I had brought home more than just mouse ears.
A friend of ours who was staying at the same hotel had tested positive earlier this week. But our interactions with him were few and mostly brief.
My best guess is that I caught COVID by simply being around a ton of tourists from all over the world, packed in buses, monorails and rides, and not being as vigilant as I had been through most of the pandemic.
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Here’s what I did wrong: I didn’t wear an N95 or KN95 mask that helps prevent the wearer from contracting the virus. The ones we had were tight, hurt my ears and felt suffocating under the blazing Florida sun. Instead, I wore a much less protective paper mask.
I also didn’t wear my mask indoors as much as I should have. I only put one on when it got really busy. I plead guilty to COVID fatigue.
I am 46, relatively healthy and active. I have been fully vaccinated and had a booster shot in December – all developed before we knew anything about omicron subvariants.
A health care friend told me that the doctors she works with only prescribe the COVID drug Paxlovid to immunocompromised people. So I did what most people do these days – working it out with a generous helping of Tylenol and Gatorade.
We had landed in Newark Liberty on Thursday afternoon and I felt good for a few hours.
But around 9pm I started to get the chills. I went to bed early and woke up shivering a few hours later. I checked my temperature. It was 101 – not the highest in the world, but it had been a long time since I had a fever.
It was almost impossible to fall asleep again. My skin was so hot it felt like you could fry Taylorham on it.
I hadn’t felt this sick in years.
I didn’t want to get out of bed. My body felt incredibly weak. Just walking around the room took some serious effort.
Half an hour later I pushed a rapid test swab through both nostrils. Two stripes. And the one that indicated an infection was dark while often faded.
The first thing I did was write emails and text messages to everyone I had come in contact with the day before — a source I ran into at the Orlando airport, relatives who shared an apartment with us at Disney and a half. dozen neighbors who had welcomed me home the night before.
My fever rose to 102.7 in the afternoon. But after a long nap, the fever had subsided and I was feeling better. The chills were gone.
I slept 12 hours straight. Being an insomniac, I thought I wasn’t even capable.
My temperature hovered around 101 for most of the day. I thought I had an extra bottle of Tylenol in the back of the medicine cabinet. It turned out to be the type for kids. So I chewed on gum-flavored paracetamol. Disgusting at first, but it grew on me.
Fortunately, my wife and daughter replenished the adult supply. They were great at preparing meals for me, leaving them by the bedroom door, and cheering me up with conversations down the hall. So were my neighbors, several of whom volunteered to go shopping for me.
My temperature dropped below 100 for the first time.
And then jealousy struck.
I was in quarantine on July 4the weekend, my favorite time of year when the days are long and life easy. I firmly believe that you have to make every summer day count before the cold and gray come upon us. And I’m stuck inside.
What made it worse was that my apartment is right above a swimming pool where my neighbors were throwing parties. I opened the window and heard the screams of children splashing around, including mine.
I reminded myself that this was a small price to pay compared to the 34,000 New Jerseyans who never made it through the quarantine.
But if this happens again, please God let it be on a bleak week in January when the rest of New Jersey is just as miserable.
But not for me.
I did a quick test in the morning and it was positive. I also developed a mild cough – the first sign that this virus had worked its way into my lungs. It diminished as the day went on.
I checked on a tool the Centers for Disease Control developed a so-called “COVID-19 Quarantine and Isolation Calculator”. It indicated that I could leave my apartment in two days as my fever had subsided.
So I thought of that day when fireworks danced in the sky and the smell of charcoal and lighter fluid seeped through my bedroom window.
My wife and daughter left in the morning for a planned stay with my in-laws.
And that meant I was able to get out of my bedroom for the first time in almost a week. It wasn’t exactly DeGaulle marching under the Arc de Triomphe, but I’d be lying if it wasn’t liberating to step into my kitchen.
I still felt tired, but the cough was almost gone and the fever seemed like a distant memory.
I celebrated the end of my quarantine by putting on a mask and taking out the trash. I then went downstairs to do some laundry. We dream big in my household.
I also thought of one conversation I was with Chris Aldrich, a Toms River firefighter last year, who had a severe case of COVID, even though he was fully vaccinated.
“If I hadn’t been vaccinated it would have been much, much worse,” he told me last June. “I’m convinced it saved my life.”
My immunity to the vaccines has definitely waned. And the jury is still out on how effective those antibodies are against all of these ommicron subvariants. But like Aldrich, I’m glad I have them.
I hear some people splashing out of my window into the pool. I’ll be careful for the next few days. There will be plenty of time to grab summer by the horns.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Our COVID reporter has contracted COVID. It enveloped him