Update 2: Part 3 is now live.
Update: At the request of several commenters, I am expanding this into a series, so more recent symptoms can be found in subsequent blogs. My first update is here: My Vaccinated COVID Experience: Part 2
My entire family and our nanny got COVID this week. It’s a story I keep seeing on social media. Suddenly, everyone I know has the virus. And yet I still struggle to find detailed firsthand accounts of what the disease looks like in the vaccinated. In their place are a million scary headlines, shoddy science from anti-vax nutjobs, and a public health infrastructure that seems to have left us all to figure it out on our own.
So I thought that, if you’re like me and wondering what to expect, it might be helpful to read of someone else’s experience. I’ll update this every day until I test negative.
Our Approach to COVID: How We Got Here
I received the custom urn for my daughter’s ashes on the first day that people in my state began talking seriously about COVID quarantine. We lost her at the end of my pregnancy, after we had bought a crib and picked a name and gotten our birth plan approved and seen her little face growing and smiling on ultrasound, to a random genetic defect with a 1 in 70,000 chance of occurring.
Ever since then, I’ve thought about odds differently. So “it will probably be ok,” “just a 10% chance of hospitalization,” and other empty promises meant nothing to me. COVID scared the shit out of me.
My older daughter had just seen me go to the hospital, come home without a baby, then go to the hospital again nearly bleeding to death from a postpartum hemorrhage. I knew that even if you survive, the trauma of a hospitalization is immense to a young child.
So we agreed that we would fully and completely quarantine. My husband and I are both self-employed, with the privilege of being able to work from home. We had N95 masks from my prepper dad in those early days. We locked down about two weeks before everyone else did, then watched people begin to get sick.
We thought we’d be in lockdown for about 2 weeks, then we’d know what to expect. Two weeks later, things were worse. Everyone was still talking about flattening the curve (Remember those days? When we all thought our friends and neighbors could be rallied to look past their own petty desires and care about others?). So we committed to another 2 weeks, figuring we’d know how serious it was by then.
We’ve been living our life in 2 week intervals ever since. In 2 weeks we’ll know if Delta is coming. In 2 weeks we’ll know if Omicron is coming. In 2 weeks we’ll know how serious Omicron is. In 2 weeks we’ll be fully vaccinated.
We’ve managed to get through 47 sets of 2 weeks without getting COVID. We never unquarantined.
When CDC told vaccinated grandparents to visit their unvaccinated children, I read the data suggesting this was a bad idea. The grandparents stayed away, except for masked outdoor visits. When my mother died, her funeral was on Zoom. When people stopped wearing masks because they were vaccinated, we started double-masking, knowing that there was no evidence the vaccinated couldn’t spread COVID.
At every step of the way, we have been the most cautious people we knew. We haven’t been to the grocery store in almost 2 years. We have foregone all family visits, all celebrations. I’ve given birth to a third child without anyone other than my husband to welcome us home.
I could not, would not, watch another child die. I was unwilling to gamble with my life, to make my daughter’s anxiety worse, to risk even a remote chance of hospitalization.
We hired an extremely COVID-cautious nanny who was willing to quarantine to a similar extent to us. After all, we have to work. And our daughters need some contact with other humans.
COVID came for us this week.
So rest assured, this is not yet another one of those silly “I did everything right and still got COVID!” pieces that you read while shaking your head at the fact that the author is too ignorant to realize that they did absolutely nothing right.
If you’ve followed me here for a while, you know that I write weekly about reproductive justice, with a focus on abortion and abortion clinics. You might have noticed that writing has slowed down. That’s because one of the prices of avoiding COVID is frequent quarantine. Nanny gets a cold or has allergies. She stays home and no one does work. Rinse and repeat. In the last two months since I came back from maternity leave, I’ve had to take three weeks off of work.
This is the reality of parents, especially mothers, during COVID. This is what caution demands of us.
It is a nightmare, and I hate it, but I am glad we are only just now getting COVID, when there are vaccines to help us and a less harmful variant.
How We Got COVID
Because we have been so COVID cautious, we know exactly how we got COVID. And it’s a story that shows how foolish the new CDC guidelines, which recommend shorter quarantine periods without testing, really are.
Our nanny’s father is in his eighties, and after nearly two years of quarantine, she desperately wanted to spend a Christmas with him. We agreed to a small family gathering, with a family that was totally vaccinated and taking reasonable precautions (though nothing compared to the precautions we and our nanny were taking).
Nanny attended her family gathering on the 25th, with plans to return to work 5 days later if she had no symptoms, no one in her family had symptoms, and she had gotten two negative COVID tests administered by a professional (we don’t trust home tests).
I worried she’d get COVID and we’d miss another two weeks of work, but that didn’t happen. She came back 5 days after Christmas, and all was well.
On Monday, January 3—a full 9 days after Christmas, and having attended no other gatherings and being in no other public settings since Christmas—Nanny went in for the weekly COVID testing we ask her to do. And on Tuesday, she got the stunning news that her test was positive.
Later that day, she learned that her sister in law had developed mild COVID-like symptoms a few days after Christmas—sometime around New Year’s Eve, so still nearly a week after the family gathering. And around New Year’s day, the sister in law tested positive.
We don’t know if our nanny got COVID from her sister in law, or if both she and sister in law got COVID from someone else at the family gathering.
But the family gathering was the only point of COVID exposure for any of us, and it took a week for anyone to test positive, and 10 days for our nanny to get positive results.
I don’t know if nanny was positive for the first time on the day of her test, or if perhaps she would have tested positive several days before then. With testing so inaccessible and no contact tracing, it’s impossible to know who gave what to whom, and when.
The only thing we know for sure is that the only way we could have avoided exposure was to ask our nanny to isolate for the full 2 week period that the CDC recommended after COVID exposure in the early days of the pandemic.
Relaxed public health guidelines are inevitably going to encourage a false sense of security, and lead to COVID spread.
Nanny has gone to a couple gas stations since Christmas. Always masked. We have walked unmasked in our neighborhood, and did an outdoor, masked visit with my in-laws. For our purposes, masked always means an N95 mask, except for my daughter, who wears a KN95 kids’ mask with a surgical mask over it. I suppose there is a small chance we picked up COVID outside or something, but if so, that’s even scarier in terms of transmission.
Our Vaccinated Omicron Experience So Far
Nanny is staying home for the time being, pending a negative test and a quarantine period. My husband and I are juggling things as best we can. He is a civil rights attorney with multiple inescapable important deadlines looming, and I am a full-time writer whose clients do not appreciate it when I dip out on them. We were both in a panic about work from the moment we got the call from our nanny.
And then the symptoms started.
For the sake of tracking our experiences, here’s who I’ll be talking about:
- Me: 38, female, good health, “normal” BMI, but with the health risk factor of recently having given birth (the postpartum period increases the risk of certain cardiovascular issues); fully vaccinated with Pfizer and boosted with Moderna
- Husband: 41, male, good health, “normal” BMI, family history of gallbladder disease and had his gallbladder removed in the summer; fully vaccinated with Pfizer and boosted with Moderna
- Preschooler: just turned 5, female, good health, “normal” BMI, has had her first vaccine as soon as she was eligible but not her second
- Baby: just turned 5 months, good health, very large for gestational age at birth and large for age now (two things that tend to correlate with good health); not vaccinated. I got both vaccines when I was pregnant with her, and exclusively breastfeed her, and preliminary evidence suggests both things may give her some passive immunity and anti-COVID antibodies.
I’m not going to get too deep into our nanny’s symptoms out of respect for her privacy. But she is in her thirties, double vaxed and boosted, has a chronic illness (but one which does not seem to correlate with more severe COVID), and has so far had very mild symptoms. Low grade fever, aches and pains, but not in bed.
I’ll update this post daily with a review of each of our symptoms until someone tests negative. And maybe finding the anecdotal information I’ve been scouring the Internet for will make things feel a little less mysterious for someone else.
Day 0: January 5th, nanny tests positive
No one had any symptoms at first, but as the day wore on, each of us began to wonder whether we might be sick, while also wondering if our symptoms might be due to anxiety. By the evening, it was clear some of us had it.
- Husband: intense fatigue that came and went, no other symptoms
- Me: similarly intense fatigue, muscle aches. My symptoms also came and went. I’d feel like someone hit me with a tired stick for an hour, then feel totally fine. It was as if I was feeling the effects of my body trying to fight the illness in real time. My throat was very mildly scratchy.
- Preschooler: no symptoms, totally normal, but bouncing off the walls with anxiety
- Baby: woke up stuffy and screaming in the middle of the night; kept having brief low-grade fevers that would last for 5-10 minutes; we now wonder if maybe she has had it for a few days because she has been uncharacteristically fussy. Awake from 9-11 PM, 12:30-1:30 AM, and 2:30-5 AM crying.
Day 1: January 6th
Today it is clear that we are all sick, including nanny, who has mild symptoms and intermittent low-grade fevers. We’re still hoping that our symptoms will remain mild and resolve quickly.
- Husband and me: We both have intense, extreme fatigue that is severe enough to make it difficult to care for the kids and work. But it comes and goes. I’ll be so tired that I can’t get myself water for an hour, and then feel totally fine. I have a headache and a very mildly scratchy throat. A tiny bit of congestion. My eyes hurt fairly intensely.
- Preschooler: She who never is tired, she of boundless energy, she who gave up naps in early toddlerhood, has been complaining of fatigue all day. Her eyelids are red and she says her eyes are itchy.
- Baby: The most vocally sick of all of us. Has spent most of the day sleeping and attached to the breast (she is exclusively breastfed). Hopeful she’s getting lots of antibodies from my prior vaccines (I got my first two when I was pregnant with her). She is extremely fussy and congested, and continues to have brief fevers that last for 10 to 15 minutes, then disappear.
I will update tomorrow, and I hope this is helpful to someone curious about COVID in the vaccinated. If you have questions, feel free to ask and I’ll try to answer them. And please be kind, since we’re all scared, especially for the baby.
Day 2: January 7
Oof...things have gotten brutal. It’s easy to tell people to take it easy when they’re sick, but it’s quite another when not working may mean losing clients (me) or getting disbarred/in trouble with a judge (husband). I’ve stopped work for the time being so that my husband can work, but this is not a decision that is likely to be consequence-free for me. So far still mild. Here’s what we’re seeing:
- Husband: Feeling worse, worse sore throat and fatigue.
- Me: Feeling roughly the same, with a slight stomach ache. My eye pain has turned into rows of styes on my eyelids. I assume this is inflammation-related.
- Preschooler: Losing her damn mind. She is terrified someone is going to go to the hospital. This has retriggered all of her trauma surrounding the loss of her sister. She stands over the baby while she sleeps and keeps bursting into tears asking if anyone will have to go to the hospital. She’s been sleepy/dozing off but doesn’t seem to have specific symptoms beyond this.
- Baby: A disaster. Her nose looks like a trash dump, but she is fortunately not congested enough to have trouble breathing (as some of you have mentioned, newborns and young infants are obligate nose breathers, which is part of the reason congestion is so dangerous to them). She has nursed so much that last night I had almost no milk left. The night was a disaster; she was effectively up all night, and rejected my husband till about 4:30 in the morning, at which point he took her for the rest of the night.
At this point what we need most is sleep, but sleep isn’t happening with a sick young baby and a demanding workload.
At the request of several commenters, I am expanding this into a series, so more recent symptoms can be found in subsequent blogs. My first update is here: My Vaccinated COVID Experience: Part 2
My second update is here.
Some Other Updates
A few questions keep repeating, so I’ll post them as they pop up here:
- What is your doctor/pediatrician saying? Nothing. Our doctor is part of a large health system that does not give direct access to providers. And while our pediatrician is more accessible, we don’t want to burden an already burdened health system with questions we can likely answer on our own. There’s no treatment, nothing to be done, only waiting at this point.
- On masks: Wearing anything less than a KN95 or N95 is at this point pure foolishness. Here are two great places to buy them now: www.projectn95.org and protectivehealthgear.com
- A general note on the cruelty of our system: We will be paying our nanny for every day she takes off because she is a human being and this is the right thing to do. This is not easy for us, since we are losing money by not being able to work as much. Meanwhile, we have no paid leave (as self-employed workers), no one who can fill in for us, and few options for rest. Not to mention the fact that there’s no real way to access a doctor or test without going to the emergency room, which would of course cost thousands of dollars and likely not be covered with our garbage health insurance (again, as self-employed people, we have no choice but to pay $1700/month for marketplace insurance that covers basically nothing).