Reflecting on possibly, maybe contracting COVID (while vaccinated)


This is a strange post for me following a strange series of days. On Thursday of last week, I felt a bit off, noticing that I had coughed a few times during the day, had a bit of a headache and a runny nose and just the slightest congested in my chest. I also couldn’t/didn’t sneeze, which is weird for me (don’t laugh!). The way the symptoms came on was such that I didn’t consider it was COVID until I noticed what all of the symptoms together might suggest.

Fortunately (?!?), when our little one’s daycare was closed due to COVID, we had acquired several rapid COVID tests from Wal-Mart, so I took one late Thursday night. The result was… positive. I both wasn’t surprised because of my symptoms and was also shocked. I hadn’t had any one event that I thought would have exposed me, though COVID is so prevalent within our community that there were at least two or three plausible ways I could have been exposed. So, I quarantined from my family. We’d been through this back in February and it was … interesting. Very unfortunately, our in-laws had just arrived that night. They left. My wife took a test and the result was negative. Fortunately, I didn’t expose them for more than a few hours.

So, I went to bed figuring that we’d have - assuming no one else tested positive - something like 10 days apart, with our little one home from daycare (and my wife missing work) for the duration. Not a super thrilling prospect. I messaged students who I had in class that week. I messaged colleagues letting them know things were going to be rocky for me.

The next morning, I woke up feeling about the same. I took another rapid test around noon. The result was … negative. This was more surprising than the positive test I’d taken the night before. I had made an appointment for a lab-based/PCR test, which I assumed would be positive—an that the second rapid test was a false negative. I took the PCR test and had a bit of an odd rest of the day, thinking about the stress this would cause my wife and how bad I felt about her parents arriving (and then … leaving).

Given that it was less than a day - now Saturday morning - I was surprised to see an email with my PCR test results the next morning. The result was … negative. My response was something to the effect of: What the world?!! I still had mild symptoms, but my understanding is that the PCR test - which I’d taken later than the others - was far and away the most accurate (or sensitive) in terms of detecting positive COVID cases. So I was negative? I rejoined my family (sans my wife’s parents) that morning.

The whole series of events was genuinely confusing and uncertainty inducing. In the day or two after receiving the negative PCR test, I figured that the first rapid test must have been a false positive, that somehow I had some inert COVID virus in my nose (yuck) or that the chemicals used for the test can somehow react in a way that indicates a positive result in the absence of any COVID virus.

But, a few more days out, feeling better and having poured over the clinical trial data for the rapid test, my best guess is that I had a very mild case of COVID - that my symptoms were like that of a mild mild cold - and that I was contagious and able to transmit COVID on Thursday, but not on Friday when I took the other tests. Given that the PCR test was negative, coupled with feeling better, I think I can be fairly confident that I’m not (and wasn’t after Friday) able to transmit the virus to others, but my plan is to lay out for at least several more days and to assess how I’m feeling (and how the rest of my family is feeling).

So, I possibly, maybe contracted COVID (while vaccinated)? I’m genuinely uncertain. Articles like this one suggest (very plausibly) that one being vaccinated means that tests for COVID operate differently than for one who is not vaccinated. That makes sense. Of course, COVID is different if one is vaccinated—possibly or even probably very different.

I’m thankful that I’ve been vaccinated and that really, truly, the experience I had was no worse than a mild cold - hard to distinguish from that, even. I was never concerned about being sick. But, the logistics around (possibly, maybe) contracting COVID are so much more immense than a cold, and the high stakes of that (no daycare for the little one and therefore no work for my wife) made this disorienting. And this post is my attempt to process all of that!