ABQ Mom contributor Dawn Delfín has a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences. She has 20 years of experience in her field, and her research focused on how to discover and analyze new treatments for various diseases.
Since March 2020, I have ridden the mental and emotional rollercoaster that has defined pandemic living, much like the rest of the world. I experienced the shock of the “two weeks” of changes we were asked to endure. I had to process the idea that the pandemic could last well past the summer and my son might not attend kindergarten in person (he didn’t). For the first several months, I followed the science and the numbers almost obsessively. Then I decided to stop to preserve my sanity. I had empathy for the millions of lives forever changed or lost due to Covid-19. “Coronalife,” as I like to call it, was really challenging even though it hadn’t affected me directly.
I protected myself and my child with a secure Covid-19 bubble.
About a month into the pandemic, I realized that I had to create a Covid-19 bubble to keep myself and those around me safe. I decided that my close friend Shelly* and her son Landon* were the only non-household members that could be in our little bubble.
I am a scientist, and I believe in science and evidence-based medicine. So I reinforced our bubble using the latest scientific knowledge.
I wore my mask religiously, and I increased my intake of supplements that the data showed were promising. As soon as the vaccine became available, I got the shot. My friends, including Shelly and Landon, also followed Covid-safe practices based on science.
We avoided getting Covid-19 for a solid 17 months, through mid-August 2021. Truthfully, I didn’t personally know anyone who had gotten Covid-19, except for a handful that I hadn’t seen in a decade or more. Certainly, no one in my daily life got Covid-19. I felt very sad about the raging illness and numerous lives that were lost, but in a non-personal way.
I was doing the right things, and I was safe. My bubble was strong. During the summer of 2021, I very slowly began to expand my bubble to include more friends in Covid-safe ways, like meeting up outdoors. As the mask mandate was lifted and vaccination rates seemed to climb steadily, I could envision a return to something more normal. Dare I say, I even began to celebrate that I would make it to the other end of the pandemic without contracting the virus.
But then I got Covid-19. My bubble was pierced.
I kid you not, the very first time I went to celebrate the new beginnings of a post-Covid existence, I contracted Covid-19. After being home full-time since March 2020 and successfully going through a sleep training regimen to prepare for the start of school, my son and Landon finally began in-person school for 1st grade. Shelly and I decided to go out for dinner and drinks at the end of the first half-week of school to celebrate. We intended to eat outdoors to be as Covid-safe as possible, but weather conditions prevented that. It was relatively loud in the venue, so we had to talk with our faces close to each other to hear over the din. No big deal. We were both vaccinated. Life was grand! The pandemic was close to being over!
What we didn’t know was that Shelly had already contracted the virus, probably from a close relative. We don’t know how or where the relative got exposed. At the time, few appreciated that the new Delta variant was more capable of vaccinated-to-vaccinated spread than the original virus. Shelly unwittingly spread it to me as we talked about our post-Covid hopes and dreams. We had no idea that we were about to get sick with that dreaded disease. In fact, our entire country was about to suffer through a major uptick in cases, showing that we are nowhere near moving on from this pandemic.
My bubble’s job went from keeping the virus out to keeping it from getting out and infecting others.
Before the end of our celebratory weekend, Shelly found out her partner tested positive for the virus. Then she tested positive, and she had to let me know I was exposed. Initially, I thought it was unlikely I could have gotten Covid (I’m vaccinated!). But I rallied to set up strict quarantine for myself and my son starting immediately. After only attending school for three days, I had to pull my son from school for almost three weeks. I informed the people we had spent any time with to be vigilant. We scheduled Covid tests. Our wonderful friends rallied to make sure our needs were met despite 100% quarantine.
My Covid-19 test came back positive a few days later. Gratefully, my son and his father tested negative throughout the whole ordeal. By mid-week I started to feel unwell. My symptoms progressed throughout the day. Then during the wee hours of the night, I had full-blown, flu-like symptoms. I felt truly icky for about nine hours. By mid-morning the next day, I already felt a ton better, just incredibly tired. I spent most of that day asleep, waking only to take care of my son’s basic needs. About 48 hours after my symptoms started, I felt almost normal, except I lost most of my sense of smell for about 2-3 weeks.
I only had mild illness, and I thank the vaccine for that.
Luckily for me, the course of the disease wasn’t too bad. I credit the vaccine for that outcome. The vaccine—having been administered to more than 3.4 billion people worldwide and only 0.00034% of those resulting in severe adverse reactions—is proven to be very safe overall. Although I still contracted Covid-19 despite being vaccinated, I was only sick for a couple of days. I had bouts of the flu that had been far worse than what I experienced with Covid-19. Indeed, the central goal of the vaccine is to prevent severe disease and death. It did that for me. I have enough risk factors to presume that getting Covid without the vaccine would have been far more dangerous.
The latest studies show that being unvaccinated increases the chance of being hospitalized due to Covid-19 a full 12 times higher than being fully vaccinated, and the chances of dying are 10 times higher. More young people without underlying diseases are falling prey to severe Covid due to the Delta variant. So, there’s a 1-in-1 million chance of getting gravely ill or dying from the vaccine, but a 7-in-100 chance of getting gravely ill or dying from Covid-19 without the vaccine. Just based on those numbers, getting vaccinated wins by a landslide.
The quarantine took a mental toll beyond the physical illness.
What was far worse than Covid-19 itself for me was the total disruption of absolutely everything during our period of 100% quarantine. Although I suppose we did something similar at the beginning of the pandemic, this time it felt much harder psychologically. Perhaps it’s because in the beginning, we were simply trying to not contract Covid. This time, we were trying to not spread Covid, and the burden of that seemed much heavier. Also, this came after 17 months of living the ups and downs of Coronalife, but escaping being infected. I was finally starting to believe with all my heart that the pandemic was close to being over and I was going to make it through disease-free. The heartbreak from that dashed dream was really hard mentally and emotionally. I very much feared that I’d infect my son. Also, I wondered what long-term effects I would have from Covid-19.
I know I was lucky. People are dying from Covid-19. Families have been shattered and lives have been broken. I was just mildly inconvenienced compared to that.
Even though I know my experience with Covid was much milder than it could have been, it was still really hard. I don’t want anyone to experience it. At its most benign, if Covid-19 enters your bubble, your life will be thoroughly upended for 2-3 weeks for quarantine. At its worst, of course, Covid-19 could kill you and/or those you love.
Covid-19 is absolutely not “just the flu” even if your symptoms in the moment are not much worse than the flu. So much changes as a result of getting Covid-19— from the burden of quarantining, to the stress of not knowing how it will affect your short-term and long-term health, to the guilt of worrying that you could have infected someone else that might develop severe Covid.
The Delta variant has changed the Covid game. You can totally contract and spread Delta-Covid even if you’re vaccinated. I survived Delta-Covid. But what about the next variant? The vaccines are wonderful and very safe, but they are fighting a new virus that is constantly mutating. Covid-19 is increasing in prevalence compared to just a few months ago, which increases the risk of deadly mutations developing. We don’t know how much protection the current vaccines can provide against future variations of the virus. Because of that, I believe that we need to return to the default of wearing masks, physically distancing, and wisely choosing and minimizing our social interactions.
I am reinforcing my bubble once again.
Having Covid has changed my view of everything I thought I knew about Covid-safe behaviors. I now know my bubble was helpful, but it certainly was not impenetrable. I’ll reinforce my bubble by more strictly following Covid-safe practices. I will get the vaccine booster when I’m scheduled to do so. My son will get vaccinated when it’s approved for younger children. I will do whatever I can to help support my son’s school in adhering to Covid-safe rules and regulations. If the time comes, I’ll support his return to remote education. I’ll keep working remotely since I have the privilege to do so.
I urge you to please keep an eye on your own Covid bubble as well. Make it as strong as possible by following Covid-safe behaviors and getting vaccinated if you can. The Delta variant is very serious and even worse variants may emerge. Your bubble might be pierced despite doing all the right things, but hopefully, the damage will be minimized because of your vigilance. Please be safe.
*Names changed for privacy.