The club I tried not to join
Last week, I finally caught COVID. I went through the exercise of trying to count how many times I’ve referred to COVID in past essays, but gave up counting once I got to the number “a lot.” Looking back, it’s remarkable to see how COVID changed my life, and how differently we seem to view the virus now versus then.
I successfully evaded the virus for more than two years. In the last months, I remember myself repeatedly saying that I was amazed I hadn’t caught it yet. It seemed improbably that I hadn’t caught it. If I were superstitious, I’d say I maybe said that a few too many times for comfort.
I can’t say I was the most COVID-cautious, but I definitely had some COVID anxiety and was quick to take any reasonable precautions, from wearing masks when appropriate and avoiding ultra high risk gatherings to being quick to getting vaccines and booster shots. It’s striking to look back at just how much we feared the virus back in 2020 and even through most of 2021. It’s hard to say how much was the fear of the virus itself, versus the shame, embarrassment, and social isolation of being the pariah that caught it.
In 2020, if you caught COVID, it seemed you either kept to yourself being relatively quiet about it, or if you did share with others, you received an outpouring of support and concern. Even for the young and healthy, COVID was a bit intimidating — you just never knew if you’d be the one to have a severe reaction and end up in the hospital and maybe even die, compounded with the fear of infecting someone else who might be at risk. In 2022, the story is a bit different.
Now, I caught COVID at the worst possible place for me — while visiting my parents. My parents are not quite elderly yet, but they’re definitely not young. So I was frightened that I might get them sick, despite them being vaccinated and double boosted. But this scenario itself is somewhat of an unfortunate fluke. I was only supposed to stop by at my parents’ for a couple days. Had I caught COVID anywhere else, like my own home in Austin, I can’t imagine that I would have had any trouble isolating myself in a way that would give me no concern at all about the risk of infecting others. Now, putting this particular predicament aside, the reactions I have been getting to having COVID suggest that society in general no longer has anywhere near as much concern as it once did.
I haven’t told to many people that I got COVID, as it just hardly registers as worth sharing anymore, but of the people I did tell, here are some of the reactions I got:
“wait this is ur first time? SRSLY?”
“heyyyy welcome to the COVID club hehe”
These lighthearted responses from people I care about made me feel better. What I experienced symptom-wise would have been indistinguishable from a normal cold were it not for two red bars on a rapid antigen self-test. But after all this time, and despite most people having had it, COVID still feels like a bit of a black mark. I definitely was not trying to join this club, but I did.
To be fair, plenty of people also responded with the usual approximations of “oh no! get well soon.” But I can tell no one was fearing for my life or thinking less of me, as they shouldn't. We have vaccines and Paxlovid and strains going around now are seemingly weakened, if more contagious, compared to the original. The COVID situation in 2022 is materially different from what it was in 2020. COVID is no longer a pandemic. It’s just another part of life.