My experience with COVID-19 began a few weeks before I started writing this. One night, I received a text from someone with whom I had been doing boxing and kickboxing one-on-one training. He told me he had tested positive the day after I had spent an hour with him in close contact. Of note, I had also spent an hour with him 5 days prior, although it is unknown whether he was contagious at that point. He developed symptoms a few hours after we had trained, which were limited to a loss of smell and taste, lasting for just one day. This is not unexpected, as he is an athlete in his 20s. He decided to get tested anyway, while he had the loss of taste and smell – not out of concern for himself, but out of concern for others. He tested positive for COVID-19.
After I spoke to him, I immediately called 811, the British Columbian, Canada, government hotline for health-related questions. They confirmed that I had to quarantine for 14 days, or if I subsequently tested positive, 14 days from the first symptom. What startled me is they informed me my wife did not need to quarantine with me until I tested positive. This seemed absolutely insane to me and to my wife, who is a grade school teacher – a career who could maximize the potential of COVID-19 spread. She promptly emailed her principal, who emailed back confirming that according to provincial and school board policy, she is not subject to quarantine and must come to work. Of note, the health authority did not:
- Ask my name or contact information.
- Ask whom I had come into contact with that subsequently tested positive, or where it happened. This would be important information to assess risk of any potential super spreader events or individuals.
Then, I got back to my contact, who had potentially infected me, asking what the health authority had told him. I learned the following:
- They did not ask him for a list of contacts to conduct contact tracing.
- They asked him when his first symptom was; he told them that he had a cough for a few hours in the evening 5 days before he lost his sense of taste and smell. They determined that to be his “first sign of symptom” and gave him a date to exit quarantine 14 days from that isolated 2-hour cough; this was just 9 days after his positive test. I believe that advice should have been to ask him for 14 days after symptoms disappeared, not first appeared.
- They advised him to contact anyone he had potentially exposed to the virus, but did not give him any written instructions on what to tell potential exposures. From his memory of the verbal call, they did not advise him that people he was in contact with needed to quarantine for 14 days. As such, most of his contacts were not voluntarily quarantining when I advised him of this, days later, as they did not know they were required to do so.
On its own, the above is a scathing indictment of how British Columbia is handling one of the most important strategies to contain this pandemic, including basic education to direct points of contact and effective contact tracing. The lack of need for a household to quarantine when one person is potentially infected is absurd. I later found out that school-aged children are not required to quarantine, even if their siblings have tested positive, so long as they have no symptoms themselves! The icing on the cake? If they have no symptoms, they do not even need to get tested! For our government to adopt policies such as these, and then simultaneously condemn citizens with levels of righteous indignation rarely seen from government employees for “not following the rules,” which they attribute to the spikes in cases, is morally reprehensible. This condemnation is parroted and amplified by the media and others who are all too quick to play the blame game, and too slow to criticize policy decisions. From BC’s top doctor, Bonnie Henry, following her announcement of another 14 day lockdown starting on November 7th, which prohibited group fitness classes, visiting a private household where you do not live, or dining at a restaurant with anyone outside of your immediate household:
"What we need to do now is to break those chains of transmission. We will start seeing those numbers come down, reflecting that we are no longer exposing large numbers of people."
-Dr. Bonnie Henry
Apparently, visiting people within your previously allowed bubble of 6 people is more of a health hazard than knowingly sending likely disease vectors, such as children who have family members positive for COVID-19, to school to interact in close contact with dozens of others. Right. Likewise, this is apparently true for people like my wife who have careers where they are in contact with dozens of children and staff, and have a spouse quarantined, but are told to come to work. Apparently, that is much less risky than visiting your best friend or extended family at their home.
So, my wife and I felt the only solution was to try to obtain a positive test for me, so that she could isolate as well and not risk transmitting to others who are more vulnerable. The challenge? BC will not allow you to be tested, unless you are symptomatic. Since I was not symptomatic yet, my wife had to go to work for the remainder of the week. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I developed a light cough on Day 4. I knew that PCR tests can give very high rates of false negatives, with 67% being false negatives at Day 4, 38% at symptom onset (typically Day 5), and still 20% false negatives 3 days after the onset of symptoms. My cough persisted the next day, and into the third day, so I decided that it was time to take a test. Of note, my cough was not really a “cough” – it was a very light, dry cough that at no point was bothersome. It was more like a soft “hu-hu” erratically every hour or two that seemed to be exacerbated by drinking either alcohol or carbonated beverages.
When I made it to the testing center for my COVID-19 test, I was asked what my symptoms were. I told them a light intermittent cough. They questioned this and at first did not want to give me the test, saying I was not coughing currently, and clearly I wasn’t sick as I had shown up for an outdoor test in flip flops and shorts. Looking up the weather history, I suppose it was cold for most (4°C/39°F); however, I tend to not get cold. I had to argue that I had direct and extended close contact with a known infected individual, developed a light cough 4 days later that had persisted into a third day, and that my wife was a school teacher ordered to not quarantine and work unless I tested positive. I got my test, hard fought, despite being one of only two people at a time slot with the resources to handle six individuals.
On the day I tested, I also developed light body aches and muscle pain generalized to my upper back and shoulders a few hours after the test – another symptom of COVID-19 infection. My cough disappeared the next day, while the muscle pain lasted another day. My PCR test results returned as negative. This wasn’t that big of a surprise even if I was positive, as I had low symptoms and was borderline asymptomatic, and even if I had high symptoms, the test has a 20% false negative rate, meaning 1 in 5 tests that were actually positive will read negative. I continued my week as normal, feeling back to normal after the muscle pain and fatigue subsided.
Here is why I could have been asymptomatic, or mild symptoms, for COVID-19:
- I get a lot of sunlight and take vitamin D supplements.
- My fasting blood glucose remains between 4.1-4.3 mmol, which is about 73-79 mg/dl for American readers.
- I’m relatively young (35 years old).
- I was luckily a few days into a wash-out on hydrogen water when I heard about potential infection and shifted to a heavy load.
- I get ample sleep. I do not set an alarm, ever, and wake up naturally when my body feels rested. My sleep quality is typically very good.
- I may have already had COVID-19. I was sick three separate times in December, early February and mid-March, twice as a persistent cold with a runny nose and light cough (Dec and March) and once with a 5-day fever that knocked me down and had me coughing through the night, not letting me get sleep. All three times I was sick were following trips to the USA, specifically to California, where we know COVID-19 was spreading as early as in the fall. I may have developed partial immunity already, but it is impossible to know, since at the time, Canada either wasn’t offering tests or only testing those critically ill, and still has not approved any antibody testing, either officially or for consumers.
Believing I was fine, I behaved as I normally would, other than remaining in quarantine. I exercised, and on Saturday night, 5 days after I had last coughed or had body aches, I drank a bit more than I should have. I woke up on Sunday with a slight, but not severe hangover, and did a light workout to improve my energy levels. I woke up believing I was feeling fine on Monday and went to do a hard workout, but my body didn’t allow it. My energy was normal, but my muscles were fatigued. Later that evening, I became dizzy and the generalized muscle pain in my upper back and shoulders returned with a vengeance. I passed out from this combination in the early evening for about half an hour, and when I was awake, the muscle pain was greater than when it began. The muscle pain kept me awake almost all night, it was impossible to find a comfortable position. By the morning, the pain had transformed from generalized waves of pain to isolated pain on my left shoulder blade, as if I had been stabbed or shot. I was unable to move my head to my left, and my left arm was far more restricted than usual in movement.
I hate turning to them, but in a last-ditch effort to be able to work or function, I took the daily max dosage of 6 Robaxacet and jumped into a hot hydrogen bath. Whether it was the Robaxacet, the hydrogen bath, or both, by the end, I could move my head and arm, albeit still fatigued and in pain. I called 811 for advice, but after informing them it was recurring muscle fatigue which I had the day I tested negative, they advised me that this is not a “new symptom” and that I’ve already tested negative. They told me I was fine to leave quarantine (my time was up as of that morning). I worked from home and considered the moral dilemma. More so, I considered the policies and decisions our leaders are making. The pain returned in the late afternoon, shifting back and forth from generalized waves to isolated pain in the one spot. The next morning, the waves of pain were gone, and I was left with severe stiffness and residual soreness.
Was this COVID-19? Due to our policies and testing, I may never know. What’s more important is what I learned regarding the inadequacy of our policies, and the advice and knowledge from the officials tasked with educating individual exposures in the public. We the people should be condemning our governments and health authorities for these shortcomings. Having individuals foot the moral blame for the pandemic, while giving our government and health authorities a pass on asinine policies, is akin to having consumers foot the moral blame for climate change while giving multinational corporations a pass. It’s simply unacceptable. That said, we do all play a part, and this is in no way a justification to behave recklessly. This is a war cry to hold those in power accountable.1 https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19---16-march-2020#:~:text=People%20infected%20with%20COVID%2D,end%20of%20this%20period.