Google wished me a happy second coronaversary this morning.

Google Photos notification with 2 years ago, today, March 8, 2020, and a picture of a curving coastline

Well, not in so many words. But I count March 8, 2020 as my last normal day, the day I went out to de-stress by taking pictures of the ocean, seagulls, and a zillion tiny clams, grabbed coffee at Peet’s on the way home, and came down with the flu that afternoon. By the time I recovered a few days later, everything had shut down.

I never did get back to the office. I’m still at the same company, but they let the lease expire, tossed everything in storage, and set up a new, smaller office for people to come back to when things settled out.

I finally got to see the new office last month. And see some of my co-workers in person. And pick up the stuff I’d left on my desk, like a coffee mug that I would have washed on Monday morning if I hadn’t been sick.

It’s weird how it feels both longer and shorter than 2 years. Everything kind of blurs together. And yet it’s so different now from the start of the pandemic.

We’re not locked down. Just about everything that’s still in business is open, with precautions. Schools and playgrounds and parks are open. COVID tests are little boxes you buy at the pharmacy and use at home instead of driving through an improvised clean room for someone in a hazmat suit to stick a pole through the window.

It’s not “normal,” but it’s a lot closer to the old normal than those first months were.

The virus is still out there, but we understand better how it spreads and how to treat it, and vaccines make it a lot less likely to be severe for those who’ve gotten them.

(If only more people actually trusted the people who know what they’re talking about, rather than the ones telling them what they want to hear.)

On the down side, lots of people are still getting sick and dying, prices are up, the global supply chain hasn’t recovered, cynical politicians have taken advantage of the pandemic to further divide society and cement their hold on people who just want to be told what they want to hear instead of what they need to know, and a large nuclear power has decided now is an excellent time to invade their neighbors and possibly spark a bigger conflagration.

Things are still in flux. Which is probably part of why it’s still blurring together. We’ve still got problems to fix (or mitigate) at every level from home to global. Whatever the new normal is going to be, we haven’t made it yet.

But not having a direction, not having milestones, not having a sense what the landscape is going to be, makes it hard to see accomplishments, hard to be motivated. It’s been a draining two years. And even though a lot of things are better, other things are worse, and it’s still so damn draining. I’m exhausted, my wife’s exhausted, our kid’s switched school situations so many times he barely participates anymore.

I want a new normal. A better normal. But the last few years have also made it abundantly clear that more people than I thought don’t want to make things better, they just want other people to have it worse than them.

And yet I know so many people do have it worse than me. I have a job I can do from home. Even in the lockdown, I was quarantined with my family, not alone. I live in an area with enough open space that even during the heaviest restrictions I could still go out for a walk. My immediate family hasn’t caught COVID, and the extended family members who did recovered from it. And of course I’m not dodging mortar shells or fleeing a battle zone. So what am I complaining about? By some standards my life is charmed, so what business do I have feeling depressed and anxious?

Brains are weird. You spend a little time in fight/flight/freeze mode and you’re able to stop or dodge danger. You spend a lot of time in it and your brain just stops classifying input properly.

It’s theoretically possible that I picked up a cold in the middle of a surge in a highly-transmissible virus that, in people who have been vaccinated and boosted, has exactly the symptoms I have, and started about a week after a possible exposure.

It could happen. [Edit: apparently it did. See the update below.]

But we all know what William of Occam would say about that.

(No, this is not a good time to reread Eifelheim.)

Anyway, we had a possible exposure to Covid-19 last week. With the winter+omicron surge, we couldn’t get any at-home tests at all, let alone enough for three people. So we booked the first drive-through testing appointment we could get, which was still a week out.

We’d already planned a low-key Christmas at home with a family Zoom call, and we haven’t resumed going out places anyway. We’re still doing most of our shopping by store pickup or curbside pickup.

None of us came down with anything over the next week…

But this morning I woke up late, still fatigued, hoarse, with a runny nose and brain fog.

Well, that probably answers that question.

It was a self-administered drive-through test at a pharmacy, the kind where they pass the kit to you through a sliding drawer under a closed window, you swab your nostrils and put the swab in a collection vial, and pass it back through the drawer. Minimal air transfer. There were only two cars ahead of us, but it took almost half an hour to get up to the window (probably because one or both of them were also doing covid tests), and about 15 minutes to check us all in, send the test kits over, do the test, and send it back.

It was late afternoon when we got back. Between lunch and getting back from the test, my senses of taste and smell went wonky. I could barely smell the orange I picked up. I tried a chocolate chip cookie, and each bite started off tasting like a plain cracker, then picked up the chocolate taste as I chewed it.

So, yeah, looks like I’m ringing in the new year with Corona. Here’s hoping I’m the only one of us who gets symptomatic.

In a sense, though, this is the best time it could have hit us over the last two years. The world knows a lot more about how Covid spreads and how to treat it. There are treatments that didn’t exist two years ago. And vaccines! The three of us are all recently vaccinated or boosted, which makes a huge difference in chances of getting a severe case to begin with. Because of that, we’re more likely to have caught the variant that’s good at evading immunity, but comparatively mild when it does. And since we were all exposed at the same time, there’s no point in trying to isolate from each other. One of the lessons we learned when I came down with the flu at the start of all this was that it would be really difficult to properly isolate just one of us in this place.

So, um, happy new year?

Update Jan. 1

All three of our tests came back negative. So I don’t know what I have, but apparently it’s not COVID?

Time to re-apply Occam’s razor with new information.

  • We were all exposed to someone who came down sick the next day.
  • I have symptoms consistent with an Omicron breakthrough infection in someone who has been both vaccinated and boosted.
  • Katie and the kid have both had a few odd things happen that, in retrospect, might be illness-related or might not be.
  • All of us tested negative.

So:

  1. All three tests being false negative seems very unlikely.
  2. Mine could be a false negative, and both of them fought off the virus without noticeable symptoms, and legitimately test negative now.
  3. Or all three tests are accurate and I really did manage to catch something else in the middle of a surging wave of a covid variant matches my symptoms.

Weirdly enough, I’m kind of disappointed. I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop for almost two years and thought it finally had, and dropped in a way that would do minimal damage to the three of us.

Since I’m definitely sick with something, I’m still going to isolate. Just to be sure.

Update Jan. 6

It turns out the person I caught it from also tested negative for Covid during their illness…and then came down with actual Covid after they recovered. Fortunately they seem to be on the mend from that now too.

That means (a) whatever I caught from them wasn’t Covid and (b) we haven’t been around them in long enough that we don’t have to worry about it having been a Covid exposure too.

The kid has spent parts of three school years now dealing with Covid-19. I’m not sure “normal” school really has much meaning for him at this point. Though things have sort of settled into, if not a new normal yet, something approximating it.

Of course everything shut down in March 2020. Like many other school districts, they picked up again online with the teachers leading class over video chat. That continued through the first half of the next school year. Physical supplies like textbooks were distributed through curbside pickup with time windows for each grade.

  • Early in 2021, as the winter Covid surge was winding down, they switched to a hybrid online/onsite model.
  • Half the students were on campus each day, making it easier to distance.
  • Temperature checks and symptom/exposure screening questions on arrival.
  • Shorter days so students could go home for lunch.
  • Masks required for everyone.

The vaccines were slowly rolling out, and at least some of the teachers and staff were able to get vaccinated before general availability.

After a couple of months of alternating, everyone was on campus every day. And somewhere along the line they switched from asking the screening questions onside to having an online form to fill out before arrival so they didn’t have to spend so much time at the start of the school day.

(That’s part of why I’m writing this: I’ve already forgotten parts of the timeline, and I want to get this down before the rest fades into the “what I did during the pandemic” haze.)

By the time the fall 2021 semester started, schools were back to a full schedule, all on-campus. Masks are required indoors, but not outside. Instead of actively screening for symptoms on the way in, they’re asking parents to keep an eye on the kids’ health and just report and keep them home, like we would with any other illness.

I’ll admit, I was skeptical of reopening last winter, especially coming down off of a brutal wave that overwhelmed local hospitals. But it’s been nearly a year that they’ve been back on campus, and while the occasional student or staff member has come down with Covid, none of those cases have led to an outbreak at school.

So far.

We’ll see how it holds up to the expected winter surge and Omicron.

Update (January 6): First Week Back

We’re in the expected Omicron-fueled winter surge. The school has been sending out daily “X students and Y staff have tested positive for Covid” reports. District-wide, something like 17% of the students and staff who were able to get tested the day before classes started up again (it’s been hard to get tests) tested positive.

The rapid antigen tests the school district ordered finally came in, and they’re distributing them this week so every student can get tested Sunday before coming to school next week. This is going to be…well, “interesting” really isn’t the right word, is it?

1. Science isn’t handed down from on high fully formed. It’s a process of figuring things out based on what you know so far and what you discover. Like trying to determine the picture on a puzzle when the pieces are still scattered around the house. You look for more pieces, you figure out where they fit, you set aside the ones that turn out to be from a different puzzle, and you get a better idea of what the picture is as you go along.

2. Tactics change with the terrain. When a tool is in short supply, you save it for those who most need it. When it’s widely available, you can use it more. When a risk is both high and widespread in your area, you take more precautions than when it’s lower and rarer.

3. News and advice should be looked at through the lens of “Based on what we know so far, under current conditions.” As we learn more, and as conditions change, that will change. That’s how science works, how learning works, and how time works.

4. Nothing in life is certain. But a 90% reduction in your chances of something awful happening is pretty damn good when you compare it to the baseline instead of that ideal 100%.

Of the two Omicron-variant cases found in the US so far, one of them is a breakthrough case in a patient who hadn’t traveled internationally, but had just been to an anime convention in New York.

With 53,000 people.

That only required attendees to have gotten their first dose of the vaccine.

And struggled with crowding.

Chances are pretty good he’s not the only one who caught it there. A long time spent in a poorly-ventilated indoor crowd is this virus’ ideal environment.

One of the commenters on that article points out that New York Comic Con happened in early October, but had strict mask enforcement and required full vaccination courses for adults or a negative test for kids. I haven’t heard about any outbreak linked to NYCC and it’s been almost 2 months, so either they got lucky or they did something right there.

But one thing’s for sure: If an outbreak is tied to Anime NYC, it needs to be called Omi-Con.