On New Years Eve, my husband tested positive for COVID. We wouldn’t have known he had it, except that our hosts asked us to test before coming to visit. We canceled our weekend plans but then faced another dilemma: my 6-year-old daughter and I – who both tested negative – should we stay home with my husband and possibly contract COVID, or moving to an empty friend’s house for five days?
Now we’re all vaccinated – my husband and I got a booster – but my elementary school requires that in the event of a home exposure, couples who live together self-quarantine for five days or together for 10 For me, that meant five days of solo parenting versus 10 days with my asymptomatic husband.
While most people don’t have the option of separating from their families, the question many ask is: should I be done with Omicron yet?
Although there were more than one million COVID infections recorded on January 3 – 95%, according to the CDC, with the Omicron variant – deaths, intensive care rates and hospitalizations are down, in particularly among the vaccinated and boosted. A South African study found that patients admitted to hospital on Omicron were 73% less likely to have severe symptoms than patients admitted on the Delta variant. Israel – where we are citizens – is barely fighting Omicron, offering PCR tests only to the elderly and immunocompromised, as many officials believe the spread will eventually lead to herd immunity.
And yet, with more than 4,000 children hospitalized with COVID in the United States in the first week of January, and 11,000 people hospitalized last week in New York State – the highest total since the peak of the pandemic in spring 2020 – experts worry about long-term COVID, even mild illnesses.
“Even mild cases can lead to long-term symptoms,” says Dr. Morgan McSweeney, PhD. scientist trained in immunology and pharmaceutical sciences who works in biotechnology, and has 1.3 million followers on TikTok @DrNoc. “I wouldn’t intentionally try to get it,” he said, while noting that there are people who have attended “COVID parties” to get Omicron.
There’s the bride in Australia who tried to catch COVID before her wedding, the Canadians who ended up in hospital after attending a COVID party, and a 30-year-old Texan who died after going there.
“You may not know how it will turn out for you,” Dr. McSweeney said.
Besides the personal risk, there is a public health burden.
“On a societal level, this is putting quite a severe strain on healthcare personnel at the moment and negatively impacting access to healthcare for everyone else,” he added. As for me, he said, “I think it’s worth taking reasonable precautions and not throw it to fate, saying, everyone is going to have it anyway, might as well have it now.
But many people I know do the exact opposite.
“As soon as I found out we had it, I licked all my kids,” a vaccinated friend joked of her children, who all weathered a week of fever and fatigue and are now in healing path.
“If it had been the original COVID, we would have gone to isolate ourselves elsewhere,” another friend told me. Her 3-year-old son tested positive on New Year’s Day. But “because of all the data on Omicron” she decided to stay home with her fully vaccinated husband and two children, the other 6 years old.
Over the next four days the whole family had it, the parents with mild headaches and fatigue, the children quite well (the youngest’s fever disappeared that first day).
Now that the kids are back in school and the parents are back at work, she told me, “I feel relieved.
It’s not like I deliberately wanted to be infected – or infect our daughter. But we had been with my husband before when he was sick.
I called our pediatrician, who actually had just recovered from COVID, and told him honestly it was a mental health issue. After more than a week of parenting over winter break, I really, really needed a break. Maybe 10 days at home with my infected husband was better than six days alone without him.
“Look, I’m not going to tell you to stay if you have somewhere else to go,” my pediatrician told me. “That being said, if it’s a mental health issue, since you’re all vaccinated, she’ll probably be fine if you have to stay.”
I still wasn’t sure. But going through anecdotal cases, I noted that of the four people who caught it with my best friend in Los Angeles recently, one was perfectly fine, another lost his sense of smell and taste, a third was at high risk and another developed brain fog and couldn’t finish a sentence. How will my daughter and I cope?
And so, I decamped to a friend’s house for almost a week and did Zoom school. It gave me PTSD like it was March 2020, and I had to do a lot of deep yogic breathing to try not to lose it.
Now we’re back home, and we don’t have an Omicron. Not yet anyway. But if I’m faced with this same dilemma in the future, I don’t know what I would do.
Amy Klein is a writer living in New York. Follow her on Twitter @AmydKlein and on Instagram.