/I’m Vaccinated And Still Got COVID-19. Here’s What A Breakthrough Case Is Like. | HuffPost

I’m Vaccinated And Still Got COVID-19. Here’s What A Breakthrough Case Is Like. | HuffPost

My cousin, who drove me to the airport, warned me that she’d been sick a few days. I put on my face mask as I rode with her but at the time thought it was only a summer cold. A week later, I was back home in Alabama where my brother said he couldn’t hug me because he caught whatever my cousin had.

When I awoke the next morning, I felt like I had a vise grip around my skull and my lymph nodes were slightly swollen. I was definitely ill. Even though I still doubted that I had COVID, I decided to get tested because I was planning on visiting a close friend the following day, someone who was still fighting “long-haul” symptoms from his own bout with the coronavirus. 

I knew how serious this disease was. Last summer, while I was still living and working as a journalist in upstate New York, I was sick for two weeks with what I’m almost certain was coronavirus. I had chills and sweats, a high fever, congestion and a headache that lasted days, all the telltale symptoms except, interestingly, a loss of smell or taste. 

This time last year, COVID testing was still notoriously unreliable. News stories of multiple false negatives before a positive test were common. If what I had last June was indeed the virus that’s shuttered the globe and killed millions, then I can easily say it was the worst sickness I’ve ever had.

Alabama is probably the worst spot to get infected with the coronavirus right now, especially if you’re uninsured like me. Not only is it one of the least vaccinated states in the country, not only is the delta variant raging out of control here (our neighbor Florida has been reporting record numbers of new daily infections), but Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has refused for years to expand Medicaid in the state.

I soon learned that Alabama also doesn’t prioritize free or accessible COVID-19 testing. Even though I live just a half-hour north of Birmingham (Alabama’s largest city), I couldn’t find a site that offered free testing anymore. Even the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which has one of the largest academic medical research centers in the country, stopped its free community testing in early July. 

My only options were a $20 at-home test from Walmart, a $50 test done at a local pharmacy, or a visit to a doctor’s office, which would have cost me several hundred dollars out of pocket. I went with the cheapest option, surprised to find that Walmart’s kit included two tests and results within 15 minutes. 

The at-home test was easy to follow: a nasal swab plus drops of solution onto a test strip. The test received Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization for self-testing, but it doesn’t meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s requirements when returning from a trip abroad.

Furthermore, as compared to free curbside testing a few months ago, I had to walk into a store full of people, potentially spreading the virus, to purchase this test. I wore a mask, but I still felt uneasy walking through a Supercenter overflowing with people (some masked, some not).

At first, I couldn’t believe it. My immunizations had made me feel truly immune. I reread all the instructions in the kit about what to do if I had it. Incredibly, there was no option to report or track my results. The instructions said only that I should contact a doctor (or call my nonexistent health care provider) to report that I had tested positive.

But paying money for a doctor’s visit while contagious to report that I had COVID-19 didn’t make sense. Instead, I notified everyone I had close contact with in the past days and went into a 10-day quarantine, what the CDC recommended for breakthrough cases and unvaccinated folks alike. 

The at-home kit recommended retesting after three days. I waited until Day 5 and tested positive again, which could be a detection of dead virus particles since, according to the CDC, COVID is rarely detectable via the test after six days. 

So far, my other symptoms have included a general achiness and grogginess, head and chest congestion, headaches and, in the first few days, a lot of sneezing. And, just like when I was sick last summer, I haven’t lost my sense of smell or taste, which only reaffirms my belief that I previously had coronavirus.

Thanks to the vaccine, none of my symptoms have been severe, and they weren’t serious for any of my family members either. In fact, my brother, mother and cousin all seemed to make a full recovery within one to two weeks. But if the delta variant infected my whole family, it suggests that we still need to keep masking up in public, maintaining social distance and being cautious socially. 

Yet, if we’re looking at the current infection rates across the country ― which are as bad as they were during this year’s fatal winter surge or in some cases even worse ― then we as a nation need to recognize that just saying “get vaccinated” isn’t going to make the current COVID spike go away tomorrow. 

Tens of millions of inoculations will take weeks to administer and weeks more to take effect. The delta variant is here, and allowing it to spread nearly unabated could create new, potentially more virulent versions of the virus, which (lest we forget) is how this highly contagious variant came to be in the first place. 

However inconvenient the timing is, the Biden administration and governors need to recognize that the hard numbers are against us right now. It’s time to mask up again and consider partial, regional or full lockdowns. This would save lives, and we’re not just talking about protecting obstinate anti-vaxxers.