"I knew I was next": Catching COVID-19 during Canada's sixth wave

Apr 13 2022, 7:30 pm

This is a first-person experiential piece written by a Daily Hive staff member

Watching the second line form on my partner’s COVID-19 rapid test was an ominous moment indeed. The virus had finally caught up with us.

Going to sleep that night was a supremely weird part of my pandemic experience. Getting into bed with a COVID-19 patient after wearing a mask and avoiding my friends all those months felt dissonant, for sure.

Welcome to the sixth wave.

It feels like more people than ever are testing positive for COVID-19, and it’s happening as provincial governments across the country scale down testing and tracing initiatives and lift mask and vaccine requirements — a move the head of the Canadian Medical Association has called “deeply concerning.”

At the end of March, I was one of the unlucky ones to come down with COVID-19. I probably had Omicron BA.2, the strain which has been dominant in BC since mid-March.

Omicron BA2 rise

The dark red illustrates the rise of Omicron BA.2 in BC in March. (Government of BC)

I also know where I caught the virus. It was from my partner, who got it from a friend he went to a show with on the weekend. They did all the usual concert things — got drinks beforehand, danced in a room of mask-less people, and shared a joint on the smoking patio.

He tested positive on March 28 with an at-home rapid test, and I knew I was next.

There was a brief discussion about whether I should try isolating to avoid infection. But when you live with a partner, you’re more than roommates. You’ve made a spit pact. Plus, we share a one-bedroom apartment and had spent the last 24 hours together. I was definitely exposed.

We decided supporting each other through the illness was more important than a last-ditch effort to avoid it.

His symptoms hit fast and hard. His fever reached 38.6°C, so hot it made the bedroom feel like a sauna.

My symptoms started off more gradually. This is apparently common — some research suggests COVID-19 has a longer incubation period with less pronounced symptoms in women.

I was feverish and chilly with aching muscles and felt the infection creep down my nose to my throat. One of my tonsils became so swollen that swallowing was painful.

Testing positive, but no one’s counting

It took me four days from symptom onset to finally test positive. I felt vindicated! That is, until I woke up the next day with even worse symptoms.

I went online to report my positive test to the BC government on April 1, only to find they had decommissioned the public reporting tool that very day.

Government of BC

Government of BC

BC didn’t care to know if I had COVID-19. The government still puts out weekly reports of COVID-19 cases, but those numbers only reflect people who get a PCR test. Only a limited number of people are eligible for a PCR — such as healthcare workers and certain clinically vulnerable individuals.

Now, it appears the only way to keep tabs on COVID-19 case volume is through wastewater monitoring. In BC, wastewater data is always at least five days delayed. The most recent data is from April 2, and we won’t know information about the first week of April until the 15th.

At the time I got sick, Ontario was seeing a spike in its wastewater signal. That province’s viral load in sewage is now almost as high as the first Omicron peak near Christmas.

Ontario wastewater data

Ontario COVID-19 Science Table

Dr. Peter Jüni, scientific director of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Table, said last week the wastewater data suggests the province is seeing 100,000 new COVID-19 cases per day.

Isolation responsibility shifts to individuals

As I wrote this piece, several more members of my news team also went home sick with COVID-19. On a macro and personal level, it looks like many, many people are getting sick. But there’s no contact tracing in BC for people who test positive at home like me, and isolation guidelines are a lot more relaxed than they used to be.

The chances were virtually zero that I’d be fined under the Quarantine Act for leaving my apartment — vastly different from the early days of the pandemic. No one but my close friends and family knew I had COVID-19. I realized it’s truly up to individuals to decide whether to stay inside.

But by the time I tested positive, I didn’t feel like going outside at all. I got markedly sicker, and simple tasks became exhausting. I lost my appetite for three days, and the only things that brought me joy were pho and Season 2 of Bridgerton.

Pho Goodness

My COVID-19 craving: beef stew from Pho Goodness. (Megan Devlin/Daily Hive)

The first day my symptoms felt better instead of worse was April 4. Luckily, my partner’s isolation period had already ended so he could get us groceries.

BC now says you can end COVID-19 isolation if three conditions are met:

  • Five days have passed since symptom onset or your positive test
  • You don’t have a fever, even without Tylenol
  • Your symptoms have improved

My isolation could technically end on April 6, but that’s when the diarrhea started. Guess I wouldn’t be going far from my apartment after all.

Day seven: symptoms finally begin to improve

Recovering from COVID-19 reminds me more of a concussion than a cold or the flu. It’s a slog, with improvement coming every three days or so. I had a limited window when I could be alert for activities and had to listen to my body when it demanded rest.

While I didn’t lose my sense of taste or smell, the virus did change my appetite. I’m pickier about what tastes good, and coffee and alcohol seem repulsive.

I still can’t handle a full Saturday of errands and socializing, but my window of alertness is expanding. Sixteen days after symptom onset, I’m finally feeling close to better.

I faced COVID-19 with a lot of privilege as a triple vaccinated and healthy 29-year-old with stable housing, paid sick days, and the ability to work remotely. Developing long COVID-19 still scares me, but I hear being vaccinated may reduce the risk. Anyhow, it’s still too early to tell if there will be lingering effects — the World Health Organization says you can’t truly assess for long COVID-19 until three months out.

For now, I’m back to work (remotely) and testing negative again. I’m incredibly lucky to reach the other side of this infection in relatively similar health as I was before. That’s not the case for many people, especially the loved ones of the 38,000 people in Canada who have died from COVID-19.

Overall, I’d recommend avoiding COVID-19 if you can. But that’s becoming harder as case counts surge — especially for those who work in-person and can’t control how many people they come into contact with.

Should the provincial government re-enact mask and vaccine mandates? Maybe. The weakened response to this wave of infection compared to previous ones feels odd, to say the least.

I don’t want to put the onus of responding to COVID-19 on individuals. But my practical advice? Make sure you have cold medication at home before you have to isolate. Also, pick up your free rapid tests from the pharmacy. Canned soup wouldn’t hurt either. In the sixth wave, exposure to the virus may be a “when” and not an “if.”

Megan DevlinMegan Devlin

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