Hannah Docter-Loeb and Emma Wallenbrock wrote . . . . . . . . .
Well over half the U.S. population had caught COVID by February 2022. That majority has only gotten bigger in the months since as contagious, immune-system-evading variants continue to circulate.
Yet, despite COVID’s pervasiveness, there are some people who have managed to avoid it—the “NOVIDs.” We know because their number includes some of our colleagues. We found other people via social media who claim to have avoided infection with the virus to the best of their knowledge. Many of the people whom we spoke to had one thing in common: the ability to work from home. They also tended to be cautious, though many also do plenty of socializing.
While there’s some—or a lot—of plain and simple chance involved in staying negative, those who have done so offer us a look at what it takes to remain uninfected (for now), as the pandemic wears on.
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I have a fairly weak immune system since I live with a chronic illness (imagine the sickly kid who missed a lot of school, catches every cold), so I have been cautious from the start.
My mask is on any time I go into a store, ride public transportation, or am generally indoors with strangers. I eat at restaurants or go to bars if there is an outdoor space or decent ventilation, like big open windows or those garage-style doors some places have, but I skip places that don’t fit that criteria. I have visited a few friends’ homes, usually to spend time outside.
I think a lot about the variables of where I am going and who else is going to be there, and then make decisions. In 2021, I went to Disney World. Disney was limiting capacity to 30 percent and using its serious hospitality skills to enforce masking, but I drove down from Brooklyn because there wasn’t any vaccination requirement to fly. Months later, I felt comfortable flying to the U.K. because everyone had to have tested negative within 72 hours to be on the flight.
I did have one morning where I woke up convinced that I had finally caught COVID. It was Jan. 2 and I was still feeling terrible after partying too hard (outdoors) in Edinburgh on New Year’s Eve. Turned out I was just hungover, dehydrated, and too old to party that hard anymore. — Daisy Rosario, senior supervising producer, Slate
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The main reason I think I have avoided it is relative physical isolation. I live alone and I was 100 percent at home for the first 18 months [of the pandemic], then the 10 months or so since then have been at about 80 percent at home, so my physical proximity to people has been limited. Until a few months ago I would be masked whenever in a public building, but now I only do so in medical settings. I was vaccinated from around March 2021 and have since had a second jab and booster. I think I am probably due for another booster anytime now.
I have had a few close calls. Each time I have taken a test to check and it has come back negative. A couple of times I have taken PCR tests at the local testing center, but more often I took the lateral flow tests that were given out for free by the NHS and took these before going to places where I might be in contact with others. I feel fortunate to have avoided this so far, but the isolation and uncertainty over the past few years have certainly taken a negative toll on my mental health. — Charles Ward, from Hemel Hempstead, England (as told to Emma Wallenbrock)
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As a college student, it feels almost inevitable that you’ll catch COVID-19. Think 300-person lecture halls peppered with fits of coughing. Think poorly ventilated parties with suffocating peer pressure to unmask. And think about the countless casual interactions—in the dining hall, library, or gym—where you might reasonably forget to keep your guard up. I can’t think of a single close friend who hasn’t caught the virus. But I’ve somehow managed to slip through the cracks, probably because of my “responsible dumb luck.”
I try to be careful. I’m double-vaccinated and boosted. I almost always mask up indoors. I avoid large group settings as best I can. But I’ve also had so many close calls that I wonder when my luck will finally run out. My college roommate tested positive for COVID the day after I moved out. A close friend stayed at my house for two days, and we ate indoors at a restaurant, drove in the same car, and watched a movie together. He tested positive on day three. A girl I chatted with for four hours on a date texted me a few days later that she was positive. And these are just the close calls that I’m aware of! —Simar Bajaj, from Fremont, California (as told to Emma Wallenbrock)
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We live in an affluent suburb of D.C., a very expensive neighborhood, but we live here comfortably by virtue of my father’s post as a bureaucrat at the Pentagon since the early ’80s, when housing prices were much more reasonable. There is ample outdoor space, public parks, and quiet tree-lined streets. I’ve always just accidentally had very good mental health and the ability to be content with a small social circle. We took the pandemic seriously from the beginning and all our friends did the same. We updated our behaviors when public health guidance changed.
With all these privileges, the pandemic has felt like a bit of a blessing. I work at a progressive company with excellent benefits and the ability to work remotely productively, even more productively than at the office. I now have more time to spend by myself and with my family and greater autonomy in how I do my work. —Jonathan Zuckerman, website developer, Slate
I do COVID research for a living. I still take COVID very seriously because I see the impact of it. My stance now is that if people want to take on personal risks, that’s their choice to make but they have an obligation not to pass their infections on to other people. I still wear a high-grade mask when I’m in grocery stores or the post office—community spaces where people have to be and are at high risks of COVID—to limit my risk to other people. I will go to restaurants or the occasional bar, depending on how I’m feeling or if I have events coming up that I want to make sure I’m negative for. I’ve definitely put myself in situations where I could have been exposed to COVID and as far as I’m aware I haven’t gotten it yet. I have volunteered for a lot of studies that look at antibody levels, and no one has seen any unexplained spikes in my antibody levels that could have been explained by an infection that wasn’t detected.
I definitely feel like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. When we have these huge waves of COVID, I always tell people, “You’re not guaranteed to get it in this wave, but in our lifetime I think everyone will very likely get COVID unless we make drastic changes about transmission.” I feel like it is inevitable but I try to be really conscientious of it. I won’t risk passing it on to other people should I get infected.
The joke that I and other people who work in health care make is that, being in the hospitals all the time before vaccines were available, we were “microdosing COVID.” If I have had a COVID infection, it’s never manifested as symptoms or a positive test.
I think, having worked on so many COVID-related studies, there is some aspect of COVID we’re yet to learn about that will explain situations like mine or those of other people who are befuddled as to why they haven’t gotten infected. I look forward to learning those things, but for now I’m going to keep operating the way I’ve been operating. — Laurel Bristow, from Atlanta (as told to Hannah Docter-Loeb)
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I don’t do things anymore. I work from home, and I don’t go anywhere on a regular basis beyond the park and the grocery store. Since the start of the pandemic, I have been to a movie theater a total of two times. I occasionally go out to a restaurant but almost exclusively ask for outdoor seating. I wear a KN95 mask every time I step out of my apartment and diligently test myself before going anywhere where I’ll be around people outside of my household.
I’ve been lucky to evade catching COVID so far. I know for many people it isn’t that easy, whether they have a medical emergency, are raising children, or just don’t have the option to work remotely. Even so, I don’t feel lucky. Mostly, I feel tired. Seeing strangers at the grocery store without a mask, talking about their vacation plans, coughing and sneezing without covering their mouths (seriously, adults are doing this), it makes me feel like I’m spending all this energy for no reason.
But I’ve watched COVID ruin so many lives, including the lives of people I love. I know three people who are still dealing with long-term effects from COVID, one of whom has developed other chronic health conditions as a result. I also know plenty of people with unrelated health conditions that make getting COVID (and, for some of my friends, even getting vaccinated) especially risky. So I’d rather be this careful for the rest of my life than know I’m not doing my best to keep my community safe. — Shivani Ishwar, data and analytics designer, Slate
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“The biggest change since COVID hit is how much smaller my life has gotten.” — Megan Chialastri
Even after my first round of COVID shots, I felt most comfortable in places that required proof of vaccination to enter, so my experience at many bars and restaurants was pretty limited. I switched to a more expensive gym that required vaccines. Over time, though, I’ve let my guard down further and further. Going to the movies is one of my favorite things in the world, and I’ve continued to do that with varying degrees of masking (because I love theater snacks). I just got back from a bus trip to NYC, where I saw three Broadway shows (and wore a mask in all theaters).
While I stay up on my vaccinations and mask up most of the time indoors, sometimes I forget, and my personal practices are only as good as the practices around me. Hardly anywhere requires vaccination anymore, so if I want to exist outside of my one-bedroom apartment, there’s inherently a risk.
The biggest change since COVID hit is how much smaller my life has gotten. Going out seems more exhausting. I get anxious in bigger crowds. I’ve had more of a tendency to keep to myself, which is possibly the reason I’ve stayed clear. — Megan Chialastri, from Philadelphia (as told to Emma Wallenbrock)
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I’m retired, I’m in my late 60s, and my husband is 10 years older than me and is a cancer survivor. I’m living in a situation that’s of higher risk for somebody in my household. I’m also a retired nurse and have been pretty acutely aware of just how devastating this virus is from the very beginning. I myself had gallbladder surgery in my 50s and ended up with complications and in the ICU with severe lung impairment. I had a fear of any kind of severe respiratory illness. When COVID was exploding pre-vaccine, people were dying of severe lung injury. That set me up for being pretty paranoid about the possibility of contracting the virus.
We got vaccinated as soon as that option was available. I’ve masked from the beginning, and as we’ve learned more about the efficacies of different types of masks, I’ve gone from a variety of cloth masks to KN95s, and if I’m out at all in an indoor setting, I always wear a good N95 that is tight-fitting. I firmly believe that masking is your first line of protection.
But the strategies have primarily been social isolation. I’ve always had a tight circle of friends and we used to do carefree socializing, and we just don’t do that anymore. I have the ability at this point in my life to have my groceries delivered, to order in—I have enough financial security to make those things happen. I’m discouraged by our public health response and I think it’s unfortunate that people are forced into a self-protective mode. — Mary Herrick from Portland, Oregon (as told to Hannah Docter-Loeb)
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I have no idea how my house (me, another adult, a 5-year-old) has avoided COVID. We’re up to date on our shots, but a lot of people who fit that description have had it! We live in a small college town located in a rural county and have not traveled much since the pandemic—none of us has gotten on an airplane. Neither of the adults in the family has a job that requires physical presence, and I think that might be the biggest factor here. However, the child has been back in preschool for about a year—sometimes masking, sometimes not, in accordance with the county’s reported transmission levels.
All in all, it seems like a crapshoot. I have thought so many times, “This is IT.” Somehow, it never has been. — Rebecca Onion, senior editor, Slate
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The principles I lived by are all pretty much what we were told throughout: Wash your hands when you get home and all those other times. Don’t sweat outdoor transmission (I did wear my mask while biking around at first). I wear my mask indoors in every public space—grocery stores, bodegas, always on the subway. My one dicey exception was the gym, where enforcement was extremely lax once you were past the front desk, and then nonexistent from late summer ’20 onward except for one relapse in the bleak, bleak delta variant days. I’d skip the gym when infection rates went up and then would go back when they seemed to slow, weighing my deep moodiness that exercise could dispel against the possibility of getting sick. When I’d leave New York, I’d kind of watch for what people in L.A. or Colorado were doing (wearing masks less, as it was summer), so just living in a pretty well-masked place (masked up for good reasons—it’s crowded here) probably did most of it for me. I watched a lot of TV, saw people outside, let what I think constituted “my life” drain and then trickle back bit by bit. — Ben Richmond, senior director of operations for podcasts, Slate
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I feel like we’re ducking and dodging it like Neo in The Matrix. My wife has become somewhat of a mask guru and knows how to find the highest-quality ones in bulk online. Our two kids (6 and 3) will wear them without argument. The general rule in our family at this point is to wear them indoors and in crowded spaces outdoors.
It hasn’t been perfect, though. We had some close calls, especially in 2021. We traveled as a family to places like Florida (to see my parents) and Hawaii (a nonrefundable trip purchased in 2019 that we had already rescheduled once) right before delta came raging in. My wife and I took a weekend trip to San Francisco just for a quick change of scenery and were back in the safe confines of our home before omicron exploded. And then there was the carnival of sinus and ear infections this spring that accosted our entire household and got so bad that we couldn’t believe it wasn’t COVID. (It wasn’t. The amount of rapid and PCR tests we took was insane.) My most recent trip was a solo weekend excursion to Las Vegas to provide moral support to my brother in the World Series of Poker. I figured if there was ever gonna be a place for it to finally happen, it would be there. Masks don’t exist in Vegas for the most part. I still wore mine. I PCR-tested a few days after returning home and was in the clear. — Derreck Johnson, designer, Slate
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As far as I know, I’ve never had COVID, mostly because, at every turn, I’ve been both lucky and privileged. Lucky that I was a senior in high school in 2020 and never found myself a pawn in the politics of K–12 school reopening and masking policies. Privileged that the college I started at in September 2020 has kept up a mask mandate and a testing program of twice-weekly PCRs for all students. Lucky that I haven’t caught COVID from working my food service jobs. Privileged that I don’t have to rely on those jobs for my livelihood, that my parents work white-collar office jobs and have been able to work from home for two years.
I’ve been fairly conscientious too; I wear a mask in all public indoor spaces, including public transportation. When omicron hit I abandoned cloth masks for KN95s. And I just plain don’t get out much. But I know people who’ve been just as privileged and conscientious as me who’ve nevertheless gotten it. I’ve avoided it. It’s just plain, dumb luck. (Knock on wood.) — Anna Kraffmiller, from Waltham, Massachusetts, as told to Emma Wallenbrock
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When I think about why I haven’t had COVID yet, I tend to bounce between three explanations. At the “self-congratulatory” side of the spectrum, I feel proud of myself: I have been cautious, and not getting sick is my reward. In the middle is “I’m just lucky.” Maybe some people are immune to COVID. And then at the other side of the scale is: I’m just really unpopular. Everyone else testing positive at the same time is a little bit like seeing a group of friends post photos to social media from a hangout you weren’t invited to.
All of this, of course, comes with a caveat: I haven’t had COVID so far as I know. I’ve been sick a couple of times in the pandemic — once I even lost my sense of smell. But I persistently tested negative, and other respiratory viruses can interfere with your ability to smell too.
But I suspect I’ll test positive the day this article is published.
Source : Slate