Like many people in the U.S., after spending a year in lockdown, I could not wait to receive my Covid vaccination. Due to an underlying condition (asthma) and Covid affecting Hispanics disproportionately, I took my isolation very seriously; 2020 had been a very long, lonely year.
I missed gathering with my friends and family.
I missed so many things about my pre-Covid life including going to the gym and the theater. A vaccination seemed like my ticket back to normalcy.
On March 13, my husband and I visited the FEMA pop-up vaccination tent in Tampa to receive our one dose J&J vaccination. Our two-week immunity countdown began and then, we rolled back into our “almost normal” Covid life.
My husband and I moved back into the world of the living cautiously as we still had children at home who were not eligible for vaccine. Therefore, we continued to wear masks indoors and when we dined at restaurants, we sat outside.
As more and more friends and family members became vaccinated, we started gathering again. My kids and I returned to homeschool meetups at the park and beach. By the summer, we were removing our masks as advised by the CDC.
By the beginning of July, we were thrilled to celebrate Independence Day and our July birthdays with friends and family. Life felt normal.
But quickly, things went south as the Delta variant began to rip through our community. In precaution, my family and I began to wear our masks indoors again.
In the midst of our birthday season, I still had my 50th birthday to celebrate and I sealed my Covid fate when I chose to celebrate my milestone birthday at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival on July 28.
Although Walt Disney World had a mask optional policy, I chose to wear my mask throughout the park and hotel. At Epcot, I spent most of my visit outdoors enjoying all the food kiosks in the World Showcase, however, I decided to indulge at La Cava del Tequila inside the Mexico pavilion.
Inside the pavilion, social distancing was nearly impossible and once seated in La Cava del Tequila, I removed my mask to sample a flight of tequila, margaritas and snack on chips, salsa and guacamole.
After 18 months of avoiding dining indoors, I slipped while I sipped.
By Friday, Walt Disney World reinstated its mask policy, but the damage of Covid spread had already been inflicted to countless numbers of visitors at the Disney parks that week.
Once I returned home, my birthday celebrations continued. On Saturday, I hosted a small party with friends at a local outdoor beer garden.
Four days later (Sunday), I began to develop symptoms. I felt rundown, my chest was tight and I started coughing a dry hacking cough. The next day (Monday), I had a low grade fever and chills.
As my Covid symptoms worsened, Covid began sweeping across Tampa Bay infecting hundreds daily and I found it nearly impossible to find an appointment for a Covid test. Appointments for rapid tests were two days out and PCR tests were few and far between.
With multiple tabs open on my phone, I frantically refreshed my screen in a desperate attempt to find a testing appointment. Finally, a PCR test became available 30 minutes from my home and I jumped at the chance to be tested at a CVS drive-thru.
Within 24 hours, I learned what I already suspected – positive for Covid and I became a statistic for a breakthrough case.
Feeling ashamed, I texted my friends that attended my birthday party. Thankfully, by the grace of God, none of my friends tested positive.
However, I exposed my family to Covid and my husband fell ill the following Friday.
While I am what some would call a healthy individual (I exercise, eat healthy, sleep well, drink water, etc.), I believe that our vaccinations contributed to my husband and I experiencing moderate Covid symptoms, not our health. My cough and labored breathing frightened me and without the vaccination, I am convinced I would have had to been admitted to a hospital, which is exactly why I isolated for a year.
With the aid of the vaccination, my symptoms lasted approximately five days with my fever hitting 101 one day and dropping to 99 degrees off and on. The scary non-productive cough lasted the entire five days and I used my rescue inhaler to help ease the tightness in my chest. My nurse friends recommended I invest in an oximeter to monitor my oxygen levels since my breathing was so labored. Thankfully, my oxygen never fell below 95. (I was advised to seek medical attention for levels below 90.)
By day four, my nasal passages became stuffy and I developed a headache and by day five, I lost my taste and smell, which returned a week later. Remarkably, I had an appetite throughout the duration, but could not taste any of the foods I craved.
My two older children (19 and 16) are vaccinated and never showed any symptoms. My oldest tested negative. However, my 11 year old son, who is not eligible for a vaccine, became ill a few days after my husband. He tested positive and fought Covid for 8 days. Thankfully, his cough only lasted five days, however, his low grade fever (99 degrees) lasted 8 days.
I believe since we were all vaccinated and wore masks, my son’s viral load of infection may have been greatly reduced, but there is no way to know.
Unfortunately, due to the number of Covid cases skyrocketing in our area two weeks after my Covid test appointment, finding a testing site for my son proved even more difficult. Thankfully through Curative.com, we found a pop-up testing site nearby; however, due to the sheer volume of tests being administered, his results took 36 hours instead of the usual 1-2 day.
Throughout this experience, my emotions bounced between guilt, anger, depression and relief. When the CDC permitted vaccinated people to remove their masks, unvaccinated people in Florida continued to not wear masks. Retail stores and businesses utilized the honor system and people were anything but honorable.
In early July, Florida had a vaccination rate of approximately 50%, however, at least 90% of shoppers in retail stores were not wearing masks.
Like many others, I was guilty of pandemic fatigue and I paid the price.
I never thought the vaccination would prevent me from getting Covid. In fact, quite the opposite. I knew it would be only a matter of time before I caught Covid, however, I hoped my son would be vaccinated before that moment happened.
Shortly after we recovered from Covid, our governor made Monoclonal Antibody Therapy free and available to everyone (12 years and older) in Florida. Before that, this treatment was only available for severely at-risk people. Since becoming available, loved ones who have received the infusion have reported reduced symptoms within 24 hours of the treatment.
As the Delta variant continues to spread, Tampa Bay area hospitals face immeasurable strain once again with no end in sight. On social media, I read over and over again how “healthy people” have nothing to worry about, however, there is simply no way to know how Covid will impact a person, including children.
What we do know is that Covid is here to stay and variants will have seasons, similar to the flu or hurricane season in Florida and like the flu or hurricane season, we each must take precautions and prepare.
By preparing, my family will have a “Covid Kit” which will include an at-home rapid self-test, a thermometer, an oximeter, blood pressure monitor, ibuprofen (for children and adult), acetaminophen (for children and adult), and sports drinks with electrolytes.
With regards to Covid, we each must do our part to control the spread. There is no reason for Covid to spread through our community like wildfire when we know how to contain it. After all, we survived flu season with a record low number of infections following the same precautions.
As new variants develop, we will never beat this if people refuse to take the steps necessary to contain Covid.
Masks, social distancing and hand washing help control the spread.
Vaccinations save lives.
We may never return to normal, but normal is relative in a pandemic.
This is our normal for now.