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Catching COVID: You can’t run and hide forever — at least I couldn’t

Woster COVID test.jpg
Kevin Woster
A COVID-19 test indicates a positive result.

The interview posted above is from SDPB's daily public affairs show, In the Moment with Lori Walsh (guest-hosted Aug. 11, 2022, by Jackie Hendry).

As financial transactions go, it wasn’t a great deal.

I paid $250 for a case of COVID.

At least, I might have. Maybe. I can’t say for sure. But it seems like the most likely scenario if I backtrack a few days from last Friday, when I tested positive for the coronavirus.

Three days before that little pink line appeared next to the positive sign on my home COVID test, Mary and I attended an indoor meet-and-greet here in Rapid City for Jamie Smith, the Democratic candidate for governor.

There was good food there, served in open-buffet style. There were good people there, mixing and smiling and chatting in open, unmasked style.

Well, there were a few masked people there. But they stood out as aberrations. They were wiser aberrations, perhaps, given the continuing realities of COVID transmission in our society and the especially contagious properties of the most recent strain and sub-strains.

Mary and I were among the unmasked, which is kind of unusual for us in such a setting, and especially for me. I have tended over the last 2 1/2 years to operate in a spectrum of COVID-avoidance techniques that ranged from astute to obsessive.

Lately, though, as a double-vaxed, double-boosted 70-year-old of reasonably good health and an awareness of effective treatments for COVID, I have sometimes been, oh, not quite so careful.

Which is how I ended up unmasked and mixing with the Democrats at Arrowhead Country Club, where I was so impressed by Jamie Smith’s presentation and our personal chat that I wrote his campaign a check for $250.

OK, it also was because someone had suggested earlier that, while no donation was required, $250 would be a reasonable amount for those so inclined.

I could have munched chicken wings and meatballs and cheese for free, of course. Or I could have just hung out and observed or taken notes without eating, as I so often did at such events during my decades of work as a full-time news professional.

I didn’t donate to any political campaigns during those years.

In my semi-retired state of journalism, however, I’m more flexible with how and what I write, what I say on the radio and whether or not I contribute to a candidate’s campaign.

A check in support of a super minority and a little political balance

And beyond just liking Smith, I felt an obligation to help out a Democrat, even if in a small financial way. The Democrats in South Dakota operate in such a super minority status and the odds are so heavily stacked against any statewide Democratic candidate, they really do need all the help they can get.

I think political balance is good for government. And the government in South Dakota has been way out of balance toward the red for a long time.

That’s a long way around to explain my “$250 for a case of COVID” lede up above. Those of you who have made it this far, however, might want to go a bit farther. And this is a subject of common interest, after all, since pretty much all of us have either had COVID or will get it eventually.

Looking back to the start of the COVID pandemic in South Dakota, the first case was confirmed in the state in early March of 2020. It was one of five cases initially reported by the state Department of Health. The five included the state’s first COVID death, a Pennington County man in his 60s with a pre-existing health problem.

There would be many more to come. Oh, so many.

The COVID count on the state Department of Health website shows a recorded total of 253,232 COVID cases in South Dakota, with 2,973 deaths. That last number, especially, we should never forget. Because while COVID symptoms could be mild to moderate for most, and even non-existent to others, to some they were life threatening and life changing. And to still others, they were deadly.

The medical community has done a lot to prevent or reduce serious illness and death. But the virus is still dangerous.

Almost 11,400 people have been hospitalized in South Dakota at one point or another since March of 2020. Currently there are 102 in the hospital with COVID. And there are 4,308 active cases.

Learning the ways of masking up and social distancing

Those first five cases in March of 2020, and in particular that first death, really got my attention. They got lots of people’s attention. Schools closed. Our YMCA closed. Some businesses shut down. For a time, at least, life changed in ways I hadn’t seen since I was a kid during the polio outbreak.

I don’t remember much about the polio period, other than my mom was terrified for her children and hyper protective. We didn’t call what we did back then social distancing, but that’s what it was.

We did call it social distancing with COVID. We — many of us, at least — also got hyper concerned about hand washing and sanitizing surfaces, both of which turned out to be not quite as important with COVID as we initially thought.

And we — many of us, at least — put on masks. They were ridiculously ineffective masks in many instances, and not always worn properly. But we’d get better at choosing masks and wearing them. Many of us would, at least, those of us who believed and followed the science and the advice from medical professionals.

You can run from COVID. You can even hide. And I did my share of both. I ran away, mostly in a figurative sense, although I have left potentially infectious situations at a briskly paced walk. And I hid out at home or in outdoor settings well distanced from others in my version of what had come to be known as social distancing.

I was fortunate in that, because some of the things I love best — fishing, hunting, hiking — are quite naturally socially distanced activities. And out there, I didn’t need a mask.

But I wore masks pretty much anytime I was around people outside my own family.

Before the vaccines and boosters and anti-viral medicines that helped us avoid, survive or better tolerate the disease, I lived a masked and/or fairly isolated existence. Only after my first two vaccinations against COVID did I begin to loosen up a bit.

How contagious is it? Stand back and look at this picture …

But only a bit. It soon became clear that the vaccines were, like those developed for the flu, not 100 percent effective at preventing infection, even though they were effective in reducing serious illness and deaths. It also became clear that this virus is sneaky and smart, if you can say such a thing about a disease, and it’s always searching for a way around medical barriers.

A way to get at us.

So then came the boosters. And I got them, too, as soon as I was eligible. In a couple of instances, when I had close contact with family members who contracted the coronavirus, the boosters seemed to keep me from getting the disease at all.

And I knew more and more people, including a number of them in my family, who had survived the disease with symptoms that ranged from really miserable to fairly mild.

We went through variants, from Alpha to Delta to Omicron, and sub-variants Omicron BA.4 and BA.5. The variants seemed to get less deadly but more contagious. This last one in particular.

How contagious? A friend and former newspaper colleague, Jim Holland, had an entertaining take on that point in a comment on my Facebook page after I posted that I had finally contracted COVID:

“Apparently one can catch this latest strain by getting too close to a photo of an infected person,” Jim wrote.

It’s funny. But it also has a hint of truth in it. This version of the coronavirus, while not as dangerous as early varieties in its potential for causing serious illness and death, is still dangerous. And it’s a lot more contagious.

It’s also a pretty good reminder that the virus is here to stay, and there most likely are other variations or sub-variations coming our way, sooner or later.

I think my social distancing and masking and my vaccinations and boosters kept the virus away for 21/2 years. And once I got it, I think being vaxed and boosted helped my body deal with it. So did the anti-viral Paxlovid I took, which seemed to help enough to make up for the terrible taste it left in my mouth.

Still, it was pretty miserable for two or three days, and a week after symptoms began, I’m still dealing with some effects. I’m also wondering if any will linger or re-emerge, as they do with some people.

Either way, it’s not something I’d want to have again, if I can help it.

As you probably know, boosters tailored more toward the Omicron variant are on their way, likely by sometime this fall. When I’m eligible for one, I’ll get it.

Meanwhile, depending on what you read or listen to or watch, the immunity I’m likely to get from this infection might last anywhere from six weeks to several months.

The key word, of course, being “might.”

Other key words are going to stay in our vocabulary and, if we are smart, in our daily lives, for quite some time: Masks. Social distancing. Vaccines. Boosters.

As for the $250 case of COVID, well, of course I can’t be certain that’s how I got the virus. And it’s probably unfair to blame Jamie Smith and the Democrats.

If so, I apologize.

But what’s a guy to do? I liked the lede.

Click here to access the archive of Woster's past work for SDPB.