Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

On New Year’s Eve, my husband tested positive for COVID. We wouldn’t have known he had it, except our hosts asked us to test before coming to visit. We canceled our weekend plans, but then had another dilemma: Should my 6-year-old daughter and I — who both tested negative — stay home with my husband and maybe get COVID, or move to a friend’s empty place for five days? 

Now, we are all vaccinated — my husband and I boosted — but my first-grader’s school requires that, in cases of in-home exposure, couples who live together quarantine apart for five days or together for 10. For me, that meant five days of solo parenting vs. 10 days with my asymptomatic husband.

While most people don’t have an option of separating from family, the question many are asking is: Should I just get Omicron over with already?

Although there were more than 1 million COVID infections recorded on Jan. 3 — 95%, according to the CDC, with the Omicron variant — deaths, ICU rates and hospitalizations are down, especially among the vaccinated and boosted. A study from South Africa found that patients admitted to the hospital during Omicron were 73% less likely to have severe symptoms than patients admitted during the Delta variant. Israel — where we are citizens — is barely fighting Omicron, offering PCR tests only to the elderly and immunocompromised, as many officials believe the spread will eventually lead to herd immunity.

Even after being vaccinated and boosted, Amy Klein’s husband (above) still tested positive for COVID.

And yet, with more than 4,000 children hospitalized with COVID in the US the first week of January, and 11,000 people hospitalized last week in New York state — the highest total since the peak of the pandemic in the spring of 2020 – experts are worried about long-term COVID, even from mild illnesses.

“Even mild cases can lead to long-term symptoms,” says Dr. Morgan McSweeney, a Ph.D. scientist trained in immunology and pharmaceutical sciences who works in biotech, and has 1.3 million followers on TikTok @DrNoc. “I would not intentionally try to get it,” he said, while noting there are people who have been attending “COVID parties” to get Omicron.

There’s the bride in Australia who tried to get COVID before her wedding, the Canadians who ended up in the hospital after attending a COVID party, and a 30-year-old Texan who died after going to one. 

“You might not know how it will turn out for you,” Dr. McSweeney said.

Aside from the personal risk, there’s a public health burden.

A bride in Australia said she tried to catch COVID before her wedding so it wouldn't ruin her big day.
A bride in Australia said she tried to catch COVID before her wedding so it wouldn’t ruin her big day.

“Societally, it’s placing a pretty severe strain on healthcare staffing right now and has a negative impact on access to health care for everyone else,” he added. As for me, he said, “I think it’s worth it to take reasonable precautions and not throw it up to fate, saying, everyone’s going to get it anyway, might as well get it now.” 

But many people I know are doing the exact opposite.

“As soon as I found out we had it, I licked all my kids,” a vaccinated friend joked about her kids, who all weathered a week of fevers and fatigue and now find themselves on the mend.

“If this had been original COVID, we would have gone and isolated somewhere else,” another friend told me. Her 3-year-old tested positive on New Year’s Day. But “because of all the data on Omicron,” she decided to stay home with her fully vaccinated husband and two children, the other aged 6.

Within the next four days, the entire family had it, the parents with mild headaches and fatigue, the kids totally fine (the youngest’s fever went away that first day). 

In Canada, two people reportedly attended a COVID party and ended up in the hospital.
In Canada, two people reportedly attended a COVID party and ended up in the hospital.

Now, with the kids back in school and the parents back at work, she told me, “I feel relieved.”

It’s not like I deliberately wanted to get infected — or get our daughter infected. But we had already been with my husband while he was sick.

I called our pediatrician, who, turns out, had just recovered from COVID, and said truthfully, it was a matter of my mental health. After more than a week of parenting over the winter break, I really, really needed some respite. Maybe 10 days at home with my infected husband was better than six days alone without him.

“Look, I’m not going to tell you to stay if you have someplace else to go,” my pediatrician told me. “That being said, if it’s a matter of mental health, since you’re all vaccinated, she will probably be fine if you have to stay.”

Quarantining at a friend's place, Klein's daughter went to school over Zoom.
Quarantining at a friend’s place, Klein’s daughter went to school over Zoom.

I was still unsure. But going by anecdotal cases, I noted that of the four people who caught it with my best friend in Los Angeles recently, one was perfectly fine, another lost his sense of smell and taste, a third was high-risk, and another developed brain fog and couldn’t finish a sentence. How would my daughter and I fare? 

And so, I decamped to a friend’s place for almost a week and did Zoom school. It gave me PTSD like it was March 2020, and I had to do a lot of deep yogic breathing to try not to lose it.

Now we’re back home, and we do not have Omicron. Not yet, anyway. But if I’m faced with this same dilemma in the future, I don’t know what I would do.

Amy Klein is a writer living in NYC. Follow her on Twitter @AmydKlein and on Instagram.

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