I was off grid during most of the big 20th anniversary celebration here, so I wanted to wish John and the rest of you a very belated happy blog anniversary. You can only write variations on “Manchin and Sinema are killing us” a finite number of times, so my plan for late 2021 and 2022 was to write a bit about some of the traveling I’m doing in rural red areas. As the picture clearly shows, my travel plans took a bit of a hit. I wanted to share a bit of my Omicron experience for any of you who need to travel.
My wife and I had started our travel in the Southwest but we had to drive back to the Dakotas for some family issues. Then, on New Year’s Day we left -17 temps to travel back South. At some point I want to devote some time to writing about the National Park Service, but the short story is that we lucked into some campground reservations at Big Bend National Park, so we ended up in West Texas early last week. We travel in a conversion van so the only exposure we must have is some shopping, which could be touch-free. But, since we’re vaxxed and boosted, we decided to do a little bit of eating out non-peak hours, preferably outside. Unfortunately, it was pretty cold in West Texas so we could only eat indoors. We had a total exposure of under two hours mask-free dining indoors, but apparently that was enough.
We arrived at Big Bend mid last week feeling fine. My wife had a night or two with a bit of a dry cough. I had the same a day or so later, and a bit of a runny nose. We’re at a mile of altitude and pretty close to zero humidity, so we both thought that it was a reaction to the altitude, dryness and dust. Since I was “sicker”, I took a BinaxNow antigen test, which was negative. I followed the instructions and took another one 3 days later, which was positive. By then, we were at a hotel in nowhere West Texas, and we decided to find another hotel nearer to services and quarantine for the recommended five days. We’re both experiencing mild cold symptoms and feeling blah, but we’re clearly going to survive without medical intervention. Here’s what I think I learned from my extensive sample of two (my wife and me):
- That Binax Now antigen test was purchased a couple of months ago at a WalMart in North Dakota. They are basically unobtainable in retail settings right now. I bought two boxes (four tests total), so I’m rationing the last two to test us after 5 days of quarantine. My initial negative test is consistent with these tests being less sensitive to Omicron and having a large number of false negatives in general. If you’re feeling bad and get a negative antigen test, I wouldn’t trust it, and the shortage of antigen tests is a real problem.
- West Texas had little to no masking and very little evidence that we were in the middle of a pandemic. The Midland/Odessa area where we think we picked up COVID has a 46% positive test rate and a 47% vaccination rate. In a high-COVID environment, even vaccination, boosters and masking (N-95) everywhere you can won’t prevent transmission if you engage in anything risky, even for a short period of time.
- “Quarantine” when traveling is difficult, and the CDC recommendations for exiting quarantine aren’t going to prevent sick people from going out. The guideline for vaccinated, positive people is to end quarantine and go out with a mask on after 5 days “if you are fever-free for 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medication) and your symptoms are improving.” Neither of us have had fevers, and if we had gotten positive PCR tests 5 days ago, we’d be clear to go out by those guidelines, since our symptoms are more-or-less improving. Even people following CDC guidelines will be going out with a mask while possibly being able to transmit the virus.
This isn’t a “woe is me” post — we decided to take some risks given our vaccination status and general health, and we came down with an unpleasant but not deadly (to us) virus. I just wanted to share our experience. Open thread.