Abcarian: I dodged COVID-19 for over two years. The last push finally got me.

It had to happen.

The day after leaving college in Los Angeles for the summer, my irrepressible 12-year-old niece, who lives with me, was feverish and lethargic. It was so unfair.

For more than two years, she had been an absolute beast at wearing her mask, refusing to take it off for pictures, forgetting to take it off at home, bewildered by mask refuseniks.

Just three days earlier, she had tested negative for COVID-19 at school. Then, suddenly, positive.

Opinion columnist

Robin Abcarien

Her symptoms were mild, and frankly, she wasn’t too upset at first because she equates being sick with watching TV, drinking ginger ale, and eating ice cream.

However, once she realized she wouldn’t be able to join her family for a long-planned trip to Disneyland, she pretty much lost it. I kept my distance from her and didn’t change my weekend plans, which was probably a mistake.

That night, I co-hosted a college graduation party for my step-granddaughter. The next day I had dinner with my daughter and my former mother-in-law. (We avoided my niece; the party was held in a friend’s garden and dinner was served in my mother-in-law’s little apartment above my garage.)

Tuesday morning I woke up with a sore throat, mild fever, and the nauseating feeling that my luck had passed. Two red lines on the rapid antigen test confirmed this.

With two vaccines and a booster shot under my belt, how sick would I be?

And what should I do?

::

Chances are you know someone who has COVID-19 right now.

California’s current push, reports my colleague Luke Money, is the third highest peak of the entire pandemic. Fortunately, fewer people are becoming seriously ill, hospitalized or dying.

That’s because we now have vaccines, home tests readily available and, of course, antiviral drugs for people at risk of getting seriously ill.

In spring, the state of californiaLos Angeles County and LA city all stopped requiring proof of vaccination to enter public spaces like restaurants and gymnasiums (except for large indoor events with more than 1,000 people). Mask mandates were dropped, though public health officials never stopped recommend for indoor public places.

After several months of pandemic anxiety and precautions, I let my guard down. I forgot to wash my hands. I stopped wearing a mask and, frankly, I stopped worrying about getting an infection. I had read that immunologists theorize that part of the population might not be susceptible to COVID-19, and I fell asleep thinking I might be one of those who did. “super-immunity”.

And yes, I laughed when I wrote that earlier.

::

By the second day, my symptoms were getting worse and I blamed myself for not getting that second booster. I decided to see if I could get a prescription for Paxlovid, the new antiviral that friends told me I needed.

I don’t have a regular internist right now so I decided to find a close one “Test to Treat” Center. Federally-funded sites are scattered — in pharmacies and clinics — but I wasn’t ready to drive anywhere. Also, the first pharmacy I called put me on hold for 15 minutes before disconnecting me.

I decided to call the county health department at (833) 540-0473. My call was picked up on the second ring. I was assigned a case number and transferred to a nurse, who took my medical history.

About 20 minutes later, a doctor, Dr. Hang Tran, called me back and discussed my symptoms, current medications and offered to call a prescription for Molnupiravir, one of two effective antivirals to fight COVID-19. Paxlovid, she said, was contraindicated for me because of the statins I take.

Both drugs have been granted emergency use authorizations by the Food and Drug Administration to treat people with mild to moderate COVID symptoms who are at high risk of developing more severe symptoms, which includes anyone age 65. and older and people with a wide variety of underlying conditions. Medications should be started within five days of the onset of symptoms, preferably as soon as symptoms appear.

A little over an hour after Dr. Tran and I hung up, my friend Dayle threw a bag on my kitchen counter. “Here is!” she sang as she fled.

The next day, a public health nurse called to check on me. I was amazed. I’ve had outpatient surgeries where no one bothered to check in like that.

“I’m glad you had such a positive experience, that’s exactly what we’re trying to create,” said Dr. Seira Kurian, regional health officer for the county’s Department of Public Health. The county’s COVID telehealth program, she told me, is only a few months old. “Because therapeutics require a prescription, we realized early on that this would be a problem for people like you, or who don’t have access to health care, or who are underinsured or uninsured.”

If a sick person has no one to pick up medicine, Kurian said, there is a solution — the county has partnered with FedEx to deliver supplies overnight.

Callers were few at first, she said, but infection rates have risen and word is spreading. Since last week, she says, the program has served about 1,000 patients. I consider myself lucky to be among them.

The couple I co-hosted the graduation party with have tested positive, are moderately ill and are self-isolating on antivirals.

The 12-year-old self-isolated for five days, tested negative and is happily settled in day camp.

I, on the other hand, am still a little under the weather. My sore throat is gone, but seven days later my test is still positive, which means I have to self-isolate for another three days. After that, even if I am HIV positive, the doctors tell me, I can leave my house.

And when I do, you can bet I’ll be wearing a mask.

@AbcarianLAT



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