JINGZHOU, CHINA - FEBRUARY 01: Workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) spray ... [+] disinfectant at Jingzhou Railway Station during the 40-day Spring Festival travel rush on Febraury 1, 2021 in Jingzhou, Hubei Province of China. (Photo by Yang Qiu/VCG via Getty Images)
I am a travel business writer. In early May 2022 I attended a conference at a Las Vegas Strip hotel. It was the first conference I’d flown to since January 2020. Every attendee had to be fully vaccinated, proving it via the Clear app on their phone. Masks were recommended, though few wore them.
I flew into Las Vegas on May 2 and returned to LA Friday, May 6. On May 7 I completed and posted a Forbes.com story Party Like It’s 2019 In Las Vegas, Where Crowds Are Back. On Sunday, May 8, after avoiding it for more than two years, I tested positive for COVID.
COVID is not over. I caught it somewhere on my trip, in an Uber, at the airport, on the plane, at the hotel, at the conference, on the streets, in a restaurant or bar.
I started coughing and feeling sick around 1AM Sunday. When I got up, I took a home COVID test. Both blue and pink lines were visible; I had tested positive. I spent the day in bed, taking Anacin. I used a thermometer to check my fever and a finger pulse oximeter to test oxygen level. On Monday I took another COVID test at a local drugstore (with results reported to LA County), then went to an urgent care center. I tested positive at both.
I tweeted, “So late as ever, I finally got #COVID19, after two and half years. Yes, vaccinated three times. Did I let my guard down or was my number up? So far unpleasant, occasionally painful and isolating but seems survivable. Lying in bed watching #MichaelCaine movies.” Later I wrote, “I’m fatigued and it’s difficult to work. I’m falling asleep as I write this. I’ve closed my eyes.”
I was sick for a week. My symptoms included persistent coughing, choking, a fever that inched up to about 102.7, diarrhea and general exhaustion. I isolated from my wife and took the steroids, antibiotic Z-pack and inhaler I was prescribed.
01 March 2022, Berlin: The drug Paxlovid against Covid-19 from the manufacturer Pfizer is lying on a ... [+] table. Photo: Fabian Sommer/dpa (Photo by Fabian Sommer/picture alliance via Getty Images)
My friend, an epidemiologist, recommended I get the new Pfizer anti-viral drug, Paxlovid. Although I am in a high-risk age group and have chronic bronchitis, I had to talk the doctor into giving it to me. He was trying to spare me possible side effects but relented when I said I needed to fly to my son’s college graduation.
I found one of the few pharmacies with Paxlovid and took it for a full five days. My symptoms dropped off in about three. I recovered at home with no need to go to the hospital. In 8 days, I stopped testing positive and was well enough to fly to the East Coast.
I was fortunate that my COVID case was mostly annoying, not life-threatening. More than one million Americans have died of COVID, including some I knew.
Instead, I am one of 85 million who’ve tested positive. Yet the CDC says that 60% of Americans have had COVID—about two hundred million people. A CDC spokesperson said, “We know that the reported cases are just the tip of the iceberg.”
Millions do not develop symptoms. Others simply don’t get tested or stay on the down-low, as their at-home test results go unreported to health officials.
So, whether they know it or not, it is quite possible that the person in the seat next to you, or dancing an arm’s length away, has COVID-19. Yes, even if they are tripled-vaxed, as I was.
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MAY 15: Attendees react to singer/songwriter Ashanti and rapper Ja Rule ... [+] performance during the 2022 Lovers & Friends music festival at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds on May 15, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images)
I know people who traveled within days of a positive test. For other travelers, the easiest way not to test positive for COVID is not to take the test at all. How many are at this “ignorance is bliss” stage? Or have told themselves they have a bad cold, or seasonal allergies acting up?
Is indifference plus the latest COVID outbreak cause for paranoia? Time to stop traveling again? My answer is “No.” I will not be confined to my house and the surrounding six blocks for another two years.
Our health security system, such as it is, is fragile. Compliance is not mandatory. The U.S. is not China. US flights do not require COVID tests or proof of vaccination. Neither do most hotels. Or restaurants. Or stores. So, when you leave your home, there’s a decent chance that the person next to you has COVID-19.
I chose to travel to a well-attended conference. I flew after the mask mandate was revoked. Like 90% of those on board (including Southwest crew) I didn’t wear a mask. At the conference I didn’t wear one either. I wandered maskless at the casino, when I sat at a gambling table or went to eat. Most people around me were unmasked as well.
You could call it rolling the dice. You could say I was foolish or tired of lockdowns and shutdowns. I wanted to live my professional life as a writer on the road, not locked in the house staring at screens.
Like most things in life, travel has its risks. I risked catching COVID, and I did.
I would do it again. I will do it again.
Business couple walking together to the airport entrance carrying suitcases and bags