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I’ve never tested positive for COVID (and it’s kinda freaking me out)

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Scott Morgan
/
South Carolina Public Radio
Actual footage of my latest COVID test, 36 hours after a fever, body aches, fatigue, and a crushing headache turned out to be something else.

Look, I know how this sounds, but it’s a little weird that I’ve never tested positive for COVID.

And I’m a test-taker. I used to get my nose swabbed every other week when there was the DHEC drive-thru setup over at Winthrop University. With at-home tests, I do them once a week, before I go into the office Monday mornings, just to make sure.

Always negative.

Last week, I got home from work and felt like I fell down the stairs – fever, aches, fatigue, headache.

Negative. Thirty-six hours later … still negative.

“There are other upper-respiratory viruses that are circulating, we haven’t gotten rid of those since COVID’s here,” is what Dr. Brannon Traxler told me. And she’s the public health director of South Carolina, so I tend to believe her.

But … why, though? Why have I never tested positive for COVID? I’m around other people. Omicron is catchier than “Can’t Get You Outta My Head” (which is now in your head). I usually don’t see anybody wearing a mask anywhere, so … why not me?

“I’m just starting to hear that question around here,” Dr. Traxler told me in a Zoom call Wednesday afternoon. So it isn’t just me asking.

I might, however, be the first to hit her with a barrage of utterly stupid reasons that make unassailable sense in my own head at two in the morning. Each, she (politely) brushed aside:

  • Maybe I’ve had it and didn’t know it.
    For people who are testing fairly regularly … it’s less likely to be that they just didn’t catch it [on a test].
  • Maybe I do the tests incorrectly.
    It’s possible, but less likely.
  • Maybe I’m superhuman.
    [Laughs medically]
  • Maybe I just have a new variant of COVID that this test is unable to detect.
    I don’t think so. There’s not any data that shows that. [Labs around the world] are still doing genome sequencing. If there’s a variant out there that was going around causing false-negatives on these tests, they’ll pick it up.

The real reason some of us have yet to see that second line on the COVID test, Dr. Traxler said, is almost surely that we just haven’t been exposed to it at a communicable level.

“There are people who are not getting it,” she said. “Depending on what-all they have done and a little bit of luck, they may not have come in contact with it.”

My what-all is a combination of things that Dr. Traxler said likely explain why I’ve never been positive – I’m double-boosted, I keep my hands clean, and I still wear a mask inside when people are there.

I didn’t mention the lack of social interaction and my general dislike of being within throwing distance of most people, but from other things she said, I gather that’s helped too.

“It’s likely multi-factorial,” she said.

She added that researchers around the world are studying thousands of people with antibodies beyond vaccination and exposure, looking for possible genetic markers and traits that are providing some with true immunity. And even if the “Type-O people don’t get COVID” stuff is at best inconclusive and at worst dangerously naïve to rely on for protection, something might be going on inside my body that really is a natural defense against COVID.

But, most likely, she said, the reason I’ve yet to test negative is, I’ve just not come into contact with the virus.

And that’s why I’m still a little unnerved. Because luck, no matter how supernatural, runs out. And when it does, … what will COVID do to me?

See, that’s the question I really have. The one nobody can answer until my number comes up.

I’m encouraged by the same things Dr. Traxler is encouraged by – that despite a swift and sweeping uptick in new cases, rates of deaths, hospitalizations, and, in particular, severe hospitalizations, are way down from the first few iterations of this plague; that by being vaccinated, boosted, and generally healthy, my odds are pretty favorable; that even though this particular SARS virus hasn’t behaved itself, it’s still following the usual path of a virus life cycle in that it gets less toxic as it gets more contagious; and that bivalent, Omicron-specific vaccines are due in early autumn.

But I still remember the time I had bronchitis so bad I almost ended up in the hospital, and for which I missed about 10 days of work (it was my vacation that year!). I was still in my early 30s then; still young enough to bounce back from illness, and it still almost put me in the hospital.

At 51 years old, I don’t know if I have bounce-backability to a hefty infection from a virus like this.

But you at least now know why I’m up at two in the morning, unwillingly coming up with the worst possible outcomes for an unknown, and realizing that it kinda doesn’t matter if I’ve never had COVID.

Because in a really sneaky way, COVID has me.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.