Long Island mom Diana Berrent, 45, has been writing for The Post about her ordeal since testing positive for the coronavirus last week. Today, as she recovers, she considers how life will change after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sunday is my last day in isolation. I took the advice of the Board of Health in Nassau County who advised me to stay in isolation for 14 days from the date of testing. That’s the most conservative advice I’ve seen given, and so that’s the one I’m going with … I mean, it’s not like most of us have anywhere to go these days! That said, there is no consistent advice being given to people like me. When I asked the doctor if the testing day was day zero or day one in the count, he didn’t know. I’m going with zero just to be on the safest side possible.
The CDC initially advised that anyone with a positive diagnosis had to stay in isolation until they received two negative tests 24 hours apart. Well, that’s nice in theory. But we’re living in the reality where adequate testing is hardly available to our health care heroes on the front lines, let alone two tests for someone who has had the virus and is now healthy. The doctor from the Board of Health who called me with isolation instructions laughed when I mentioned the CDC’s guidelines and suggested that if I wanted to follow that protocol I would be best off flying to Atlanta and going to CDC HQ to demand my two tests. (That was clearly a joke as I am not even allowed to leave my bedroom).
Then I saw friends who live elsewhere, also stricken early with the virus, being released from isolation. Confused, I started asking around and realized that there is no consistency in the guidance being given on how long to stay in complete quarantine. They were doing as they were told, but for such instructions to differ from county to county (not even by state!) seemed odd at best, and dangerous at worst.
My worst fear is that I could possibly infect another person with this potentially deadly virus. Just like with my initial testing debacle, I’m afraid that my experience is a warning sign of trouble to come. If we release people too early they will could continue shedding the virus and infecting others? I’m one of the lucky ones who got tested and got a quick result. None of those people treating themselves at home are getting calls from the Board of Health, with any guidance at all — what protocol should they follow? I’ve been one of the lucky ones; but what if I were to have released myself too early and infected someone who ended up in worse condition? And put another exponential number of people at risk, including the valiant health care workers putting their lives at risk every day? There’s nothing worth taking that kind of chance.
I checked back with the CDC today, and they’ve updated their instructions and given another option to the two negative test route. I guess someone told them that no one had any tests, although there seems to have been enough news coverage about the lack of test kits it’s hard to imagine they weren’t aware. So, now the CDC has offered a second option on when you can reemerge from your bedroom lockdown: no fever for 72 hours, an improvement of symptoms and seven days from the first presentation of symptoms. Under those rules, I could have left isolation over a week ago.
We’re living in the wild west of medicine here where there is more information available on Facebook than from general practitioners. I’m not blaming the doctors in any way shape or form; they are not only risking their lives on a daily basis but they are doing it in the same vacuum of information. They are heroes, every single one of them.
But for those of us stricken with the virus and now, thankfully, on the other end, we’re all a little in the dark about what to do next. I contracted this virus early (I think we can all agree that a week right now is like a year during normal times) I am also one of the first survivors. I want to do the right thing. I want to be 100 percent sure that I am not putting anyone else at risk by coming out of isolation even a minute too early, so I’ve taken the most prudent route. I worry, though, about the many people in isolation now (a number exponentially higher than last week) and what guidance they are being given, if any.
A cousin in Israel recently flew home from New York City and was immediately quarantined as is the standard now there for anyone entering the country. The Department of Health calls her daily, she is fined if caught outside, and her movements are tracked through the GPS on her phone — all to make sure she remains in quarantine for the full 14 days. That’s incredible. All I’m asking for is just a standard guideline for those who have tested positive, and for the many more who are responsibly self-isolating because they are told to presume they are positive in the absence of available testing.
I’ve been one of the lucky ones; but what if I were to have released myself too early and infected someone who ended up in worse condition? What if I put another exponential number of people at risk, including the valiant health care workers putting their lives at risk every day? There’s nothing worth taking that kind of chance. I just found out that one of the people who was infected at the same time I was is now in critical condition in the ICU. My heart sank when I heard the news. I realize how incredibly lucky I am and I pray for his recovery.
I’ve spent hours thinking about “14-days-from-testing” guideline I was given. Was the date of the test day one? Do I start counting from that day or the next? The doctors I asked didn’t know the answer. So, tomorrow will be my last day of isolation, and I emerge on Monday.
In the meantime, I’ve signed up with every available medical study I can find (check out the public Facebook group Survivor Corps for listings of active research studies and how to sign up) and as soon as I leave isolation, and give my husband and kids a big hug I’m hightailing into the city to donate blood and plasma to help those who weren’t as lucky with this virus as I have been.
I can’t wait to put my Survivor Superhero skills to use.