I have never been a trendsetter, or even much of a trend-follower (except for that unfortunate parachute pants period in the mid-1980s). But in 2022, I appear to be a member of a very special club that gets smaller and more exclusive by the day.
Apparently, I’m a “super-dodger.”
The Washington Post on Thursday published a story in its Style section headlined, “Meet the covid super-dodgers.” These are fortunate Americans from all walks of life who have managed to avoid COVID for two years and counting. Some have gone to great lengths to avoid exposure. Others have just taken their chances and hoped for the best.
“The no-covid club gets more exclusive every day,” reads the story’s subhead. “And some members have no idea how they’re still there.”
Hey! That’s me!
I thought I had it six weeks ago: a persistent cough, lethargy bordering on exhaustion, major brain fog. But I tested negative. Turns out, I’m just getting older, and maybe I shouldn’t be burning the candle at both ends so much.
I thought for sure I had it in January 2020, when for two awful weeks I was the sickest I’d been in years. But it was probably just a bad flu. COVID antibody tests that April and again in September both came back negative. It’s possible the first test was wrong—in those days, the tests were new and not especially reliable. It’s also possible that the antibodies I might have acquired didn’t last very long. I have no idea and there is no way to know for certain.
Unlike some of the people profiled by the Post, I took no extraordinary steps to isolate myself from the virus. On the contrary, I did the bare minimum and sometimes not even that.
Social distancing? No problem. I was doing that before the pandemic. When masks became required in most indoor settings, I first bought a dozen bandanas—by far the least effective of a mostly ineffective COVID countermeasure—and tossed them in the back of my car, which isn’t what anyone would reasonably describe as sterile. Eventually, I bought a box of surgical masks. (Also ineffective.) And I have a small and undistinguished collection of novelty cloth masks. (Ditto.)
For me, masks were never really about protection. It was a performance.
It’s not that I’m totally carefree. I take a ton of supplements every day—including megadoses of vitamin C and D, quercetin, and as much zinc as my body can tolerate.
And, yes, I did get the thrice-damned vaccine—two doses of the Moderna, the second of which laid me out for nearly 48 hours last year. I did it mainly so I could start going to concerts and restaurants again. Besides, it’s not as though I’m planning to sire more children. But I won’t get the boosters. What’s the point?
I simply decided to live my life. Over the past year, I’ve been in crowded bars and restaurants and attended sold-out shows at packed venues surrounded by mostly maskless people. I got jostled, bounced around, and even spit on during a Circle Jerks gig at the very crowded Hollywood Palladium in May. I thought if I were going to get sick, that would definitely have been the time. Nope. Not even a sniffle.
My experience has been a little bit like that of Lucas Rivas, one of the people highlighted in the Post story. I’m a little older (ahem) than Rivas, who is 27. A good son, he took special precautions for his immunocompromised parents. But he, too, wanted to live his life.
According to the Post, he partied on July 4, sang karaoke, and even kissed a girl.
Then some bad news: “He tested positive for the virus two days later.”
Rivas really beat himself up about it. The Post uses words like “stupid” and “reckless.” He said he felt “like I wasted two years of heavy precautions.”
Oh, come on. Really? Rivas shouldn’t be so hard on himself. It’s not as if he got his parents sick and they ended up dying. He just felt lousy for a week or so. The virus will come for all of us eventually. According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 90 million Americans have been sickened with COVID-19 since 2020—officially. Unofficially, the CDC estimated in April that perhaps upwards of 200 million people in the United States have had COVID-19 as of February.
I’ve never understood why some people treat COVID like a moral failing—if you get it, you must have done something wrong or be unclean somehow. One woman of my acquaintance told me in 2020 she believes the pandemic is Mother Earth’s way of purging “impurities” from itself—“impurities,” of course, meaning people.
Especially obnoxious people have reveled in the misfortunes of their enemies.
Remember the undisguised glee among the Twitter Left when Herman Cain died? He refused to wear a mask, and he was a Trump supporter so, obviously, he had it coming. Some ghouls even started a Subreddit called HermanCainAward to mock the supposedly deserving dead and shame others into submission. “The idea,” explained Lili Loofbourow in a September story for Slate, “is to track the individual’s journey from COVID theory, so to speak, to COVID practice: what a person posted or commented about masks or shots, or those who advocated for either before getting sick, and how they and their community narrated their disease once they were ill.”
Recall, too, the flood of tweets following the news ahead of the 2020 election that Donald Trump had been sent to Walter Reed with COVID, hopeful he would die gasping for breath.
Then sometime last year, there emerged a whole genre of news reporting rejoicing in ironic COVID deaths, often radio talk show hosts and other outspoken critics of vaccine mandates. “More and more conservative media leaders are dying from COVID-19 after advocating against vaccines,” The Hill reported in December. “More and more” turned out to be a fairly vague metric. Business Insider offered a more concrete figure in September: “At least 7 conservative radio hosts and anti-mask advocates have died from COVID-19 after bashing the vaccines.” Seven! That’s more than a half-dozen! “QAnon Star Who Said Only ‘Idiots’ Get Vax Dies of COVID,” the Daily Beast reported in January. (No link. Screw those guys.)
Until a few weeks ago, my friend and colleague Julie Ponzi was a fellow member of the “super-dodger” club. But she and her husband fell ill over Independence Day weekend. “I only got it because he brought it home from his vaccinated coworkers,” she told me. “Vaccinated and boosted. Buncha [ninnies].”
Neither she nor her husband is vaccinated. But Julie has some bad news for the haters: “We are fine. I’m all better, basically.” The disease was unpleasant for several days but not debilitating. She continued to work throughout, though she does admit to taking more frequent naps. “It’s a weird illness—it just feels different” from a nasty cold or flu, she said. She would know. The flu nearly killed her in 2011.
Now that vaxxed-and-double-boosted Anthony Fauci and Joe Biden are out of the COVID super-dodger club, too, can we start calling this bug a pandemic of the vaccinated? Maybe? Biden for months has insisted on the contrary.
“You’re not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations,” Biden said during a CNN town hall in July 2021, which was laughable even at the time. In December, Biden warned of “a winter of severe illness and death” for the vaccine refusniks. “The longer the virus is around,” Biden said at a December 21 briefing, “the more likely variants form that may be deadlier than the ones that have come before.
But that was clearly fearmongering. The virus has followed a trajectory similar to the flu, mutating over time to become much more contagious but considerably less lethal. People will still die—the flu killed anywhere from 12,000 to 52,000 people between 2010 and 2020, according to the CDC. For the unvaccinated, the current COVID variant is unpleasant but not nearly as deadly as the original 2020 strain or the Delta variant—unless, of course, the afflicted person has one or more of a lengthy list of comorbidities, such as hypertension and obesity. And even that is not necessarily a death sentence.
In before times—not quite three years ago—vaccines were supposed to prevent illness, not simply lessen its severity. If you got the polio vaccine, you would not get polio. If you got the measles vaccine, you would not get measles. If you got a flu shot, you may or may not get the flu depending on whether or not the vaccine matched up with the right variation of the influenza virus. The COVID vaccine is similar to the flu vaccine in that sense.
“What we’re seeing is that being vaccinated or getting sick does not provide perfect protection, or even long-lasting protection against getting ill again,” said infectious disease epidemiologist David Dowdy in a May interview. “We’re probably going to see a larger fraction of people who get COVID being those who are vaccinated.”
Dowdy maintains that COVID vaccines remain effective against serious illness and hospitalization. “Vaccines aren’t going to protect you forever against getting sick, but they will protect you from getting really sick,” he said.
The punch line of the Washington Post story is that several of the people Ellen McCarthy profiled as she was reporting earlier in the month called or emailed just before the piece went to press to say, Welp. . . I tested positive! “I made it loud and clear to all my circles that I hadn’t gotten it,” one of her subjects told her. “Now, the king has fallen.” At least nobody died.
And yet here I am, still in the club, still living my life, still hacking away. But I’m writing this a few hours before I head to another concert in Los Angeles, where cases are said to be surging and an indoor mask mandate may be reimposed next week. Maybe the next time I write, I’ll have joined the COVID class. We’ll see.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article reported Herman Cain refused to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Cain died before any vaccines became available. The article has been corrected to note that Cain refused to wear a mask, which probably wouldn’t have helped, anyway.