COVID Update

Today is Day 11 since I first showed symptoms of COVID, and I plan to stop isolating, but I thought I’d share some frustrations about the whole experience.

Once I tested positive my main concern was not infecting others, especially Andrea. I immediately isolated myself to the master bedroom and the study, which is a room off the master bedroom with its own door to the outside, while she kept to the rest of the house. We banished the pets from the master bedroom as well. I know cats can get COVID and I believe there have been some cases where dogs have it and I didn’t want to risk them getting infected from me. I only know of two confirmed cases where animals have given COVID to humans (minks and hamsters) but I didn’t want to take any chances.

My dog was not happy.

I reached out to my primary care provider with UNC Health Care, but as I get the opinion he tends to think COVID is no big deal, he wasn’t very helpful. So I turned to the CDC which gave me this advice on isolation:

  • Isolation can be discontinued at least 5 days after symptom onset (day 1 through day 5 after symptom onset, with day 0 being the first day of symptoms), and after resolution of fever for at least 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medications) and with improvement of other symptoms.
  • These people should continue to properly wear a well-fitted mask around others at home and in public for 5 additional days (day 6 through day 10 after symptom onset) after the 5-day isolation period.

Hrm. I got the whole isolate for five days thing, but I was a little confused about the second half. Of course I minimized the time I was around Andrea and I was always wearing an N95 mask when I had to be out, but I wasn’t going to sleep in it so obviously I still needed to isolate for the full ten days, right?

After two years of this mess, I found isolation to be very difficult. It was easy to get through it when I could spend time with Andrea, but being apart sucked. We used text messages to communicate, and as we still have wired phone service it turns out that our awesome vtech cordless phones have an intercom function, which we ended up using a lot. My symptoms faded after about five days but Andrea came down with cold symptoms as well, and hers were worse than mine. The day after I tested positive she got a negative PCR test, and when our free government lateral flow tests showed up she took one of those and it was negative as well.

For me Day 5 was last Thursday, so I decided to take one of those government tests. If you haven’t used one, it is pretty simple. You take a nose swab and then you place that into a buffer solution. You then place four drops of the solution onto the test device. There is an absorbent strip that will pull the liquid over to the testing area which consists of two sections, a “T” or test section and a “C” or control section. The line for the control section is always supposed to appear in order to demonstrate the device is working, but the “T” line should only show up if you are positive for COVID. When the liquid on my test hit the “T” line it immediately turned red, so I knew I wasn’t ready to end isolation.

COVID Linear Flow Test

On Friday Andrea got a second PCR test as she was still having a pretty bad cough and sore throat, but it turned out to be negative as well. If she was exposed to COVID, either at the same time I was or through me, I think the reason she never developed enough of a viral load to test positive is that her booster was given just before Christmas while mine was back at the beginning of October.

One of the benefits of testing positive at a research hospital is that UNC was happy to enroll me in three research projects. Andrea and I are both participating in one that is studying how COVID might be transmitted in a household. Every day we both take nose swabs as well as filling out a questionnaire about how we are feeling and how much we interact. This goes on for ten days so I hope they get some good data out of it.

Another concerned the question of whether over the counter mouthwash could kill the virus. I ended up having to spit in a tube, then I used some mouthwash, then I spit in another tube as well as three more 15 minutes apart.

Finally, on Monday I start a long term COVID study where they will take various fluids out of me, periodically, for a year.


It’s a little inconvenient but I hope they get some useful information out of it.

As I am very eager to end isolation the next question I had was, when? I thought the best thing to do would be to get another PCR test at day 10 and if that was negative I could assume it would be safe to stop, but UNC doesn’t want you to get another test until 90 days after you last tested positive. I found some advice on a UK website that suggested you needed a negative test before stopping isolation, so I did find a place in Chatham County where I could get tested.

That test came back negative this morning. Yay! I really don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t.

So now I’m busy washing all the sheets I slept in for the past ten days and luckily it is supposed to be warm this afternoon so I plan to open up the windows and air out the bedroom and the study. I’ll still minimize all contact with others outside the home until at least Monday, but I should be recovered and non-contagious. On the upside, being triple vaxxed and having had COVID my antibodies should be as strong as ever.

A lot of places, including North Carolina where I live, are starting to drop mask mandates and I’m still a bit hesitant, especially due to my recent positive test. Even before that I came up with a metric that I plan to use to define “normal”, which is based on current hospitalizations in my State. When I started tracking them they were just above 4000, and as of yesterday they were 2215. Once it drops below 1000 I’ll feel more confident about being more relaxed about COVID, and as always I hope my three readers remain safe and healthy.

2017 Total Solar Eclipse

My friend Bob and I are both science geeks, Bob perhaps a little more than me. We started planning for the 2017 total solar eclipse months ago. We thought it would be cool to watch from the beach, so we booked a hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, for the weekend, ordered our eclipse glasses and waited.

In hindsight we didn’t really plan for the weather. We should have booked two hotels, one at the beach and one in the mountains, and then canceled the other booking based upon the weather (the viewing conditions for the mountains were supposed to be excellent). As we left for Charleston the weather forecast was not promising. However, we had picked Charleston because we knew we could simply head inland if needed, and as long as we stayed in the path of totality we would be fine.

This was to be my first total solar eclipse. The closest I’d come before was in 1984. I was just getting ready to graduate from the NC School of Science and Math and we all went out to witness an annular eclipse on May 30th.

1984 Annular Eclipse

It was cool. The picture above was taken by Joe Liles, the school’s art director, but it really didn’t get all that dark. It is surprising how bright even a sliver of the Sun can be, and since we didn’t have totality it was less impressive than I was expecting.

Flash forward 33 years.

Isle of Palms

The four of us: Bob, his wife Kathy, Andrea and I drove down to Charleston late Saturday night, and we explored the city a bit on Sunday. Of course, all of the tours were booked due to the influx of people, so we just wandered around the market and ate some seafood. Later in the afternoon we drove over to the Isle of Palms. This was where we were planning on watching the show, but as the forecast just kept worsening we decided to head inland. We made it an early night so we could get up early Monday and beat the traffic.

Bob decided we should try to go to Lake Murray in Irmo, South Carolina, just outside of Columbia (and once home to Donna Rice). A few miles away was the Columbiana mall, so we made that our destination as a place to get lunch and sit in some air conditioning. We figured if worst came to worst, we could simply watch it from the parking lot.

Traffic wasn’t bad until we actually headed for the lake, and even then it was only congested near the two parks on either side of the dam. All the public parking lots were full, so we paid a guy $20 to park in a business lot and then walked the rest of the way. Luckily there was a nice place to sit on a hill overlooking the water, and so that’s where we made camp.

The place was crowded but not packed, and there was a general festive atmosphere. We were still worried about the clouds, and soon after the eclipse started this is what the sky was like:

2017 Eclipse - clouds

We had heard that an eclipse will actually cause cumulus clouds to dissipate. In the summer most of them are caused by afternoon heating, and while I couldn’t tell that the light level had decreased at all, the clouds did thin and eventually go away completely, and we had excellent viewing for totality.

2017 Eclipse - Kathy and Tarus looking up

Since we ended up at a lake, Andrea decided to watch from the comfort of the water. She found that she could float on her back and hold on to one of the float wires marking the edge of the “beach” area, and since her ears were submerged she said it was a very cool and quiet experience.

2017 Eclipse - Andrea floating

I hate the water so I stayed on land. With our glasses we could see totality inching closer and closer.

2017 Eclipse - nearly total

I had decided not to take any pictures during totality, and almost all of these in this post were taken by Bob. We only had about two and a half minutes for the main event, and there is a lot to take in. You get to look at the sun with the naked eye:

2017 Eclipse - totality

and there is a sunset in every direction you look:

2017 Eclipse - sunset

In a word, it was amazing. It got considerably darker than it did during the annular, and it was just so totally awe inspiring I really don’t have words to express it. While I consider myself spiritual if not religious, there is something about seeing the moon fit over the sun just so perfectly that implies the divine.

When it was over I wanted to do it again, immediately. I also felt kind of gypped, as it is possible to have a much longer eclipse than the two and a half minutes we observed. In fact, it can go up to seven and a half minutes (when the Moon is close to the Earth and the Sun is farthest from the Earth), but since that won’t happen until 2186 I’m going to have to be satisfied with what we got, for now.

Once totality was over, there were still some cool effects to discover. The leaves of trees act kind of like pinhole cameras, so you get little crescent shaped shadows everywhere:

2017 Eclipse - crescent shadows

Still buzzing from the experience, we walked back to the car and joined the throngs heading home.

Google wanted us to take I-26 to I-95, but I-26 had become a parking lot:

2017 Eclipse - cars on I-26

Looking at Google Maps it kept telling us traffic would get lighter, but when we got to that point it was “red” again. It dawned on us that folks leaving the area after the eclipse probably formed a sort of “clot” that would continue to move, slowly, along the interstate. It was funny that I don’t think Google Map’s algorithms really planned for something like this, so we decided to take back roads.

That was slightly better, until you would hit a small town. For example, in Bethune, South Carolina, there is a four-way stop on the highway.

2017 Eclipse - Bethune four-way stop sign

Based on the amount of time we sat in traffic, my guess is that they didn’t think to put a cop there to direct traffic until just before we made it to the sign.

So, it took us about seven hours to travel what should have taken four. I don’t care, I would still do it again even if I had to wait longer.

I might have caught the “eclipse” bug. According to Neil deGrasse Tyson, a total eclipse happens on average about once every two years.

2017 Eclipse - Tyson tweet on eclipse frequency

This is backed up by Wikipedia. The next one is in July of 2019, and the path of totality is just south of Buenos Aires in Argentina. That could be doable with frequent flyer miles and hotel points, and it will occur near sunset which should be hella-cool.

The next one in the US is in 2024 and should last more than four minutes. Bob and Kathy may have an RV by then, and if so … road trip. If you get the chance to see a total eclipse, don’t miss it. I’m still thinking about it two days later.