Coronavirus update — Is ‘The Rona’ a Zombie IRL?

After coming home from her own two-week stay in the COVID19 ward of a Brooklyn hospital, and after five full weeks of quarantine and recuperation at home, my older sister, the original Savage, (Classy, bougie, ratchet, sassy, moody, nasty”…yup…basically who Megan thee Stallion will be @ sixty), just re-tested positive for COVID19. As someone who survived my own hospitalization experience with The Rona, I find this development scary AF. Apparently this is not a new story with patients in South Korea, but others closer to home also retesting positive right now, including healthcare workers and those reporting on the pandemic.

Check out @jack_turban on twitter for more detail. FWIW, lots of folks discussing similar stories in the thread.

I’ve also heard that a major New York City health system (rhymes with “shmesbyterian”) is seeing more COVID19 survivors retest positive. As recently as today, we’ve seen the same thing play out on the USS Theodore Roosevelt as men and women in our armed services attempt to return from COVID19 quarantine.

There seem to be several possible reasons for survivors to retest positive:

  • Test is detecting dead virus. Non-reactive slivers of the virus are still in their systems. These are detectable by the highly sensitive PCR tests but not active or transmissible.
  • Virus rebounds on signs of weakness. Active virus remains in their systems and those that re-test positive had a weaker immune reaction the first time — they didn’t build up sufficient antibodies to kill off the virus, and now, as a result of a weakened immune system, the virus begins to reproduce again. This is a scarier possibility.
  • Virus is asleep but not dead in our systems. possibly related to above, COVID19 is capable of laying dormant in the system of “recovered” patients
  • Reinfection by new strain. COVID19 survivors have been reinfected by another carrier, conceivably with a strain that has mutated. This is the direst scenario, as it calls into question the basic immunity that antibodies confer. We are already dealing with a lack of clarity for how long immunity lasts. It would be super sucky if, due to mutations in the virus, those who have survived are once again susceptible.

I’m pretty sure that this is something indicative of a larger trend that we will see with COVID19 as more people recover, and it’s definitely a trend worth tracking, as it may be something that we see as other countries successfully flatten the curve.

If Zombie Rona is a thing, it suggests that reopening society post COVID19 just got harder, as in way more things to consider for businesses, and our economy reopening.

  • Antibody tests were seen as a critical path to reopening, but antibody tests, if accurate, still won’t tell us if an individual is positive (and potentially shedding virus) at the moment.
  • The thought was that if you don’t have a fever — verified by no-touch thermometer then you were good to go — then came the wave of folks who were asymptomatic carriers — no fever and no symptoms but shedding virus-like a Fother Mucker…
  • Now we have folks that have had the virus, quarantined, and survived, who are now, again testing positive for the virus. No clue if they are infectious the second time around.

How does this potential wrinkle change how we view reopening — both the pace and the phases contemplated? How should we view this within the context of the consistently confusing reports regarding state and nationwide testing, as highlighted in The Atlantic (the TLDR; is summed up by my favorite quote “For now, the agency that should be a respected source of truth in this crisis is only adding to the national confusion.”) and the woefully undermanned tracing operation here at home. Do we really need one more wrinkle right now?

I honestly don’t know how I feel about this. The only good thing about surviving the Rona is the feeling of survival…the absolute certainty that WE are recovering — as individuals, as neighbors, as a society. That single, tangible emotion had a profound and calming effect on how I view the fear and uncertainty that this pandemic has created. My personal experience with COVID19 survival helps me parse the torrent of factually fugazi information that we are bombarded with daily. The reality of Zombie Rona has the potential to destroy the very foundation on which I calibrate my COVID19 bullshit detector. Suddenly I feel very much alone all over again.

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