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The COVID Cooties: The Irony of Recovering from the Virus

By John Rolfe

Last time out in this space, I recounted my brush with COVID-19. I got off lucky, suffering nothing worse than a 102+ degree fever, chills and sweats, lethargy, loss of appetite, and a violent episode of blowing grits. The fever broke after eight days. The symptoms vanished after 13.


I’m now pleased to report that I’m fresh, fit … and dangerous in people’s minds. 


The follow-up COVID-19 test I took came back negative. While at the clinic, I asked a doctor how long the virus remains in a person’s system. “There are no right or wrong answers,” she replied. “Everyone is different. We’re in totally uncharted waters.”


Thanks to political pressure from the White House and subsequent waffling at the Centers for Disease Control, I trust pronouncements by government officials (Dr. Anthony Fauci excepted) about as far as I can heave President Trump. But it seems plausible that some immunity, likely temporary, results from having COVID-19. I hope so, as I will soon return to driving a big yellow sickroom (aka school bus).


It’s also worth noting that Dr. Fauci has said that some people (quite possibly my wife) have a natural resistance to COVID-19 and won’t catch it even when in close contact with someone who is sick. I’ve also seen reports suggesting if you get the virus a second time, it won’t be as bad as your first go-round. Who really knows? We’re in uncharted waters and supposedly heading for another whitewater ride during the fall and winter.


The only lingering effect of COVID-19 I’ve noticed is the sudden reluctance of people to go near me even when I assure them I’m well. Apparently, actually knowing someone who actually had the virus drives home the reality that it actually exists and may not be a politically motivated exaggeration or hoax. 


A friend of ours, a Trump supporter who believes the President has done everything possible to contain the virus, balked at coming to our home even though I and my son, Jesse, had tested negative several days earlier and my wife is fine. A neighbor, also a Trump supporter, has now declined to take her daily walks with my wife even though they’d be outdoors and could stay well apart.


One can’t help wondering if our friends would be as reluctant to attend a Trump rally where masks are scorned, but what are we gonna do?


“We have COVID cooties,” my wife sighed. “No one wants to be around us.”


Not even our daughter Amber. She refused to come in our house during a visit because my wife hasn’t been tested and the virus is said to linger on metal and plastic surfaces for up to three days.


“When are you ever going to come in?” my wife asked. “Jesse’s birthday party is next week.”


“I don’t know,” our daughter replied. “When Dad goes back to driving the bus he could catch it again.”


The ultimate indignity was when my wife, who has remained unscathed despite living in close quarters with me while I was ill, refused water from my glass in order to take a pill.


“Eww,” she said with some revulsion. “I don’t want your COVID cooties!”


So here I stand, a man shunned by family and community even though I’m as safe to be around as I’ll ever be. I’ve heard about those who are shamed for not wearing a mask, social distancing or washing their hands, but I’ve tried to lead a pious life, dammit! 


OK, I confess that I and my coworkers got lax during the summer. It was hard to maintain distance when two or three of us had to move heavy furniture together. We were working in a building with poor ventilation and little air conditioning. Our masks became very uncomfortable on 90-degree days, so we agreed to lower them at times. None of us knew anyone who was sick and the infection rate in New York State was low. We were fine for two months until a coworker and I finally got sick. 


Bitter lesson learned: Never take COVID-19 lightly.


Now I have no idea when I’ll be fully accepted back into society. Though I’m armed with printouts of my negative test results, I'm still treated like a skunk at life’s lawn party. For now, I’ll just have to content myself with feeling better.


John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website ( with the meter running.



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