Coronavirus Journal is a series of dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives.
Last Thursday, an internal slide presentation leaked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that the delta variant of the coronavirus is even more contagious than previously thought – more transmissible than Ebola and the common cold, as transmissible as the varicella. While vaccines appear to remain potent against the virus, new evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people with so-called “breakthrough infections” may be just as contagious as those who have yet to receive their vaccines, even if their own. cases remain relatively mild. According to a report released by the agency on Friday, the CDC’s latest findings were based on a July 4 outbreak of COVID-19 in queer mecca Provincetown, Massachusetts, where among a group of 469 (with no deaths) at the time of the study, astonishing that three quarters of those infected had been fully vaccinated. As of July 31, the P-Town outbreak had reached 965 cases.
I was one of them.
This year my partner and I were among thousands of people from across the country who descended on Provincetown in early July. As with many, it was to be our government approved “hot summer vax”, when the masks came off and the inhibitions could finally breathe again. We were about to start our dance, and when we got to the beautiful tip of Cape Cod, the mood was rightly exuberant. Reservations at the indoor restaurant had to be made more than a week in advance. Party-goers crowded without masks at iconic dance clubs like the Atlantic House and the Crown & Anchor. “The last time I saw that kind of joy in P-Town,” a friend joked, “it was Truvada year. [the HIV prevention drug] came out of. “
It was about halfway through our weeklong stay when a vaccinated friend from New York City started reporting not feeling well. Unable to stop coughing, he and his boyfriend went to Outer Cape Health Services, where he tested positive for COVID and immediately fled Cape Town. Shortly thereafter, I began to hear whispers – whether at the gymnasium at Mussel Beach or at the traditional high tea gatherings by the poolside at the Boatslip Resort – of a “gay cough” circulating among some. residents outside. Although the atmosphere in Provincetown remained festive, I began to feel, and eventually to share, a certain terror; it stayed with me until I left the following weekend.
A day or two after I returned to New York, I received eight Instagram DMs from P-Town acquaintances who had scattered across the country. All carried similar news. “We are not feeling well,” said a post from a (vaccinated) couple based in San Francisco. “We started to experience flu-like symptoms on Friday night. We have thought about all the parties and late nights, but the symptoms are getting worse and we have just lost our sense of smell. “
A few days later, I woke up with chills, back pain and crippling fatigue. When my sense of smell disappeared later in the afternoon – I dutifully walked around the apartment and inhaled each candle, to no avail – I went to CityMD and tested positive on a rapid test. . I received my vax Moderna in April.
Being in quarantine can be a lonely endeavor, and yet, as I recovered, I found myself part of a growing cohort of friends who were also recovering from Provincetown. In my gay networks on social networks, I heard more and more stories: the guy who had not left his bed since his return to Boston; the couple who showed up at the P-Town testing clinic and were greeted by a long, long line. In two days, I was able to count on both hands the number of positive vaccine cases I had heard about. Out of three, I estimated that I knew – without exaggeration – at least two dozen people, all vaccinated, all sick with COVID.
” What is that ? I wondered aloud online, as we all contacted each other about new cases found and compared our symptoms at virtual book club meetings. What did this mean, I asked the contact tracer who called me two days after showing the first symptoms, that I had come down with COVID and that my partner, also vaccinated, did not hadn’t done? For months, the CDC had informed us that the revolutionary cases among the vaccinated were rare occurrences, that even if we were delta ill, we should only be mildly symptomatic – “mild”, of course, losing its meaning when you were deltaic. can’t taste your food. for more than a week. If I had known the truth about the severity of a breakthrough infection, I might have thought twice before hitting Cape Town in the first place.
Aside from the CDC’s misleading security promises, it wasn’t just my infection that looked like betrayal. More than a few of my friends surprised me with sheepish humor about the AIDS crisis and the epidemic, theorizing that there had been too much sex, too much drugs – too much “fun”? – that we could blame for our situation. Suddenly my illness was casually equated with promiscuity, as if personal behavior, not bad public health advice and fast-paced science, was the culprit. Yet while being at the center of this latest chapter in COVID history had eroded my confidence in the CDC’s ever-changing guidelines, it had also given us gay men a glimpse into an important facet of our history, illustrated by the most powerful way in the legendary self-portrayal of ACT UP: playing armchair scientist when institutional and social knowledge is not there for us, when it crumbles.
Almost 40 years to the day after The New York Times first reported “rare cancer in 41 homosexuals”, here we are again, confused and angry, participating in a public health emergency. Many of us started sounding the alarm bells right after the July 4 vacation, and by mid-month, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health had started working with the CDC to track the new cluster. Around the same time, the CDC started asking positive people in Provincetown to share their stories. “I can’t believe we were joking about the ‘Fagbash variant’ a few weeks ago and now we are literally the case study for the variant,” texted me in response to sudden interest from CDC , referring to a popular P-Town party. Those of us who have reached out, I like to think, have advanced our collective understanding of delta with our reporting.
Indeed, Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York, told the New York Times. “This is one of the most impressive examples of citizen science that I have seen,” she said. “Those involved in the Provincetown outbreak have been meticulous in compiling lists of their contacts and exposures. “
I guess that’s something to be proud of. But it’s also a disheartening red flag: in an age of constantly updated variants (“delta plus” has already been identified, as a dystopian new version of the iPhone), it seems private citizens will have to rely. , at least in part, on their own ability to research and reflect on best practice. We have now learned that “normal life” at this point in the pandemic has never been realistic: there are still too many open questions, too much residual uncertainty about the long-term effects, or whether we can contract. delta twice. “Hot vax summer” has become the summer of not knowing. And the fall? It is even less certain.