For Ken Jones, 63, a tech consulting manager from Delano, getting COVID was like having "a truck hit me," with fever and fatigue packing a punch.
Writer Pam Bosch, 49, of Roseville, started off with an upset stomach and muscle aches but then had a "harrowing" episode with a racing heartbeat.
Meg McEachran, a 27-year-old mom and grad student from St. Paul, grappled with muscle aches, fatigue and congestion for about a week.
Kristin Troutwine, 48, an Iron Range hockey mom, didn't run a fever when she had COVID. But she had enough other symptoms — muscle aches, congestion, a scratchy throat and fatigue — that snowshoeing and attending a hockey booster meeting weren't doable over five to six days.
Close to two years into the pandemic, the swift spread of COVID's omicron variant has sent U.S. case counts soaring and strained hospital capacity across the nation. Thankfully, 71% of Americans 12 and up are vaccinated, and the shots continue to confer strong protection against hospitalization and death. But an infection that falls well short of causing severe illness can still lay someone low and disrupt lives.
It's plain to see how widespread illness could assail us in early 2022. With breakthrough cases occurring, those who are vaccinated are among those who may need time to recuperate.
"Even a milder case of COVID can be very unpleasant for the person who has it,'' said Dr. Susan E. Kline, an M Health Fairview infectious-disease physician and University of Minnesota Medical School professor.
Some may feel ill for three to five days. But symptoms can linger for two weeks. "It's highly variable and hard to predict,'' Kline said. "Those people who are completely asymptomatic are more of the lucky ones. I don't think we should expect that's the norm."
Three of the Minnesotans who shared their COVID stories — Jones, Troutwine and McEachran — were fully vaccinated and became ill in late 2021. Bosch became ill in the fall of 2020, before vaccines were available. All were active adults balancing families, work, school or community involvement. Their experiences illustrate the range of what those whose cases could be classified as mild can expect.
Jones, who works remotely, was too ill to work for 10 days and is grateful for his new employer's understanding. He has asthma and smartly contacted his physician after testing positive. His physician recommended monoclonal antibodies, an outpatient treatment that can help prevent severe disease. He has since recovered but still struggles with fatigue. (Minnesota has a public screening tool to determine who might benefit from monoclonals. It's available online at bit.ly/MNscreeningtool.)
Troutwine described her infection as a mix of "the flu and cold without the fever and chills" and is recovered. For McEachran, also recovered, fatigue was a constant. "It feels like it's in your bones," she said. The virus spread through her family. Hunkering down on the couch to watch movies offered respite.
Jones, Troutwine and McEachran shared a similar sentiment. When the COVID test comes back positive, they said it's a huge comfort to know that you're vaccinated and that the shots will guard against severe illness. "I knew the vaccine was going to do its job," Troutwine said.
Bosch's illness offers a reminder of the COVID experience before vaccination was available. She had body aches, fever, fatigue and a cough. But her heart rate hit 155 to 160 one night. The nurse line advised calling an ambulance, leading to a brief stay in the emergency room for monitoring and treatment.
Kline, the M Health Fairview physician, said it's not too late to get vaccinated and offered this critical reminder: The shots prime your body to fight off the virus, a critical edge given limited treatment supplies and pressure on hospital capacity.
Prevention remains the best medicine, especially with long-term COVID effects needing scrutiny. The sensible new mask mandates in Minneapolis and St. Paul reflect this reality. Other cities should follow their lead.