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Did I or Didn't I Have COVID-19? Blundering Through Unknowable Truths
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Few things are more terrifying than the unknown, as we are discovering as we struggle to navigate, avoid and (if we fail to avoid) survive a mysterious new virus. That goes double when reliable information is hard to come by; it is unquantifiably worse without credible leadership.

“Who ya gonna believe,” Chico Marx asked, “me or your own eyes?” More than other cultures of which I am aware, Americans are acculturated to ignore their instincts and the truth of their observations. A smoker might wake up coughing up phlegm every morning for decades, yet he only begins to internalize that tobacco is dangerous to his health after a surgeon general he has never met issues a report. You might live in the same house for years on end but discount your observation of the fact that it used to snow but now it doesn’t; global warming only becomes official when hundreds of climate scientists certify what you already knew.

Sometimes you have to trust yourself.

Even when you are mistaken about some details.

I’m 90% sure that I had COVID-19. It was in November. I was in LA for several weeks. In March, I blogged about my symptoms: “I had an incessant dry cough … I had a constant fever. My temperature ranged from about 101 degrees during the day to closer to 103 degrees at night. My chest was tight: it felt like a car was parked on it. I had absolutely no energy whatsoever. I was exhausted. Even walking half a block, I had to take a break. I would get back to my hotel after a meeting and be asleep by 6 PM. I would sleep 14 hours and wake up still wiped out. ‘What the hell,’ I would ask myself, ‘is going on?'”

I tested negative for influenza. An X-ray revealed early-stage pneumonia. I was prescribed antibiotics and a nebulizer. Obviously, I recovered; here I am writing this. But I’m still weak and tired.

If I could prove I had the novel coronavirus in November, it might be a news story. Aside from a New Jersey mayor who says he is sure that he had COVID-19 in November and a 55-year-old Chinese man whom doctors say had the disease on Nov. 17, the scientific and journalistic consensus is that the coronavirus pandemic originated in Wuhan, China, in December. Last week, my physician administered a serology test to determine if I have antibodies consistent with past infection with SARS-CoV-2. It came back negative. I was puzzled. If I hadn’t had COVID-19, or the flu, what the hell was this horrible illness?

I’m 56. I’ve had trouble with my lungs my entire life: asthma, lots of bronchitis, several cases of pneumonia, swine flu. My symptoms are remarkably consistent. My November experience was nothing like anything before. What bronchitis gives you fever for weeks at a time? What pneumonia?


The day after my doctor called with the negative antibody test result, the Food and Drug Administration issued a statement essentially declaring such lab tests worthless for the purpose of figuring out whether you’ve ever had COVID-19. So even if it had come back positive, it wouldn’t have meant anything.

Even if my test had been 100% reliable and had come back positive, all the test result would have proven is that I had COVID-19 at some point . It would not have evidenced that I contracted COVID-19 in November. I could have caught something else in November and caught COVID-19 asymptomatically later.

Further reducing my reliability as a possible COVID-19 Patient Zero is a failure of memory: In my blog, I wrote — because I believed it — that this happened in January. When I subsequently reviewed my records, I came across a selfie I took while using the nebulizer in a West Hollywood urgent care clinic. It was dated Nov. 15, and I had already been sick for a couple of weeks. You may be less surprised that I made such a mistake when I tell you that my mom was desperately ill at the time, and she died on Feb. 7 after a year of hell. Whatever it was, COVID-19 or something else, definitely happened in November.

Does it matter? Scientifically, of course, the answer is yes. Epidemiologists benefit when they can trace a viral pandemic to its roots. Personally, medically, probably. Though the experts remain officially uncertain whether someone can be reinfected by COVID-19, the evidence appears to say that COVID-19 survivors probably cannot get reinfected to a significant extent. It wouldn’t prompt me to go out in public without a mask or stop washing my hands. I know it’s selfish, but I won’t deny it: I would love the peace of mind of knowing that this particular beast isn’t going to kill me. And I would like to donate blood for use as plasma in order to treat coronavirus victims.

As it stands, most of my thoughts on this subject are a muddled rumination about the nature of humanity and the reliability of personal knowledge. If I were an animal and had never heard of science, and had memory and self-awareness, I would know — know with the same certainty that I am typing this column — that I had COVID-19 and that I should probably worry about something else more than the possibility that I might get it again. But I am not an animal. I am an American filled with self-doubt, in awe of science and the desire to document what can probably never be proven and in fact might not be true at all.

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  1. nickels says:

    Quite a few people (but not everyone) I have run into had a ‘once in a lifetime’ flu last year. Its pretty hard to imagine that wasn’t CV, unless the whole CV thing was a total hoax.
    Scientists are pretty pathetic, in reality.

  2. On a purely personal note.

    Mr. Rall, do you play a wind instrument? My wife had numerous bouts of pneumonia, as well as asthma as a girl & cured herself by playing the bassoon. She now honks on some bagpipes on a regular basis.

  3. gfhändel says:

    Your COVID19 antibody result may be a false negative. It’s a brand new test after all. That said, a future positive result could be ascribed to herd immunity. (I think the window of opportunity for IgM versus IgG to identify recent infection may have passed if your illness was in November).

  4. IvyMike says:

    I had the same crud all through November, got so sick after two weeks I couldn’t get out of bed for another 10 days. Never had anything like it before. I don’t patronize Western Medicine so I have no idea if it was the Covidia, maybe there was a different pandemic going around in November. What a stupid bunch of crap, I’m never leaving my little farm again.

  5. FemCrim says:

    I find it mind boggling that people all of a sudden find they need to trace, track, or figure anything out about a virus. Every year there is a big promotion; cover your mouth when you cough, wash your hands, etc. How long has your local grocers provided you with wipes for your cart and sanitizer for your hands? And now you want to worry?

    I have no words for people willing to give up 90% of there lives over fear of something they are unwilling to even investigate. And you look at me like I’m the crazy one.

  6. Alex Weir says: • Website

    I agree with FemCrim. I am are not a citizen of Unztopia and thus cannot simply hit the blasted agree button. Must show my cred by making comment. Five comments to be precise.

    Let the pontificating commence:

    You had Ioannidis, Ron Paul, etc. telling us this virus while worrying is novel and we have insufficient data to make decisions.

    Hell, actually we had data that suggested the thing was really no different from most viruses. Then there was the waffling on masking or unmasking. Now we’ve had Fauci saying he overestimated, we’ve seen models that were ridiculously fraught with errors, we’ve had 600 doctors signing a petition to end lockdowns.

    Now as little as a month ago we have:

    Where deaths from internal causes are pretty much the same as COVID 19 months into the outbreak.

    Yet again there is alarmist screeching about a second wave…with appeals (read virtue signaling) to think of the elderly….a very sudden bit of moral heraldry this….given that up till now the old had been unceremoniously tossed into nursing homes like stray wrinkly socks in the back of a dresser.

    Did any of this Opera Buffa help the old…?

    Instead of going with the calm rational voices of Ioannidis and Dr. Paul, putting special emphasis on protecting the elderly and the sick, we listened to pissant politicians and undertook a massive social experiment where we preemptively rationed health care.

    But, what the hell should I have expected given they’d shut down my college classes here in South Carolina because a sodding snowflake chanced to fall to earth…

    It still bloody snows here by the way despite the temperature being around 90 infernal degrees for more than a quarter of the year.

    Trusting in instincts is what teenagers do. It ends in surprise babies, college debt, and heroin overdose.

    Civilization requires a touch more finesse than is found on the Serengeti.

    Then again I’m of Russian origin and therefore here to eugenically remove grandmothers, the chief suppliers of apple pie, and thus American resilience.

    You’ll all be Putler’s bitches soon.

    Seig heil, gulag, etc.

  7. Signs You May be a Hypochondriac – The Center for …

    Hypochondriac symptoms may include:

    ·Regularly checking themselves for any sign of illness

    ·Fearing that anything from a runny nose to a gurgle in their gut is the sign of a serious illness

  8. If I were an animal and had never heard of science, and had memory and self-awareness, I would know — know with the same certainty that I am typing this column — that I had COVID-19

    No, you would not know that you had it. You would believe that you had it.

    Knowing a thing requires that the thing is a fact.

    This is the absolute core difference between epistemic logic and doxastic logic.

    Epistemic logic – the way to reason methodically about knowledge – requires that

    Kₐφ → φ.

    a knows that φ is true” implies that “φ is true“.

    This must hold for a variety of reasons, not least of which is consistency in compound statements. People who claim to ‘know’ non-facts are simply wrong.


    Doxastic logic – the way to reason methodically about beliefs – has no such requirement.

    Bₐφ ↮ φ is a perfectly sensible thing to write.

    a believes that φ is true” does not imply that “φ is true“; and conversely
    φ is true” does not imply that “a believes that φ is true“.

    That is to say, beliefs and truth-value are unrelated.

    People can believe things that are not true, and they can disbelieve things that are true.

    This does not introduce any inconsistency whatsoever, and happens all the time.

    People can not know things that aren’t true (the statement “I know X is false” is an assertion that “X is false” is true).


    You don’t know you had COVID, because it “you had COVID” is not knowable.

    you had COVID” is a past tense of “you have COVID“.

    you have COVID” is a statement of fact: to be true it requires the presence in your system of the SARS-nCoV-2 virus.

    “you have COVID” is knowable (with an appropriate test, at the time); once that is known, then it can have a past tense and “you had COVID” can be a fact.

    Otherwise, “you had COVID” is a nonsense statement, in the same way that “I had a Ferrari” is nonsense if “I have a Ferrari” has never been true.


    You know you felt awful for quite a while. You believe/feel/suspect/think/presume you had COVID.

    • Replies: @ploni almoni
  9. mutthead says:

    You had it. My whole family had very similar experience in early December–for the oldest: not the flu, lasted a week, all respiratory, *very* high fever, ghastly sputum, no appetite, no getting out of bed for 3 days. The older the worse: 19-year old largely unaffected beyond persistent cough. It was in the US in November for sure.

    • Agree: Futurethirdworlder
  10. MEH 0910 says:

    Counting cars: Satellite images suggest coronavirus may have hit China last fall l ABC News

    Harvard, BU researchers analyzed images that show hospital parking lots busier than usual.

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