AFTER TWO YEARS of being meticulously careful, vaccinated and boosted, and masked up on all occasions, even with N95, I was tested positive for COVID last month.

Ching Ching Tan (Photo courtesy of the author)

I know exactly how I got it. After a beautiful hike over the weekend, before heading back home, we didn’t want the day to end, so my husband and I Yelped and found an excellent rated restaurant, learning they had the best hamburgers in town, and off we went. It was chilly outside, so we entered the restaurant and dined in. I’m sure many of you also have dined out like I did, but now I question that choice.

After 48 hours, I developed symptoms: scratchy throat, feeling strange in my airway. The test result came in as negative at first, then the next day positive. My husband’s positive result quickly followed. 

It felt deeply unfair. In my mind, only anti-vax, anti-science, or those who go clubbing like no tomorrow would get COVID. My husband and I have been working from home since the pandemic lockdown. We have dutifully followed all guidelines from the CDC, and have had our son do the same. Not me! Not us! My heart screamed. 

When it came to sharing news to our loved ones, I felt ashamed. I was the loudest advocate for vaccines in my family, one who persuaded them one by one to get vaccinated and boosted, and one who never shied away from explaining the science, but I was the one who got COVID. 

Thanks to the vaccine and booster, I have very mild symptoms, well enough to write this. I keep wondering about that split second when we decided to dine in.

I wonder how many breakthrough cases contracted the virus in a similar fashion. You have been cautious all along. At the entrance of this restaurant, you are asked whether you wish to eat inside or outside. In the back of your mind, you know it’s not the best idea, but a voice inside you says “I can’t be that lucky,” so you tell the hostess, “Inside but away from others, if possible,” thinking it would make a difference. 

Thanks to the vaccine and booster, I have very mild symptoms, well enough to write this. I keep wondering about that split second when we decided to dine in. My decision making was not completely blind and I knew, in retrospect, here are all the reasons that made me complacent:

1. We all are going to get it.

Since the Omicron surge, we received messages such as Omicron would “find just about everybody,” and learned the possibility of contracting is high despite vaccination. I have loosened my guard. We are all going to get it anyway. Why bother? But I should know that even though I may survive it I could transmit it to someone who could get sick like my 12-year-old son. 

2. We vaccinated are going to have mild symptoms.

Thinking we have been vaccinated, and that even if we contract COVID, we will be having mild symptoms. This idea somehow nudges people like me to do things we won’t normally do during COVID, such as dining in the restaurant. It only takes once to contract the virus, and keep in mind that even mild symptoms would mean not feeling 100 percent for possibly weeks. 

3. We are fed up and tired.

I hate to admit it but if you are vaccinated and boosted like me, and you have been painstakingly vigilant for the past two years, there is this gloomy cloud in your head that thinks things are just unfair. Before Omicron evolved, cases were mostly among the unvaccinated. Pandemic then drags on for new variants to appear, and this Omicron is not going to be the last one. See now the Omicron subvariant just cropped up. We are tired. 

So I became one of the statistics, one of the millions who are COVID positives. With this complacency, I risk transmitting to my son, and possibly through him to the community. This is the reason our hospitals in the country are full. With that split second of dine-in decision, I contributed in my part, to put one more layer of danger in my closest circle, and in turn to public health. 

Let’s face it. Fatigue is real, especially when we can’t see the end of the pandemic tunnel clearly. The prolonged disconnection exhausts our heart. 

For those who are all-along careful and rule abiding, I hear you. One thing is to live life as normal as possible with the virus while managing infectious risks, another is to see a clear risk but choose to ignore it. 

The day at the restaurant door, my son said we should get a takeout and eat at home. Since both my husband and I are infected, we navigated the tricky businesses of keeping my son negative. I wonder how the universe is giving us a hint to listen to the youngest and wisest. So far, he is still the only one who’s negative in the house.

About the author

Ching Ching Tan is a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project. She teaches Interpersonal Communication and Public Speaking for Nonnative Speakers at San Jose State University. She is currently writing her memoir, NATURALIZED. Follow her on Facebook