Some Ways to Have COVID

People dancing maskless in a bar next to a sign that says wear a mask.
Tag yourself. (I’m the one getting COVID-19.) Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Lots of fathers are testifying about their experiences getting COVID these days.

“My wife and kids and friends keep phoning to make sure I’m still breathing, though secretly I’m delighted that I have an ironclad excuse to see nobody, do nothing, go nowhere,” wrote Bret Stephens in the New York Times today. He has a mild illness and is at home taking care of that illness! This is a very reasonable and rational response to a health situation.

There are other ways to be, though. Do not try them yourself!

“Maybe reading about my mistakes can help you with your decisionmaking,” wrote Alexis Madrigal on social media, introducing his recent story in The Atlantic about getting COVID. It certainly has! I am now further committed to hanging out with friends, going to awesome parties, and seeing terrible movies like Eternals, which was really awful, and if I got COVID in that theater, I’m going to be so pissed.

Brother Madrigal writes that he went to a wedding, he came home and tested positive, his spouse took up the work of dealing with the kids alone while he isolated, he was mildly ill, then everything was fine, just as the vaccines hath foretold.

And yet he felt bad. He had failed his family by getting ill. “I blame no one but myself for this,” Madrigal wrote.

Other heterosexual family men are presenting their tales of health infidelity and failure with less blame assigned to themselves because, in their cases, the coronavirus came home via their very young children and the children are always innocent.

T.J. Muehleman, a data technologist in Seattle who also works on COVID projects, recently told his story on Twitter; Will Oremus, a tech writer, told his too but began with a reasonable point: that he hoped it would push parents to get their kids vaccinated and to get booster shots themselves. (Children ages 5 to 11 are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated.)

If we learned nothing from the AIDS pandemic — and we did learn maybe a couple things, which made possible a speedier treatment pipeline, for one — it’s that even those of us who are wildly, delightedly promiscuous don’t deserve diseases. Yet we’re still incapable of making sane assessments about risks, fault, cause, and blame.

Every disease has its associations — “The tubercular is someone ‘consumed’ by ardor,” wrote Susan Sontag in Illness As Metaphor. COVID, it looks like, is mostly associated with incaution. If you were just even a bit more careful, more responsible, then your spouse wouldn’t have to pick up the slack while you isolate and your kids would be safer.

But 5 million people didn’t die because they weren’t responsible enough. (I will hear arguments about the relatively small number who had access to vaccines and chose not to get them, however.) Many of them did die because we’ve made bad decisions about wealth, poverty, global warming, and health care. Why isn’t anyone feeling ashamed about that?

Madrigal’s confessions, at least, make for a real hate-read. “A brilliant satire of the widespread COVID psychosis that grips many wealthy American liberals,” wrote one of Murdoch’s Australian wackos, who is, unfortunately, quite rude but correct.

I’m not happy about the fact that I’m going to get COVID. I love smelling dumb food. Mostly, I hope that when it happens to me, I don’t harm any of my immunocompromised friends, because this endless slog is really messing up their lives and it’s not fair to them. I will absolutely work to protect them, and you all should get your kids vaccinated and get yourself boostered so they can have a fuller life sooner.

But very preliminary data from one state suggests I have a .004 percent chance of dying if I get COVID. That’s about the chance I take of dying every time I eat a hot dog. Maybe I have COVID right now! Just two months ago, I was never going to shake hands again. A friend showed me her move — clasp the hands in front of your chest and do a little namaste head nod. This is not a good look for a middle-aged white man, and now I am shaking hands with vigor like Buddy Garrity on Friday Night Lights.

Nearly every member of America’s favorite Evangelical Republican Texan real-estate-broker, milk-consuming family — you remember them from last week, when everyone lost their minds because they told CNN they bought 12 gallons of milk a week for their nine children — had COVID, save one of the kiddos.

To protect this last of their children from the disease, when the father of the milk-loving pack had extremely severe and extended COVID symptoms not long ago, the family members did what any real American family would do: They simply isolated Dad in their pool house until he was better. No shame there.

Some Ways to Have COVID