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An unexpected feeling arises for some who catch this wave of Covid: Relief

When Daniel Storm found out he had Covid-19, he was shocked. He had been so careful, hardly socialized and always wearing a mask when he left the house.

His PCR test results arrived via email on January 8th. As he stared at the word "positive," Storm, 52, of Wilmington, North Carolina, said he felt angry and disappointed.

Then relief washed over him.

"I feel like I've gone a little on needles like omicron is everywhere," Storm said of the hyper-transferable Covid variant.

He had received his Covid vaccinations and booster, but he has been afraid he could inadvertently transmit the virus to a more vulnerable person. Getting the news of his case - which ended up being an asymptomatic one, which he discovered by testing on a whim - allowed Storm to isolate himself at home and then feel more relaxed, both for himself and for those around him .

"I feel even more protected now," he said.

As the pandemic enters its third year, some with recent Covid diagnoses discover that contracting the disease they have worked so hard to dodge for so long has brought them an unexpected respite from anxiety - instead of to aggravate it further.

Their relief is hardly universal, as the disease remains a serious threat to immunocompromised people, the elderly, and many others.

But for those at low risk for Covid complications, a positive test result at this point in the pandemic can bring surprisingly positive emotions along with a variety of other emotions.

It may seem illogical, but psychologists say it is an example of anticipatory anxiety, where the fear you experience before an event ends up getting worse than the event itself.

"You're in this constant state of anxiety for, 'What happens if I get it?'" Said Vaile Wright, a clinical psychologist and senior director of health innovation at the American Psychological Association. "It kind of gives you permission to stop worrying a little bit about it."

This may be especially the case with omicron, which studies suggest causes less severe symptoms than previous variants, especially for vaccinated humans.

As a result, many, especially those who have been vaccinated and boosted, say getting Covid despite their best efforts to avoid it has felt like an opportunity to surrender.

"We need not worry and wait any longer," said Sarah Moon of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, who got her booster shot and just tested positive Friday after her 4-year-old Mira had Covid earlier this week. "The bad thing has happened, and now we can start working on managing it."

But experts warn that no one should intentionally seek out Covid.

"There is an individual, social, public health responsibility for everyone not to get sick because they tend to make other people sick," including those who could have fatal complications or those who are not eligible for vaccinations, such as children under 5 years, said Dr. Robert Havey, Deputy Director of the Havey Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Plus, he added, there is still a degree of unpredictability as to who can be hospitalized or develop long-term Covid.

"You do not know if you are going to be unlucky," Havey said.

Short-term relief? What we know about immunity after infection

Whether you are vaccinated or not, getting Covid strengthens your immunity to re-infection - at least in the short term.

"It's like getting a little booster shot," Havey said, explaining that it is "very unusual" for people who have not weakened immune systems to be reinfected within 90 days of having Covid.

Then all bets are off. Havey has seen a dramatic increase in reinfections with the advent of omicron in patients who have captured previous strains.

There are reinfections in both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, he said, although the protection is subsequently stronger among the vaccinated.

Still, the relief of capturing Covid can be about more than just feeling protected.

Makie Fuse, 30, lives in Melbourne, Australia, a nation that previously used severe lockdowns to curb the pandemic and now sees a record number of infections amid the spread of omicron and a easing of restrictions.

Fuse is not yet eligible for her booster in Australia, but she has received her first two Covid vaccinations. She tested positive last week after developing a sore throat that kept getting worse to the point that it was "unbearable," she said.

Makie Fuse.Courtesy Makie Fuse

She felt scared when she found out she had Covid, but after so long thinking that she might have it, she said there was also some relief in knowing that she finally had it.

"For the last two years, we've been so stressed with lockdowns, but also with the symptoms. Every headache, every sore throat, every feeling of being tired could be a symptom," she said.

It felt like the first time she didn’t have to question herself.

"It was the relief of 'I'm not crazy. I feel it, and I tested positive, and I'm going through something that a lot of other people have been through, too," she said.

"It was the relief of 'I'm not crazy. I feel it, and I tested positive, and I'm going through something that a lot of other people have been through, too."

In Rhode Island, Moon's daughter got a mild case of Covid, but Moon, her husband and her 6-year-old son, who are all vaccinated, initially tested negative. By the end of the week, Moon had developed symptoms.

She compared Covid's arrival at her household to a horror movie.

"I was waiting for this. You've been in this scary movie and you've been running for so long you know the bad guy will show up and grab you," she said.

Capturing Covid is not inevitable

While experts agree that it may feel as if Covid is inevitable, they say it is not inevitable that everyone will get it.

There are signs that the omicron-driven rise may soon peak nationwide, and it has already begun to reach parts of the country.

As we move through the top, Havey said, it's important to take the same precautions that have been recommended throughout the pandemic: wearing masks, washing hands, and being vaccinated and boosted if you have not already done so.

And there are ways to feel less anxious without having to go through Covid to get there, Wright said.

You can be safe for a week going out to a restaurant and then things go up and you step back. It's about allowing yourself that flexibility without judging. ”

"It really depends on focusing on what's in your control, making sure you're still doing the protective things you need to do and avoiding high-risk situations, especially if you have a vulnerable person in your life," she said. "Once I've done all these things, how can I continue to live my life in a way that I'm protecting myself but not making myself feel stuck?"

Everyone's risk tolerance will be different, she said, and can vary from day to day based on factors such as changing infection rates in a community or just someone's mood.

"Give yourself permission to make it swing a little, because you might be comfortable going out to a restaurant for a week, and then things go up and you step back," Wright said. "It's about giving yourself that flexibility without judging."

For Storm, being vaccinated, boosted and now cleared of his asymptomatic infection makes him feel comfortable enough to see a local band outdoors, something he probably would not have done before he became ill. He is not ready to go to the cinema and sit next to a stranger whose vaccination status he does not know.

But because Covid-19 is likely to become an endemic disease, like the flu, he hopes to find a way to safely resume more of his pre-pandemic activities.

"I do not want to be bottled up in my house," he said. "I just want to do the best I can."

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