I had COVID-19. Or did I?

Uncertainty among those who have recovered leaves us all stuck at home

JUST OVER TWO weeks ago, I scrambled first for the medicine cabinet, and then for bed. After an ugly 15-round bout with the illness, I’m feeling much better. I had … well, I had something, but don’t know for sure what it was.

I had something that shared the symptoms of COVID-19: sore throat, fever, chills, fatigue, dry cough, congestion, and even pink eye. Now that I’ve emptied the medicine cabinet trying to fight the symptoms, and tried every home remedy YouTube served up, I’m still not completely sure what it was, and I don’t know if I ever will be. That’s because, despite my best efforts, I’m one of the other statistics, the ones who couldn’t get tested.

Having whatever I had also turns out to be the secret handshake for a rapidly growing underground society of people and families who have had the symptoms but still don’t know their actual diagnoses. Some thought they had COVID-19 but couldn’t get tested. Others had whatever it was weeks ago, before symptoms were well known. Now, they are looking back to that nasty nearly-but-not-quite-flu-like illness they had a while back that now sounds suspiciously like COVID-19.

Now, we’re back to healthy, and ready to help. The closest thing to a scientific consensus at this point is that those who recover from COVID-19 have immunity against reinfection — at least for some period of time. If so, we can serve our community without worrying about new infections. We can go to the store, buy things, sell things, go to work, check on our parents, care for the children, help out the homebound neighbors, and cavalierly touch our faces just because our nose itches.

Except we can’t, because we don’t know for sure what we had, and so don’t know for sure if we’re immune. Instead, we’re right where we were, because there’s no test to tell us for sure what we just went through.

That may be changing, but the pace is frustratingly slow. There are tests beginning to appear in the United States which can detect antibodies that show past coronavirus infection, but they are not yet broadly available and the news so far is about approval of new tests rather than rolling them out to the public. Germany is planning large scale testing and is even planning to issue “immunity certificates.”

While people in Germany who have recovered can help to restart their economy, here in the US, we’re still glued to the couch watching “Tiger King.” The safest response here is still to treat everyone like a potential threat, and a potential victim. Everyone has to take the most draconian possible steps toward isolation, rather than figuring out who is a danger, who is in danger, and who is neither. This means all of the promise that newly immune people might have cannot be realized.

Test rationing also means those charts you’ve seen of coronavirus’s reach are almost certainly wrong in important ways. We know official figures are undercounting people who are infected today. But it seems likely they are also way off on how many people were infected in past periods as well. This means we don’t know what kind of growth trajectory we are actually on.

Meet the Author

Steve Koczela

President, MassINC Polling Group

About Steve Koczela

Steve Koczela is the President of The MassINC Polling Group, where he has grown the organization from its infancy to a nationally known and respected polling provider. During the 2014 election cycle, MPG conducted election polling for WBUR, the continuation of a three-year partnership. Koczela again led the endeavor, producing polls which came within one point of the margin in both the Massachusetts gubernatorial and U.S. Senate Elections. He was also lead writer for Poll Vault, WBUR’s political reporting section during the 2014 Election Cycle.

He has led survey research programs for the U.S. Department of State in Iraq, in key states for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, and has conducted surveys and polls on behalf of many private corporations. Koczela brings a deep understanding of the foundations of public opinion and a wide ranging methodological expertise. He earned U.S. Department of State recognition for his leading edge work on sample evaluation in post conflict areas using geospatial systems.

Koczela is frequent guest on WBUR as well as many other news and talk programs in Massachusetts and elsewhere. His polling analysis is often cited in local, state, and national media outlets. He currently serves as President of the New England Chapter of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (NEAAPOR). Koczela holds a Master’s degree in Marketing Research from the University of Wisconsin and is a veteran of the war in Iraq.

About Steve Koczela

Steve Koczela is the President of The MassINC Polling Group, where he has grown the organization from its infancy to a nationally known and respected polling provider. During the 2014 election cycle, MPG conducted election polling for WBUR, the continuation of a three-year partnership. Koczela again led the endeavor, producing polls which came within one point of the margin in both the Massachusetts gubernatorial and U.S. Senate Elections. He was also lead writer for Poll Vault, WBUR’s political reporting section during the 2014 Election Cycle.

He has led survey research programs for the U.S. Department of State in Iraq, in key states for President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, and has conducted surveys and polls on behalf of many private corporations. Koczela brings a deep understanding of the foundations of public opinion and a wide ranging methodological expertise. He earned U.S. Department of State recognition for his leading edge work on sample evaluation in post conflict areas using geospatial systems.

Koczela is frequent guest on WBUR as well as many other news and talk programs in Massachusetts and elsewhere. His polling analysis is often cited in local, state, and national media outlets. He currently serves as President of the New England Chapter of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (NEAAPOR). Koczela holds a Master’s degree in Marketing Research from the University of Wisconsin and is a veteran of the war in Iraq.

So can I help? Can I go out of the house? Can the others who have been baptized in feverish fire into the society of the undiagnosed pandemic survivors? Or should we all just sit here and wait?

Steve Koczela is president of the MassINC Polling Group.