Covid quarantine: Yeah, $%@#$@ Omicron got me, too

My life this week: Good pasta, a good book and sports — alone.

In my continual quest to become fluent in Italian, I developed a love-hate relationship with the language. I love the sound of Italian, how it rolls off your tongue with ending vowels so soft even an old American like me can sound like a local, especially after a couple glasses of wine. But one Italian word I never want to hear.


I heard that word eight days ago.

Yes, it got me, too. I’m just announcing my Covid quarantine today as I emerge from my mandatory seven-day isolation. I didn’t want to field an avalanche of questions and unwarranted sympathy. Lord knows I had the time. Seven days alone quarantining in a one-bedroom apartment gives you a lot of time. It gives you a lot of time to think.

Funny, I feared Covid in its early days two years ago but after I caught it I had no fear. I read up on it. I knew Omicron, Covid’s latest strain, wasn’t very harmful, particularly people like me who had two vaccines and a booster.

What replaced fear was anger. 

I was angry at myself. Ever since Covid spread its deadly tentacles around the globe, I took pride in being among the healthy. We were the ones wearing the masks, practicing social distancing, observing government orders. I didn’t protest when the Italian government locked us down twice. 

I wore my mask everywhere, even when I took out the trash. It was a badge of honor to live without Covid, especially now that Omicron has become as common as a cold. Now I get lumped atop the scrapheap of Covid victims who seemingly fill half the planet. 

I’ve become a statistic. 

How did I get it?

I don’t know where I got it. On Jan. 11, a chunk of my ceiling here in Rome collapsed. My landlord came over the next day to look. He wore a mask. The next day on the 13th he brought a maintenance man. Both wore masks. We knocked down a few loose parts of the ceiling and they left.

The next day, the 14th, my landlord came with an architect to check the rest of the apartment. Both wore masks.

I did not. 

I should have. It was a complete, inexcusable brain lock. I didn’t think. I have no proof that’s where I got it. Many people never know. But that afternoon on the 14th I developed a slight cough. I felt a little achy. It felt nothing like the flu. In fact, I read Omicron’s symptoms were headache, runny nose, sore throat, fatigue and cough. I had only one of those and it was mild, more of an annoyance than an illness. It should not be anything to cause worry.

Except now.

Marina left me a bag of groceries outside my door every other day.

We don’t live in normal times. When we sneeze, we cough, we get tired, we think, “Oh, no! Is this Covid?” It’s a virus that has killed 5.6 million worldwide and 143,875 here in Italy. When the cough and aches began, I felt well enough to do anything but I took no chances. I called my girlfriend, Marina, and cancelled dinner at her place that night.

My cough and aches never worsened over the weekend but I stayed in. Marina, who’s more cautious than even I am, treated me as if I was toxic. She urged me to get tested and I didn’t argue. I walked around the corner to my pharmacy and made an appointment for that Monday afternoon.

Marina came by on Sunday to drop off the ragu sauce she made for us Friday. When we saw each other on the street outside her car, we fist-bumped. 

The test

On Monday morning, my cough and aches were gone. I felt 100 percent. I made plans to visit Marina that night. I even put a bottle of white wine in the refrigerator. I prepared my gym bag for an afternoon workout.

I stood in a short line outside my pharmacy and the woman took the rapid antigen test. She told us all to wait 10 minutes and she’ll have the results. I remembered being worried last month in Finland where a positive test would mean a week-long isolation on the Arctic Circle and I had a plane to catch that afternoon.

Last week I stood there calm and a bit bored as if waiting for a bus.

The technician came out and called out one woman’s name. Negativo. She called a man’s name. Negativo. She called my name. I approached.

She put up both her hands. Don’t approach any farther. Uh-oh.


I was stunned. I’d lost my status as one who outwitted a global pandemic. I wasn’t worried about having an incubator stuck down my throat. I was crushed to be stuck in my apartment for seven days. Seven days with no outside contact, no girlfriend, no gym, no beautiful Rome neighborhood, no beautiful Rome.

What happened?

I took a deep dive into my past week’s movements. Can I blame the men who checked my ceiling? No. Marina reminded me that Covid symptoms take an average of three days to surface. My first cough came only one day after the maintenance man checked my ceiling. The architect came the day I coughed for the first time. I counted back three days from Friday.

Tuesday – the day Marina and I celebrated my eight-year anniversary of my arrival in Rome.

It turns out, the other couple who joined us got sick the same day I did. The wife tested negative, but her husband tested positive and had to scratch his flight that day to New York. But how did we get it? We are all double-vaccinated and boosted. We all wore masks. Our waiters all wore masks. The bar and restaurant we entered required everyone to show their Green Pass vaccine certificate.

It just shows how indiscriminate Omicron is, how no one is safe, no matter the precautions. Fortunately, Marina doesn’t have it. We hadn’t seen each other for six days before I tested positive and she had no symptoms. She didn’t need a test.

It was me and me alone.

The good news

Instead of wallowing in self pity, I looked at the bright side. I’m not one of 5.6 million victims who have died. I’m not one of the countless millions who will never recover from their symptoms, such as – GASP! – loss of taste. I can’t imagine living in Italy without a sense of taste. I might as well live in Nebraska.

What I am is one of 83,387 people in Italy who tested positive Jan. 17 and one of the 10 million who have tested positive in Italy since the pandemic began. I am a speck of sand in the Sahara that is Covid. Nothing more. 

I always wondered what someone does when they can’t leave their home for seven days. I was under Covid house arrest. But this wasn’t prison. I had plenty to do. I had my blog. I had a freelance assignment that required digging on the phone. I had a 550-page biography of Leonardo da Vinci. I had my Italian language tapes. I had Italian soccer, the Australian Open and the NFL Playoffs on DAZN, Europe’s sports cable streaming service. I had Season 3 of “After Life” and Season 4 of “Ozark” on NetFlix. 

Covid quarantine day

I quickly fell into a routine, as unwavering as life in the military minus the jogs humping a 20-pound pack (Times vary depending on day and sports schedule):

7 a.m. Wake up. Write emails. Drink my perfect cappuccino. Rage about non-vaxxers.

8 a.m. Watch Australian Open. Eat breakfast. 

11 a.m. Research freelance story. 

1 p.m. Exercise using an online workout program. Rage about non-vaxxers.

2 p.m. Lunch

3 p.m. Read The New York Times, The Local and ANSA (Italy’s wire service) online.

5 p.m. Nap. Rage about non-vaxxers.

5:30 p.m. Study Italian language tapes.

6:45 p.m. “L’Eredita,” Italian’s Jeopardy with Italian subtitles

8:45 p.m. Italian soccer

9 p.m., 10:45 p.m., 2:15 a.m. (Weekend) NFL Playoffs. 

Midnight, 2 a.m., 5 a.m. Go to bed. Rage about non-vaxxers.

I showered every day. I didn’t shave any day. I was already well overdue for a haircut. Vanity prevented me from posting a selfie. Suffice to say I looked like a hermit writing a manifesto.

It helps that I live alone. I’m a bit of a loner. I’ve lived alone for 37 of my 43 years since college. My home routine didn’t change much. Marina brought me groceries every other day. Meanwhile, a married friend had to isolate himself in a guest room for a week while his wife left him food outside the door.

Marina occasionally cooked prepared meals for me like this lemon turkey dish with stirfry veggies in dado, Italian bouillon cubes.

It also helps to have an Italian girlfriend. She didn’t just bring groceries. She also made me a killer lemon turkey dish and two jars of her orgasmic ragu sauce which I warmed up and poured over dry pasta. We’d peer at each other through my front door’s peephole. We did video calls on Whatsapp. We did the same on my birthday during the first lockdown in the spring of 2020. It was oddly romantic.

Our lives in Covid

Is this the new normal?

Are we destined to go through life wondering if every cough could lead to grocery deliveries and deep-knee lunges in our living room? Not for me. I’ve double vaxxed. I’m boosted. I’m now immunized. In other words, I’m protected.

The CDC reported this week that Pfizer and Moderna booster shots are 90 percent effective against hospitalization. It is even more effective for those of us 50 and over. 

Meanwhile, hospitals around the world are filling up again with non-vaxxers, these hypocrites who sit in their mom’s basement and find obscure websites and theories debunking the strength of vaccines.

Here in Rome an American friar named Alexis Bugnolo, who runs the Italian non-profit association Scholasticum, a post-graduate institute for the study of scholastic theology and philosophy, recently said on social media, “The death of 2 billion vaccinated people in a few years will cause serious civil unrest. You have to prepare yourself.”

People fear the vaccine because of clowns like this. These people are the foot soldiers in the global war of misinformation. I’m lucky I live in Italy. Here more than 94 percent of our 60 million people are double vaccinated. In the U.S., it’s only 63 percent. The other 37 percent are puffing out their chests to proclaim their independence. They boast they will not be controlled as if staring down a foreign army instead of an invisible virus that doesn’t care what they think.

Yet they see nothing wrong with infecting others, nor the irony of not fearing Covid but fearing a virus.

I trust the CDC and the World Health Organization and Dr. Anthony Fauci and The New York Times. I don’t trust an American friar screaming to be heard from the bowels of the Vatican.

Thanks to my vaccinations and booster, I survived Covid with nothing more than a mild cough for three days. I can roam the globe worry free, knowing my chances of contracting Covid again are like my chances of contracting typhoid again.

They told me I could look up my test result Tuesday morning. It took me an hour of negotiating through the impossibly confusing instructions on websites and SMSs but with Marina’s invaluable help, I found my result. It’s a beautiful Italian word.