I Skipped A Cathay Pacific Flight In February To Avoid COVID-19 And Flew To NYC, Was I Infected There Instead?

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Update: Some commenters expressed doubts about the accuracy of taking one antibody test. The CDC says that if you take an antibody test with a 90% sensitivity rate and 95% specificity rate, the positive result will be just 48.6% accurate at a 5% prevalence. So I took a 2nd antibody test last week which also confirmed the positive result. The CDC says that with 2 positive results on a typical test the predictive value jumps to 94.5%.

However the tests I took are better than typical though, which means those numbers will be even higher.

The first test I took was the Abbott Architect SARS-CoV-2 IgG, which has a 100% sensitivity rate and 99.6% specificity rate, for a predictive value of 92.9% at 5% prevalence. The second test I took was the Roche Elecsys Anti-SARS-CoV-2, which has a 100% sensitivity rate and 99.8% specificity rate, which has a positive predictive value of 96.5% at 5% prevalence. Combined, the odds that I had COVID-19 are just about certain.


Originally posted on 6/7:

In early January I booked a flight on Cathay Pacific from JFK to Vancouver in first class for one final hurrah before they discontinued the best flight within North America. Thanks to my free EXP status from Hyatt, American even opened up saver first class saver award space between Cleveland and NYC on the same award ticket, which left me rather impressed.

By the end of January I was having doubts about taking the trip, which I shared in a post here. I shared more of my fears about taking the flight a few days later in this Sunday roundup.

I wound up cancelling the flight (free, thanks to the EXP status as free North America flight changes wouldn’t start until March) and looked for a replacement trip.

I had attended the KWFE Miami in 2018 and KWFE LA in 2019, so I figured it would be fun to round out the trio by going to KWFE NYC in 2020.

A friend and I flew to NYC on February 17th and took an Uber to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Ohel in Queens to daven shacharis. It was the 22nd of Shvat and the Ohel was packed with women from around the globe for the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka’s yahrtzeit. We took an Uber to Crown Heights for some delicious Izzy’s Fried Chicken, checked into a suite at The Plaza using my free lifetime Fairmont Platinum nights in a suite, and went to the Kosher Wine and Food Event for the bulk of the day. And we stopped off at an after-party in Le Marais before retiring for the night and flying home the next day (but not before picking up dinner to go from Noi Due on the way to the airport).

 

KWFE is always a fun event with lots of great wine and food. I interviewed United executives there about their new kosher food and wine offerings to Tel Aviv, (which reminds me that I typed up, but never posted that interview after the craziness that followed, should I post it now?), shmoozed with people from Italy, shook hands and took literally hundreds of selfies with DansDeals fans, and left with quite a buzz.

 

In mid-February nobody was talking about COVID-19 in the US or even in Italy yet. It would be more than 3 weeks before Italy’s national lockdown and before flights from Europe to the US would be curtailed.

The next week I was battling a fever that peaked at nearly 103 degrees. I was achy, had the chills, and couldn’t sleep, but thank G-d never had respiratory issues. The fever lasted for 3 days, considerably longer than I’ve been sick for before.

The friend I traveled with got sick the next week as well. Another DDF member I chatted with at the event got sick the next week as well.

It was still February and the doctors I spoke to all thought I had the flu or a cold and highly doubted it was COVID-19. But regardless, there was no way to get tested and find out at that point in time. Had the CDC not bungled the early tests, contact tracing and testing may have slowed the spread in the US.

In mid-March I developed yet another fever. This time the fever was just 101.4, but it seemed really strange for me to get a fever twice in 2 weeks. That’s never happened to me before. Some of my friends were convinced that my COVID-19 anxiety had willed the fever into existence.

But by this time, COVID-19 tests were available, so I went to the Cleveland Clinic drive-through testing site. They were already full for the day, so they said to come back early the next morning.

Cars lined up for COVID-19 testing:

 

I was seen about 40 minutes after they opened and was advised to sit on my hands as the test would be uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure they were swabbing until it came back with brain matter, but at least I’d have answers.

The results came back the next day and my 2nd fever was gone. Negative for the flu, negative for COVID-19.

Go figure.

We stayed home religiously for months after that, with groceries delivered to our door. Nobody else in my family got sick and I didn’t get sick again.

While my Google Maps timeline typically has trips around the world, the world would get a whole lot smaller:

 

But I always wondered if I picked up COVID-19 on that early trip to NYC. I never did lose my sense of smell or taste, but my friend who traveled with me lost those for months. So when the FDA granted emergency use authorization for antibody tests I got a prescription for one and had my blood drawn.

I took the test at Quest and got back the results in less than 24 hours. Sure enough, I tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies.

My wife took a COVID-19 PCR and antibody test when she gave birth and both came back negative. Nobody else around me got sick, other than the friend who flew to NYC with me. There are lots of DDF reports of just one spouse having a positive antibody tests, which certainly seems to support the super-spreader theory that 5-10% of people infect 80% of the population. I never had a cough or sneeze, so perhaps I wasn’t spreading the virus or perhaps my viral load wasn’t high enough to spread it.

It’s hard to say what it all means at this point.

Is the antibody test I took accurate? Seemingly so according to FDA data, but it’s also possible that it’s wrong.

Is it possible to get infected again? Seemingly I should be immune for some period of time.

The real question is how long that immunity will last. Antibodies for other coronaviruses only provide immunity for about a year. DDF member biobook points out that the study also found that people who got sick again after their antibodies stopped providing immunity had a similar reaction the 2nd time around. People with initial mild reactions had a mild reaction the next time, while people with severe reactions had a severe reaction the next time. The study also found that genetics play a big part of how people reacted to the coronavirus.

Of course COVID-19 doesn’t need to play by the same rules of other coronaviruses, so the jury is still out. There’s simply no real way of knowing just how long COVID-19 antibodies will last. But here’s hoping that a vaccine is rapidly developed and it provides long-term immunity.

While NYC got slammed with COVID-19 cases, Cleveland has not. There are no plasma donation drives here.

And while people point to Purim on March 10th for spreading COVID-19 in NYC’s Jewish community, seemingly it was spreading for many weeks before then. I could have gotten infected anywhere, but the most plausible time and place I could have gotten it was in NYC on February 17th.

One NYC based DDFer figures that he picked up COVID-19 in Italy at the end of January or in the UK in February.

Of course that also means that COVID-19 was silently spreading for weeks before exploding. That makes sense as it takes time for the cases to keep doubling before everyone realizes something is wrong. Perhaps today we would catch it earlier in the cycle if there were to be a 2nd wave thanks to testing being available, but without robust contact tracing it still may be hard to control.

But for now, I’m still mostly grounded at home with my family. Our kids are still virtually attending school via Zoom and nobody knows what the fall will bring. I daven at an outdoor minyan with a mask on. We had a bris without the multiple sets of living grandparents, may they live to 120 in good health, as they can’t fly due to COVID-19. I don’t have any short-term travel plans and will set a record for consecutive days since I got married that I was not on a plane, though I’d consider flying down the line. With countries like Israel giving quarantine exemptions with positive antibody tests, I might be able to go to places that I wouldn’t be able to if I hadn’t been infected, but those policies will be figured out over the coming months.

It’s probably easier for me to pinpoint when and where I got infected than for most people, but if you had COVID-19, when and where do you think you got infected? What were your symptoms and how long did they last for? You can also take this antibody poll on DDF.

You can discuss coronavirus and how it’s affecting your life on the dedicated COVID-19 board on DDF here.

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56 Comments On "I Skipped A Cathay Pacific Flight In February To Avoid COVID-19 And Flew To NYC, Was I Infected There Instead?"

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chaim

test arent accurate

SM

The false positive rate in antibody tests is misleading. That’s why I haven’t gotten it yet.

A 10% false positive rate (as has been theorized) translates to a 50% error rate in tests if you assume only 10% of the population ever had COVID.

Shamus

With Dans symptoms, its highly unlikely it was a false positive… each case is different

zow

Dan,
Please do post UAL interview.
My gut tells me that you did indeed have COVID-19.
My brain tells me that it’s not certain, maybe 50/50, given the test performance characteristics (let’s say 95% sensitive) and relatively low prevalence in the population.
My approach would be to say, yes, probably had it, but don’t let your guard down and do not consider yourself immune.
Take care.
zow

mileagejunkie

I had what I thought was the flu about two weeks before Purim, so same timeline. Reports from KFWE? Haven’t gotten tested for antibodies.

Joe S

I was diagnosed with the flu about a week before Purim in the NYC area, though the flu test from Urgent Care came back negative. Had fever and chills for 2 days, had chest pain and a small cough on and off for a month after, but took Flu medicine and that seemed to work after 24 hours except for the chest pain/cough, plus no one else I was near got sick, so unsure. I’m going to LapCorp for some other bloodwork this week, so tempted to get the Antibody test also just to see what it comes back as.

Simcha

Glad to hear all is well BH. FYI, I did listen last night on Zoom to Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, one of the top doctors in infections diseases in South Nassau hospital on Long Island. He did say that although nothing is know for certain with the antibodies, NOT ONE person who contracted the virus in the ENTIRE WORLD contracted it a second time. Yes, the jury is still out, but a good sign nonetheless.

Donny

I did not hear nor participate in the Zoom session. I do not doubt the qualifications of Dr Glatt, I do not doubt that he said not one person in the entire world contracted Covid19 a second time. Data coming from elsewhere makes that statement too strong to state as an absolute. It is possible those cases reported were misdiagnosed or relapses. I would not bet on it yet.

Anonymous

Man plans and g-d laughs

ckmk47

I started feeling sick 6 days after Purim. And I saw a lot of people on Purim, so I assume that’s when I got it.

Jay

My Dad’s Neighbor is a Mashgiach that either went to China or had contact with others that went to China, has Antibodies and was sick for 6 weeks after chanuka!!! they didn;t know what it was and they are saying he had Covid back then
(in Lakewood)

Ike

Got it (I think at least) in China mid February. Was in Shanghai. Within 2 weeks of getting back had fever, cough but not sever and achy like crazy. Tested 2X for the flu negative. There weren’t any Covid tests really to take at the time, but just assuming I had it. Will say on the flight back everyone was wiping down their trays, seats and all area with the Clorox wipes. Nice clean Polaris on a 777-300 at least.

chail

im suprised you wear a mask at the outdoor minyan (unless it’s the official rules) Alot of my neighbors had it and none of them are at all worried .They all seem to believe they are completely immune.

Alex

Dan, would you fly from NY to MIA in a month or so with the family? If not, when would you do it?

Andy

Antibody tests only help indicate past exposure, it does not indicate immunity. Corona viruses are mostly dependent on cellular immunity not humoral immunity. Hopefully T cell tests will be developed soon.

When talking about duration of immunity of other coronaviruses I must make one correction. In 2017 the journal of antiviral research reported immunity of at least three years for SARS 1 and MERS. The study explains the importance of T cells in long term immunity and for creating a vaccine. The article is here https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166354216304016

Overall sounds like you definitely contracted COVID-19. It’s interesting the rest of your family avoided any infection since the virus seems to be very contagious.

BMS

I flew in February from NY to Oslo to London to NY to Toronto to London to Budapest (Parisi Udvar hotel only 12k points TY!) to Toronto to NY back to Toronto to NY. (what was I thinking?? lol) I got so ill in March coughing like crazy but no fever etc, was finally diagnosed with pneumonia only. Had 2 Covid and anti body tests all negative TG

Dimples

My brother and brother in law were both sick after Purim and recently Got tested and had positive antibody tests. My sister was sick at the same time as my BIL, and she had a negative antibody test. My SIL who literally had to spoon feed my brother because he was so sick and stuck in bed for 10 with covid19 also had a negative Antibody test. Although we expected the men to be positive it’s a little surprising that both women are not, and therefore wondering how reliable the testing is.

jonny

Has your friend fully regained smell/taste?

I was positive in mid March/early April. But my smell/taste is only about 60-70% restored. I’m definitely concerned

a yid

same with me, i didn’t test but I did lose my sense of smell and taste week before pesach and it’s still not fully restored, i was wondering if i need to see an ENT?!

Dave

You guys just haven’t been exposed to awesome food. With all the restaurant closures/limited capacities you haven’t given your taste buds a chance to jump at BBQ ribs or Wagyu steaks from such and such restaurants.

Blima

Interestingly, my 2 young children (5,8) were sick two weeks before Purim and tested negative for flu. They had fever, cough…I (mom) lost my sense of taste/smell about 3 days after purim and then had fever:chills for just two days but still haven’t fully regained my sense of taste/smell. I tested positive for antibodies, I didn’t test my kids. I thinking that they had it

Eli

It didn’t start “spreading” until Mid-March because that’s when the media decided to start reporting it. In reality it was spreading since mid February.

Shoom

Could you translate to English, please?

SHmeel

Dan, will you travel now that you have antibodies.

BtoPtoC

My parents and siblings who live at home were all infected. Recovery times and symptoms varied. BH no one had any respiratory issues but my dad lost his sense of taste/smell for over three months and dropped 50 pounds.

Joe from C.H.

I have a non Jewish friend who points to those returning from Paris fashion week as another big starting point in NYC. Its obvious that it was here earlier and your nasal test was correct that you didn’t have active covid-19 by the time you got tested. I would trust a Quest antibody test but you might want to get retested 2 or 3 months later.

s from cleveland

I’m pretty sure i caught it right after Purim when i was waiting in line in a store and the person directly behind me decided to share his sneeze with everyone. Soon after i had cold symptoms for a couple of days before losing my taste/smell for about 2 weeks. Thank god i didn’t get it worse. Do you think i should get tested now?

Jullian

Yes

sheila

Dan, the Abbott test is supposed to be very accurate (that, and the Roche) so with your symptoms, it sounds like you did have it- but please- no one definitely knows what it means! So very glad your wife was negative. Continue to stay safe.

Chani

After purim thought we had covid 19, was well for a week, then got sick again. Lost smell and taste over pesach, great for marror! bh, tested positive for anti bodies! because…we traveled by car to our sons engagement at ohel and backyard lchaim, grandsons bris in Ch, and new granddaughter in England! We never could have done that if we hadn’t gotten covid 19. We were mildly ill, not fun, but not horrible. We thought we infected everyone at our purim dinner-200 ppl, ppl at shul, and mishloach monos.. thankfully I don’t know of anyone who got sick from us, before we realized that we had it, Thank Gd! Also we were lucky enough to be quarantined with 2 married kids and grandchildren and lots of single kids who are usually at school away from home. So it was actually a chaotic treat for us!

SailorB

Why get tested for antibodies? No one knows how long the IgG antibodies last for and there is cross-reactivity with other coronaviruses leading to false positives. Even if you have a “real” positive IgG what is the point as, again, no one knows how long it’ll last for.

AK

There are many antibodies, most people take Quest or Labcorp which only test 1-3 antibodies. There are tests available that can test for 10 plus antibodies.

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