I Did a Coronavirus Antibody Test; It Left Me With More Questions than Answers

Last week I put on what little PPE I had and walked into a Quest Lab about 30 minutes from my home to get a SARS-CoV-2 serology test. The lab in Claremont, New Hampshire was little more than a small standalone building awkwardly situated in a strip mall parking lot. My test was negative.

Not long ago, New Hampshire made it very easy to get tested for active coronavirus (the swab that you see on TV) and for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies (the blood test that screens for the body’s natural defense mechanism to viral infections). Getting a test was as easy as making an account on Quest’s website, adding the test to my online shopping cart, paying about $100 and marking the next day appointment in my calendar. It was a far cry from the testing shortage that ravaged our country a mere two months ago. In fact, it was probably the easiest healthcare related task I have ever completed.

The series of events that led to my test was a whirlwind of some rough contact tracing I had done with a few friends after they and others in our network started to test positive for antibodies. I went ahead and built the following calendar:

  • January 17-20: Several students travel to Seattle
  • January 21-22: class with Tuck students: sat next to student who had reported horrible cough/fever.
  • January 23: Wake up feeling sick, but thought it was CF sick… went along with my day for and went skiing 
  • January 24: Wake up feeling even worse than the day before. Decide I am sick and need to go home. Started cold medicine. Did not take my temperature.
  • Night January 25: Shivers, night sweats, unable to sleep, possible fever?
  • January 26: fever documented, treated with Tylenol
  • January 27: fever documented, first trip to Dartmouth-Hitchcock for flu swab. Flu swab experienced unexplained failure? Asked to come back to hospital for another swab
  • January 28: Returned to Dartmouth-Hitchcock to re-test. Fever documented on intake. Flu swab returned negative, RSV PCR returned negative
  • January 29: Last day fever documented, treated with Tylenol.
  • January 30: Rapid recovery
  • January 31: Rapid recovery, health returned to baseline
  • February 2: Super Bowl party, no personal illness following party
  • February 18-19: trip to Orlando for specialty pharmacy conference, no personal illness following trip
  • February 21-23: Tuck Winter Carnival (attended by ~700 MBA students from across the country), no personal illness following weekend.
  • Week of February 24: Students across campus start getting sick
  • February 28: Engine Room party – rogue doctor goes with coronavirus.
  • March 2: coronavirus confirmed at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
  • March 3: Personal self-isolation begins. Coronavirus testing begins in Hanover.
  • Week of March 3: Cases begin to confirm in the area. Winter term ended early. Exams moved online.

Needless to say after building out the calendar and learning of more and more positive tests, I started to feel like I had maybe been exposed. The fist confirmed coronavirus case in Washington had entered the country on January 15

Remember, there is some uncertainty with the current antibody tests and that they may yield false negatives and positives. I was less concerned about the possibility of a false result given the network of positives than began to build around me.

The flulike illness that struck me in the winter was really severe – probably the worst virus I have suffered from in a long, long time. It was the kind that certainly would have landed me in the hospital had I not been on Trikafta.

After I recovered from the virus, though, my exposure to the broader world was significant (and as it turns out… so was my confirmation bias). I travelled through a PACKED Orlando airport on consecutive days and gave a keynote at a conference that drew attendees from various parts of the country. Maybe frequent hand washing and mask wearing on the airplane did the trick for me?

Then we had the huge inter-MBA party that weekend. Tuck Winter Carnival is one of the biggest MBA mixers in the US. It brings hundreds of students together from business schools all over the country (who said grad school isn’t fun?).

My negative test has left me feeling reassured that my infection prevention skills are up to the task of staying safe from the virus flowing through our world. That is… safe inside my containment zone and outside it.

The thing that I found to be the most bizarre is that I didn’t get sick after any of my regularly scheduled activities. I didn’t get sick after traveling in the peak of flu season, I didn’t get sick at school, and I didn’t get sick at Winter Carnival.

Then the world came to a grinding halt. The story that ricocheted around the world – the healthcare worker, who attended a party with students after showing symptoms – brought our term to an early end.

All told, I am happy I did the test. I am happy I am negative, and I am happy that my infection control skills are strong. I am happy Hanover has been case free for almost a week now and I am happy our part of the world is starting to open up a little more each day.

I am left wondering how some friends tested positive and how I was spared despite my extensive exposure to the rest of the world from our little town in New Hampshire. I suspect I’ll never get that answer.