‘We all have a date with COVID’: For some in CT who haven’t caught the virus, inevitability sets in

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According to state data, there have been 777,064 positive COVID tests in Connecticut as of Thursday.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 1.5 million people in Connecticut may have contracted the disease since March 2020 — including some who never knew they had it.

Either metric leaves millions of people in Connecticut who, having not tested positive or experienced COVID-like symptoms, might assume they have not yet caught the coronavirus.

Scott Roberts, associate medical director of infection prevention at Yale New Haven Hospital, said about 40 percent of COVID infections are asymptomatic. But in a state of 3 million, that might leave millions who have so far escaped COVID.

Some people like Norwalk’s Joanna Zaner say they haven’t “been seriously or even moderately ill and haven't been contact-traced back to anyone who has tested positive.”

Zaner said she has been working remotely, has only done limited traveling and has tried to avoid “large social gatherings.”

And then there are others who have remained symptom-free and tested negative while also traveling the world.

Bethany Kieley, of Milford, has not only traveled to Iceland, Portugal, Canada and the Netherlands, but she works at a community health center, has eaten in restaurants and gone to cultural events, and even has done some online dating during the pandemic.

She said she “met, started dating and got engaged to the man of my dreams,” then “lived with and shared a bed with my partner as he got through COVID.”

“Basically, I've lived normally, but carefully, and I've found love and happiness in the process,” she said.

Roberts said asking why one person might have avoided COVID while another may not requires a nuanced answer. Genetics may play a role, and the timing of vaccinations, cross-immunity and other epidemiological aspects.

But behavior may play a role. “A lot of it has to do with activities that increase risk of getting the virus,” he said.

Ulysses Wu, chief epidemiologist at Hartford HealthCare, said behavior is probably the deciding factor. “People who tend to be more protective” will have a better chance at avoiding the virus, he said.

But Wu said, “there are some situations where you cant really help it.”

Adrienne Stepkoski is a registered nurse at Stamford Hospital who has managed to avoid testing positive for COVID, despite being on the front lines of the pandemic.

“I worked throughout the time of limited PPE and prior to the development of the COVID-19 vaccines. I have worked in direct contact with COVID-19-positive patients, as well as providing direct care for family members who tested positive,” she said.

Stepkoski, perhaps not surprisingly, takes mitigation efforts very seriously.

“I have been diligent about practicing infection prevention measures that have shown evidence to work,” she said. “This includes, wearing a properly fitting, medical-grade face mask when indoors and among large crowds, practicing social distancing from others whenever possible, maintaining good hand hygiene with frequent hand washing or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, disinfecting commonly shared surface at home, work and in public settings, and receiving the two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, along with the booster vaccine.”

Stamford’s Sue Sweeney said she avoids crowded places, wears a mask most of the time and is “extra careful around vulnerable people to whom I could conceivably spread the disease,” she said.

“I feel like I'm missing a lot that I used to enjoy: Movies, bars, museums, indoor dining, trips to see my New York City friends,” Sweeney said. “However, if I got serious COVID, I'd miss a lot more.”

New Milford’s Paige Dawson said she’s never been tested, despite being “older and immunocompromised.”

“I do not think I have had a cold since 2020,” she said.

Dawson, like Sweeney, has avoided crowded places.

“I live alone, have a small group of friends I see regularly, but they also live alone. I do still wear a mask indoors, depending on the circumstances.”

Cat Logan, of Torrington, said her household has avoided COVID, and though she doesn’t fear the disease, she is concerned about so-called “long-COVID.”

“I read an article where a doctor had said, ‘we all have a date with COVID,’ and that’s how it feels. I expect to someday catch it. I no longer fear it. I’ve definitely got COVID fatigue, so I feel that it’s time to return to normal life and if it happens, it happens,” she said.

Stamford’s Kelli McCourt said she is most concerned about her parents, who are in their 80s.

“At different times, I have felt that it is inevitable that we will get it,” she said. “But I am no longer as fearful of it as I had been in the beginning. And truthfully, even then and throughout, my concern has not been for myself. I am a relatively healthy 60-year-old woman with controlled diabetes. My husband also is healthy.”

Laurie Wiegler, of Branford, has also been very careful, and she said she’s “taken a lot of flak for my anxiety in working/socializing around people, but I feel I'm following the science.”

“I do worry that say, my lunch at Panera or bus ride (as I did today) could reverse my good luck,” she said. “I am also resigning myself to probably getting it at some point because I do have to work and live my life.”

When asked if everyone can expect to ultimately contract COVID, Roberts said it’s difficult to say. The world may change. People may choose to remain masked. The dynamics of the disease might shift.

“It depends on the trajectory of this pandemic,” he said. “My guess is, if this becomes endemic, if you live long enough, you will get COVID.”