Sunday, December 27, 2020


 Negativity gets a bad rap. People are accused of being too negative at times. One of my lasting lessons from Trivial Pursuit was Spiro Agnew’s phrase, “nattering nabobs of negativism” to refer to opponents of Nixon’s policies.

Negativity even comes up in one of my favorite Clint Eastwood movies, “Kelly’s Heroes,” when a hippie-ish tank commander played by Donald Sutherland complains to one of his crewmen, “Always with the negative waves, Moriarty…

But sometimes, negativity can be a good thing. That’s the case with medical testing.


A few days ago, I described how my family was exposed to COVID-19 by my sister-in-law, who came to a family Christmas party sick. We got tested and have been isolating since we learned of our exposure. This morning, our test results came in and my entire family is negative. For once, that’s a good thing.

I suspected that we had dodged a bullet because none of us had symptoms after our exposure on December 19. By Christmas, we were six days in and it seems that statistically, most people develop symptoms prior to that point. However, I did have to consider the possibility that we might be asymptomatic but still infected.

That possibility seems to be over now that we have four negative tests in hand. If only one of us was tested, I’d consider the possibility of a false negative, but four tests seem to make the possibility of a bad test minute.

I am at a loss to explain why we weren’t infected given the proximity and length of our exposure. I can come up with a few theories such as that the infected family members were showing symptoms before they were infectious or that they were showing symptoms of something else at the party. Neither theory really fits with what we know about COVID-19.

Symptoms of COVID show between two and 14 days after exposure, but a COVID patient can be infectious 24 to 48 hours before showing symptoms. If our relatives weren’t suffering from COVID at the party but really had a sinus infection or allergies, it seems unlikely that they would have both tested positive only three days later.

Perhaps there is enough variation in the body’s response to the virus that there was a small window between the appearance of their symptoms and the onset of their infectiousness that is not typical. Maybe their viral load was low enough that it didn’t infect people around them.

Whatever the reason, I have to chalk it up to God’s grace and mercy that my wife and children and our parents are not suffering from the effects of the Coronavirus along with my sister-in-law and niece. So far, no one at the party other than the original two cases has gotten sick.

My family dodged a bullet when we avoided getting infected, but many people are not so lucky. COVID cases in the US have skyrocketed since Thanksgiving and a further surge is expected after Christmas.

There are two possible courses of action for my family now. One is to make the assumption that dodging one bullet means we are bulletproof or that the gun is firing blanks. Alternatively, we can be thankful for our deliverance while not assuming that our good fortune means that we have some special protection from the virus.

As a country, we need to keep up social distancing and mask-wearing until enough of the population can be vaccinated to provide herd immunity. My family has already decided to take the cautious route and not press our luck. I hope that most Americans will adopt the same strategy so that we can get the virus under control.

And for those of you who are praying people, I have another prayer request. My elderly aunt is in an assisted living home. The residents there have been on lockdown for most of the year since March. Over the past few months, they have allowed some family visits at an outside porch, and now they have their first positive case among the residents. At this point, everyone knows what can happen when COVID runs through a nursing home.

Please pray for the residents and staff of the Gables, both for their physical health and their mental wellbeing. Being isolated for almost a year is no picnic, even if it can save your life.

Although let’s not pretend that many nursing home residents weren’t isolated even before the pandemic. If you know someone in a nursing home, give them a call or write them a letter.

Y’all stay safe out there.

Published to the Racket

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