Girl with tissue in her nose reads magazine titled: Vacation, 100+ new spots
Illustration by Alex Barr

Super-spreader develops COVID Denial Syndrome

YOU WAKE UP on a pillow soaked with all the phlegm your running nose unleashed during the night. Your throat stings raw as a wound, your head pounds but you are not hungover and you cannot smell your roommate’s coffee the way you do every morning.

But that is OK, because you obviously do not have COVID.

You roll out of bed and feel unexpectedly dizzy at the sudden movement. Reeling, you ram your hip painfully into the corner of your desk. After wiping your nose with the back of your hand, you stumble around the bedroom and rifle through the mess of clothes on the floor, sorting your own rags from your roommate’s. Whoops, looks like you got some snot on their shirt. You smudge it off delicately with the end of your sleeve and hope they will not notice.

Somehow you overslept, which is really unusual. You hurry to the kitchen, where Cameron, your roommate, is pouring themself a cup of coffee from the French press.

“Morning,” they say. “Wow, your eyes are really red. Still crying about that girl? Is there anything I can do?”

“It is probably just allergies,” you say automatically, and sneeze with impeccable timing. Then you sneeze again, spewing Cameron with invisible droplets. “I tend to have respiratory problems. I think all the dust in Melissa’s basement irritated my lungs when we went there last week.”

“Do not tell me you caught the plague,” Cameron laughs. They sip their coffee cheerfully. “I visited my mom yesterday, and she’s severely immunocompromised. It would suck if anything happened to her.”

“She’ll be fine,” you say. You open the fridge and take out the creamer, grab a mug from the cupboard and fix yourself some coffee, leaving an imperceptible, snail-like trail of nasal mucus on everything you touch. Your throat tickles, and you cough into the kitchen sink.

“It’s probably just strep throat,” you say. “I got a note from Melissa last night and she said she’d come down with it again. She’s had it before, so she knows what strep throat feels like. It is definitely not COVID.”

You put some honey in your coffee in a vain attempt to soothe your throat and shore up your impressive psychic defenses against reality.

“Still up for the beach this weekend?” you ask. “I got the Airbnb confirmation last night. Jose and Frances said they are still down.”

“Yes!” Cameron says. “It should be fine. We’re all roommates, so we’ll be staying within the pod.”

“Paragons of responsibility,” you say, but your words are cut short by another massive sneeze.

Once at school, it is difficult to pay attention in class because you feel strangely hot, but maybe it is just an anxiety attack. It is going to be fine — you do not have COVID. You would totally know if you did. The body has ways of telling you these things.

You have lunch outside Templeton with a couple of friends who are not in your roommate pod nor in your close-friend pod nor in your party pod. The lunch pod is a chill group. You are all responsible and only hang out outdoors, spending 45 minutes without masks on as you eat and chat with each other from two full feet away.

It is true that the lunch pod still smokes from the same joint from time to time, but not very often, so the statistical probability that one of you is sick when you are all smoking together is quite low.

Two days later, when the weekend finally arrives, you cannot wait to attend one of the larger gatherings LC is finally allowing on campus. You deserve a break. It is hard work keeping up with classes considering the toll the pandemic-riddled winter has taken on your mental health.

You still feel a little sick, but it is probably just psychosomatic. Stress will do that. You go anyway and infect 20 people. But that is OK, because you do not have COVID. You just have denial.

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