I tested positive for COVID-19 in Germany (more here). Now I am in isolation.
Like many who are testing positive in this new of wave of illness, I genuinely did not know — let alone suspect — that I had COVID. I had cold symptoms (more here), no dry cough, no loss of smell or taste, no body aches, no fatigue — it just didn’t feel like COVID! Furthermore, as I have mentioned in previous posts, I received negative antigen results for the virus on TWO separate occasions (once two days before I exhibited symptoms and once after I had been exhibiting symptoms for a few days). Shouldn’t two negative antigen tests give one peace of mind? Nope! Not anymore! So, before I go any further with this post, here are my words of caution: if you exhibit cold symptoms, get tested and isolate yourself. If you have three vaccinations under your belt, you probably won’t feel like you have COVID, however, you still may be at risk of spreading the disease to others.
So, here I am in isolation in a two-room apartment with my boyfriend in a remote area of Bavaria, Germany. There is snow on the ground, mountains in the distance, and merriment all around. As idyllic as my surroundings were, I was still in a pretty miserable mood for the first few days of uncertainty that naturally accompanies a positive COVID test in a foreign country.
Although isolation/ quarantine regulations are written out and readily available online, the process for me was not as uncomplicated as the websites would have you believe. At the time of my isolation, German officials were hotly debating isolation/ quarantine regulations in light of the wave of Omicron variant infections. For this reason, even the public health officials had to consult and double check the regulations before giving us any definite answers.
Because I was the one who tested positive, I was the one who had a mandated “isolation,” while my boyfriend was ordered only to “quarantine” until the results of my subsequent COVID tests were determined. Under these rules, I was legally bound to the current living situation, while my boyfriend’s quarantine was of a potentially shorter period and he would soon be free to come and go on the condition that he practice social-distancing measures and self-monitor his symptoms.
Initially, it was unclear how long I/ we would be stuck here. For all of you in the United States, it’s important to point out that isolation/ quarantine rules can be much stricter in other countries. In Bavaria, Germany, positive COVID tests are reported to public health authorities and the results are put on record. Even though I was in a temporary living situation, I still received an official letter stating the terms of my isolation and an order (under penalty of law) to comply. It’s enough to make one feel like a criminal on house arrest. Additionally, as someone without a Wohnsitz (“residence” — I heard this word thrown about a number of times) in Germany, my situation was even more complicated, because I couldn’t just isolate at home. Per German regulations, after my positive test, I was not allowed to take public transportation — which essentially took away my isolation options.
My situation went as follows, first, I received a positive antigen test and was told to wait in my room for a PCR test to confirm the results. Then, when the PCR test confirmed that I did indeed have COVID, next I had to undergo a subsequent test to determine whether the COVID was of a “variant of concern.” The results of each test matter and whether the patient has symptoms can affect the length of one’s isolation/quarantine.
Generally, here are the scenarios that I believed that I was facing at the time (“believed” is the key word, as again, information about regulations was not 100% clear at the time!):
- Best-case scenario: 0 Days Isolation/ 0 Days Quarantine. I receive a negative PCR test. I have ZERO symptoms. My boyfriend and I would be free to go!
- Not-good-case scenario: 7 Days Isolation/ 0 to a few Days Quarantine. I receive a positive PCR test. I have ZERO symptoms, and subsequent testing reveals that I don’t have a variant of concern. In this scenario, my boyfriend would be free to go when a non-concerning variant is confirmed. I then would have to stay in isolation until I could test out with a negative result after 7 days (if I test positive, then I could be here for up to 10 days).
- Bad-case scenario: 10 Days Isolation/ 7-10 Days Quarantine. I receive a positive PCR test. I begin to develop symptoms and then an extra day of isolation is added for each day of symptoms. Luckily, subsequent testing reveals that I don’t have a variant or concern. My boyfriend develops symptoms too and he extends quarantine or tests positive and begins isolation. We can’t test out early (because we keep showing symptoms) and are released after 10 days each.
- Worst-case scenario: 14 Days Isolation/ 14 Days Quarantine. I receive a positive PCR test. Subsequent testing shows that I have contracted a variant of concern and my boyfriend and I are mandated to stay in isolation/quarantine for 14 days — no negative test could get us out early!
- Unthinkably-bad-case scenario: 14+ Days Isolation/ Quarantine. I receive a positive PCR test. Subsequent testing shows that I have contracted a variant of concern and my boyfriend and I are mandated in isolation for 14 days. When we test out at the end of isolation/ quarantine, my boyfriend tests positive for a variant of concern and we are subjected to further isolation/ quarantine.
***UPDATE: The “Worst-case” and “Unthinkably-bad-case” scenarios at the time of this publishing are no longer valid, as isolation/quarantine durations were decreased in Germany in early January 2022.
Although I was not experiencing any COVID symptoms at the time (I had already recovered from symptoms at the time of my positive test), I felt sick with dread over the potential outcomes. Two weeks of isolation would be super f—ing expensive and could mean that I’m stuck abroad even at the start of my grad school semester. Additionally, two weeks would surely take a toll on not only my psychological/ emotional health, but also my physical health (limited food options/ less space to move around).
The initial uncertainty was the real nightmare of this experience. It meant that I knew I had to re-book train and flight tickets, but couldn’t immediately do so, all the while knowing that prices were creeping up every day. It meant that I couldn’t accept plans in Boston, because I literally did not know when I would be back in town. Financially, it also meant that I was PAYING to be trapped in an apartment in a beautiful location that I legally was not able to explore and therefore enjoy.
All in all, the situation turned out to be a “Not-good-case Scenario,” where I was sentenced to 7 days. I did not take the news well.
Stayed tuned for the next post, where I document my experience in isolation in Germany (ugh).