Yes, I had the coronavirus – the serological test and WIM

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about taking the quick Covid finger prick test only to find out, to my surprise, that I had never had the virus (see post here). Last week I had the serological test (where you have blood taken) and found out that not only had I had Covid and passed it a while back, but that I also now have a high level of antibodies. Go figure. More than anything I had been surprised with the quick test as I was convinced that the symptoms I had back in mid-March were related. I had completely lost my sense of smell/taste and also had a really bad cough for a full week (click here for more about my covid experience).

I’ve learned quite a bit more about the different types of tests and also about the low reliability of the quick tests since then. My recommendation would be to either take the serological test or the PCR if you’re in doubt. In my case my work paid for the test and provided it on-site since it will be a requirement for anyone to go back to the office.

I consider myself a pretty intelligent person, but when I received the test results, it wasn’t very intuitive, and I was surprised that the report didn’t come with any sort of “instructions” to interpret it. Finally I found a guide to understand my IgM (-) and IgG (+) results. So, in case this is helpful, here’s a guide that I used:

 

Click to access Pruebas_disponibles_COVID-19.pdf

 

WIM –  to be honest I’m not exactly sure what my results mean since it’s not at all clear that having antibodies really is an indicator of immunity, but I guess it’s better to have them than not. Also, I’d love to know whether my results mean that I could help others by donating blood. Surprisingly there’s no indicator of this either or any easy way to find out if I could help others. All I know is that being positive for antibodies is a score of 1 or more, and I had 105…

Screenshot 2020-06-16 at 22.39.36

If anyone knows more about this I’d love to hear!

 

 

 

Cancelling summer flights to the US with Iberia

Last week I called Iberia to formally cancel my upcoming direct flights from Madrid to Boston, scheduled for the end of July. It was with a heavy heart that I decided to cancel my trip, but after giving it a lot of thought I decided that the overall stress and risk of the trip just didn’t make sense to be back home for two weeks.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, as you never know with customer service around here, but it was actually pretty smooth. I had purchased three tickets – one for me that I paid for with avios, and one for each of my children. The one that I paid for with avios was refunded very quickly (the cash paid for the taxes and the avios).  As for the tickets that I bought for my children I had two options – cancel right now and receive a voucher for the total amount of the tickets that could be used for up to a year (for anyone, not just for another ticket for them) or wait until closer to the flight date to see if Iberia cancels the flight. In the latter case that would mean that I would automatically be refunded the full ticket price. I was told that I had this option up until right before the actual flight given the Covid situation. Since there’s no real rush I’ve decided to wait closer to the date and see if Iberia cancels the flight, in which case I’d get a full refund.

We’ll see what happens. Hopefully by Christmas things will be better and I can make the trip!

Coronavirus – my antibody test experience

Yesterday I took the coronavirus serological test with a surprise result – negative, meaning that either (a) I haven’t had the virus or (b) I don’t have antibodies. I was quite surprised after my experience in mid-March (see: My COVID-19 experience: complete loss of smell and taste). I had been completely convinced that I had had the virus, and to be honest, I’m still sure that what I experienced was 100% related to COVID. It doesn’t make any sense otherwise as it was such a strange experience and completely aligned with all the stories coming out in the news. Apparently from what I’ve heard some people who had only symptoms like this also didn’t develop antibodies. In any case it seems like I’ve been walking around with a false sense of security for some time now!

The test itself was simple, just a quick finger prick and then waiting for up to 20 minutes for the results. It looked just like a pregnancy test:

The only difference was that yesterday I was hoping for and expecting a positive result.

I’ve also heard that these tests aren’t completely reliable, but I also don’t see the need to go running around town looking to repeat. In the end all it will really tell me is if I had the virus or not, but the question of immunity is still uncertain. In any case all very interesting. Also, forgot to mention that the tests are manufactured in China.

Coronavirus Madrid lockdown Day 65: Masks will now be mandatory. Now??…

We’ve been living an a State of Emergency since March 14th, only being able to go out to the supermarket and the pharmacy for the first six weeks. Now, more than two months later we can go out to exercise and to take our kids out for an hour a day. While we’re still in the preliminary phases of recovery (currently Madrid is in Phase 0.5, whatever that exactly means…), it seems that things are moving along positively. In fact, it was announced that there were “only” 59 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours, so the situation seems to be getting better. As things are finally starting to seem to improve, the government is now making it mandatory to wear masks in closed spaces and when it can’t be guaranteed that there will be 2 meters of space between yourself and another person. It’s true that the country is slowing starting to open up, but …hmmm… this now, why not before?

Screenshot 2020-05-18 at 22.32.17

Here’s a recent article: https://elpais.com/sociedad/2020-05-18/el-uso-de-mascarilla-sera-obligatorio-en-espacios-cerrados-y-en-la-via-publica-si-no-se-puede-garantizar-la-distancia.html

Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this being mandatory if this is a way to keep the virus under control and to prevent a second phase, but I’d just like someone to explain why this hasn’t been mandatory all along. I can only think of two reasons: 1. The government was incapable of having enough supplies for everyone, which is why they didn’t make this a requirement even if they thought it should be one. or 2. Really, no one knew what was going on or had any idea what to do.

From talking with my family back in Boston I found it interesting that they have not ever been under lockdown to the point where they could get a fine for being outside, yet it has been mandatory to wear face masks for some time now.

Honestly, the government’s advice related to the use of face masks here has been anything but not confusing. We’ve gone through a few phases since the start of the pandemic:  first, face masks were discouraged for asymptomatic people. Then their use was made “recommended”. Next face masks were made required for people using public transportation. And now, over 2 months later face masks will be mandatory in general for the uses/situations I’ve already mentioned. To add to the confusion there’s even doubt over the efficacy of the free masks being handed out in pharmacies by the Community of Madrid (see my recent post: COVID-19 in Madrid: Lockdown Day 63 (possibly to be continued another month)

Given the confusion with the requirements I’m also expecting some confusion with the details about their use, which should be communicated soon. Logically, this poses some questions: how long will this be mandatory and how will it be enforced? What kind of face mask should I wear? (if you’re like me you probably know there are different types but not all the details) Should I be expecting to see officers patrolling the mountain where I go out for my runs?

Just another chapter in the pandemic here in Madrid. Thank goodness Mercadona now sells 10 packs of masks for 6€…

 

COVID-19 in Madrid: Lockdown Day 63 (possibly to be continued another month)

Pedro Sanchez, the President of the government here in Spain, just announced today that they’re planning to ask for an extension of “about a month” to the current state of emergency that’s been underway in Spain for over two months now. (https://www.elmundo.es/espana/2020/05/16/5ebfd22ffc6c83c8318b45d8.html). To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this. On one hand I think we need to do whatever is necessary to make sure this pandemic gets under control and does not result in a second wave. On the other hand I’m completely anxious, as are a lot of people, to get back to “normal” as soon as possible. Also I’m starting to wonder if this sort of lockdown will really bring about this “normalcy” that we’re seeking.

It’s actually starting to not feel so strange anymore to be living most of our lives from home. Some other things that are feeling normal which would have seemed a bit crazy a few months ago:

  • Wearing face masks everywhere. I can’t imagine these days going to the supermarket or the pharmacy (can’t go anywhere else) without a mask and gloves. This seemed like out of a movie a couple months ago.
  • IMG_6813

Now what seems stranger than this is actually NOT having a mask. When I’m out running I would say about half of the people are wearing masks.

I remember at the beginning of all of this how there was such panic and no one could even find face masks (or gloves, hand gel – or toilet paper for that matter) to purchase. Now less than two months later the largest retailer here, Mercadona, is selling 10 packs of masks for 6€:

IMG_6811

Also, along this same line, just last week the Community of Madrid started distributing free face masks for all citizens (starting at 4 years old) to be picked up at pharmacies. This is the new norm. I picked up my masks the other day (below), only to then go home and read an article saying that the quality of the masks wasn’t clear… So many questions… (See article for more info/doubts: https://www.elconfidencial.com/espana/2020-05-13/mascarillas-gratuitas-comunidad-madrid-certificado-no-valido_2590463/)

  • “Homeschooling” or lack thereof. Or whatever you want to call it, it’s gotten normal to wake up every morning with my two little kids without trying to rush through breakfast, out of the house and to school, to not arrive late to work. Now it’s trying to get them to do a couple home work sheets a day at most. And with the ipad, which used to be something we used once every couple weeks or so, as the daily prize for doing so.
  • Time tables to go outside. If I want to go out and run I know that the latest I can leave is 9am in order to get back by the 10am “curfew”. And when I’m out during this time I feel so thankful to have the time to be outside and do so (after 6 weeks of previously  not being able to leave the house). Stockholm syndrome resemblance? And once noon rolls around I know it’s time that the kids can go out, but only for an hour of course.
  •  Remote work. All the time. While I think overall this is very positive for Spain and a big push forward that this country needed in this area, it’s still a shock to go from 0 to 180. It’s challenging a lot of companies to work in these ways, but it’s also helping companies realize what I already saw back in the US 15 years ago – yes, you can trust employees to work remotely and be responsible! Work by objectives is much more valuable than work by hours. It’s great that we’ve had this push forward, although it will also be nice to get back to the office for a mix. 24 hour sweatpants can get a bit old.
  • Awkward interactions with people. I remember one of the first times I was in a supermarket with my full gear on (face mask, gloves), and I sneezed. It was like a moment out of a movie – everything seemed to go in slow motion as everyone around me looked over in horror, then quickly spread out. As the days go by it’s hard to think how things will be in a few months or even a year’s time. Will we go back to the casual two-cheeked kisses to great people as is so normal and customary here in Spain? Will people be afraid to meet up casually or go to bars and restaurants to meet with people? For now I can definitely say it’s awkward to run into people and not know how to greet them, but I hope this will ease in a few months.

I’ve already succumbed to the reality that my kids won’t go back to school until September and that things will definitely not go back to any sort of normalcy over night. For now we’re just taking it a day at a time and trying to go with the flow.

Flights to the US with Iberia – COVID-19

Not too long ago I called Iberia to ask about their position on flights to the US. Technically at the end of July I have a direct flight to Boston with my two young kids to see family for a few weeks. As of now I still have our tickets and haven’t yet cancelled anything; however, as the days go by I’m starting to think that, unfortunately, this is less and less likely.

Iberia informed me that all flights to the US had been cancelled for May, but as of now June and July flights are still on the calendar. The “good” news is that if I want to cancel the tickets I can either get a refund or voucher for a flight in the future. I have a feeling each airlines is handling flight availability and cancellation policies differently, but at least it’s reassuring to know that it wouldn’t be a total loss if we had to postpone this trip.

Just looking now on the Iberia web site, https://www.iberia.com, it seems that this is the case for flights through June 30th, but no news yet about flights for July. Hmmm.

On one hand I still have a glimmer of hope that by end of July things may be more “normal” and we could fly back home to see family (I have the feeling this is what Iberia is banking on as well). But on the other hand a part of me wonders if it would really be feasible to fly back to the US, for several reasons:

  • What would the actual plane trip be like? With security distance regulations, would it even be possible for us to maintain the same flight if they can only have a third of passengers on the flight? Would I have to maintain a distance of several seats between myself and my children (impossible)? If everyone who purchased tickets still wants to fly how will Iberia handle this?
  • Would it really be safe for us to be in a small, enclosed space for 8 hours where germs circulate around like crazy? There’s no way I see my little kids wearing a mask for 5 minutes, let alone 8 hours…
  • Would the overall trip experience be doable? I recently read an article in the Economist talking about a possible (albeit pessimistic) scenario about travel in the future – https://www.economist.com/business/2020/05/02/imagine-the-post-pandemic-misery-of-business-travel?fbclid=IwAR1Ua7QxmhVJ_pl7jNuAqIj5SSfqY9tqHmDAZtmri-NuhS-0CRntMF_InHI   If we’re talking about even longer delays in the airports, security, immigration, etc. on top of the current norm there’s no way I could handle that with two little hyper, jetlagged kids…

So, as with everything these days I have more doubts than answers. Also, as with everything there’s nothing I can do to get an answer faster or have a solution, so I just need to wait for time to go back and see how things progress before making a decision. Seeing the rate at which virtual learning and online life in general is exponentially increasing these days, and to a degree which I think many of us didn’t ever think would be possible, I’m just waiting for the news to come out that we’ll be able to virtually transport ourselves across the ocean without having to take a flight. Well, one can dream… who would have thought a few months ago that we would be where we are now?

COVID Madrid lockdown Day 50 – exercise outside! (with some limits)

50 days after being quarantined inside our houses we were allowed to go outside today for “Fase 0” of the de-escalation plan. Starting at 6am people started hitting the streets to get back to running, biking, anything really – outside. Freedom! Of course this didn’t come without some rules and guidelines. To be honest, the guidelines are a bit complicated. However, the country definitely needs to have some rules in place to avoid total chaos; my question is to what extent people are going to follow the rules. And judging from what we’ve seen during the day I think there’s going to need to be some order to keep things under control and prevent a second phase of the virus.

The rules:

6-10 am People 14 years and older can exercise outside, individually or people can go for walks, max of 2 people and not more than a Km. But the exercise can be for more than a km, as long as you don’t cross your town line.

10am-12pm People older than 70 years old can go out for a wlk

12-7pm Kids can go outside, accompanied by one adult (for up to 3 kids) and for an hour max, within a radius of 1km (same rule we’ve had since last week for the kids, but now there’s a time range)

7-8pm People older than 70 can hit the streets again

8-11pm Sports time again.

 

And… I’m done. Not exactly simple.

De-escalada fases

I wasn’t out at 6am, but a bit before 9 I headed out for a long run in the nearby forest/mountain area that I hadn’t been to in a while. It was great (despite the fact that I probably won’t be able to walk tomorrow), and more or less people were respectful and following the rules. In just that small space and amount of time I did see quite a few people exercising with more than one person (not allowed) and some not totally maintaining distances. My husband went out with his bike at 8pm and more or less the same thing during the evening round. I guess time will tell.

Actually I really shouldn’t be one to talk. It turns out I broke the rules as well. I didn’t realize that the mountain area where I went for a run crossed a town line – oops. Fortunately the police weren’t monitoring the mountain…

COVID-19 Madrid Lockdown Day 43 – Finally some news!

Today was the start of the light at the end of the tunnel. After 43 days of being under lock down we were finally able to take the kids outside to get some fresh air. Granted it was an hour limit, and only one parent could go with them, but it was definitely much-appreciated. Although the boys have been quite happy at home with all their toys, TV and both parents and haven’t been asking to leave the house really, they were happy to  go out and bike around for a while. And I was happy to see them get out and get some fresh air – and burn off some energy!

I live in a very residential neighborhood and in general people tend to follow the rules, but I have to say I was surprised to see in about half of the cases both parents out with the kids – specifically against the rules. And then there were endless images on the news of people not respecting the norms. I just hope this doesn’t cause a rebound effect. The rules and slow re-entry to “normal” life are there for a reason…

Next Saturday, assuming everything goes according to plan, we’ll be able to go out and exercise (individually). Finally! While I’ve gotten really addicted to some amazing youtube at-home workout videos, I definitely am missing going out for runs.

T-6. New running shoes ready.

The other news is that I baked the other day. Cookies. Chocolate chip peanut butter cookies to be exact, and they came out delicious.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is a sign that this quarantine has gone on for too long. For anyone that knows me I love sweets and eating, but I am not one to ever consider spending a free moment cooking or baking unless it’s out of necessity. Time to get out of the house!

 

 

My COVID-19 experience: complete loss of smell and taste

One day I woke up and had absolutely no sense of smell or taste – nothing. This was just about a month ago, right after Spain officially announced enforced quarantine. This was also before this started showing up across various news sources as a symptom actually related with COVD-19. At first I thought maybe I had a sinus infection, but this just felt different. It felt strange since I had no nasal congestion, and I pretty much felt fine except for this. I did have a deep, dry cough for about the same amount of time, but no other symptoms. About a week prior to this I had one night where I woke up with a fever and chills, but then it was gone the next day.

Screenshot 2020-04-13 at 15.29.24

For almost 7 days I had ZERO sense of smell or taste. I remember holding my kids and trying to smell their little heads, but nothing. Shampoo, perfumes, food… I actually lost my appetite, which for anyone who knows me, knows that that isn’t common. We actually had a box of chocolates that sat in the pantry for a full week.

I called the public health line dedicated to COVID-19 a few days into this, but since I didn’t have a fever or trouble breathing the response was just to stay at home and monitor things. If it got any worse I should go to my public health center.

This article I just read the other day reminded me exactly of what happened to me: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/12/health/smell-taste-coronavirus-pandemic-wellness-intl-gbr/index.html

Little by little the senses came back. Now almost a month later I would say that I’m still at about 85-90% of the norm. In general I can smell and taste everything, but there are some dishes where I know by memory that they should have more intensity, but they just don’t. I wonder how long it will last to go back to the “old normal”. Technically I don’t know if I really did have a weak case of COVID-19, but it all seems to point to that. So, now some more questions pop into my head – does this mean I may have some sort of immunity? Will it go back to 100?

Has anyone else had any experience with this? Thoughts?

 

COVID-19 in Madrid – Lockdown Day 24 – the “new normal”?

It’s been over three weeks now since we’ve been in total quarantine, and realistically, we’re probably looking forward to another 3+ weeks of the same. Fortunately, I have to say that it hasn’t been as crazy (with the kids) as I was assuming at the start. More or less we’ve gotten into a daily routine, although some days seem longer than others. And most importantly, we’re all healthy, which is a lot to say when you watch the news (I try to avoid it in real time; online is easier to digest). This has become my “new normal” these days: home life, home schooling, home.

Screenshot 2020-04-08 at 15.21.29

There is a lot of talk of the “new normal”, speculating various scenarios of the world post COVID-19 crisis. Of course you can look at this from a number of different angles – for example, economically, as the big companies with financial leverage will likely just continue to grow after this. And online is booming. (I say this as I just purchased a fitness mat through Amazon and another Amazon package delivering arts & crafts supplies just arrived. Thank goodness for e-commerce). Here’s an interesting Economist article about this: https://www.economist.com/business/2020/03/26/the-pandemic-shock-will-make-big-powerful-firms-even-mightier

Another angle is related to the government: what role will the government play once all of this is over. In general federal governments are taking on more powerful, imposing roles over local government during this war-like time. Will this continue once COVID passes and what are the repercussions?  Here’s another interesting article about “The new normal” I just read about large-scale global possible changes from McKinsey: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/the-new-normal

What I find really interesting, apart from these topics, is how this pandemic will change social norms. Once we’re all “released” from quarantine I’m sure there will be a boom of social activity, especially here in Spain where the only way to keep people indoors and from not being social was to add police enforcement (I may be exaggerating slightly, but it is true that Spain is a super social, outdoors kind of place, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m here). I know personally I can’t wait to get out – during the day, at night, you name it. But I wonder how long it will take for everything to really get back to “normal” socially, if that will happen. I remember the first time I had a job interview here and was taken aback by the two-cheek kissing at the start of the meeting. Now, of course, I’m used to this kind of social greeting, but will we lose this in the future? If not, (I don’t think so), how long will it take for us to get back to this state (probably more of my question)? With the boom of online work spaces, apps like House Party and more and more social gatherings remotely, how much of this will stay on as a norm once life goes back to “normal”? Will the new normal still involve virtual hangouts with friends?

On a personal note I hope that in general things go back to how they were before the lockdown for me. It would be great if this led to some positive changes like companies recognizing the value and possibility of employees working more from home.

From my own perspective a few things will likely change:

  • Time with kids. This lockdown has forced us to spend 24-7 with our kids. Despite all the external chaos, this is something I will always look back on with positive memories, my lockdown of waking up and having my morning coffee every day with my son without rushing around and yelling for them to eat breakfast, get dressed, etc. before rushing out to school/work. I’ve also realized they don’t care as much about going outside. Note for the future when I’m getting antsy after work or on the weekends to rush outside with them so they’re not bored at home.
  • Phone and video calls with friends and family. It took a crisis to realize how important and nice it is to take a few minutes to catch up with family and friends. With so much “time on our hands” people have been connecting virtually, but why not do this in general. We’re all busy, but I think taking a few minutes to catch up has a much longer effect than the actual few minutes “that we never have” to connect.
  • Workout routine. I’m an avid runner. Once the lockdown started this has been impossible. So for about 3 weeks now I’ve been hooked on youtube cardio/Hiit/kickboxing workouts that I’ve been doing on my small terrace (sorry neighbors below, but I think they’ll understand). I love them! I’ve forgotten how much I love these type of workouts that I thought I didn’t have time for anymore. Once everything goes back to the norm I’m going to start mixing up my straight out running routine.
  • Future focus. I’m lucky to be taking an online Women and Leadership course that happens to fall exactly during the timing of this lockdown. This course involves a 360 evaluation, a lot of self-reflection and introspection and plans for the future. One thing this lockdown has given me as well is time to think about what I may want to do differently or focus on once it’s over.

These are just a couple thoughts about changes. However, one thing that will not change is I still know that I could never be an elementary school teacher! Or work full-time from home.

What do you think will be the “new normal”? How long will it take to get there?