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Dodging COVID at a wedding

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of PainScience.com: a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

After a week of travel, I’ve gotten behind on everything and the blog/newsletter has been quiet for days, so this is just a bit of a chatty ramble to get back into the swing of things. In this post I tell the story of trying to dodge COVID at a wedding, supplemented with some new COVID science… some of which intersects with the world of chronic pain, thanks to the crappy long-term effects of that disease.

Celebrating a new marriage just as another COVID wave arrives

I’ve just returned from quite a large wedding on Vancouver Island — by far the largest social gathering I’ve been to since the pandemic started, and so likely also by far the largest infection risk I’ve ever taken.

And of course the risk was all the greater because of the BA.5 subvariant of Omicron. If you have lost track of what’s going on with the COVID pandemic lately, this article by Ed Yong is a good way to tune in again. BA.5 is not as spectacular as the original Omicron wave last fall. But it’s definitely “extending and deepening the pandemic’s ongoing burden.”

But these weddings are planned well in advance. And so off we went. Carefully.

Photo of the bride and my wife facing away, walking on a lush lawn towards a drop-off overlooking trees and a large ocean view.

My wife & the bride. Obviously I have better pictures than this, but I choose this one to protect their privacy a little… & because it shows off the wedding site, plus that fantastic wedding dress! Great buttons! (And my wife’s dress is pretty great too.)

Long COVID risks and rates

My wife and I are in the rapidly shrinking minority of people who have not yet had COVID … as far as we know. But we continue to have great respect for this virus, after seeing it hit several friends hard enough to spook them.

And it’s still hitting some of them. We especially respect the many strange long-term effects, and the extra risk of Long COVID being piled on top of whatever has already been wrong with me for the last seven years. The last thing I need is more “rheumatic symptoms” — which affects 12% of COVID patients after a year, mostly the knees, hands, and shoulders, and more in women and older patients… and regardless of illness severity.

Flu does not do that.

Diagram of the human body showing joints most affected by rheumatic symptoms. adapted from Cui 2022, PMID # 35611349.

By the way, the best fresh data on rates of Long COVID suggests that it’s quite a bit less common with Omicron than it was with Delta — which is virtually the only good news about the pandemic that I can think of. (Of course, we have no idea about BA.5 yet.) The data showed a Long COVID rate of 5-10% for vaccinated adults, more the longer it has been since vaccination. The highest risk was 14% for 60+ adults more than six months since their last vaccination.

Infection exposure management: a wedding case study

The wedding was almost entirely outdoors, on a ridge overlooking the ocean, with near constant sea breezes thoroughly ventilating the whole event — and that’s why I was willing to go. On the other side of the infection risk ledger:

  • 140 people!
  • Lots of conversations.
  • There wasn’t always a breeze.
  • Frequent trips indoors to help with preparations.
  • Absolutely no one masked, at all — except me and my wife for those indoor trips!
  • And about half the guests of them had just travelled internationally! And attended big stag and bachelorette parties.

And the groom was obviously sick the day after the wedding — snuffling and hacking wetly at brunch just a couple metres from me. 😬 Outdoors, but still! I moved.

COVID can incubate for many days, so we could still wake up tomorrow or the next day with the scratchy throat of viral doom. Fingers crossed. But so far so good, and our odds are improving fast.