RAYMOND — The unexpected text came in at 9:48 a.m. Two tenants notified me they’d tested positive for COVID-19. Two days ago, I had a brief, masked interaction with them. Brief and distanced enough to be unlikely I got infected. But I also work in a health care center, which means we have to be extra careful. I notified my supervisors, already knowing what they would decide: 14 days quarantine, just to be sure.

I had a patient arriving in just a few minutes, so I also notified the reception desk – tell the patient I’m sorry, but I have to postpone. He’s angry at first, demanded to know why he drove all the way there just to be sent home. Until the receptionist relayed that I just found out that I had been exposed to the coronavirus – then he understood and rescheduled.

Administrators want more details, including who I’ve interacted with at the office over the past few days. Even though I was masked and goggled every time I stepped outside my office. All interactions had been very brief – only a few seconds in passing – except one. I had stepped into the receptionist’s office to ask a question and stayed for a few minutes. Not brief enough. Shoot. The receptionist and perhaps anyone she subsequently interacted with will also have to quarantine for 14 days. Luckily I didn’t have any interactions with the doctors and physician assistants, and she was unlikely to have done so, either, or else my slip could have forced quarantines in our already thinly stretched medical staff.

As I wait to hear back from my supervisors, I’m feeling guilty for having gone into the receptionist’s office instead of calling her on the phone. I’m also feeling a little nervous about being in the situation in the first place. I know it’s not my fault – I’ve been wearing my mask and social distancing away from work – but I feel like somehow I’ve messed up and turned myself into a leper. There’s also a little anxiety about the outside chance that I really could be infected and not know it yet.

I finally hear back from my supervisors. Yes, I have to quarantine for 14 days, and I need to leave the center as soon as possible, avoiding interacting with anyone as I go. I’ve already notified my wife, and we made a plan. I’m going to stay in one end of the house, and she’ll stay in the other. One of us will have to sleep on a couch for the next two weeks, and since she needs access to her office, that means I get the bedroom. I also get the end of the house with the kitchen. I’m feeling guilty again.

Now the waiting begins, to find out if I start experiencing symptoms. If I don’t, I go for a COVID test in five days – seven days after the potentially infecting interaction – leaving enough time for false negatives to be unlikely. If I do … well, I don’t like thinking about that. I’m in my 60s and overweight. The fatality rate for my age group is about 15 percent. I hope I’ll be writing a follow-up to this column – saying nothing happened – in two weeks.

Notice, nothing has actually happened yet. None of us has any symptoms. The situation is more inconvenient than scary, so far. In all likelihood, I will be fine because I was wearing a mask and I was keeping my distance. My quarantine is really an abundance of caution, and despite the inconvenience, I’m actually thankful – for a state and a workplace that are following through on recommended precautions.

Practicing social distancing and mask wearing isn’t perfect, but it has been working – for me and for the state of Maine, which remains one of the least infected states per capita. Of course, with winter coming, the threat is growing. So, keep it up, Mainers. Keep your masks on and keep your distance. Let’s keep Maine at the bottom of this list.


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