I’m ready to put a steak in the pandemic

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I found Jock’s number in my contacts list on my iPhone last Thursday, tapped on it, then waited for him to answer before delivering the news.

“Hey,” I said when he picked up. “I think we’re going to have to postpone our dinner.”


We’ve been good friends for years. Jock and his wife hosted Lee Ann and me for a wonderful meal and fellowship at their home just north of Pittsboro back in 2019. COVID interfered with us returning the favor, but last winter, fully vaccinated and eager to spend time together face to face, we once again began working on scheduling time at our place to break bread, to sample some classic vino they’d brought back from a recent trip to Italy, and catch up in person while eating one of my fabulous grilled steaks.

It took a lot of back and forth, but in late May, we eventually settled on that July date — yeah, we planned ahead, owing mostly to their busy post-retirement travel schedule — to meet again.

Now, on the phone, I’m telling him that we’d better not: Lee Ann had, two days earlier, spent an hour in a car with someone just now diagnosed with COVID. Lee Ann was symptom-free, but …

Jock understood. He quickly opted for re-scheduling instead of rolling the dice and risking the dinner date, planned for the following night. Both he and his wife, he told me, were “COVID virgins” — just like me — and with some air travel and other trips planned later this summer, he didn’t want to take any chances.

We re-scheduled for later this month.


I’ve said this a dozen times in the last few weeks, but it’s stayed true: I know more people right now with COVID than at any point in the pandemic. Within the last few months, several fully-vaccinated close family members have been diagnosed. The four health care professionals I have the most contact with have each been diagnosed since June. Careful, healthy, mask-preferring friends here and elsewhere have contracted it, too.

But not Jock. Not his wife, and not me.

Or have I?

Lee Ann was exposed in a group setting in May of 2021, then fell ill a few days later. Three awful days (fatigue, fever, coughing) followed, along with a positive diagnosis. Predictably (perhaps because I’m a sucker for sympathy pains) I started feeling bad a day or so after her worst day, but my test — a major affair back then, costing about $150 and requiring a 90-minute round-trip drive — was negative.

I was convinced I had it, but the test said no.

Who knows?

What we do know is that nearly 60% of people in the U.S. have been infected, and that about 40% of confirmed COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic. A third of Americans know someone who’s been reinfected with COVID in the last few weeks. A fourth of those who’ve had COVID suspect they’ve had it more than once. We know that new variants persist, and we know that mask use is at the lowest point since the pandemic took root.

We also know there are anti-vax superspreaders who get infected and never show symptoms while they pass along the virus. We know about the healthy infected who die. And we know that wherever you fall within the argument about the pandemic, vaccines, masking and mandates, you’re just about more likely to win the lottery than become convinced you’re of the wrong opinion.

We’ve learned a lot since I took my last COVID test. What we don’t know about COVID, of course, would fill volumes.

What some of us profess not to know might not even fill an index card.

Me? I’m thankful for my health, happy Lee Ann wasn’t reinfected, optimistic about the recovery of family and friends, and really ready to fire up the grill and cook steaks for Jock and his wife.

COVID-willing, of course.

Bill Horner III can be reached at bhorner3@chathamnr.com or @billthethird.


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