PORT TOWNSEND — On Christmas Eve, Finn O’Donnell received a text from a friend.
“Just to let you know, I woke up sick,” it began. Two COVID tests followed, his friend wrote. Both positive.
O’Donnell, 18, was back home in Port Townsend on winter break from college, and had his close friends over for dinner Dec. 22. All were vaccinated, but not all had had booster shots.
The booster, as it turned out, made a big difference in what happened next.
O’Donnell’s mother is Kate Dean, the Jefferson County District 1 Commissioner who has spent the past 21 months listening to briefings from Drs. Tom Locke and Allison Berry, the county health officers.
“I had had dinner with all the kids,” said Dean, herself vaccinated and boosted.
When the text message came, the household went into COVID-testing high gear — which they were going to do anyway, it being the day before a big Christmas dinner with grandparents and assorted family members.
Both Dean and her husband, Rico Quirindongo, also vaccinated and boosted, tested negative. O’Donnell’s sister Rennie, 14, tested negative. She wasn’t boosted, but she also hadn’t been in close contact with her brother.
Dean and Quirindongo had stocked up on home test kits before the holidays, so they used several of those until they could get to Jefferson Healthcare hospital for PCR tests after Christmas. With several inches of snow blanketing Port Townsend and cars Dean calls “wimpy,” the couple walked 40 minutes from their Uptown home to the testing site.
Each time, they tested negative. They’d already sent O’Donnell into isolation in the upstairs bedroom and bathroom and canceled all visits from extended family.
The teenager considers himself fortunate for several reasons. His COVID case has come with no severe symptoms, and he’s been able to stay home.
“We had space where I could isolate. We had access to tests,” he added, “and most of my contacts were boosted. This is a case of boosters working, and it shows the importance of testing.”
Dean, for her part, acknowledged the paradoxes of having COVID enter her household: She and her husband have been fully immunized — and careful in group settings — and they’ve had good access to information about the virus.
Then there’s the fact that her son, a student at American University in Washington, D.C., one of the nation’s hot spots, didn’t catch COVID there. He caught it from his friend in Port Townsend.
Also ironic is the fact that O’Donnell got his booster shot during the day Dec. 22. It didn’t have time to protect him before his exposure that night. Another friend who came to that dinner was also unboosted, he said, and also tested positive.
O’Donnell’s positive result was not determined to be the omicron variant, he added, but considering that strain’s rapid spread and high transmissibility, he believes the chances are good.
In the days since the virus became “the most unwelcome holiday guest,” as Dean put it, she has learned plenty. In a Dec. 27 Facebook post, she listed a few of the lessons.
First: “I am lucky. My son’s case is mild and asymptomatic, which isn’t always the case, even with young, vaccinated folks,” Dean wrote.
Second: “Science is legit. We’ve followed the rules and kept this wily virus contained to only one case. Vaccinated people are vulnerable to Omicron, boosted people less so. Our family has followed the science, and it has worked.”
Dean added that she is privileged: able to work from home while delivering food to her son throughout their quarantine period. These have been good meals, O’Donnell said, joking that it’s been like hotel room service, handed to him through a curtain by a masked mom.
“We had all this rich food,” that would have been Christmas dinner for 15 people, Dean added. There was prime rib as one main course. And the patient’s father, Will O’Donnell, brought over a spicy seafood stew to be delivered upstairs.
There was one day when everyone was cranky. It was too cold for anybody to get out for a walk. O’Donnell said his sister was particularly annoyed with him, so he wrote her a card apologizing for, well, ruining Christmas.
By New Year’s Eve, everyone in the household, including O’Donnell, had tested negative for COVID-19. Masks are still part of the routine, however, especially for Dean when she’s around her daughter, who’s vaccinated but underage for a booster.
O’Donnell will return to Washington, D.C., this Friday, with “superimmunity,” his mother said, since he’s been vaccinated, infected and boosted.
Dean also expressed empathy for other families as they navigate holidays, gatherings and what she called “constantly shifting guidance” from public health officials.
“I know that many, many people are dealing with COVID right now. I hope that you feel supported and free from stigma,” she wrote in her Facebook post.
“There’s a lot we can do to prevent infection, and there are a lot of ways it will still sneak its way in. Let’s support each other regardless.”
Jefferson County Senior Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]