This past March, my family and I joined the ranks of millions of others who rushed to sign up to receive the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine. We were all fully vaccinated by mid-April.

Throughout the summer, we returned to many of our everyday activities, but still exercised caution when going into stores and public spaces. We decided to go on our annual trip to Northern Michigan, despite a rise in COVID-19 cases linked to the Delta strain.

Almost a week after we returned from our vacation, my mom, dad and I started to develop some gastrointestinal symptoms.  We assumed that it was unrelated to COVID-19.. I also had a runny nose one day and a slight achy feeling the next. In the same time span, my mom was experiencing extreme fatigue and body aches. After three days of symptoms, she decided to get tested for COVID-19. 

I drove her to a clinic near Chicago and decided that I should also get tested. We received both rapid COVID-19 antigen tests and PCR tests. We were told to administer these tests ourselves and to swab each nostril for three seconds each. After 20 minutes, we received our rapid test results, and they were negative. I was fairly confident in these results since we were both experiencing symptoms.  We left assuming that we were negative.

On Saturday, the 28th, I was scheduled to move into campus housing. We packed up the car and headed on the road. We were about an hour from campus when I decided to check my email. There were my PCR results, emailed at 2:53 AM, four days after the test was taken. I opened the lab results, and there it was in all caps: POSITIVE. Oh no. I asked to see my mom’s phone,  to check to see if her results were back, but hers were nowhere to be found.

I informed my parents: “Um, I just got my results back from the long Covid test and it says positive….” 

Dad: “What!!?” *immediately puts on an N95* 

I contacted the Pandemic Task Force and was told that I couldn’t move in and would have to go home. We couldn’t be anywhere near campus. I was released from isolation on the 2nd of September, or ten days after the onset of symptoms. Over the entire 10-day period, my symptoms were so mild that they were almost unnoticeable. 

It turns out my mom and dad’s PCR tests both came back negative. This means that my rapid test did not detect my COVID-19, and my mom’s and dad’s rapid and PCR tests (four total) did not detect any of their viral load either. Among three people who all have COVID-19, only one in six tests accurately detected the virus. 

I now volunteer at the Center for Healing and Hope, where trained volunteers administer the tests. We are told to swab each nostril for fifteen seconds – significantly longer than my mom, and I did. Maybe the short duration of our swabs contributed to our negative tests. 

There are multiple lessons to be learned from my family’s COVID-19 story. First, there are many more breakthrough cases of  vaccinated people with COVID-19 than are reported, if only because people don’t want to isolate. Second, there is not a COVID-19 test that is anywhere near 100% accurate. Third, and most importantly, the vaccines are working. My parents and I still contracted the virus, but we had such minor symptoms that were  barely noticeable as anything more than a two-day cold. If I can get COVID-19 while being vaccinated, you can definitely get COVID-19if you are unvaccinated. Getting vaccinated is quick, easy, and free. It is the best way we know to prevent severe COVID-19 cases and death. Do your part: get vaccinated, wear a mask, and still be living by the end of this pandemic.