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I Got Coronavirus Playing Bridge
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Because this is long I’ll lead with the main point, then get to the details:

I contracted COVID-19, almost certainly at a bridge tournament: the Tucson regional, March 2-8.

When I came down with symptoms I self-isolated at a hotel, but this was several days after the tournament, and after I’d played multiple club games. Five days after that, a test for coronavirus confirmed that that’s what I have.

I seem now to be mostly recovered, though I am still in informal isolation.

On to the details.

This was my first Tucson Regional, as I moved here just a few months ago. Shameless plug: Assuming bridge gets back on its feet some day, I strongly recommend y’all come next year. We have a decent playing site, good competition, and great volunteers.

My week was just about nothing but the tournament: Setup on Sunday beforehand, Monday afternoon and evening sessions, then Tuesday through Sunday morning and afternoon sessions. (That’s the schedule; had there been more sessions I’d have played.) A couple of those days we went to the bar next door afterward, but that was it; then I’d head home.

The highlight for me, by far, came on Saturday when my partner George got the last few gold points he needed for Life Master. He’d been at it for years and started to despair of ever getting there, and I don’t know when I’ve seen someone so happy. These are the moments that make bridge special. (Thank you, Brad and John, for your support at the other table; we needed that…)

Other than that wonderful moment it was pretty much as one would expect of a regional: Some success and some disappointments; some pair and some team games; lots of hanging out with old friends and new ones.

That, and the virus.

Coronavirus had been in the news but at that time the general feeling was that we were still reasonably safe. Still, tournament organizers had taken what we felt were reasonable precautions. Prominent signs advised frequent hand washing and eschewing of handshaking, and there was hand sanitizer placed around the room. And of course we asked people not to play if they believed themselves to be sick.

But we now know that the virus was there. The week before, a woman who has since died of COVID-19 had played in Colorado Springs; she wasn’t in Tucson but several of her fellow players were. I played several times against players from Colorado Springs. But it would be wrong to assume that because that was one possible source, it was the only one. We had players in from all over: at least a dozen states and a couple of Canadian provinces were represented. (That’s not an official word, it’s just the ones I remember playing against.) In addition to the obvious District 17 attendees, there were contingents from California, Texas, Nebraska, Idaho, Michigan, Washington, British Columbia, and sundry other places.

How many people did I personally interact with, one might wonder? I don’t know what kinds of interactions are relevant to virus transmission but conservatively I played against at least forty other pairs, and had conversations with perhaps a hundred people.

I didn’t play on Monday after the tournament but on Tuesday, March 10 I played at Adobe Bridge Club, and on Wednesday I played two sessions there, one a mentor game and one an open. I felt fine — I wouldn’t have been there had I been sick.

On Wednesday (March 11), after the game I conducted an online tutoring session with an MCAT student (this is my “real world” job), during which I started to develop a cough. After that session I had another online session, this one a bidding practice session with my partner-to-be for Columbus. During that second session I started feeling really lousy, as my coughing got worse and I also started feeling like I had a fever, with chills and aches, as well as some intestinal distress. I cut that session off at 8pm notwithstanding that we’d planned to go longer; I was just too out of it to continue. I had gone from feeling 100% fine to obviously ill in about four hours.

I wasn’t convinced that I had coronavirus but I knew it was possible. I also knew that a member of my family who is very vulnerable to the disease (late 70s and immunocompromised) was due to arrive home (we live together) in just a couple more hours, so I packed up my things and headed to a motel. I’ve been isolated ever since.

The next couple days, my health status was a bit of a roller-coaster. Wednesday night was pretty miserable — the coughing subsided but the achiness and apparent fever (I didn’t take my temperature) kept me up most of the night. (Well, in fact the mariachi music next door helped with that…) In the morning I improved a lot, but Thursday afternoon the aches were back and Thursday night was also bad. Friday was even stranger: When I woke up I felt perfectly fine, and all morning I was expecting it was over. But about 1pm the aches hit again, even worse this time, along with fatigue and lightheadedness. I knew no way to obtain a test for SARS-CoV-2 (the formal name for the novel coronavirus), but I was able to get a test for influenza at an urgent care clinic. Negative. Darn. Had you told me a couple weeks before that I’d be disappointed not to have the flu, I wouldn’t have believed it possible.

By mid-afternoon I was hurting all over. I spoke with my brother, a physician, and he decided that I needed to be tested, notwithstanding that I didn’t officially qualify for it. (Arizona was testing only people who had symptoms and had been in contact with known carriers, which was basically no one because the state had only nine official cases at that time.) I drove myself to his office so he could test me (in the parking lot), which wasn’t easy because by that time I was feeling quite disoriented, but I made it and he swabbed me; that was about 5pm Friday afternoon. He said results would not be available for three or four days, assuming everything went well at the lab.

My next act was to inform the local bridge community. From the same parking lot, I called and spoke with the president of Adobe Bridge Club and also with board members at the other major club in the area, the Northwest Tucson Bridge Club. I hadn’t been to the latter club since before the tournament (I’d taught a class there the weekend prior to it) but I reasoned that if it turned out I’d been exposed to the virus, then that would suggest that many others had too. Each of those clubs had considered closing but hadn’t done so yet. I still didn’t know what was right for them to do but I wanted everyone to have as much information as possible, so notwithstanding how weird it felt to discuss my private health information with, in effect, the entire local bridge community, and despite there being no firm proof at that point that I had the virus, I felt I needed to give people as much information as possible.

That evening, each club decided to close. They emailed their membership about it, saying that an unnamed player had been tested. They didn’t name me but I knew the community would soon know (after all, at least twenty people had to be told just to get the two clubs’ boards to agree), so when someone else posted a thread about, in effect, me here on Bridge Winners, I decided to go fully public.

Since then my progress has been steady and I believe I’ve been symptom-free since late Saturday. (It’s not trivial to tell because it’s also been a high pollen week here.) So all’s well, maybe…

… but yesterday we got the test results. Positive for SARS-CoV-2. In English: Yes, I have COVID-19, the novel coronavirus disease.

Eugene had asked me to write this article up, if I were willing, when my test results came in. Though it continues to feel strange and I don’t want anyone to think I want to be the center of attention, I thought it important that we, the bridge world, understand that bridge events are avenues for transmission of the virus. Theoretically we knew this already, but this is proof.

What’s next for me? Several days more isolation, or maybe more; the health department hasn’t gotten back to us. (I expected to be interviewed but that hasn’t happened; I imagine they’re overwhelmed.) But for me, the health crisis seems to be over. COVID-19 is a deadly disease but my experience with it has been the more typical one: It’s really miserable but then one recovers. If only that were true for everyone.

What’s next for the bridge world? I wish I knew. A week of isolation has been bad enough; I don’t know what I’ll do with limited social interaction if this goes on for months. And as with many others, bridge is a huge component of my social life. Yes, online bridge is out there but it isn’t really a substitute for the social aspect of the game; we’re going to have to work on that. But for now, this is our world.

Be safe.

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