SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Jesse Zarmbinski is feeling congested.
Zarmbinski is a Sioux Falls bartender, and he has COVID-19, again. The first time he tested positive was in November of 2020.
“The first time, I got home from voting — and I felt, just sort of aches in all of my joints, and I started getting chills just sitting at my computer,” describes Zarmbinski. “Immediately I knew something wasn’t right, so I drove over to a Sanford testing site, got tested, and then basically quarantined myself in my apartment for a couple of days.”
Zarmbinski says that the first time he got COVID-19, he was concerned. “I’m not gonna lie, I was worried,” he said. “Granted, I’m 28 now — I was 26-27 then; still young, healthy. I was fine — but you know, you’re laying in bed with a fever and body aches, and you’re congested and shivering — the thought does keep into the back of your mind.”
Zarmbinski recovered. “I beat it once, and I’ll beat it again,” he said.
This time around, both his symptoms and his concerns are a bit more mild. “I’m alright,” he said. “I’m congested pretty consistently for the past couple of days. Beyond that, I feel pretty fine. I had somebody aches, a little bit of a fever, but it’s been a lot more manageable than the first time around.”
As to how he’s feeling mentally: “[It’s] annoying, to be honest,” he said. “It’s like, man, I’m vaccinated. I’m working — I’m at home — I’m not going out. What the heck?”
Zarmbinski doesn’t know how he was exposed. “It’s hard to say,” he said. “Being a bartender I see hundreds of people every day. I’ve basically been living at home, at work and then I go to the store a couple times a week. It’s not like I’m going out to the bars — besides to work.”
Zarmbinski was vaccinated in the first half of 2021, with his second dose administered in May. He had not yet gotten his booster.
“I’ve been meaning to get my booster,” he said “but it’s one of those things where you get lazy, you get complacent, you get busy and you forget. Now I won’t forget.”
Zarmbinski plans to get his booster, but when should he now get it?
“There’s very good evidence to say that he’s for the most part protected for 90-days,” says Dr. Jeremy Cauwels, Chief Physician for Sanford Health.
“After 3 months, what we know about infection-based immunity is that it stays maintained in some people and goes down in other people,” said Cauwels. “What we’re recommending — is I recommend he go out and get a booster about three months after that infection.”
Zarmbinski’s case of a repeated infection is not a unique one, and according to Dr. David Basel, Vice President of Clinic Quality for the Avera Medical Group, it may become more common. “I think we will see a fair number of people get re-infected that had COVID say, a year ago.”
Basel attributes this to the new Omicron strain. “Omicron is enough different that we may see some of those individuals get re-infected,” he said “especially if they haven’t had their booster vaccination.”
Basel says that past a certain amount of time, the initial doses of the vaccine are not effective enough to fight off the virus, but that the boosted does appear to lift immunity to the proper level.
In terms of severity, Cauwels explains that Zarmbinski’s experience of more mild symptoms accompanying the second infection may not be uncommon. “That’s what we would predict, and in many cases that’s what we see; the difficulty of course being in predicting which patient is going to have a very benign course — and which patient is going to have a more severe course.”
This uncertainty is exactly why Cauwels and others advocate the use of the COVID-19 vaccines over the path of “natural immunity” or “infection-based immunity.” Essentially, you should not count on getting a case of COVID-19 in order to protect yourself.
“The reason that’s a bad idea is really about rolling the dice,” he said.
What we know about getting the infection is that every single complication that we understand — whether it be the horrible lung injury that lands people on a ventilator; whether it be the inflammation around a heart that happens more often in males than females; whether it be the blood clotting that we see more often if females than males — every one of those complications is more common when you get the virus than it is when you get the vaccine.
Dr. Jeremy Cauwels
“Even if you’re a person who likes to roll the dice; if you’re one of those people that wants to gamble on this, the smart money is on going and getting the vaccine,” said Cauwels.