Health

Top UCSF expert shares details of his son catching COVID-19 in San Francisco

Dr. Bob Wachter, chief of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, has been tweeting about COVID-19 for nearly two years, sharing regular updates with his views on the state of the pandemic in San Francisco and around the world.

Over the weekend, Wachter’s Twitter account of 245,000 followers became a little more personal when he revealed that his son had tested positive and had symptoms. in a series of 25 tweets, and touched on the many issues around omicron augmentation, including the paucity of at-home tests, test dates, and the under-supply of treatment options for symptomatic patients.

With his son’s permission, Wachter published details of his 28-year-old son as a sort of case study. Wachter, 64, assumed his son had omicron and made the calculations for his chance of seriously ill. With the omicron variant, most cases in the vaccinated group are milder than with the previous variants. Wachter concluded that his son had a 0.3% chance of needing hospital treatment. “I knew, deep down, that the odds of having a bad case were low,” he wrote. “But when it’s your son, you’ll freak out a little.”

Wachter shared that his son contracted the virus last Monday while watching a movie with a fully vaccinated friend at home in San Francisco. Wednesday morning, 36 hours later, his son woke up feeling bad, with a sore throat, dry cough, muscle aches, chills, and no abnormal taste and smell. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that the incubation period for Omicron is only three days.

The doctor told his son to stay home, drink fluids, and take Tylenol or Advil. Local pharmacies were sold out of the rapid tests, but Wachter was hidden in the house.

“He came out (I was wearing an N95) and we turned it on, with a nose swab,” Wachter wrote. “It was negative. I was a little reassured, although it wasn’t — ‘Dad, I felt like I felt after my vaccination.'” An example of newly reported problems with false-negative rapid tests in the early days of omicron infection.”


A call was made to the UCSF COVID hotline to get a PCR test and the earliest available date was four days.

He wrote, “I heated up some chicken soup, bought an oximeter (97%, whew – though his heart rate was 120:disturbing) and told him to call me if his symptoms changed or his sitting O2 dropped below 95%.”

Although his son had an initial negative test, the next day it became clear that Wachter’s son’s odds of contracting the COVID virus were high — a friend whose son had seen a movie with him called to say it came back positive.

Another test was done, but this time Wachter advised his son to wipe both his nose and throat as early reports suggested that scanning “improves omicron production” versus the nose alone. This time, his test result was positive. “We canceled the PCR test (now 3 days later) because the diagnosis seemed safe. So another case was removed from the public count (which makes the elevated case count all the more remarkable),” wrote Wachter.

Wachter broke the news on the fourth day of his son’s case, stating that his “flu” symptoms had subsided but his throat still “hurt like hell.”

The plan is to test on day five, Wachter said, and his son will leave isolation and wear a KN95 mask if he tests negative.

Quarantine guidelines from the California Department of Public Health require people who test positive to isolate for at least five days. They can finish their isolation on the fifth day if the test result is negative, or wait until the 10th day when you can leave the isolation without testing.

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