A renowned doctor known for updating his Twitter followers on the pandemic admitted that his ‘parental emotion’ caused him to panic when his 28-year-old son got COVID last week, though the odds of a vaccinated young person dying are ‘near-zero.’
Dr. Bob Wachter, the chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, shared his journey of watching his son fall ill with the coronavirus and recover in a series of 25 tweets on Saturday.
He said his triple-vaccinated son is ‘generally healthy but overweight, placing him in a moderately high-risk group.’
When he caught COVID after watching a movie with a friend, Dr. Wachter described checking in on him frequently, getting worried when a reply came slowly, and even letting himself into his home to find him ‘sleeping…and breathing.’
COVID cases in San Francisco skyrocketed in December due to the more contagious Omicron variant, reaching a pandemic high of 1,218 new daily cases earlier this month. Eighty-one percent of residents in the city are vaccinated.
Dr. Bob Wachter gave a play-by-play of finding out his son got COVID, and worrying about it, to his 244,000 Twitter followers on Saturday
Wachter described his son as overweight but healthy and said he was triple vaccinated
Wachter described his son, whose name he did not share, as ‘quite careful’ and said he even switched from two-ply cloth masks to KN95 masks at his father’s behest since the Omicron outbreak.
His song works in customer service in downtown San Francisco, Wachter wrote.
The doctor theorized that he got the virus from a fully-vaccinated friend who ‘came over Monday night to watch a movie.
‘Wednesday am (~36 hours later), he woke up & felt awful. Sore throat, dry cough, muscle aches, chills. No taste/smell abnormalities. I told him to stay home, drink fluids and take Tylenol or Advil,’ Wachter said.
He described how local pharmacies were all out of rapid tests, but he had one set ‘stashed away.’
Wachter ran the test outside with a nasal swab while he wore a N95 mask and it came back negative. He then wondered if it was a false negative.
Cases in San Francisco have skyrocketed in recent days
He described going to check on his son to make sure he was still breathing as science-based evidence gave way to ‘parental emotion’
Dr. Wachter is the chair of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco’s Department of Medicine. Above, an aerial view of the UCSF medical center on May 2021
His son then called around to get a PCR test, but the next available date was in four days.
‘So no help. I heated up some chicken soup, bought an oximeter (97%, whew – though his heart rate was 120: concerning) & told him to call me if his symptoms changed or his O2 sat fell <95%,’ Wachter said.
‘Next day, I called him at 9am – no answer. My brain knows the odds of a fully vaxxed young person dying are near-zero. Still, I wondered briefly if he’d survived the night: evidence-based medicine meets parental emotion. I tried again at 10, still no answer.
‘I let myself into his place & found him sleeping… and breathing.’
An hour later, Dr. Wachter’s son heard from his friend, who tested positive for COVID.
Wachter administered another rapid test on his son by swabbing both his nose and throat, which has been reported as being a more definitive method of testing.
This time, he tested positive.
Wachter said he felt ‘a strange guilt – not entirely rational, but real – for not having protected him.’
They cancelled a PCR test. ‘One more case omitted from the public #’s,’ the doctor wrote.
He then set out to ‘figure out his prognosis & if treatment was merited. I knew, deep down, that odds of a bad case were low. But when it’s your kid, you freak out a bit.’
New COVID infections have hit a pandemic-high due to the more contagious Omicron variant
Cases are still trending upward, but they’re lower than they were at the beginning of the year
Deaths remain well below pandemic highs as Omicron appears to be milder than other variants
He calculated his risk of hospitalization, based on his age and and other risk factors, at 2.3 percent, which he said was lowered by 80 percent thanks to his triple doses of Moderna and by 50 percent thanks to the ‘mildness’ of Omicron.
Wachter said he’s only ‘a little’ worried about long COVID, where people have reported COVID symptoms for more than a month, because of the ‘messy’ literature on the lingering effects of the virus.
He warned his followers about false negatives and praised vaccines for keeping his son safe.
‘Should he have watched movies with his friend? I think so – it seemed like a fairly safe encounter. But while Omi is surging, even low risk stuff – things that were safe last mth – may now be risky,’ Wachter wrote.
‘Given how quickly this storm may pass, it seems wise to hunker down a bit.’
San Francisco has seen rising COVID cases, matching the numbers in much of the country.
In the end, Dr. Wachter said his son was fine to have met with his friend, but urged people to avoid getting the variant
The city reached a pandemic high of 1,218 new daily cases this month, far above the previous peak of 373 cases in January 2021.
As COVID cases rise in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office announced it had activated 200 members of the state National Guard to help staff COVID testing sites, according to KTLA.
Of the 50 sites, 18 are in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.
The US as a whole has also reached a pandemic-high level of new cases, averaging more than 831,000 a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
About 73 percent of US adults over 18 years of age are fully vaccinated, according to the agency.
Wachter was called ‘the most influential physician-executive in the United States’ by Modern Healthcare Magazine in 2015.
He has written 300 articles and six books, according to his UCSF faculty page, and is considered the ‘father’ of the hospitalist field, described by WebMD as doctors who specialize ‘in providing hospital care.’
On Sunday, he updated his followers on his son.
‘Better today, though throat’s still bad. Many going through far worse. Yes, Twitter-verse has some nasty people (& bots), but I’ve been impressed more by the kindness.
‘Grateful to people who offered test kits – we snagged a few so all set,’ he wrote.