Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of Americans have had COVID at least once, with the new immune-evasive XBB.1.5 subvariant driving up the numbers of new cases and reinfections.
Even the lucky few who still haven’t gotten the novel coronavirus may have actually had it before; in many cases, “never COVIDers” (or “Novids,” if you prefer) have contracted the virus but weren’t aware because they had mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. One large study found around 40% of COVID cases are asymptomatic.
“In fact, a lot of studies looking at antibody levels have found the presence of COVID antibodies in people who never claim to have been infected,” said Dr. Scott Roberts, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at Yale School of Medicine.
That said, Roberts and other medical experts say that “never COVIDers” do exist: They may be naturally immune or have been more diligent than others in social distancing practices and vaccinations.
“The likelihood of getting infected is variable and dependent on many factors, including vaccine and natural infection history,” he said. “Some have avoided COVID and most of this has been achieved through those who practice safe behaviors, such as masking, being up to date on vaccinations, and avoiding high-risk situations when spread is likely, like crowded indoor events.”
If you haven’t gotten it yet, count yourself as lucky. If you have, you’re probably wondering what never COVIDers have done differently.
Below, we talk to 11 people who believe they’ve dodged the virus (again, they could have had it and been asymptomatic), to learn what their social lives have been like all these years.
Responses have been edited lightly for clarity and length.
‘I felt very guilty for not having ever caught it.’
“I have no idea why I haven’t gotten it. I did follow all of the CDC guidelines. It actually got to the point where I felt very guilty for not having ever caught it. I know a few people who passed away from it and it was similar to what I imagine survivor’s guilt is like. I suspect someday researchers will discover there is some genetic reason why some people are more susceptible than others and why some people are significantly more severely impacted when they do get it compared to others.” ― Mina Méndez, 55, Arizona
Mina Méndez, a 55-year-old from Arizona, has yet to catch COVID.
‘My “no COVID” status kind of brings a bit of anxiety.’
“Early on in the pandemic, my boyfriend and I were living together and he was frequently traveling for work so I was on high alert and very precautious. I’d pack him vitamins and Clorox wipes to use on his travels. By the time the national lockdown occurred, I was already withdrawn socially and wasn’t employed so I was able to follow Dr. [Anthony] Fauci’s guidelines pretty thoroughly.
“I was very diligent about social distancing, making sure my vaccines are up to date, and avoiding exposure. I have not experienced any symptoms of Covid over the years, not even a cold. My ‘no COVID’ status kind of brings a bit of anxiety at times, especially when a new, aggressive variant gets announced. Having skirted the virus for so long makes me feel like my doomsday is looming.” ― Ray Love Jr., California
“I was very diligent about social distancing, making sure my vaccines are up to date, and avoiding exposure,” said Ray Love Jr. of Los Angeles.
‘You need to keep up your guard, follow the science.’
“I feel like I am the last one standing and hopefully won’t jinx it by telling my story! I’m a 70-year-old physician and certified health coach living in the Boston area and I follow the science: I am fully vaccinated and boosted and wear a KN95 mask in public indoor areas. At the height of the pandemic, we formed a bubble with three other couples and in good weather had outdoor deck dinners at each other’s homes.
“I have not restricted my traveling in the past three years: I have done many trips to LA and have always masked in airports and on board the flights. I have had a few ‘scares’ over the past year with one bad case of bronchitis, but tested negative for COVID numerous times.
“Our temple streams services and offers many adult education programs via Zoom. Intellectually, I feel that I have not missed out. I have done many courses online, become somewhat of a streaming service addict and also continue to gobble up any new scientific evidence to keep me updated on the virus.
So no magic over here. You need to keep up your guard, follow the science and hopefully stay safe.” ― Brenda Kerbel, 70
“I have had a few ‘scares’ over the past year with one bad case of bronchitis, but tested negative for COVID numerous times,” said Brenda Kerbel.
‘I work to keep myself safe.’
“I haven’t caught COVID yet because I can’t afford to catch it; I’m severely immunocompromised. I was born with a genetic immunodeficiency disease that impacts my body’s ability to respond to infection of any kind. Like many other folks with immunodeficiency and autoimmune issues, I boast a constellation of intersecting, overlapping health concerns, including asthma, POTS and severe migraines. I take every precaution I can because I simply can’t afford not to. Before vaccination, this looked like complete isolation. I saw my partner, my family and a few trusted friends.
“When I socialize, I ask my friends to test before meeting up, and we still keep our masks on, just to be safe. While the landscape of my social life has absolutely changed since the pandemic began, I’m incredibly lucky to have people in my life that understand the gravity of my health needs and work just as hard to keep me safe as I work to keep myself safe.” ― Raegan Lenore Mills, 22, Arizona
‘I eat healthy and my dogs make me walk.’
“I’ve never had it and I’ve never got the vax. Maybe it’s just being genetically different or just too damn defiant. Who knows. I worked at a university so exposure was probably high. I had to be tested to be allowed to work ― never positive. I eat healthy and my dogs make me walk; I’m an epileptic and have severe spinal damage, but I still get up every day. I just have to get up.” ― Phil W., 63
Phil W., 63, said he’s never had COVID and hasn’t gotten the vaccine for the virus.
‘I tried to resume normalcy as soon as I could, slowly but surely.’
“I’m a teacher in the Kansas City area and taught in person after the 2020 shutdown. As for why I haven’t gotten it, part of me thinks that maybe I’ve just gotten lucky. I don’t have a for-sure answer, as I feel like I’ve followed the general recommendations (including getting vaccinated) while also trying to maintain a lifestyle that makes me happy. My husband, my two kids (ages 3 and 1), and my two parents have also never tested positive, so that’s kind of interesting as well. When things started opening up, I was always comfortable going to restaurants and shopping. I’d wear a mask when it was required but as soon as those requirements started being lifted, I would go without a mask. Basically I tried to resume normalcy as soon as I could, slowly but surely. I’ve traveled to the lake many times, took my son to Branson, and I’ve taken a trip (via airplane) to Chicago with friends. While in Chicago, we went all over the city and attended the Chris Stapleton concert at Wrigley Field.” ― Kaitlin Smith, 35
Teacher Kaitlin Smith has managed to avoid the COVID virus in spite of working with younger kids and having an active social life.
‘I realize my self-imposed isolation would not be everyone’s cup of tea.’
“The main reason I avoid exposure to COVID is because I am high-risk and cannot imagine developing long COVID in addition to my other chronic conditions.
“I have not seen my friends or family in three years, and, being retired, that certainly leaves me with a lot of time to fill. I no longer attend services at my temple or go out to eat. I cut my own hair, I haven’t been to a store and I haven’t seen any movies or Broadway shows (as a former pit musician, that is the hardest concession by far). I recently became a first-time grandmother but, sadly, have yet to meet my granddaughter.
“I do have a small second home that I was able to buy after my parents died. I’ve been using it primarily as a sanctuary to escape the high number of cases constantly surging in New York as well as a safe space to go to when my husband visits his kids and grandkids.
“I don’t consider myself lucky. I read a lot and I listen to scientists and doctors and make informed choices. I realize my self-imposed isolation would not be everyone’s cup of tea but, except for not being able to hug my son and hold my granddaughter, I am not unhappy.” ― Ellen Alexander, 62, New York
“The main reason I avoid exposure to Covid is because I am high-risk and cannot imagine developing long COVID in addition to my other chronic conditions,” said Ellen Alexander of New York.
‘Any prolonged or suspicious symptoms, I test.’
“I am a nurse practitioner who works in the hospital setting with kidney patients. At the same time, I am the son of two elderly parents. My father is chronically ill. I also have a disabled younger brother and I am the proud father of a micro preemie who’s now 7, so I have a lot of people to protect.
“When COVID first started, it was the Wild West; no one really knew what we were dealing with. You’d have a patient come in and they would just disintegrate over a period of 4-5 days. Heartbreaking stuff. PPE was sparse and often had to be reused, so you spent your time wondering if you were next.
“I’m up to date on my vaccinations. I have been tested for COVID antibodies three times. As of November late last year, no positive antibodies. Otherwise, our house has multiple tests stocked. Any prolonged or suspicious symptoms, I test.” ― John Richardson, Georgia
‘We went back to a fairly normal life.’
“I’ve had my initial shot and three boosters. We live in Florida so people have not been very diligent here at all, but we were initially. I’d say the biggest things we’ve done to prevent getting it is keeping up our physical activity ― we’ve gone to our gym all along and as soon as it reopened, as well as walking at least 7,000 steps daily, usually more. We went back to a fairly normal life as soon as we could but we’ve tried to avoid situations with lots of crowds the whole time ― not a bad plan even without COVID.” ― Dawn Switt, 59
‘Maybe I’m one of those unicorns?’
“I feel very lucky, but also like maybe I am just one of those people who just does not get it. Maybe I’m one of those unicorns? I have become more and more lax as I have continued to avoid it. I lived in LA when it first started (through May 2021) and I was pretty cautious for most of the time including avoiding restaurants, trying to social distance and getting vaxxed. That being said, I have been pretty open for the last year and a half and have still not gotten it. I work from home and my social life was stunted during the first year-and-a-half, but I have gone to multiple weddings; I have traveled for personal reasons and work.
“The hardest thing about COVID has been the stress level. The stress helped break up my marriage, and made parenting very difficult.” ― Dan Zampillo, 45, Georgia
“I have been pretty open for the last year and a half and have still not gotten it,” said Dan Zampillo of Georgia.
‘At this point, I feel indestructible!’
“Given my repeated exposure to COVID, it must be due to my immune system. (And being vaccinated.) When my sons (then 2 and 5) had it, it was impossible to isolate from them; in fact both of them were regularly coughing in my face so I gave up trying to take any precautions, and yet I still didn’t get it. It would have been very difficult to care for my sons if I had also become ill.
“At this point, I feel indestructible! I don’t have any risk factors so was never particularly worried about catching COVID myself, but having watched my husband get quite sick, I’m glad I seem to be immune.” ―Michelle Daisley, 43, London
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