Time to Open Up

Incidental coughing, is that a symptom?


By the time we all are ready to leave the lockdown, COVID visited my household last week. After a year of limited movement, working from home, only occasional visitors and too much social distancing we had a guest that brought us the disease. He did not know he was ill and infected my partner. Luckily, the kids and I tested negative. The provided instructions were clear on the actions we needed to take. So we split our house in the isolated area and the quarantined area. I moved out of my bedroom to experience again how it feels to camp on the ground. For ten days I did not have access to my home-office and worked on my old laptop from the living room. During most of the working hours, that room was also was occupied by hungry and grumpy teenagers that were not allowed to leave the house and a dog asking for attention. Inconvenient for sure, but manageable.  

What was far less clear for us was when to open up. The Dutch rules indicate that after seven days of isolation and 24 hours without symptoms you are welcome to leave the house. The German and US systems require 10 days isolation and 2 days symptom free rules, and the WHO recommends to leave only after 3 days without symptom. After 10 days the fever was gone, and as isolation is lonely my partner could not wait much longer to leave the room.

Yet, incidental coughing, is that a symptom? No taste and smell, is that a symptom? Lack of taste can last for months… so we are told, but staying in isolation for months is not an option. We followed the strictest rules of isolation days, and decided that 3 days fever free should suffice.

Interesting though, with every headache, couch or other physical minor observation I now wonder if we were strict enough and if I should be tested again just to be safe.  Clearly, markers of when we are ill are easier to interpret than the markers of being healthy. I guess this is exactly what the government is struggling with these days – is our country really healthy enough to open up or should we just wait a few more days to be sure?

Mindel van de Laar, PhD director of the dual career PhD programme in Governance and Policy Analysis (GPAC2) of UNU-MERIT / Maastricht Graduate School of Governance

Time to Open Up
Mindel van de Laar