Surgeon General Vivek Murthy announced Friday that he and his young family have COVID-19 despite their best efforts to avoid infection by getting vaccinated and taking other precautions.
Writing on Twitter, America's doctor said, “When you’ve been as safe as you can, getting COVID-19 can be frustrating and disappointing. I’ve felt that. It can also be a source of shame. Many people assume you must have been careless to get sick. Our safety measures reduce risk but they can’t eliminate risk. Nothing can.”
As new cases and hospitalizations plummet, and deaths have finally started to decline, the Murthy family’s bout with COVID calls attention to the real risks of a virus that many people assume is finally on the way out.
Murthy, a regular participant at White House COVID task force briefings, said he and his wife, physician and political activist Dr. Alice Chen, have mild symptoms. She has a headache and fatigue, and he said he was dealing with muscle aches, chills, and a sore throat.
“Our breathing is fine, thankfully,” he wrote.
Murthy, his wife and their 5-year-old son are vaccinated and boosted. Their 4-year-old daughter is too young to be eligible for vaccination.
The kids are coping, Murthy wrote.
His daughter, “who tested positive first, is doing ok,” he said. “Fevers are starting to improve. She’s still congested and is now hoarse from all the coughing, but thankfully she’s still smiling and enjoying her arts and crafts.”
“Our son has a runny nose and low-grade fever but is otherwise eating, drinking, playing with his sister, and watching his favorite cartoons,” Murthy added.
“It has been chaotic at home with all of us sick but I wouldn’t want to navigate this with anyone but Alice,” he said.
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Murthy was not present at Wednesday's White House COVID briefing. The White House said Murthy has not had any recent contact with President Joe Biden, and that COVID was not the reason for Murthy's absence from the briefing.
As surgeon general, Murthy called out early on COVID misinformation and disinformation, urging Americans to follow tested public health guidance and get vaccinated and boosted.
That he and his family got sick illustrates the ruthless efficiency of the omicron variant, which has a series of mutations that increase its capacity to evade vaccines. Government officials, however, say that data clearly show those fully vaccinated retain substantial protection against severe disease and hospitalization, and for those who get their booster shots resistance to getting sick is even greater.
Although unvaccinated people are still far more likely to get sick, be hospitalized, or die, the omicron wave has seen many vaccinated people get infected as as well. That has created disruptions to family and work routines and added to the burden at crowded hospitals.
Murthy said his confidence in vaccines remains unshaken.
“One major source of peace of mind for us: we and our son are vaxed/boosted,” he wrote. “Vaccines are very effective at saving our lives and keeping us out of the hospital. As parents, I can’t tell you how reassuring it is to know we’ll be able to care for our kids even if we get infected.”
Murthy served on Biden's transition team as co-chair of the coronavirus advisory board, and is said to enjoy a close personal relationship with the president. His trademark is a soft-spoken, empathetic style of public speaking. Even before the pandemic, he was warning about the toll of loneliness in America.
Murthy’s family roots are in India, but as a youngster he lived in Miami. His father had a medical clinic, where both parents worked. The son spent weekends helping out and says that’s where he discovered the art of healing.
On Friday, Murthy sought to console those who've tried to protect themselves and still have gotten sick.
“If you’ve done everything you can and gotten COVID-19 anyway, don’t beat yourself up,” he wrote. “A lot of us are doing the best we can. And let’s not assume those who get sick are careless. We don’t know people’s circumstances. They may not be able to protect themselves the way we can.”