Twitter explodes over Atlantic writer’s dramatic, ‘bizarre’ account of COVID case that made him mildly ill

A vaccinated Atlantic writer’s highly dramatic account Tuesday of his coronavirus diagnosis where he became slightly ill for a few days, turned out “fine” but still berated himself for his “mistakes” was met with plenty of bipartisan scorn but also some left-wing praise.

A self-described fully vaccinated, 39-year-old endurance athlete, writer Alexis Madrigal correctly noted COVID-19 was “unlikely to kill me” but still agonized over attending his friend’s wedding in New Orleans before ultimately going, enjoying himself but feeling uneasy about it despite the presence of trustworthy “New York and California people,” and testing positive for coronavirus days later. 

Describing the situation as “all hell … break[ing] loose” after he tested positive, he found a rental home down the street from his wife and two children and said he felt “pretty sick, like when you have a cold, but I’ve probably been sicker 15 times as an adult.” What he said was worse, however, were the ramifications for his children, who reacted with a mixture of anger and terror.

“My nonbinary 8-year-old was so mad and maybe so scared that they could barely look at me. My 5-year-old daughter proved her status as the ultimate ride-or-die kid,” he wrote. “She brought a chair down the street so she could sit 20 feet away from me outside in her mask, as I sat on the porch in an N95. I’m not sure which reaction was more heartbreaking. It was as if one never wanted to see me again and the other didn’t want to let me out of her sight.”

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Madrigal’s conclusion was that life could not possibly return to normal because of the looming possibility at all times of a positive coronavirus test, although the vaccines, by his own writing, worked as intended and essentially reduced the virus’ effects to that of a mild cold.

People walk though Times Square during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., November 10, 2021.

People walk though Times Square during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., November 10, 2021.
(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

“Right now most policies appear designed to make life seem normal. Masks are coming off. Restaurants are dining in. Planes are full. Offices are calling. But don’t be fooled: The world’s normal only until you test positive,” he wrote.

“I blame no one but myself for this. We cannot will this pandemic to be over. Lord knows I tried,” he said, also adding at one point that it was hard to admit that he wanted the pandemic to end and “was and am fine.” 

“After spending so much of my time studying COVID, being a part of the response with the COVID Tracking Project, and writing many stories about the pandemic, I was over it. I was done. I don’t know that I could have admitted that to myself, but I just wanted it all to go away,” he wrote.

From the lengthy piece’s combination of self-aggrandizement and flagellation, to the remarks about his children, to his belief that life couldn’t be normal with a coronavirus diagnosis, parents, writers, and everyone else had a strong reaction to Madrigal’s account. 

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Eleven year-old Jeiri Rodriguez gets her coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a clinic at La Colaborativa, in Chelsea, Massachusetts, U.S., November 9, 2021.

Eleven year-old Jeiri Rodriguez gets her coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a clinic at La Colaborativa, in Chelsea, Massachusetts, U.S., November 9, 2021.
(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

“A new frontrunner in the pantheon of absurd covid-era pieces. 2,000 words to say ‘I chose to be an adult and go to an adult function and then, via the miracles of modern medicine, barely got sick enough to miss a single day of work,'” The Recount’s Steve Morris tweeted.

“I don’t think I could live with this kind of anxiety ((or apparent need to assign blame?) about possibly getting COVID for this long, and I’m immunocompromised,” Vox’s Sara Morrison wrote.

“Struggling to understand why this piece exists,” The New Republic’s Natalie Shure wrote.

“I’m a little dismayed at people who think this is a good essay,” Insider’s Josh Barro tweeted. “It is a bad essay, encouraging people to inflict unnecessary emotional distress on themselves, as Alexis has done to himself.”

“This is a real insight into the class that controls the culture,” writer Andrew Sullivan remarked. Sullivan has stood out in the media as a voice against continued mask mandates in schools, lockdowns, social distancing and other coronavirus measures when vaccines are widely available.

As Madrigal demonstrated in his case, the vaccines worked as intended, even if he did suffer a breakout infection. Coronavirus vaccines have proven highly effective in preventing hospitalization and death, while not foolproof in stopping infections and transmission of the virus itself. Children are also statistically extremely unlikely to suffer serious consequences from the virus, leading to fierce debates across the country over what, if any, school mitigation measures to take after children suffered from extended school closings in 2020.

Several noted the writer’s confidence that the wedding would mostly consist of “New York and California people.”

“The article is bizarre on multiple levels. The journalist tortuously ponders whether to finally throw caution to the wind and attend a wedding. Ends up with a mild cold, none of his family gets sick, and it’s some kind of major essay-worthy disaster,” independent journalist Michael Tracey tweeted.

Plenty of progressives approved of Madrigal’s piece, however, such as Atlantic writer Jemele Hill and Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan.

A Democratic operative remarked that she understood his sentiments and that was “why I’m still in my house, where it’s safe.”

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