Jean Wendland Porter
Jean Wendland Porter

Some people don’t get the viruses that run rampant in their families, their SNFs, their neighborhoods, or in their cities. According to the CDC, more than 80% of children under 18 have had COVID-19 at least once. Do you remember when COVID-19 first broke into our facilities, and we were struggling to get everyone tested? 

For us, our first results came back on April 24, 2020. We had 42 positive results, and two of those had already expired by the time the PCR results came in. But we were surprised by a couple who tested negative, because one was a “wanderer,” visiting other residents in their rooms several hours a day, and one was the roommate of one who tested positive and succumbed. 

Why have some people, after repeated unprotected exposure, never tested positive? A team at the University of California, San Francisco has a theory. 

My personal story: My mother is 89 years old. Her cousin is 88 years old. Their mothers were sisters. Neither has ever tested positive, despite repeated exposure and frequent attendance at weddings, church functions and family get-togethers. My mother has called me several times to say that her seatmate at that wedding yesterday tested positive today. We all went to a funeral that turned out to be a super-spreader event. None of us tested positive. Neither my siblings nor I have ever tested positive. 

Last spring, my favorite (vaccinated) 8-year-old and 10-year-old came over. We played outside and bounced around in the yard for a couple of hours, and they came back inside coughing and drippy. Allergies, right? Then they fell asleep in their chairs. They went home and tested positive. Neither my husband nor I tested positive in the following week. 

Yes, I’ve had the full complement of vaccines, and yes, I wear a mask everywhere but home. Our home is open to those who are vaccinated; everyone else wears a clean mask (I keep them by the front door.) I’ve been joking that we must have some very strong genes that repel COVID. Now science is showing that I may be right. 

The team at UCSF has found a genetic mutation that prevents a person from getting COVID-19. They’re calling those who have the mutation “Superdodgers.” The theorized mutation cripples the viral molecule, so it doesn’t stick to the cell’s surface, it just rolls off. The mutation clears SARS-CoV-2 so fast that the body doesn’t have a chance to develop symptoms. It clears so fast that the subject never tests positive. For that mechanism to work, the body would first have to be infected with another coronavirus. Most of us have because some of our common colds have been coronaviruses. 

As I’m writing this, I wonder if I’m pushing my luck, and maybe bragging about being bulletproof will trigger some karma, and I’ll test positive tomorrow. But consider your residents who are unvaccinated, yet don’t get sick. How is that possible? We know that this virus is particularly contagious, and as Dr. Fauci said, “Omicron, with its extraordinary, unprecedented degree of efficiency of transmissibility, will ultimately find just about everybody.”

We still need to promote vaccinations, we still need to protect our residents, and we still need to be vigilant. My neighbors are both ER nurses and exhausted. They told me that they’re done worrying about COVID. I responded that just because we’re done thinking about it, doesn’t mean it’s done thinking about us.

How do you know if you or your residents are part of the lucky Superdodgers? You would have to get your genome sequenced. Unlikely in most cases, so we just keep our fingers crossed, keep wearing our masks, and keep getting the CDC-recommended vaccines on time.

Jean Wendland Porter, PT, CCI, WCC, CKTP, CDP, TWD, is the regional director of therapy operations at Diversified Health Partners in Ohio.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.