For Mea Walton, the new year began with something akin to disbelief. About to take a flight to LA, she took a PCR test to check for Covid – and it came back positive. But it wasn’t her first infection, or even her second. Walton had tested positive for the fourth time.
“I thought, surely, I could never get it again,” she said.
The 20-year-old student nurse in the north-east of England caught her first infection in September 2020, shortly before she left for university.
“This was the point where everyone knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who had Covid,” she said. “But no one knew someone that had Covid … It was kind of like, no one believed in it, because everyone was like, ‘Well, I’ve never seen anyone [with it].’”
At the time, Walton was working in a pub and wearing a face mask.
“I hadn’t left the house other than to go to work because I was working nine hours every day, coming home, getting up, going back to work,” she said. “I started to feel a tiny bit rundown, runny nose, and stuff – but I have allergies anyway. So I assumed it was an allergy.”
Walton was persuaded by her mother to take a PCR test. The result was positive. “I just isolated in my room,” she said.
At the end of January 2021, both of Walton’s parents caught Covid. She took care to avoid contact, leaving takeaways just inside their front door, but a few days later she had to take a Covid test before starting her nursing placement. The PCR came back positive.
The third infection came several weeks later. When a family friend fell very ill with Covid in Brussels in February that year, Walton flew out to help with childcare. On leaving the UK she had a negative lateral flow test. But her return was delayed.
“I went to get my PCR to go home and it came back positive,” she said.
While Walton didn’t feel unwell for her second and third infections, bar a bit of a runny nose the second time, the fourth infection was different, bringing flu-like symptoms a couple of days after testing positive.
Walton, who is double-vaccinated and awaiting her booster, said there is an irony to her story.
“The funniest thing about it all, really, is every time I’ve had it I’ve never been near a hospital. But all the time I’ve been working with Covid patients I’ve never got it,” she said.