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COVID’s not exactly back, because it never went away

Once again, my life revolves around hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, nasal swabs, and a spouse who yells, “Face!” if my hands go anywhere above my waist.

Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

Someone with whom my wife and I spent a few days last week texted us Monday night to say, “I have COVID.”

What?

Really?

Getting COVID in 2023 is so retro. It’s wrong to say COVID’s back, because it never went away. But, psychologically, in our house, we thought we had escaped the pandemic unscathed. Even though our house has resembled a hospital ward since 2020.

At the risk of having Bobby Kennedy Jr. show up at our door to try to talk us out of it, my wife and I have followed CDC guidance from the get go. We both have received five doses of vaccine to guard against COVID and its variants.

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And, against the odds, neither one of us has had COVID. So far.

Beyond the vaccines, much of the credit for avoiding COVID up to this point goes to my wife, who, when it comes to antiviral hygiene, is — how can I put this generously? — a complete psycho.

A physical therapist by profession, my wife was hypervigilant even before COVID became a thing. In more than 35 years of marriage, it was rare that either one of us had the flu, though in my case bruises were commonplace because my wife has a habit of ripping my hands away from my face.

If my hands go anywhere above my waist, my wife, even if she’s in another room, bellows, “Face!”

We could build a kids’ fort with the boxes of disinfectant wipes she has stockpiled.

We have enough hand sanitizer to fill a swimming pool. We have gallons of it, bottles everywhere.

In the novel “Ulysses,” protagonist Leopold Bloom observed, “Good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub.” With all due respect to James Joyce, it would be much harder to walk through our house without passing a bottle of hand sanitizer.

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Even last year, as the threat of COVID receded, I would emerge from restaurant restrooms to find my wife sitting there, holding up a spray bottle, like one of those ladies at the perfume display cases at Macy’s, poised to strike.

“I don’t need to sanitize,” I’d say. “I just washed my hands.”

“Yes,” she’d reply, “you washed your hands and then you touched the door.”

Eventually, it was easier to just comply and hold my hands out in abject surrender, as I did routinely in fourth grade so Sister Mary Eleanor could take a ruler to them. My wife and Sister Mary Eleanor would have gotten along famously.

Recently, my wife picked up one of those sanitizer bottles and studied it closely, turning it over in her hands.

“Hmm,” she mused. “Did you know this has an expiration date?”

Um, no, actually, I did not. But, having forked over a fortune for the stuff, I do now.

Besides all that hand sanitizer, we have a drawer full of home testing kits.

The first few times, my wife did the swabbing, not trusting me to go far enough up my nose. She was fond of pushing the swab up around the general vicinity of my brain, but after I complained bitterly, she gave up and said, “Go ahead and do it yourself.”

I have found it is possible to swab the interior of one’s nose without nearly passing out.

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So far, so good. We keep testing negative. But it’s been a sobering reminder that even though we have tried to move on, COVID has not. It’s still out there, and many people are still getting infected, more than 9,000 in Massachusetts alone last week, and, tragically, some people are still dying, some 140 in Massachusetts last week.

Indoor masks are back at UMass Boston. Some parents want masks back in the schools.

And, worst of all, I have to admit that my wife was right all along about staying vigilant.

It’s only a matter of time before she orders me to start wiping down the pizza boxes again. At least we have plenty of wipes.


Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.