DENVER (CBS4) – The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced this week it was adding cases to its data dashboard to include people who had a second infection of COVID-19, but explained it is still a small fraction of total cases and a rare occurrence. Coloradans who have already contracted the virus say they remain careful and concerned about getting infected a second time.

Dakota Clark

(credit: CBS)

“I went to McDonald’s one day, I couldn’t taste a breakfast sandwich, I thought it tasted like couch foam,” Dakota Clark, 27, recalled from early January when he got the coronavirus. “Now I don’t allow people over at my house, now I don’t allow other things to happen.”

CDPHE said on Monday it added 822 cases where a person had a second infection, reported between Aug. 20, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021. The additional cases represent .19% of Colorado’s total count and include people from ages 1 to 101 with the median at 42 years old among 45 counties in the state.

Courtney Hitchings

(credit: CBS)

“I wear two masks, I mean I was still fully treating my life like I could get COVID any day,” said Courtney Hitchings, 27, a math teacher who got COVID-19 last year. “I would never want to be that person assuming because I had COVID before that I’m not going to be a risk to myself, my coworkers, and to my students.”

Hitchings shared her story with CBS4 last July when less was known about the virus. She had two compressed nerves in her spine and has improved with physical therapy. While that has not been confirmed as a side effect of the virus, her providers have watched it closely. Her lungs have fully recovered after having breathing issues immediately after contracting COVID. She keeps getting antibody tests and results shows a positive result months later. At the time, she told CBS4 she was concerned she could get the virus twice.

“I definitely treated it as I could get it at any moment, and I still treat it like that, I mean the vaccine is the vaccine and I feel great and I feel safe but you never know, to me there is no harm in wearing the mask,” the Fairview High School teacher told CBS4 on Tuesday. She is fully vaccinated and teaches in person. “We’ve been doing it for so long, why not do it a little longer to guarantee our safety.”

The CDC says to have a second infection you need to have two positive results from a specific type of test including a PCR that are separated by 90 days or more. This distinction identifies two different infections rather than the same infection measured multiple times on separate tests. The challenge to accomplishing this goal is the limited availability of samples days after someone collects one, according to a CDPHE news release.

Both Hitchings and Clark say they kept a close bubble of people in their lives and followed all precautions at work and home. Both also say they wear two masks for extra protection. Almost two months later, Clark says he still doesn’t have all of his taste back and continues to have respiratory issues. He says one time is enough to catch the virus if you’re not careful.

Dakota Clark talks to a friend in Larimer Square. (credit: CBS)

“I wouldn’t relax because as soon as you think or do relax, you’ll be the one who gets it, honestly, cause that’s what happened to me,” he told CBS4 on Tuesday. “I got relaxed one situation, allowed a friend to come visit me and then got COVID.”

CDPHE says it has successfully matched samples where there was enough quality intact to determine a true reinfection in seven cases. Of those, five were genetically different samples and therefore a true reinfection. State health officials say while it is rare, it is not unexpected, so all Coloradans should follow the necessary steps to protect themselves including hand washing, mask wearing, physical distancing, and avoiding gatherings. The guidelines remain the same whether you have already had COVID-19 or not.

“We should be super serious about it,” Clark said. “Try and protect ourselves.”

Shawn Chitnis