Covid sanity check: Am I being unreasonable, or is everyone else?
August 20, 2021 2:16 PM   Subscribe

My workplace isn't mounting much of a response to the Delta surge. I'm in a very small minority of employees who are surprised and upset about this laxness. I'd like some outside opinions on whether I'm being unreasonable.

I work for a small business of about 100 people, all based in one location. We're in the northeastern part of the United States. When the Covid pandemic first hit (back in March of 2020), we did everything right. We closed to the public, furloughed some staff, and reduced on-site workers to a skeleton crew. Admin staff (including me) worked from home. We implemented strict rules for masking and sanitizing. To the best of my knowledge, everyone seemed on-board with this.

After everything started re-opening locally, we gradually loosened restrictions and resumed near-normal operations as of mid-May this year. All vaccinated staff and visitors were allowed to forego wearing masks, and most remote workers had to return to the office.

Fast forward to August. Our area is experiencing a new surge of cases (the Delta variant). We're not nearly as bad as some areas in the South, but the trend is in the wrong direction. The CDC classified the county as high transmission, as of August 12. The number of new infections is rising steadily. The seven-day case rate (per 100K) is 131, and the positivity rate is around 5.5%. The official CDC guidelines call for both vaccinated and un-vaccinated people to be masked indoors.

What's bizarre to me is that very few of the staff seem concerned, and the leadership hasn't implemented any restrictions. I am among the few people who wear a mask routinely. There is no requirement for social distancing. Our organization gets a lot of foot traffic from visitors, and we're not requiring masking from them. Officially, un-vaccinated staff and visitors are required to be masked, but this rule is based on the honor system.

I contacted the president and politely asked if we can take the CDC guidelines and make them requirements for our organization. He replied that the CDC guidelines are recommendations, not mandates. I didn't pursue it further, because I have very little clout, and essentially no support behind me.

I'm frankly upset about the nonchalant attitude I get from the vast majority of people here. Aside from being upset, I'm also very surprised by it. If someone had asked me a month ago, I never would have predicted that this would happen in my workplace.

My views put me in the distinct minority at work, but I feel that I'm being the reasonable one. It's a puzzling contradiction. I'm asking for a sanity check, and I'm also interested in how other people's workplaces are responding.
posted by akk2014 to Work & Money (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Everyone else is burnt out (or not up-to-date), and dealing with it poorly. You are being reasonable.
posted by aniola at 2:18 PM on August 20, 2021 [33 favorites]

You are being reasonable; they are not. My workplace also implemented a policy where you did not have to wear a mask if you were vaccinated. However, when the Delta surge came, they rescinded the policy and stated that all personnel must now wear masks in both public and private areas, unless you’re in your own office with the door shut. You can skip the temperature check if you’re vaccinated, but that’s it. All visitors also must wear masks, and they enforce it. (I’m in NYC.)
posted by holborne at 2:27 PM on August 20, 2021 [5 favorites]

You are being reasonable. Large employers in Los Angeles, the ones that so confidently announced in March they'd be reopening with modifications in August/September, are pushing back to "later in the year" if not Jan/Feb now. Labor unions are pushing hard for safety accommodations.

My employer has been fully-remote for several years, but they're losing optimism about the big industry conference in October we were all going to go to (the only time most of us meet), both because of what we can all plainly see is happening AND I believe the big industry organizer is starting to give off "wellll, it's still on for nowwww..." vibes.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:31 PM on August 20, 2021

Best answer: You're being reasonable. I see a lot of people in my province stubbornly refusing to accept that the Delta variant means we are in for another wave, despite the evidence of rising case counts daily and scientific modeling that shows exactly how bad an exponential rise will be. It's not helping that our provincial government lifted the mask mandate and most restrictions on July 1, which basically sent the message that everything is fine (it's not).

The best explanation I can think of for all this weirdness is this comment from a thread on the blue:
I get the impression that they’re not letting themselves actually believe or feel that the risk is even as large as they are willing to intellectually agree to. Basically like the whole pandemic is too big, and has broken their brains in terms of their ability to take it in and respond or deal with it.
People want so badly for the pandemic to be over that they are acting like it already is.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:32 PM on August 20, 2021 [15 favorites]

I'm asking for a sanity check

I'm not going to tell you not to be concerned about COVID-19. I have had multiple relatives die from COVID-19.

I am going to say that 166 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against COIVD-19, and of those, only 8,054 have been hospitalized (source). The rate of hospitalization among fully vaccinated people right now is less than 0.005%. Meanwhile, 3 million people per year are injured per year in car collisions, and of those, 1.35 million will die.

For an average vaccinated person, the risk of severe illness from COVID-19 is tiny compared to the background risk they take every day otherwise. For an average vaccinated person, COVID-19 is no longer a significant risk to them.

There are multiple caveats that may or may not apply to you. You may have kids that are unvaccinated. You (or others close to you) may be immunocompromised. You may be worried about long term COVID-19 side effects. You may be concerned about asymptomatic transmission to unvaccinated people. You may just not want to get sick! All of those are valid reasons to be concerned about COVID-19. I am only providing an answer to your question on why other people may not be concerned.
posted by saeculorum at 2:33 PM on August 20, 2021 [29 favorites]

I forgot to add: My own employer (a community college) is bound by the provincial government's current rules, which say that masks are recommended but not mandated at postsecondary institutions, and vaccines are recommended but not required. Faculty and staff unions are currently lobbying for individual institutions to be given permission to implement mandatory masking and possibly proof of vaccines, but we go back Sept. 7 and there's no indication of movement on that so far. I'm nervous about returning to the classroom.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:36 PM on August 20, 2021

Response by poster: In my original post, I forgot to state: I have two elderly, frail relatives (both vaccinated). Sadly, I also have other relatives who are anti-vaxxers. I see all of them fairly regularly.
posted by akk2014 at 2:43 PM on August 20, 2021

Saeculorum has the science-based answer; but at the individual level, I think a lot of people are burned out and kind of at their limit with pandemic response stuff. Additionally, there is a comfort (or false comfort) in being around people with whom you have worked closely in an office. You feel safe together, whether or not it is actually safe.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:18 PM on August 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

I think at this point a lot of people are just so exhausted at trying to be safe that they do not have the energy to put in for going back to the usual safety protocols, everyone has cooties, wear a mask, lockdowns again :( They want it to be over, so it's over even if it's not over.

As for my work: they are insisting on reopening again no matter what, but masks are required everywhere, testing is now required for everyone no matter what on a consistent basis. My own office is making us come back hybrid style but they are still going to enforce social distancing, only one person is allowed in an office at any time (we used to have 3-5 people in each office space), etc. The last part isn't required anywhere as yet, that's just the plan they are going to stick to.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:43 PM on August 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

This sounds worrying. Your take on this doesn't fill me with optimism that there will be more scientifically based measures mandated anytime soon. I would not want to work in person in such a workplace.

The silver lining is that it's a really great time to look for a new job. Good luck!
posted by citygirl at 3:44 PM on August 20, 2021

You're not being unreasonable. The numbers are very clear. Thank you for doing your part even though it's become exponentially harder. In the United States, it has been widely accepted now that if you want the vaccine, you've gotten it, and if you don't have it, that's too bad (for values of "too bad" encompassing genuine concern/sadness all the way to you got what's coming). Individual responsibility as a deeply American ideal/value/way of interpreting our world is doing us in. People are also burned out and the general sentiment is "I'm vaxxed. I'm tired. I can't do this anymore."

My workplace (a large university) has mandated vaccines for a large portion of the population, but not everyone. Most people are back full time on campus. They are pushing hard to get everyone back by January of next year. They have sent out a lot of statements about how the virus can't "paralyze" or "cripple" us any longer, and that tells you just how much care/thought is going towards disabled people (one of the groups most likely to be seriously harmed by Delta) in these plans. It's too bad. I don't know what to tell you other than... keep masking, keep distancing as much as possible, wash your hands, get your booster when you can, and maybe look for a new job.
posted by twelve cent archie at 3:49 PM on August 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

At this precise moment in time (and things could change, yes they could), a vaccinated person has a small risk of getting sick with COVID and a vanishingly small risk of dying of COVID. If this person only lives with other vaccinated people, they might transmit an infection in their household, but it will only be transmitted to people with a similar risk profile.

So from a purely self-interested short-term point of view, acting as if COVID is not a big deal is reasonable for a vaccinated person.

From the point of view of what's best for society and what will minimize the number of total deaths, keep hospitals open, and minimize mutation rate.... we all know the CDC recommendations. Those are reasonable as well.

Short-term self-interested decision making may not be optimal (or even moral), but it is not unreasonable.

My workplace (also a university) is requiring vaccination with medical exemptions (exempted individuals must test twice a week), weekly testing of students, tracing and quarantining, and masks indoors and out. QR-controlled entry through guarded gatehouses in a fenced campus; entry only allowed to individuals who are vaccine- and test-compliant and who have attested to a daily symptom check.

Frankly, in this environment, I think the masks are overkill. On the other hand, I cannot imagine why any organization would not require immediate vaccination of all staff and visitors.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:13 PM on August 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You are absolutely not being unreasonable. I agree with all I've read here that "everybody is just totally burned out on it all so let's pretend it's not happening anymore" blah blah blah. I would *love* to be hanging out with friends -- it was a totally bad scene in my heart when I had to step back to where I was, after only about two months of feeling fee.

People who are saying that "Hey, you're not really sick if you're not in the hospital." are totally off base. I found out about breakthrough Delta variant in a text from my younger brother. Yeah, true, he wasn't in the hospital. But his sense of smell is gone. He was locked indoors for ten days. He had fever, chills, total ache in his bones. Like a pretty big case of the flu.

I have had the flu. I am not at all interested in getting any of that jive, any of those symptoms. Plus we have no idea if he's going to have any long-haul problems -- the woman who cuts my hair is a long-hauler, she tells me that she's not at all sharp, and not near the energy that she normally had; she's got no juice.

Many ppl seem to think I'm holding too far back. Two things: 1) It's none of their business. 2) I spent over a year wearing a mask and keeping distance, it's a habit I easy got back into, though ppl act offended if I ask them for some space.

As noted by someone upthread: maybe a good time to get a different job. I know that's easy for someone on the internet to say. But you're worth taking care of.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:20 PM on August 20, 2021 [14 favorites]

Best answer: To echo dancestoblue, I feel like a lot of people are downplaying the possibility of vaccinated folks becoming long-haulers. My sister and one of my best friends are both in that camp; they got sick near the beginning of the pandemic (March 2020 and May 2020 respectively), and they are still suffering. Both of them have POTS; today, my sister folded laundry for 10 minutes and her heart rate shot up to 144. She can't even work right now. Until someone can definitely prove to me that vaccinated people can't get long-haul COVID, I'm being extremely careful.

It's also totally reasonable for vaccinated people not to want to suffer through a short-term illness, even if they don't end up with long-term effects! I've had several people, including friends, question how risk intolerant I'm being, and I don't understand why they can't see that 1) I do not want to risk being a long-hauler, even if that risk is low; and 2) being sick SUCKS and I don't want anything to do with COVID if I can help it.

In a nutshell: you are not being unreasonable. It's concerning that your workplace is being so lax about it. Yes, I get it -- most people are vaxxed and they won't be hospitalized or die from COVID. But there are plenty of other bad outcomes, including accidentally transmitting the disease to an unvaccinated child or immunocompromised family member or friend. I'm really sorry your colleagues don't get that.
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 4:34 PM on August 20, 2021 [17 favorites]

You are not being unreasonable. Your workplace is erring on the side of a very optimistic interpretation of where we are now. I would argue that employing organizations have some moral obligation to set their baselines at a place that provides meaningful protection for the not insignificant portion of their staff who have unvaccinated children or people with higher risk conditions at home. Individuals are so burnt out but organizations can and should be making some broad decisions that set some expectations.

Since you asked about other workplaces: my department has pushed back a planned August return to the office indefinitely. They’ve resumed a mask mandate for those who do have to be in the office, and have announced a vaccination mandate to take effect soon. They are working toward making it possible for a few people who want to return to the office to do so, but have done some rearranging so all those people can have individual workspaces with closed doors, are staggering days so those people are in cohorts to minimize any chance of cross-cohort infections, and some other similar measures. Things were more relaxed over the summer but are tightening up again now and the expectation is they’ll stay that way for at least a couple of months.
posted by Stacey at 4:52 PM on August 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

"I see all of them fairly regularly." I would make a point of seeing the anti-vaxxers a lot less often.
posted by lathrop at 6:36 PM on August 20, 2021 [13 favorites]

Best answer: You are not being unreasonable. WE ARE IN THE MIDST OF A GODDAMN PANDEMIC. Everyone should be masked and isolating all the time...and absolutely everyone knows it. People are making up all kinds of excuses, to themselves and to other people, because they’re tired of it, but being tired of it doesn’t change the fact that WE ARE IN THE MIDST OF A RAGING PANDEMIC.

Our executive director, who responded very well in March of last year, has not changed anything since we all came back to work after getting vaccinated - in spite of the fact that we are all more than six months out from our vaccines and our immunity is probably waning. In spite of the fact that our governor has mandated that everyone wear a mask at all times when indoors.

My response to the lack of response at my job is to spend my day shut up tightly in my office with a box fan-air purifier with the top level HEPA filter running the entire time, and I wear an N95 mask whenever I venture out into the rest of the office.

One of my coworkers has a child to young to be vaccinated and who also has an autoimmune disease. I will be damned if I’ll be the one to inadvertent infect her.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:22 PM on August 20, 2021 [6 favorites]

(Fuck autocorrect. Also, fuck me for not double checking during the edit window.)
posted by MexicanYenta at 3:45 AM on August 21, 2021

This is tangential to the thread, but it is not true that 1.35 million people die from car collisions in the US annually (if that were true, it would represent over 40% of all deaths). The actual figure is around 35,000. I have no argument with the overall point of the original comment, though.
posted by aws17576 at 12:11 PM on August 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

Thank you for the correction, aws17576! I mixed up global deaths with USA-only deaths.
posted by saeculorum at 12:42 PM on August 21, 2021

Heck, the lady who sits next to me was coughing the other day and never considered grabbing one of the freely available masks up front at reception. I'm one of the only two still masked in an office of 30 or so. Humbug.
posted by turkeybrain at 7:15 AM on August 23, 2021

You are being reasonable.

I first saw this link on MeFi and I'm surprised it hasn't been quoted more: people who got covid lost brain matter, even people with no symptoms. I trust my vaccination a lot, but I really don't want to lose grey matter as part of an asymptomatic infection.
posted by kristi at 2:11 PM on August 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

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