Another COVID Gut-Check Ask
March 21, 2022 8:37 AM   Subscribe

My partner is no longer masking at work. What is a reasonable amount of anxious to feel about this? (Details below the fold.)

When our region dropped indoor mask mandates earlier this month, my partner's workplace also dropped theirs. He is no longer masking at the office. This has spiked my anxiety about exposure levels (specifically breakthrough infections and long COVID).

His workplace is currently limiting who can come into the office, but they'll be bringing almost everyone back next month. Currently most of his department is there daily. Only vaccinated employees are permitted on-site. I still work from home; I have to go in a few times a month but my workplace is still requiring masks.

We are both vaccinated and boosted, in our early 40s, and have no major health conditions. (I am the sort of person who takes forever to get over the last lingering bits of a cold or flu. Also my past experiences with doctors do not leave me super confident that I would diagnosed or treated properly, especially if I became chronically ill.) We agree that we should keep masking in indoor non-work places (like supermarkets) and although we do go to restaurants, we still only eat outdoors.

I want to ask him to keep masking at work, but that seems unreasonable. Is it? Have we really reached the point where being unmasked at a vaccination-required workplace is no big deal and I just need to recalibrate my own COVID risk meter?
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? to Health & Fitness (39 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think you could ask him. I think it's pretty weird to agree to mask at the grocery store but not the office, what logic is that? I don't think it's unreasonable for you to ask.

Of course, whether or not he's going to is another matter. Unfortunately, we've all lost our leverage with literally every state saying "You don't HAVE to!" any more.

Have we really reached the point where being unmasked at a vaccination-required workplace is no big deal and I just need to recalibrate my own COVID risk meter?

No, but there really isn't shit we can do about it when every state has declared it over and omicron B2 is on the rise. Everyone's going to have to learn the hard way again, clearly. (Can you tell I'm pissed that our mask mandate at work got lifted today?) We shouldn't be doing this since getting vaxxed only keeps you HOPEFULLY safe-ish from hospitalization, not from actual infection, which can keep going on repeatedly and forever.

This is going to depend entirely on your partner, I'm afraid, and how reasonable they are. Assuming you live with him, you have way more investment in the situation and can't just live and let live about it if he wants to go maskless, since if he catches it, you may very well too.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:53 AM on March 21, 2022 [7 favorites]

It is definitely not unreasonable at all for your partner to continue to wear a mask at work, and I believe it is extremely okay to ask if he is willing to do so. I think continuing to wear a mask is a great idea! Better safe than sorry. If your partner's employer forbids the wearing of masks, it is time to find a new employer!!

If your partner does not want to wear a mask because he'd be embarrassed to now that there is no mandate, this might help him feel more open to it:

The following is from my grandson's school district website regarding the individual choice regarding whether or not to continue to wear a mask now that there is no mandate. It is a statement by the school superintendent:
"This week, I had an opportunity to sit down with a very wise group of students during my visit at ... [the] ... high school. Their advice? ... Remember, it’s your choice. Don’t judge and don’t make assumptions. Respect each other’s choices. Be kind."

The website also states regarding individual mask-wearing choices: "Understand that each person’s needs and story are unique and valuable. Show mutual respect, concern, and kindness to one another."
posted by SageTrail at 9:01 AM on March 21, 2022

Everyone's personal risk evaluation is different, but I work in a liberal-leaning office that is still optional to work from home with the occasional in-person requirement, just dropped our in-office mask mandate, and most people are thrilled to no longer mask in the office. A few people are still wearing them when not at their cubicle/office. Nobody cares what anyone else does as long as we're not making anyone uncomfortable.

The thing that's different about the office vs. public environment is that I know those people, trust them, and trust that if anyone were ill or had a potential exposure they would stay home. I do not know or trust strangers to do the same. Also, my office has a vaccine requirement and being in a group of all-vaxxed people is, in my risk evaluation, extremely safe. This risk evaluation is in the current low and continuing to decline trend (NYT). Because at this point driving to work is a riskier activity for me than office-transmitted covid (I should also note that as a pregnant person I am in the "higher risk" category).
posted by DoubleLune at 9:03 AM on March 21, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Not masking at work in this scenario would probably be within my risk comfort level, depending on how close everyone is physically, and how much your partner knows about what those people are up to.

But it’s also reasonable to ask them to mask. Maybe they don’t know how you feel. I’d probably be like your spouse unless you asked me to keep a mask on.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:06 AM on March 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Edit: Pardon my use of "he" and "him" vs "they" in my comment ... they were typos based on my personal perspective of my partner being a "he"! Oops!!
posted by SageTrail at 9:09 AM on March 21, 2022

Best answer: This comment may or may not apply to you, but I'm providing it if it does apply to you. Further, this is only based on my experience, which you/your partner may or may not share.

Expectations of mask-wearing seem to me to have a very high correlation to job classification. Those who work in "white collar jobs" that allow for extensive work from home and/or those who don't work for an income tend to prefer masking more extensively. Those who work in more "blue collar jobs" tend to prefer loose masking requirements. This makes sense to me - it's a pain in the butt to wear a mask all day, especially in an environment that may be hot, humid, and/or physically intensive. Also, those sorts of jobs tend to end up with closer interactions with other people, and hence, are highly amenable to COVID transmission. I suspect - but have no evidence - that the rate of COVID infection in those sorts of jobs is significantly higher than those in white collar/work from home jobs. In that case, many people already have some immunity derived from infection (asymptomatic or symptomatic).

If my partner was in a situation where they worked from home, and I was in a situation where I could not work from home, and my partner placed expectations on me that did they themselves did not have to share in (ie, masking myself while they didn't), I would likely be a little bit annoyed. It sounds to me a bit like class-based discrimination - expecting those who are in dangerous environments already to go "above and beyond" to protect those who aren't in dangerous environments. If I were in that situation, I would expect the opposite - the person who is in the dangerous situation to determine their acceptable risk.

Now, I'm not going to say that's an appropriate reaction - your risk matters here too! That said, wearing masks is a pain, and that pain should be justified by you if it only benefits you and not your partner (from your partner's perspective).
posted by saeculorum at 9:11 AM on March 21, 2022 [13 favorites]

The microCOVID Project might be useful to you as you estimate risk levels. Absolutely everyone will and should interpret the results it gives you as a) approximate and b) something for which an extremely personal evaluation is needed.

As an example, based on me being vaxxed/boosted, all of my co-workers being fully vaxxed, us sitting at least 10 feet apart, only spending two days a week in the office, contact tracing from the company, and our local rates, my odds of catching COVID in the office even without masking are estimated as roughly 2% over the course of an entire calendar year. Given the state of my personal health, I am okay with that.

This is way beyond "YMMV" though, obviously, all the way to "no two people will have identical results that they interpret identically" but it's still nice to have some plausible numbers to work from.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:18 AM on March 21, 2022 [5 favorites]

I think it's 100% fine to ask. A partner is someone you share a lot of risk with, assuming you see each other often (or live together) and are swapping spit. I'm not entirely sure how I'd proceed if my partner said no to a request like that, but if they got upset that I'd even asked/brought it up as a topic of discussion, that would be a red flag to me.

Also, what kinds of masks does your partner wear? I think I would be approaching masking very differently (being more eager to stop wearing one) if I hadn't found ones that I feel like I can breathe through decently. In particular, disposable KN95s with headbands instead of earstraps are more comfortable (no ear pain, shaped so they stay off my mouth) and breathable (fabric masks seem either hard to breathe through or like they're not doing much.) I like the headband style Powecoms I get from Bona Fide Mask online.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:19 AM on March 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's reasonable to ask him, and I would do so in your position. I can imagine having some nuanced conversations around this, though. Like - would you be comfortable with a partial strategy where he masks if he's going to be in close proximity to others but not if he's well away from others in his own office, if he has a job where that's a possibility and the air handling is such that you'd be comfortable with that? What would you want him to do about staying fed and hydrated? How does he actually feel about masks - does he hate wearing them or he is neutral and just going with the flow of the people around him such that going back to masking wouldn't be a big deal? Would you be willing to spend some time and money on helping him trial-run some alternate mask brands to find one comfortable enough to wear for the majority of the day?

I think you might be in for a series of conversations here. But broadly, it's your shared household risk level, you absolutely can and should be having ongoing conversations about your joint and separate strategies as life and covid risks change, and this is just one more of those conversations.
posted by Stacey at 9:22 AM on March 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

I am vaxed and boosted, in my 40s, with no major health concerns. I would personally not work in an office right now without a mask because BA.2 is picking up speed with the rates expected to shoot back up in a few weeks. It's more or less impossible for me to not get covid at some point but I'd rather the treatments be a little more available and the hospitals a little less stressed when I do so.
posted by Candleman at 9:25 AM on March 21, 2022 [12 favorites]

Ask him. Mr. BlahLaLa has to go to work every day, and he's already told me he'll remain masked no matter what other people do. I'm super grateful for that.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:34 AM on March 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My second answer to this - as someone who is likely broadly in your partner's spot - is that I'd like you to be very specific about what makes you uncomfortable and what makes you comfortable. Are you worried case rates are too high right now? If so, what's sufficiently low to make you unworried? What are the conditions that the two of you agree on that constitute "safe" and "unreasonable risk"? Do those conditions map to how you evaluate other decisions in your life? For instance, would the metrics you use also end up prohibiting you/your partner from driving, eating red meat, or other risky behaviors many people commonly take on a day to day basis?

Your partner should be open to do things that make you feel more safe - but an arbitrary statement of "do this because I'm worried" is harder to accept than "do this until xyz happens".
posted by saeculorum at 9:36 AM on March 21, 2022 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I ask my partner to mask at work, and he does, when he’s in public spaces there. It’s a very reasonable thing to expect. He and I are mostly on the same page with respect to risk anyway, but I have more skin in the game (eldercare responsibilities that require travel; if I wind up in
COVID jail because it comes into our house, my parents will be the ones that suffer most). Because we’re a team, he accommodates this need.

Note that the new guidance by which most of the country is considered to be at a low “community level” of COVID is not set up to tell you you won’t get sick — the thresholds were set to provide a signal of whether hospitals might be expected to be overrun in three weeks’ time, and nothing else. The CDC’s position is that COVID prevention on an individual level isn’t a public health goal worth optimizing for any longer. If you still want to minimize your risk of catching COVID, your partner should still mask in all public places. Given that eradication and elimination are both impossible, I think public masking is a very reasonable compromise that lets us resume a mostly normal life, and I’m disappointed that it’s a nonstarter for so many.
posted by eirias at 9:46 AM on March 21, 2022 [14 favorites]

Best answer: It's not an incredibly unsafe thing right this minute, if the number of people he's interacting with is reasonably low. The problem is that it's impossible to tell in advance when another wave is going to start and by the time you know that going without a mask is no longer reasonably safe the damage may have already been done. Plus it contributes to the growth when another wave is getting started.
posted by wierdo at 9:47 AM on March 21, 2022 [6 favorites]

If my partner did not mask at work, full time, going outside to take it off for biological needs, I would expect him to permanently quarantine away from me at home, or just move out.

I do not consent to catching COVID. I am making every effort to avoid that situation. Forcing me to get it because he couldn't be bothered to avoid it is an unacceptable breach of my personal boundaries.

My actual situation is that I am less vulnerable than my partner. But it doesn't matter to me either way, one of us going out and choosing to escalate the other's risk of catching COVID - particularly indoors for hours in an environment that has almost certainly not upgraded their ventilation or taken any other employee-concerned measures when we know the fucking virus is airborne - would pretty much be like one of us making food for the other with shit on their hands.

And we care about each other and that would be a horrible thing to do to someone you love.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:51 AM on March 21, 2022 [15 favorites]

Does his workplace have a vaccine mandate? Does it do contact tracing? If so both those make it lower risk. If you're also, like most of the country right now, in a low-Covid area I find it hard to imagine it getting any lower in my lifetime. That's my gut anyway. Committing to wearing a mask indoors forever seems a hard ask; committing to do it if incidents spike up again is easier. If this situation isn't reasonably safe, then what short of "Covid Zero" is?

I'm basically doing the same thing. I mask at grocery stores because it's easy to toss one on for a few minutes. I don't mask my desk at work by default because it's all day, my colleagues are fine w/ me unmasked, and I'm sipping coffee or water or snacking for long stretches anyway. I will put it on if someone walks up to my desk to talk to me or in a crowded meeting room. (Actually, I avoid crowded meeting rooms as my first strategy.)
posted by mark k at 9:53 AM on March 21, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Regarding being vaxxed and boosted - I don't think there's any kind of consensus yet, but there's a fair amount of evidence that vaccine effectiveness wanes over time. (It's still protective 4+ months after, but less.) So that's something to keep in mind.

Health organizations all over the world, and in the US especially, have been really conservative throughout this pandemic -- conservative in the direction of underestimating infection waves and drastically understating what's needed to stop them. This seems to be based more on politics and gambling that things will work out okay than on epidemiology. Removing masking requirements now is almost definitely premature given the increasing rates in many countries that had "gotten past" the omicron wave, as people have noted above, and so, frustrating as it is, it's really likely that your area is in for another wave. Hopefully not as bad as the last one, but there's no way to know.

So when you two have this discussion, it makes sense to talk about both of your feelings and requirements about risk. But if his thinking is based on the idea that it's all safe now, or that mask mandates being lifted reflects what epidemiologists think is right, then that would be incorrect. As much as psychologically it feels like this thing should be over right now (and I've been surprised by how much I've been feeling that way myself - maybe it's all the spring in the air?)... it isn't.

By the way, all masks are annoying, but if he hasn't been using ones that are both effective and comfortable, might be worth trying out a few different kinds to find ones that are less of a pain.
posted by trig at 9:54 AM on March 21, 2022 [5 favorites]

It's absolutely not unreasonable to ask him to continue masking at work. It seems to be about 80-30 here at the moment for employees in retail, and about 50-50 for customers.

An employer that attempts to restrict an employee from wearing a mask in this environment is not going to be a place that is a good place to work in other regards.
posted by stormyteal at 9:57 AM on March 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ask him, but give him a way out. A new surge will not come without notice and it is unlikely he will be at the front lines when it comes. So, make resuming masking contingent on a local surge or anyone in the office coming down with COVID.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:01 AM on March 21, 2022

Best answer: I think it's a great conversation to have.

But I'd definitely start at the other end - ask your partner what their experience at work is like and why they are choosing not to wear a mask currently. It might surprise you what comes up.

At my workplace we are requiring masks for both staff and customers although the mandate stopped today, and I have already spent several hours of my life hearing comparisons between our policies and Putin's, among other dictators. I expected a bit of pushback but to be honest I didn't imagine I was going to spend (to date) a day and a half on the mask conspiracy channel. While I'm good with where we're at, and as people rage-quit it kind of resolves itself, this actually has already had a minor health impact on me in terms of quality of sleep, elevated heart rate, and I'm guessing my blood pressure went up too.

Like, that's very temporary and stuff but I am using it as an example of how workplaces are full of considerations, and it might give you both some clarity if you see that this choice is either just kind of optimistic and going with the flow, or if there's a whole set of concerns factoring into your partner's decisions. Then you could share your feelings and worries as well, and try to come up with a plan together.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:36 AM on March 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

A new surge will not come without notice

We have received the notice about BA.2. If we follow the curve that Europe did, we're a few weeks from the surge.
posted by Candleman at 10:38 AM on March 21, 2022 [9 favorites]

Man, Mefi always treats covid and masks much more conservatively than people in other circles. A lot has changed in a few years:

Paxlovid, an extremely effective antiviral, is available at any drugstore.

Cases in most of the USA are at the lowest they've been since Summer 2020. Boston Wastewater data suggests it's incredibly low, and BA2 hasn't caused a surge *yet*.

If there's a more contagious or lethal variant that appears, we will hear about it in time to react with masks and new policies. So far, BA2 doesn't appear to be more deadly than Omicron, which was mild.

Hospitals are not overrun, and with paxlovid, are unlikely to be overrun again.

So - There's not as much concern about spreading it around. There's not much danger from having it yourself. Other people in the office won't be masking. I think it's time to celebrate. It's time to let our guard down again.

Maybe you don't trust my take, but I don't trust 99% of people saying that masking would help anything right now. One thing we can do if you are worried and don't know who to believe: trust your local government to make the correct decision - and right now, that's non-mandatory masking.
posted by bbqturtle at 10:44 AM on March 21, 2022 [22 favorites]

To provide a differing point of view, I think it would be unreasonable for my partner to ask me to go beyond standard public health guidelines. If the informed scientific guidance is that I don’t need to mask at work any more, I would be very frustrated with my partner asking me to continue to do so and would want my partner to deal with their own unjustified anxiety instead of trying to impose on me.
posted by amaire at 10:51 AM on March 21, 2022 [19 favorites]

Best answer: I have asked my wife to continue masking at work (both of us are in 2-3 days a week now). I think risk tolerance for something that one could pick up at work and spread home needs to be collectively negotiated.
posted by Alterscape at 11:08 AM on March 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

The past two years have been incredibly fear driven - when the pandemic started, people were dying like crazy and we didn't know what was going on or how/when it would ever end. Now we are at a place where risk assessment is a lot easier to do - we have a good amount of data, we know what works and doesn't, and we're developing mitigation strategies that have greatly reduced the deadliness of this disease.

I'm not even quite sure what your concern is here - is it serious complications/death? I haven't done the math, but I'd wager that if you are healthy, vaccinated, and boosted, your risk of serious complications or death from covid are less than your risk of injury or death from riding in a passenger vehicle. You have to determine your own risk tolerance level (and what you will accept in a partner) but I would strongly suggest you do it based on scientific guidance and not fear. The risk is almost certainly less than you'd estimate off-hand at this point, and maybe doing some research into that may give you some comfort.

FWIW on a personal level, I'd consider it unreasonable if my partner in a similar scenario expected me to mask at work when my local health department and work had dropped the requirement, but once again, your body, your relationship, your choice.
posted by _DB_ at 11:17 AM on March 21, 2022 [20 favorites]

Best answer: I can't tell you how anxious to feel, but I want to validate that it's reasonable to ask your partner to continue masking even if his workplace isn't requiring masks. My spouse is on immune suppressing medication, so I'm more cautious than the average person, but we've gone through periods of more and less restriction (e.g., risking some indoor dining after we were vaxxed/boosted and the local numbers were better). We're back to takeout or outdoor dining for now because of omicron, as well as concerns about AB2, and I'm masking anytime I'm indoors despite my area dropping the mandate. I don't see health departments dropping mask mandates as a positive sign that COVID risks are meaningfully reduced. I see it as short-sighted ableism that may have serious consequences in the future. Current strains of COVID are more, not less, contagious, and (unless there's new data I've missed) can still result in long COVID. So, while the immediate illness resulting from an omicron infection is likely to be less severe than previous strains, relatively healthy people loosening their personal precautions now facilitates spread of a highly contagious virus that a) still puts people like my spouse at serious risk, and b) could well turn those previously healthy people into chronically ill people.
posted by theotherdurassister at 11:50 AM on March 21, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: My partner masks at work. We both have decades to go before - should the planet not burn or explode - we can retire, and we don't come from money. Therefore we understand that risking disability from long covid simply isn't on.

While we may not be able to avoid covid and we may not be able to avoid other life-altering disabilities, we would like to try; both of us would like to stay healthy to maintain the life we have together.

My brother has long covid. He got covid in summer 2020 despite taking masking pretty seriously. He has heart problems, his diabetes is no longer controllable and he regularly has bad days that lay him out. He is in his early forties. He is not getting better. Who knows if he'll get better in five or ten years, but for now, he's right where he was after he got better from covid. I am not willing to end up in that situation or worse if I can avoid it, and neither is my partner.
posted by Frowner at 12:31 PM on March 21, 2022 [19 favorites]

This sounds less like a rational concern and more like anxiety. Covid is not going anywhere. As a healthy triple-vaccinated youngish person, your risk profile is low and I don't think it's realistic to never expect to get sick ever again. In addition, many places are moving away from case counts as the sole arbiter of concern.
posted by rhymedirective at 12:53 PM on March 21, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I think if you do ask your partner to continue masking, you need to 1. be clear about what your concerns are and under what circumstances you'd be ok with them not masking. 2. Listen to their reasons for not masking and take them seriously. For some people, it's actually a pretty big ask - wearing a mask all day (especially if they wear glasses, have a physically active job, etc.) is a lot different from wearing one for an hour while in a store. It's ok to ask your partner for something big if you really do feel like it's making you significantly safer, but I think it's fair to recognize that you may be asking something pretty big, and they may want some parameters around it (ie, it's only when case numbers go above X, or whatever).
posted by lunasol at 12:56 PM on March 21, 2022 [5 favorites]

I agree that it's worth figuring out what your goal is - to not get COVID? to not get a serious case? to not die from COVID? to not spread COVID to other people? to have an average risk tolerance when it comes to COVID? These are all very different goals.

This is how me and my partner are thinking about it: given where we are as a country, it's going to impossible to completely avoid risk of contracting COVID, and by extension, being part of the community spread. Thankfully, vaccines do work really well at avoiding death and hospitalization, and studies do suggest hopeful signs that vaccines protect against long COVID as well. And masks also help. So we are still masking when the costs outweigh the benefits- grocery store, public transit, etc. And we are not masking where we see real gains in not doing so - like attending an indoor dinner party with friends. In short, we are not masking when there are real mental health benefits, because stress and unhappiness also physically wears down the body. If case numbers get lower (like, to where they were last summer), at a certain point we likely won't mask in general, but in our state we are currently not there yet.

So what I'd discuss with your partner, as others have suggested, is why are they not currently masking? Comfort? Does it impede in doing their job? Or is there a concern of ostracism because they'd literally be the only person wearing a mask, their boss makes fun of people who mask, etc.?

A related suggestion - I have found this Twitter account, of a scientist who helped develop one of the COVID vaccines (forget which), really helpful. They do a good job of explaining various studies, where the science stands now, and responding to various media narratives. Recently, they had a whole thread on BA.2, and they laid out why some of the media narratives around BA.2 (echos of which are on this thread) are unhelpful fear mongering. It's not that they don't take COVID seriously - they are in vaccine research and development after all - but they are keeping on top of the data as it comes in, and some of the current narratives are based on old data or on data based in countries that have had very different COVID trajectories.
posted by coffeecat at 1:18 PM on March 21, 2022 [8 favorites]

There is a social cost to masking when you need to interact with people. Maybe his job is mostly sitting at his desk and not talking to people, so masking in the office would mean just wearing it in the bathroom/break room. But if your expectation is that he mask sitting at his desk or during frequent extended interactions with colleagues, I think you're asking a lot. You are both vaccinated, boosted, and relatively young. The odds of you having a serious illness from an infection at this point are very low. I think there's a question of what you are waiting for to resume more normal human interactions, because we're in a pretty good state right now in terms of vaccines, treatments, and case numbers. Things might change in the future that would indicate the need to mask again, but right now is not a bad time to go without.
posted by ch1x0r at 2:24 PM on March 21, 2022 [5 favorites]

Mefi always treats covid and masks much more conservatively than people in other circles.

Hey, remember last summer after vaccines were out and a bunch of people here were like, "we never need to wear masks again!" and then Delta happened? And then last fall after boosters were available and people were like, "I'm never wearing a mask again!" And then omicron happened.

Antivirals are decidedly not available at every drug store. We don't have good data on what the long term effects of Covid, even mild cases, are but there are early studies that are worrying. So forgive us if some people here think that keeping one of the two effective countermeasures for catching it in-place a little longer is a good idea. Yes, masks suck. But I personally know quite a few people who are triple vaxxed and practice pretty good safety measures who've gotten Covid in the past month. Hospitals are doing better than they were but they're still under some pressure. So like I said, getting it is inevitable but I'd like it to be a little further down the line.
posted by Candleman at 2:46 PM on March 21, 2022 [23 favorites]

Best answer: As you know, and can see in this thread, people have widely varying opinions on what the risk of Covid is and what level of risk is acceptable. I think it is reasonable to say that your risk of death or serious acute illness from Covid is quite low as you are boosted, relatively young and have no major health issues. If you get infected, it's very unlikely that your experience of the acute illness will be anything more than quite unpleasant — bearable, in other words. So I understand where the people who say we're all going to get it eventually, so don't worry about it too much, and so on are coming from.

But long Covid completely changes the question. 2.4% of the UK population are reporting long Covid. More than 1% are reporting long Covid for a year or more. 1.6% are reporting their ability to do their daily activities is affected by long Covid, 0.4% say their daily activities are affected a lot. Those are not percentages of people infected, they are percentages of the total population. These are not rare outcomes, they are common.

As someone with a very similar disease, I think taking those kinds of risks is crazy. Vaccination seems to reduce the risk of long Covid by 50% or so, but the risk is still very high. It's also worth noting that many people who are young and previously healthy are suffering from long Covid, i.e. it is not something that predominantly affects older people.

If you have even something like a 1% of chance of a life-changing chronic illness after Covid, it is very reasonable to take strong precautions to avoid getting infected. Unfortunately, there is currently no treatment that cures long Covid or even significantly reduces symptoms, so being diagnosed or treated properly isn't going to help that much. In general, those who are in charge of public health simply aren't taking long Covid into account. Unfortunately, that leaves us in the unfortunate position of having to swim against the current to protect ourselves from potential long-term illness and disability.

Additionally, I would not put much faith in your partner's workplace requiring vaccination. The most recent data from the UK shows that people who are double-vaccinated have only about 10% protection against symptomatic infection with Omicron — basically nothing. People with three mRNA doses are about 50% protected. Even with somewhat lower risk of transmission from vaccination, when it comes to Omicron, you're still not looking at a huge reduction in risk from those around your partner being vaccinated.

In this context, asking your partner to wear a mask at work is very reasonable. I wouldn't characterize this as anxiety about Covid, but a considered and reasonable reaction to objective risks. It's a tough situation to be in because these risks aren't being widely acknowledged, but the evidence shows they are definitely there and the best we can do is to take the steps we can take to protect ourselves and those around us.
posted by ssg at 5:14 PM on March 21, 2022 [17 favorites]

Paxlovid, an extremely effective antiviral, is available at any drugstore.

Sure, but it's not being prescribed to just anyone at the moment. You must be considered High Risk to get one. Lots of people who would like to avoid getting COVID do not fall into the high risk category.

My big question WRT work environment: what is ventilation like? One asymptomatic person in a an unventilated office can make people ill, regardless of community transmission numbers. One person coughing in an enclosed room can leave virus particles circulating for hours. Those are the circumstances I would be asking about, and those are the circumstances a good mask protects against.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:57 PM on March 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

But long Covid completely changes the question. 2.4% of the UK population are reporting long Covid.

Approximately 1.4% of Americans each year will need to go to a doctor for a car collision - this costs the country approximately half a trillion dollars per year. Very few people I know would use this as a reason to tell their partners to wear a helmet while driving or to avoid driving to minimize chance of injury. I also have a significantly higher chance of dying from heart disease than I do of getting long COVID - but I still eat red meat occasionally. When I hear a roughly 0.6% per year chance of getting long COVID - assuming 2.4% over two years, plus a 50% reduction from vaccination - I think that's a very reasonable price to pay to avoid wearing a mask at work.

To respond to the OP's question directly - consider expressing to your partner what a 0.6% risk means to you. It doesn't necessarily mean the same thing to all people that it means to ssg.
posted by saeculorum at 8:07 PM on March 21, 2022 [7 favorites]

At the risk of stating the obvious, car collisions aren't contagious (pile ups and chain reactions aside). And we do engage in risk assessments on driving - for long trips, flying or taking a train is significantly safer than driving. We try to optimize our housing to reduce drive time (partially for saving time but partially to reduce risk). We buy cars with as advanced safety features as possible to mitigate the risk. When my partners have been significantly worse at driving than me, I did the majority of the driving to reduce the risk of either of us (or a stranger) being injured. If wearing a mask would magically make driving safer, I would wear one.

I have had to prod a partner to wear a helmet while biking.
posted by Candleman at 8:24 PM on March 21, 2022 [9 favorites]

I think a triple-vaxed healthy person wearing a mask in the office is entirely unnecessary by my standards of risk, and would do it every day if my wife asked me to do so out of fear for her health or mine. Only a shitty husband refuses so easy an accommodation because he disagrees.
posted by MattD at 8:37 PM on March 21, 2022 [5 favorites]

Paxlovid, an extremely effective antiviral, is available at any drugstore.

Sure, but it's not being prescribed to just anyone at the moment. You must be considered High Risk to get one. Lots of people who would like to avoid getting COVID do not fall into the high risk category.

For your use in calculating risk (or anyone else) A map of what COVID therapies are available, and where.

(and just to be clear- just because it exists doesn't mean your doctor will prescribe it.)
posted by oneirodynia at 12:39 PM on March 22, 2022 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for your varied and thoughtful replies. The diversity of responses here has helped me clarify how to calibrate risk assessment, and also to bring this up with my partner.

Even though he's not on here, I also feel it's important to note that my concern about raising this with him was not due to any fear he'd be a jerk about it. This was just the first time in two years that our shared risk assessment diverged, and that felt...weird. When I did bring it up, he replied very simply that if I wanted him to wear a mask at work he would. So based on your responses I'm ironing out conditions under which I'd ask him to do that.

Thanks again.
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 12:46 PM on March 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

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