Help me evaluate the COVID risk of returning to the office
March 21, 2022 10:45 PM   Subscribe

Yet another COVID risk assessment question. tl;dr: Given that my toddler is in daycare, is my risk profile already so high that I shouldn't worry about the additional COVID risk from me returning to the office?

I have a 1-year-old child and a pregnant spouse. My spouse and I are both office workers who have worked from home since the beginning of the pandemic. My 1-year-old is in daycare.

My spouse and I are both being required by our employers to return to the office next month. My spouse has negotiated this with her employer down to 1 day a week. I'm supposed to go back to the office 3 days per week—but my employer allows me to request an extension if I have a personal hardship such as an at-risk family member. I'm trying to decide whether to request the extension. I can't stay home forever, but I might be able to get an extension until our second child is born.

Upsides of returning to the office:
  • Career advantages from working face-to-face (versus being the lone floating head on Zoom)
  • Feel more productive and happier in the office (staring at a screen for 8 hours/day × 2 years has been kind of dismal)
  • Don't have to spend political capital requesting the extension
  • I'm a manager and can better support my team in person (I'd feel kind of guilty if my reports have to be in the office and I don't)
Downsides of returning to the office:
  • COVID risk
  • Commuting
  • Mask discomfort assuming I choose to wear one
I'm trying to assess the COVID risk. I'm not so concerned about getting COVID myself, but I'm concerned about passing it on to my spouse and complicating the pregnancy.

People in my office are mostly not masking, but are required to be vaccinated. Desks are densely packed and meeting rooms will be crowded. There is a culture of eating lunch together which I could avoid at the cost of seeming unfriendly.

This sounds risky, but I'm wondering if my risk profile is already so high from my toddler being in daycare that working in the office is a drop in the bucket by comparison. My toddler and classmates are too young to be masked or vaccinated, and the teachers no longer have to mask either. It's the classic toddler petri dish situation with kiddos licking all the same toys and bringing home every illness under the sun. So intuitively it seems like if we're going to get COVID, that's probably going to be the vector—in which case me going to work with a bunch of vaxxed office workers is not going to meaningfully change our family's risk profile. (For all we know, we've had it already. We haven't been testing regularly.)

Or maybe I'm wrong; maybe because children are less likely to catch and transmit COVID, daycare isn't so risky and going to the office would meaningfully increase my family's risk level. Or maybe I'm thinking about it the wrong way.

I'm pretty torn about how to proceed and would welcome any advice or information to help me decide whether to return to the office or request an extension.

For context, I'm in a city with ~10 daily average cases per 100k residents, ~10 people hospitalized with COVID per 100k residents, and >80% fully vaxxed.
posted by Syllepsis to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I cannot give you specific odds, but if it were me and I had limited political capital to stay home, I would use that when/after the new baby is born, not before. New born baby still has developing immune system. I think you have to consider which you are concerned with more, passing it to spouse while pregnant or passing it to newborn.

If it were me, I would be testing regularly, wearing a mask if you think that helps and go to the office now, but I concede that it is easier for an outsider to tell you what to do than it is for you to decide because there is no exact correct answer. What does your spouse's ob/gyn say about it? What does your pediatrician say about it both from current toddler and newborn standpoint? Quite frankly, I would listen to them more than to internet strangers.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:55 PM on March 21, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Anecdote alert: My wife and I both have underlying conditions (more serious than being overweight) and young kids and were in a similar boat as you. I was extremely careful for 1.5 years (I'm talking no restaurants, no playdates, almost no in person shopping).

We all got covid anyway bc of our older kid's school (which we found out had a Christmas carol sing-along for the whole school, I'm not kidding, right as the omicron wave was beginning). My wife and I (both 3 shots) felt crappy for about five days - worse than a cold, not as bad as a bad flu - our kids (older fully vaxed, younged unvaxed) barely had any symptoms.

This is all anecdotal but the lessons for us were that exposure was inevitable with young kids in school now that guard has been let down, and that the best outcome is to just make sure you're triple vaxed before that happens. I prefer remote work but am back in the office 3x/wk for similar reasons to those you cite. I view current COVID numbers/risk as too low to justify staying home, subject to change on a daily basis as numbers change.

I would also probably save political capital for after the baby is born.

Of course this is easier to say having now had it already.
posted by redondo77 at 3:36 AM on March 22, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I gave birth a few weeks ago. I don’t think the risk of working in the office is trivial compared to the daycare risk; it does increase your exposure quite a bit. Anecdotally I’ve heard about more in-office spread than in-daycare spread. (But it’s also a lot of luck and depends on the specific coworkers and daycare - for my whole pregnancy I was working in person in a public-facing position, wearing a KN95, and my child was in daycare, and it was my stay at home spouse who caught COVID, in one visit to the mall.)

Most of the increased risk and scary complications for COVID during pregnancy are for people who aren’t vaccinated, so if your spouse is vaxxed and boosted the most likely negative consequences have more to do with the healthcare safety procedures. E.g. a COVID case in the household could mean that their in-person appointments get delayed, or that they have to do extra testing afterward, or that you could miss being there for the birth.

If I were you, with the numbers in your area and the vaccination requirement, I would feel comfortable going back to work in the office, but would wear a good mask and try to work from home for the last couple of weeks before the due date.
posted by songs about trains at 6:43 AM on March 22, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If your commute involves public transit I think that changes the profile some.

Personally...if everyone is boosted I think I would save my capital for the newborn period. Although any rise in risk as a rise in risk (you don't eliminate the workplace risk by having a riskier daycare), right now the baby is safer inside than outside due to your wife's immunity. That won't be the case necessarily going forward, plus there will be times where there are a rise in cases or your toddler gets sick with other things.

That said, at work I personally would mask and mitigate by not eating around other people, if possibly choosing spots in meetings near windows, etc. Just a little bit each choice I get to make.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:12 AM on March 22, 2022

Best answer: What couples I know who are about to or have recently given birth have done (with advice from their doctors): mitigate as best they can during the pregnancy but not to the degree of taking time off or spending political capital at work, a hard lockdown 10 days before the due date (to ensure being able to witness the birth), and then being very cautious if not locked-down for a few months post-birth.
posted by coffeecat at 10:09 AM on March 22, 2022

Best answer: Pregnant people are at greatly increased risk of serious illness. They are literally immunocompromised.

Your office situation sounds risky enough that I would try to negotiate some kind of concession from your employer, whether that be more working from home, or a private office, or something else.

And definitely, definitely eat in your car or outside.
posted by mai at 10:31 AM on March 22, 2022

Best answer: It sounds like YOU may be more of a vector of infection for your coworkers rather than the other way around. I don't know if that's an argument you can use or not to get to stay home, but that's a point to make.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:51 PM on March 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had covid while pregnant (early first wave) then got it again during omicron, most likely from my now-baby in daycare (who, btw, was totally fine, as were the older kids). Oddly, I was less symptomatic with alpha than with omicron, even being triple vaxxed the second time around.

If I were to get pregnant again, I would strongly consider taking my baby out of daycare and hiring a babysitter during the final 4-5 months of the pregnancy (I know this is $$ but it may be worth it).

It is just too stressful to be pregnant and have covid; it is much less stressful when the baby is over 1 and you don't have to worry so much.

There is also some evidence that long covid can develop from doing too much in the 6 weeks after infection, which a working pregnant mother with a toddler is at very high risk of doing. And I would hope my husband could work from home as much as possible (3 days a week in-office does sound reasonable, however, if he were wearing a high-quality mask). And, yeah, I think you're right that you're more likely to get it through the daycare than through work if you're being cautious at work.
posted by luckdragon at 6:15 PM on March 22, 2022

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