Help settle a disagreement about masking and covid
August 13, 2022 8:28 PM   Subscribe

My wife wants to give up masking for covid. I think we should continue.

My wife wants to quit masking, at least until the covid numbers get worse. She doesn’t say how much worse. She does say it’s hard to breathe with a mask. We are rarely in a building outside our home for an hour or more.

But she is going to a meeting at work in a few days and doesn’t want to wear a mask. The estimate is that there will be about eight people in about 150 square feet.

She is 62 years old and has asthma and COPD. (I am 59 and have no respiratory or immune problems.)

Recent statewide case numbers have ranged from about 800 to 1200, out of a population of about 2 million. We live in New Mexico, which has apparently decided to move on from the pandemic. The only mandated precautions we see seem to be in medical-type settings. I think my wife is a little tired of being the only person around who wears a mask.

We have generally been cautious during the pandemic. We mask in buildings outside our house and socialize with only one or two people at a time. We’ve eaten in a restaurant only two or three times. Of course, we are fully vaccinated and have gotten a booster.

We have been working at home throughout the pandemic. In about a month, she will be required to start working inn the office three days a week. She will have a private office. But she will share the floor with about 100 other people, none of whom mask.

I am open to us operating with a somewhat higher but still limited “risk budget”. That is, one of us might do something more risky earlier in the week, but then shouldn’t do anything else risky the rest of the week, more or less.

I know the CDC recently loosened various guidelines. But my understanding is that social norms were more a priority than safety, in this latest instance.

(By the way, please don’t assume gender. We are both women.)
posted by NotLost to Health & Fitness (57 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
She is 62 years old and has asthma and COPD.

It's just unwise not to mask in that scenario. I'm ~15 years younger and have no respiratory issues and I wouldn't go without a mask at an indoor meeting, unless there was an independent good justification. (My vet is a little hard of hearing, so I had to unmask so he could understand what I was saying...that kind of thing.) I do have rotten heat tolerance and the mask does make it worse, so summer is tough, but I don't think "hard to breathe" is right.

However. It is her body. The question is really whether you can tolerate the risk of her contracting it and passing it on to you. All the Internet randos in the world can't settle that.
posted by praemunire at 8:35 PM on August 13, 2022 [19 favorites]

Data point: I'm significantly younger than you and in a similar office space 3-5 days a week since March. I wear an N95 whenever I'm in the building (I go outside to eat/drink) and have avoided COVID despite other people on my floor catching it. I would not consider being indoors in an office situation without an N95 now. I'm not sure when I'll feel comfortable, but "the tail end of the BA.5 surge" ain't it. That said, I acknowledge I'm a fairly extreme outlier, but at the same time I also don't have COVID yet..
posted by Alterscape at 8:45 PM on August 13, 2022 [22 favorites]

Best answer: I think your wife is correct. The current covid epidemic is meaningfully different from a few months ago:

1. Excess deaths are under 5%, even with lots more cases. This compares to 10-30% for most of the pandemic: Link

2. Paxlovid is really good, it cuts risk of a bad case by 50-70% even in vaccinated adults.

3. The current variants are much more mild and cold-like than previous ones, while being much more transmissible. In an office building anything other than a well-fitting n-95 (which are the most uncomfortable to breath in) is not likely to provide much additional protection.

The CDC has updated it's guidelines because reality has changed. They provided their reasoning when they updated them: Link
posted by hermanubis at 8:52 PM on August 13, 2022 [38 favorites]

Does your wife want to give up masking or does she want to unmask for a multi-day, 8-person meeting in a conference room? It sounds like you might be conflating the two.

(I’ve been the only person masking in similar situations and it can feel exhausting, so I have a ton of sympathy for your wife, at the same time as I 100% get why you want her to mask up.)
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:58 PM on August 13, 2022 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Not to threadsit, but: I asked my wife specifically, and she said that she wants to give up masking, at least until or unless the numbers get worse. The meeting could just be her first time in another building unmasked. (By the way, the meeting is for only an hour or two.)
posted by NotLost at 9:01 PM on August 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

My sense is that the numbers have gotten a lot less reliable; it's anecdotal but more and more people I know have been mentioning lately that they think they have covid but are not testing, because they don't want to. More disturbingly most of them aren't isolating, are continuing to send their kids to school, etc. These aren't covid deniers, they were all much more responsible in previous waves. Meanwhile vaccine effectiveness apparently wanes significantly over time and it's been a long time since most people were vaccinated. The term "fully vaccinated" seems about as meaningful as it would for the flu, these days.

So it's a weird situation where it feels like the social reality is that the pandemic is over, but the public health reality is that now might be a more dangerous time to unmask than a year ago.

I don't know what to tell you, but at the very minimum consider getting your second boosters, at least.
posted by trig at 9:06 PM on August 13, 2022 [46 favorites]

Has she gotten a second booster? At her age and with her pre-existing conditions, she would be a candidate.

I still mask in large public settings, like grocery shopping or a concert, but no longer masking at work meetings or small social gatherings after getting the second booster. (me - 58, heart and kidney disease)
posted by hworth at 9:11 PM on August 13, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If she has trouble breathing in her mask, have you explored other options? Vented masks are much easier to breathe in, and at this stage of the pandemic when we’ve all been left to fend for ourselves… it seems reasonable to do the thing that is most comforting for the person actually taking precautions. I happen to have friends who work in ICUs all over the country including some in NM. The idea that the pandemic is over makes them laugh in the most bitter way imaginable. They say the numbers are all accurate in the way that you can lie with statistics. But in their long careers they’ve never seen so many people in their 30s with unexplained heart attacks and strokes. They’re like “sure they’re being hospitalized as ‘with’ covid rather than ‘for’ covid, but that doesn’t mean Covid isn’t the reason they’re in my ICU.”

COPD and asthma are likely qualifying conditions for Evusheld. (This is entirely dependent on your doctor saying you need it and there’s no one checking on the other end.) It’s for people who are likely to have significantly worse outcomes from covid, not just the immunocompromised. (The messaging around this is abysmal.) If you would like help finding it in your state let me know. If she insists on unmasking, I would push extra hard on making Evusheld a priority, followed by having a post exposure and treatment plan. Just because Paxlovid is out there doesn’t mean your wife is medically capable of taking it. Get that sorted with a doctor first!

1) Try a new mask that is easier to breathe through. Vented N95s and p100s are shockingly wearable.
2) Case loads and positivity rates are still very high and resulting in hospitalization especially for high risk individuals.
3) Get Evusheld!
4) BEFORE unmasking make sure that all the ducks are lined up for an appropriate treatment plan for when your wife catches covid. Have rapid tests on hand and a doctor who has run the tests necessary to confidently assess and prescribe (in this order) Paxlovid, Remdesivir, bebtelovimab, and molnupiravir.
posted by Bottlecap at 9:14 PM on August 13, 2022 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't want to make a habit of replies, but I just thought to check the CDC county guidance, which designates our county at high risk, and the county of the meeting next week at medium risk.
posted by NotLost at 9:20 PM on August 13, 2022

Best answer: What is your wife's plan for if she develops long-COVID and is too unwell to do paid work for 12 months or more? Because that is a very real possibility.

Can you buy a portable C02 monitor and get her to agree to mask in any environment where the C02 is 1000 or more? C02 levels indicate how well ventilated or how poorly ventilated an indoor environment is - the higher the C02, the greater your chance of catching COVID.
posted by carriage pulled by cassowaries at 9:25 PM on August 13, 2022 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I agree that investigating Evusheld is a good idea, regardless of where you guys land on the masking issue. Here's a great primer on it.

I'm a little unclear on the question here though. Is the disagreement you want "settled" whether your wife should wear a mask, or whether both of you should? And are you looking for strangers to tell you which side they are on and why? Or strategies for you and your wife to reach an agreement?
posted by caek at 9:26 PM on August 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hello from your neighbor to the north! I'm a transplant patient in southern Colorado. I just chatted with my transplant team on Thursday and thought I'd share the current guidance for highest risk folks so you and your wife can sort of gauge and adjust as needed to your own risk profiles.

Here in transplant land, the new reality for the community is that covid isn't going away and continued isolation for patients isn't always possible or healthy. So the push now is to vaccinate and boost-boost-boost, and then Evusheld as often as needed, up to every three months and timed strategically for any travel etc, and build up whatever protection we can. Also, to watch for symptoms and report them as quickly as possible so you can seek immediate treatment.

On the barrier side, we still mask up in indoor spaces and don't spend more time than we need to. We still avoid crowds. Small family gatherings seem ok. They're not enthusiastic AT ALL about air travel but they seem ok with road trips. I've been unsuccessful in the past at creating any antibodies whatsoever, so I'm mostly still stuck here at Moonbase 8 and feeling more than a little like Sam Rockwell in Moon. I'm now allowed to have a meal at an empty restaurant, though, which is such a foreign concept to me at this point that I can barely process it, although I'm watching infection rates and holding off on that for now.

Since your wife is currently under medical care, it might be good for her to check in periodically with her medical folks and see. I was kind of shocked by the change from pure isolation to something more relaxed, so maybe she'll get news more in line with what she's looking for.
posted by mochapickle at 9:33 PM on August 13, 2022 [26 favorites]

I empathize so much with your wife. Given her risk factors and how infectious the current strains are, I think it makes sense for her to keep masking (and I also think it’s the right thing to do to protect others), but it does take a toll to be in the minority in terms of taking precautions. I’m still masking, it bums me out, but I think it’s the right thing to do for my at-risk spouse and the community.
posted by theotherdurassister at 9:43 PM on August 13, 2022 [5 favorites]

This seems like a relationship question more than COVID question. Like, 2 1/2 years in, how does a couple figure out a shared plan on this since your decisions influence each others lives so much.

I still N95 in the office and do outdoor dining and basically always mask indoors but that's all about to change tomorrow because my mother in law is taking my wife and I on a cruise and we leave tomorrow.

Making this decision I factored in the reality that COVID is a much more treatable disease than it was 2 years ago and vaccinated people get much less ill. I work in a hospital and watch the ICU cases and they are quite rare for vaccinated people, (caviat that they do still happen in small numbers for folks with complex medical conditions).

Long COVID refers to several different phenomenon: people who got severe disease and organ damage in the initial waves and have long term repercussions of that are being lumped in w folks who have a several week to months long period till full recovery. This are very different things but because of that we don't have meaningful statistics on how many people have long covid. Post viral syndromes are real and not unique to COVID but most people have now had COVID and have fully recovered.

So although until now I have been what would be considered extremely cautious, I have a lot of understanding for folks feeling fatigue of this and the is a rational case to move on.

I do suggest you both get a second booster though you may want to wait till the updated one comes in September.
posted by latkes at 10:21 PM on August 13, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: If your wife is open to exploring options for masks that are more comfortable, more attractive and about as effective as N95's, check out the Korean style masks form Masklab. Their Korean style masks are in the same league as N95s (particle filteration >94% vs >95%). The difference is that they are very lightweight and breathable plus they are really attractive. It is hard to believe that they are really that good when they feel so comfortable but Aaron Collins did his own independent testing and found that they fully measured up. (here is his summary of the top picks The key thing is how they fit on your face. As a woman was a fairly average size head they fit really well with no leakage around the sides or top - I just have to smooth the bottom under the jaw to make sure it stays flush.

While they are rated single use, there is information to support reusing them as long as they are still in excellent condition. I buy a box of 10 and rotate through 5 on my work days, and I find they last for at least 8-10 wears or more so the box lasts for 4+ months. If you wear makeup or sweat or crush them into your pocket then they won't last.
posted by metahawk at 10:31 PM on August 13, 2022 [18 favorites]

I understand both of your perspectives. I was -- and am -- a big proponent of masking. But I'm also a public schoolteacher in a liberal part of the US who had to mask up for so long. When I'd post my support of masking in discussions on liberal Instagram accounts, I'd even get death threats. Not kidding, sadly! People can be such assholes. Eventually I too was exhausted from doing it constantly at work and gradually stopped masking about a month after the state requirement was lifted. While it's technically not harder to breathe, it really does become a pain and communication is hindered.

I finally got COVID this summer, likely from being unmasked on a train in Europe, and sadly passed it on to my parents who are almost 80. The good news is that with our vaccines, three for me and four for them, we had mild symptoms and recovered quickly. I felt very guilty for sure but they are OK and we've all moved on. They mask in public while I rarely do. I will again if numbers go up -- my region is both highly vaxxed and sometimes a hot spot -- but for me right now the risk of COVID is frankly less important than the daily difficulty of teaching in a mask. Again, we'll see how things go but this is where I am currently. Oh, and I'm queer and single and didn't get COVID even while actively dating throughout the pandemic (but otherwise being super careful with masks and avoiding crowds and more.) I'm definitely worried about monkeypox now but that seems to be a bit easier to avoid by avoiding close contact.

I agree with others who have said that this is really now more of a relationship issue than a health issue, although technically it's both. What's more important to you in the long run: reducing your COVID risk or having a wife who feels understood and supported after having supported your views for the past 2.5 years? I'd choose the latter but you know what's right for you.
posted by smorgasbord at 11:40 PM on August 13, 2022 [7 favorites]

The U.S. no longer has good prevalence data, because many folks aren't testing with tests that are reported to any government agency. (E.g. the results of rapid tests aren't automatically reported anywhere).

The mask question doesn't have to be all or nothing. Perhaps a more comfortable mask could be worn. Also, wearing masks sometimes is probably better than wearing them never.
posted by oceano at 1:48 AM on August 14, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: She is 62 years old and has asthma and COPD. (I am 59 and have no respiratory or immune problems.)

I'm an epidemiologist in my 40s. I just attended a small in-person three day meeting, the first in some time. Just under 20 people met in a shared, well-ventilated space. Everyone in attendance was vaccinated and some had recently recovered from infection (myself included). Daily testing was required for three days prior, including the morning of the meeting. On day two, one person in attendance tested positive and developed mild symptoms. At the weekend, two more people tested positive, one with symptoms serious enough to go to the hospital. The following Monday, another person tested positive and is doing well.

This was all from one day of very well-vetted exposure. If you have conditions that may lead to Covid complications, going maskless is still extremely unwise.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:52 AM on August 14, 2022 [40 favorites]

So the accurate data we do have is ... amounts to is there space in the hospital if someone gets sick? And hospitalizations and deaths from Covid are lagging indicators, that is to say, by the time people are sick enough to need the hospital, they probably got Covid a few days/weeks prior.
posted by oceano at 2:58 AM on August 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

Your wife's medical situation, plus unreliability of prevalence data, makes unmasking seem deeply unwise to me. (I also think unmasking in general is a bad move if you care about other people you share a society with, but that's sort of beside the point given your wife's specific risk factors.)

I do think your point about the overall risk budget might give you some space for negotiation. You can't literally make her wear a mask. Okay. Instead can you say, given the new risk you will be bringing into our shared life, I want us to cut down on risks elsewhere, so let's stop doing XYZ?

Whatever you decide, please make sure those occasional other people you socialize with know about this change if she does stop wearing a mask. I'm about to have to start going into the office on occasion, and have just been through a round of discussion with the two people I socialize with about what that means for the additional risk I will be bringing into their lives if we keep seeing each other. It was awkward but they appreciated it and we worked out some new strategies to keep them safe. It was an important conversation to have.
posted by Stacey at 4:54 AM on August 14, 2022 [6 favorites]

In case this hasn’t been said yet - it’s her body, and she gets to decide. Wearing a mask is a burden, physically and socially for some people. The risk-benefit analysis is hers to make. All you can do is decide what you will do in response.

My higher risk partner was never big on masks and I couldn’t do anything about it other than make sure he got vaccinated. He got covid and was fine.
posted by haptic_avenger at 5:14 AM on August 14, 2022 [13 favorites]

Some of her decision making might consider the specific people at the meeting. I am more concerned about COVID than the general population, but I will socialize with a few other friends indoors without masks because I know they are not doing particularly risky things and that if they have any symptoms, they will stay away. It's not perfect but safer than going out into the community at large. If she knows these eight coworkers well enough to be able expect that, it is less risky than it might feel to you.

That said, this variant is incredibly transmissible and she has serious health risks, so I would be more cautious in her position. It also doesn't sound like she's thought out her desired policy on this very well given that she doesn't have a metric for deciding what it means for "the numbers to get worse;" they are currently high. So it seems like fatigue rather than logic is likely driving her decision. Choosing to minimize the risk in favor of other things that are important to her may be reasonable, but if I were her partner I would want her to make that choice consciously rather than based on fatigue and social pressure.
posted by metasarah at 5:25 AM on August 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't do it if I were her, because I still think the smart move is to mitigate. But as the pandemic keeps proving, the world is full of millions of people who are not me.

What can you do, is maybe the better question? Assuming you're still trying to avoid the disease, you might consider getting supplies ready for when she does bring COVID home. Portable HEPA air purifier units (~$250) and/or homemade Corsi-Rosenthal boxes (~$100 plus labor) can help with filtration, especially where open windows aren't practical. Do you have a spare room in which she can isolate? Better yet, is there space with a bathroom so you can really stay separate for the time it will take? If you make that space comfortable now, it'll be easier later. Having a bunch of spare antigen tests on hand will help you figure out when it's safe to stop isolating. Household transmission can still be prevented, but it takes significant effort, and you may feel more at peace with your wife's choices if you have a plan you can activate without having to think too hard.

I do think one or two of the comments here are conflating two things -- remaining socially isolated from others and wearing a mask. Seems a bit like arguing that abstinence is no way to live, therefore we should eschew condoms. At this point I feel pretty confident that if I wear my N95 correctly and consistently, I can have a more full social life with less downside risk of isolation than if I don't.
posted by eirias at 5:37 AM on August 14, 2022 [21 favorites]

Best answer: I'd recommend sticking to masks, because it is still out there and massively underreported now. While they aren't fool-proof, they still help. Cases where we are are officially dropping fairly fast, but so many people within a few degrees of me have been catching it in the past couple of months that it feels almost like the start of the pandemic in some ways. The uselessness of the current statistics is quite troubling, as well as updated guidance on the current transmissibility of the newer variants. (How is it more catchable? What is the current exposure time? etc.)

It's really weird seeing Covid catch up, and in fact while both my wife and I have continued to mask (using highly recommended KN-95s) in most public places, I'm typing this in quarantine at home because I finally caught it a few days ago even though I'm the only person at work to wear a mask around others (after she caught it a few weeks ago from a conference where she was masked.) Both of us scored Paxlovid, and it definitely is keeping the symptoms in check overall. But my wife went for a long bike ride yesterday and her heart rate and tiredness were out of proportion for the ride, which has me worried that she might have some lingering symptoms. And that's the thing, Long Covid is a monster, and one that is having an outsize affect on the U.S. Population.

I just finished reading this article a few minutes ago and very highly recommend her reading it carefully and thinking about how Long Covid could affect either of you:

Ars Technica: How long will it take to understand long COVID?

Between 8 million and 23 million Americans are still sick months or years after being infected. The perplexing array of symptoms known as long COVID has left an estimated 1 million of those people so disabled they are unable to work, and those numbers are likely to grow as the virus continues to evolve and spread. Some who escaped long COVID the first time are getting it after their second or third infection. “It is a huge public health crisis in the wake of acute COVID infection,” says Linda Geng, a physician and codirector of Stanford Health Care’s long COVID clinic.
posted by rambling wanderlust at 6:48 AM on August 14, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: The CDC recs are not meaningful at this point. Full stop.

The numbers to watch are wastewater. Those make it pretty clear that if you want to avoid disease, you need to be masked these days.
posted by Dashy at 6:56 AM on August 14, 2022 [16 favorites]

It's a question of risk-reward for her - and for you. Does she feel comfortable with her options were she to contract covid? Paxlovid might be indicated for her, has she talked to her medical team? Does she have two boosters? Even if you feel she should mask it will ultimately be up to her. What you can choose to do is how you manage your level of risk around HER after. Maybe you mask up? Maybe you ask her to test for a few days after potential exposure?

I'm not masking anymore, by choice, because I feel that it is an acceptable level of risk for me and my immediate family (young and overall healthy, all vaxxed and boosted, no real concerns about long covid beyond my normal long-virus concerns, all caught a very mild case of omicron in January). My kids will be unmasked in school when it starts up again, as will most of their classmates and teachers. Covid is part of our lives at this point and, for us, masking constantly to avoid catching it is more of a challenge than dealing with Covid were we to catch it.

But that's a PERSONAL metric, much like her choice will be a personal choice. I am fully assuming that at this point she knows what the risks are, for her, and that she is aware that masking would help avoid contracting Covid. The question is whether she is prepared to deal with contracting Covid.
posted by lydhre at 7:12 AM on August 14, 2022 [7 favorites]

Her body, her choice. Your thought exercise is about planning for what you will do if she tests positive.
posted by mccxxiii at 7:23 AM on August 14, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I live in NM and I am also exhausted from being the only person I see wearing a mask indoors. My kids who are still in school are also in the significant minority still wearing masks. However, I’m following the lead of my friends who are epidemiologists and medical professionals, and who continue to wear masks indoors.

Your wife’s argument about waiting until case numbers increase again is irrational. Case numbers go up as people decrease the precautions they take. We need to CONTINUE masking when case numbers are lower, so that they won’t increase again!

My entire household is vaccinated, boosted, and has no underlying conditions that put us at greater risk for COVID complications, but we continue to mask because we want to reduce the spread and get the #%^* past this pandemic.
posted by ellenaim at 7:23 AM on August 14, 2022 [15 favorites]

Best answer: I work in film, where COVID is taken very seriously since productions are on such a tight schedule with irreplaceable cast members and department heads. The film industry has done an incredible job of stopping workplace COVID cases from spreading.

In the film industry:
departments are bubbled together
Everyone’s temperature is taken each morning Everyone is rapid-tested 2x per week.
Even with that level of precaution, in group settings, everyone wears N95s, except actors, who wear welder’s masks between takes (n95s would indent their cheeks & mess up makeup)
Everyone who gets within 6 feet of an unmasked actor (the camera, sound, makeup and costume teams) are in N95s AND eyeglasses with side panels.

And with those precautions strictly in place, the industry rarely loses a day. People still catch COVID in the community but the cases rarely spread to anyone else in the workplace,

In your wife’s setting - going to an indoor meeting without any testing? That seems like a pretty high jump in risk; personally I wouldn’t be comfortable with it.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:30 AM on August 14, 2022 [43 favorites]

Best answer: Last week I went to an event, it required proof of vaccination and was in an outdoor tent (so lots of fresh air). I decided not to mask. I’m tired of them and this should be a reduced risk thing, right?

I caught covid. I’m in roughly day 3 of symptoms now. Do I wish I’d worn a mask? Hell yes I do. I was such an idiot. (Everyone else in my house also wishes I had because I’ve really messed up a lot of their plans because they’ve been exposed.)

What I’m saying is: yes masks are a pain, but compared to covid? Mask up not just for yourself but for everyone you’ll expose to it.
posted by Ookseer at 7:34 AM on August 14, 2022 [19 favorites]

As a data point, my partner has asthma and some other serious medical conditions which make catching covid a Bad Thing. But she still stopped wearing a mask before me (who does not has asthma) because like your wife she found wearing a mask intolerable as it made her asthma worse, and she doesn't feel it is a price worth paying.

This is despite the fact that she had a bout of covid in 2020 which took around 7 months to get over; her rationale is that she's had it, she's vaccinated and boosted, and when she got covid again in early 2022, the symptoms were very mild and she was fine after a week. Thank you vaccines!

That's not to say your concern isn't valid, and it must be galling to put in all this work primarily to keep her safe from harm, only for her to essentially shrug it off. I can imagine that feels a little ungrateful. But it's her choice and at some point people need to decide whether the required precautions are worth the cost. That cost/benefit analysis does not have to match yours in order to be "correct".

Are you asking this question because you feel she's putting you at risk? Or, if you were masking primarily for her benefit, are you asking because you want validation that she's wrong and you're right?
posted by underclocked at 8:18 AM on August 14, 2022 [4 favorites]

I absolutely think she should be masking, probably forever., for all the reasons stated above. Has she thought out the consequences of long covid with pre-existing lung conditions? "But no, it's hard to breathe in a mask!" So is being short of breath because of covid.

I guess at this point the choice is "I choose to catch covid, possibly a bunch of times, and hope it's all okay because Paxlovid" (I note that not everyone can even get it, still), "because I want a free face and normality again."

What really ticks me off on your behalf is that she's decided that you should catch covid too because you live with her. There's "my body, my choice" and then "my body, I choose to catch covid and give it to you." I feel like the one argument you may be able to make is, "Look, I am not choosing to catch covid, I need you to take safety precautions still, because of our marriage." I don't know if that would work or not, though.

At the very least, it sounds like you need to make isolation plans for when she does get it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:26 AM on August 14, 2022 [15 favorites]

Best answer: I have asthma and am in my 60s. My dance group resumed, and we open all the windows, wear masks, and dance hard enough that I usually have slightly salty skin later from working up a sweat. Based on recommendations, many of us wear Enro N95-rated masks. They are cMy omfortable and I can breathe pretty well in them. I probably still have a coupon in my email if you'd like it.

Few people in my area mask at the grocery, etc., anymore. It's frustrating, and feels weird to still mask. Death from Covid are dramatically reduced, hospitals are not jammed up, etc. But with COPD or other lung issues, it's really, really important to avoid it as carefully as possible. She can say I've had bronchitis to people who comment. Work can have weird social dynamics and I understand her reluctance, but I hope she'll get the 2nd booster and continue masking. And not having colds are flu has been a huge bonus.
posted by theora55 at 8:51 AM on August 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

Count me as another person agreeing that this is more of a relationship issue than a COVID question. I'd think of this as you'd think of any example where one person has a different relationship to risk than the other person - how do you normally handle that sort of situation? I don't think this is a situation where one person is wrong, and one is right - I get both sides of it. (Though yes, it does seem unambiguous that your wife should get a second booster, and get a third once she would qualify - those have been shown to have a significant impact, both on mortality, severity, and long-COVID).

This also seems like a conversation that might warrant 1-2 session with a couple's therapist, if you're finding this is hard to talk productively about - just a neutral party to help make sure you're actually listening to each other.

In my relationship, my partner is generally the more anxious one (though on COVID, we're aligned). What does not work is when he tries to convince me that I'm "wrong," "reckless" and he's "right." What does work is if he says "Hey, this is causing me distress - even if you don't agree, can you demonstrate that you care about my distress?" I don't always agree to do exactly what he wants, but since I do love the guy, that approach does get me to modify my behavior. So perhaps your wife might want to not mask in meetings when she's speaking, but agrees to mask when she's not speaking. Or she agrees to mask while in the hallways, but not in her office, etc.
posted by coffeecat at 8:57 AM on August 14, 2022 [6 favorites]

The rule in our house is that the person most at risk sets the rules for the household. Your wife is the most at risk. She sets the rules.
posted by edbles at 9:21 AM on August 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Reporting from a country where ppl still mask heavily, mostly vaccinated (at least 2x), and with more accurate-than-US numbers: we're still ranging daily +ve case of about 3.5k to 4k in a total population of 30m. Most of the ppl in my life have gotten COVID when socialisation rules were relaxed (late 2021 onwards). None of them has asthma. All of them, despite not being hospitalized, were basically laid up with brutal coughs during the worst of it (IE they registered positive with the rapid kits during those 5-10 days). A number of them were reporting crazy heart rates or bouts of heavy coughing afterwards. Most of them picked it up probably because of workspaces or socializing indoors/semi-outdoors while being conscientious maskers otherwise.

Does this look like something she'd like to experience for herself?

I'm chiming in my support for suggestions above for the Korean KF-94s for more comfort as well desktop/indoor/portable purifiers (with HEPA filters). I carry one everywhere and when I'm interacting at mealtimes with colleagues i turn it on and put it at the centre of the table. ETA: even when I'm presenting or leading a meeting I mask. In fact that's when I especially make a point to mask.
posted by cendawanita at 9:26 AM on August 14, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like she is going to do it, and even if you talk her out of doing it for this particular meeting, she will do it sooner than you would like.

what you might be able to get her to do, or do for her, is get hold of a very large supply of rapid tests, hassle her into using them for any and every tiny feeling of unwellness, and find out exactly where you have to go and what you have to say in your specific area to get Paxlovid. find this out BEFORE one of you needs it. do not count on a doctor/urgent care/pharmacy just doing what you have heard they are supposed to do. when she (and then you) gets covid, you'll need to get it right away, not after several days of yelling at uncooperative medical people.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:05 AM on August 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't want to make a habit of replies, but I just thought to check the CDC county guidance, which designates our county at high risk, and the county of the meeting next week at medium risk.

One way to think about this is that it puts people in the "medium risk" county at more risk by having your wife from the "high risk" county attend the meeting and not be masked. Virus transmission works both ways.
posted by emelenjr at 10:25 AM on August 14, 2022

Best answer: Data is very abstract. But here’s an anecdote: I have been trying to obtain an extremely important, medically necessary surgery since January of this year. I was finally able to secure a surgery date in November. This date was only available because of a cancellation; otherwise it could have taken a full year or more. My surgeon also warned me that even this date in November is only tentative, because the operating rooms just…periodically close now, as a matter of course, when the hospital becomes overwhelmed with Covid. This is at the largest hospital in Los Angeles.

You may never see it if you don’t work in health care or need hospital care yourself, but that’s what it means to live with CDC-approved levels of transmission, even if you never personally get Covid yourself.

Yes, it is ultimately your decision to make as individuals and as a couple. But it is not only the two of you who will be affected by your choice.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 10:35 AM on August 14, 2022 [23 favorites]

Best answer: I like nouvelle-personne's comment for thinking about this work trip. In an industry where people spreading COVID affects the bottom line--because the people are irreplaceable--masks are mandatory. Mask policy in that industry and in all industries is to protect the money, not the people. Does your medically vulnerable wife really want to skip wearing her mask at a work thing where nobody will be wearing them because their employer doesn't mandate it because their employer considers them all replaceable? She may be replaceable at work, but she's not replaceable at home! She's not replaceable in her own life! Dang.

I don't understand the "my body my choice" argument for disease prevention methods. We don't say "his body, his choice" about condoms, another life-saving, health-preserving barrier method. I mean, it's true there, too: if you don't want to wear a condom to the orgy and the other people at the orgy aren't wearing condoms and don't mind that you're not wearing a condom, that's fine, it's your body, it's your choice, everybody's taking risks eyes open, you do you, enjoy the orgy.

The problem with this is for partnered people, it's not just your body and your choice. If you catch an STD at the orgy and bring it home to your partner who would rather you always wear a condom at orgies and who skipped the orgy themselves because it seemed too dangerous and if your partner catches the STD, that makes you a what? A free spirit? Somebody who bravely and proudly exercises your rights to bodily autonomy? No, it makes you a sociopath and a terrible person! Why are masks different?

If you live alone it's your body your choice, but not if you live with other people. Then you're making a choice for them, too, and that is not remotely fair.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:49 AM on August 14, 2022 [37 favorites]

Best answer: I too have asthma and am in Albuquerque. I personally am not comfortable without a mask in public or in small groups right now, particularly around people with young children who just went back to school.

This is a poor state with very limited healthcare resources. I personally will do everything I can to avoid the emergency rooms and provider offices as we are still seeing high covid transmission rates and new things like monkey pox that a vulnerable immune system can leave you open to. I also recently got my shingles vaccines because hell no to shingles.

For me, being prepared also means having severe asthma meds on hand like nebulizer meds and steroids. But ultimately, you and your wife will have to choose. What you can both do together is plan for the risks associated with your choices.
posted by answergrape at 11:14 AM on August 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

If you live alone it's your body your choice, but not if you live with other people. Then you're making a choice for them, too, and that is not remotely fair

If OP feels that strongly, her choice can be to move out. You just cannot coerce people into doing things with their bodies they do not want to do.
posted by haptic_avenger at 11:47 AM on August 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

If OP feels that strongly, her choice can be to move out. You just cannot coerce people into doing things with their bodies they do not want to do.

Yes. OP's spouse obviously would expose OP if OP's spouse got sick. The risk affects the whole household. But, in the absence of a public mandate, OP's spouse can't be forced to wear a mask. It unfortunately thus becomes the decision of OP whether and to what degree they are willing to take the risk of exposure from OP's spouse, and how OP's spouse's attitude towards risk to OP affects OP's feelings about their marriage. (I know what I would feel, but, outside of certain extreme scenarios, I don't feel in a position to dictate what people should feel about their marriages.)
posted by praemunire at 11:55 AM on August 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

I really second everyone above who has said "it's her body, and her choice." I know you have really good intentions and valid reasons but, at this point, it feels a bit like one partner trying to control the other's autonomy. Again, I know you do not mean to be that way but it's a lot. I would probably break up with a partner who gave me this ultimatum at this point in the pandemic BUT, again, you two have your dynamic and know what works best. She may leave or you may leave should it become an irreconcilable difference. COVID has been hard and has ended many a relationship, which is too bad but is also part of life. You two could also just live apart temporarily and see how it goes. You both deserve to feel supported and respected in your choices, and sometimes that can only happen with distance and time.
posted by smorgasbord at 11:56 AM on August 14, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Just found this handy dashboard for New Mexico showing hospital utilization, ER visits and beds available.

I agree that this is a decision that’s going to be delicate on both your ends. I wonder if there is a way to reach a temporary decision that allows you to approach this without the time pressure of this upcoming meeting. Maybe she doesn’t wear a mask, but you get a hotel room for awhile post meeting. Or she does wear a mask this time, but with the understanding that it’s to allow y’all to have a conversation around this that isn’t so charged? Because with upcoming mandatory in office time, you do need to have some concrete conversations.

And frankly, I have been of the opinion that the most vulnerable person should be the one who gets to lead the way. But I do recognize that this puts a potentially huge burden of care on the other person.
posted by Bottlecap at 11:56 AM on August 14, 2022

It seems that the tide has largely turned to "fuck you I do what I want", so this comes down to how you feel about your marriage and your partner's attitudes toward safety. If my husband insisted on going to an indoor meeting without a mask - which he wouldn't because he is on immunosuppressants, and which I would not because killing him or significantly worsening his health outcomes faster than otherwise expected would make me feel pretty shitty, as would having long COVID myself* not to mention dying while we still have stuff we want to do together - we would not be living together for some period of time or maybe permanently. It would be a serious mismatch in values, and for me that's where a relationship is no longer tenable.

*This is not, by the way, a thing you can say you don't have a few weeks after getting COVID. You don't know yet.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:04 PM on August 14, 2022 [13 favorites]

What is the balance in your relationship between "discomfort" related to COVID precautions?

Do you go to any shared meetings as part of your job? You mention that "we" are rarely inside a building - does that hold true for each of you individually? Who is getting groceries (if they are not delivered/curbside pickup)?

If I were in the position your partner was in, I'd be much more willing to accepting masking at my job if you had to do the same thing. To put it bluntly, having to mask at work is a pain. It's not something the vast majority of people in the USA have ever developed a tolerance of, given those people have never had to do it before. If I were a partner that had to work in the office, got groceries regularly, and took care of household errands with the added expectation of being masked when I didn't think it was necessary, I'd be, at the very least, a bit annoyed.

If this is applicable (which it may not be), are you willing to take over tasks, or go to the office willingly, in order to match the COVID precaution annoyance between the two of you?
posted by saeculorum at 12:12 PM on August 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: OP, you mentioned checking the current CDC guidelines, and maybe your wife has already taken them into consideration. If not, it might be worthwhile to discuss that even though masks are now rarely mandated, the CDC still recommends them for high risk individuals in both medium and high risk communities.

Also agree with others that your wife’s issues with masks are valid, and that looking into more comfortable/fashionable masks is a great idea.
posted by lumpy at 12:45 PM on August 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The idea that she gets to do whatever she wants and make whatever decisions she wants and you just have to live with it is kind of a bizarre take on a relationship. Obviously what she does affects you, either because it directly puts you at higher risk or just because you presumably love her and if she gets sick, that affects you emotionally. In healthy relationships, people talk these things out; they don't just state positions once and say, "Love it or leave it."

It's entirely possible that she's so entrenched in her position that the only available option is for you to assume it's a done deal and plan your own actions accordingly, up to and including leaving her, but that shouldn't be an early step in the conversation!

As you can see, there's a broad spectrum of current decision-making on managing Covid risk, and I don't think we've been able to trust government sources for a very long time. Personally, I was really struck by a comment on the Your Local Epidemiologist account a day or two ago that pointed out that most public health officials seem to continue to be taking precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe while refusing to recommend those same precautions to protect anyone else's loved ones.

But my opinion doesn't super matter here (except that I'm at high risk and the longer folks act like I don't have a stake in their "personal choices," the worse my life gets).

How do you two normally deal with disagreements about your shared life? What helps each of you see each other's points of view and creatively come to collaborative decisions? I would lean heavily on those skills right now, especially in this moral- and health-ambiguous zone we're in, where you're going to get a variety of answers to support either of you. What are your shared values? What are each of your boundaries around risks and health? What pressures do you have in terms of finances and work? I think the conversation you need to have is somewhere in there.
posted by lapis at 12:54 PM on August 14, 2022 [17 favorites]

What about your partner does their thing, but then agrees to quarantine at home (or at a motel if your home is not big enough) for 5+ days upon return to protect you.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 5:17 PM on August 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

I am really bad with summer heat and have some lung issues that can make me short of breath when I wear a mask, so I certainly sympathize with the urge to chuck the masks. At the same time your wife is in a particularly high-risk group and the pandemic is not over. I'm seeing cases all over the place, it's absolutely ubiquitous among my parents' friends and even some of the ones who were fully vaxxed and boosted have had a really hard time. Thanks to home tests there are probably many, many unreported cases. We're all sick of this damn thing and a lot of people are trying to just wish it away, but it's still dangerous and we have to take the proper precautions. I hate the masks too but then again a lot of life-saving things are annoying to deal with.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:22 PM on August 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

As for being in a meeting — my meetings are with 7-60 people in various sized facilities. Every single one since this January has had atleast one, if not more person test positive afterwards (all unmasked). One meeting was with a group of 12 people from all over the world. We were all required to test before and test every morning. Nobody tested positive during the meeting but two people who were maskless and ate at an indoor cafeteria tested positive two days after flying home. Perhaps being in an isolated, tested group most of the day caused them to feel safe to intermingle with unknown people maskless. This kind of thing is why I continue to mask. Even when I knew these 12 adults were more serious than most business people about Covid, I can’t know what they’re doing outside of the space I’m in with them. I figure, better safe than sorry.

Of the dozens of people I’ve heard of who’ve tested positive, all were at home rapid tests and not reported to the government. The numbers collected on positivity rate are not remotely accurate so I do not base my health decisions on them at this point in time.

Anyway, about your question I think there’s a few issues here. Are you concerned about their health? Your health? Spreading it to others? Deciding what the issue (or the biggest issue) is may help you to better know how to reach out to your partner and engage in a conversation about what risk is acceptable to you. Perhaps there’s a compromise (they bring an air purifier into their office, run at all times, self test on Sunday night, etc.) But at the end of the day, adults are going to do what they want when on their own. I got my elderly chain smoking parent to wear masks in 2020 by breaking down and telling them I didn’t want them to die. It worked for a while. But this week I heard someone ran into them at the grocery store and they were maskless despite telling me they wear a mask in the store. It upsets me, but if they have the knowledge and are not willing to protect themselves we can only do so much.
posted by Bunglegirl at 6:52 PM on August 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for the thoughtful and informative responses.

The short response is after reading your answers, my wife decided to continue masking, although she’s not happy about it. I think the answers with more science were especially persuasive.

I appreciate her perspective and am open to loosening up the risk calculus while still being cautious. And we did so tonight.

She sees her pulmonologist in October. We will look into Evusheld and some of the other suggestions, such as getting the second booster.

One or two of the replies here asked what my goal was with the question. My goal was for the answers to convince my wife (or possibly me) to go along with the other spouse.

Someone asked about whether we both had similar encounters that called for masking, which is a fair point. I tend to run more of the errands. She has been going into the office about every two weeks, mainly to exchange files. Since January, I haven't had an office to go to. Her meeting coming up is optional for her.

The idea that she gets to do whatever she wants and make whatever decisions she wants and you just have to live with it is kind of a bizarre take on a relationship. Obviously what she does affects you, either because it directly puts you at higher risk or just because you presumably love her and if she gets sick, that affects you emotionally. In healthy relationships, people talk these things out; they don't just state positions once and say, "Love it or leave it."

Yes, exactly!
posted by NotLost at 8:54 PM on August 14, 2022 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Also, the few people we socialize with are less cautious than we are, so we aren't endangering anyone.
posted by NotLost at 8:58 PM on August 14, 2022

By the way, this is not an alternative to masking on the risk register, however, if you and your wife are already contemplating other mitigation measures like air purifiers, masking at other times, additional antibody treatments etc, if the human interaction factor is of personal importance to her, may i recommend a clear face shield? I especially recommend these Sharp ones - they're the only ones I've managed to test where the curvature doesn't significantly cause any parallax effect to my vision (and thus I get no nausea) as well as little-to-no glare, so it's very see-through with indoor lighting. I have no idea if this can be something Americans can consider as a cultural compromise, but over here there are tv stations who make it a point for their on-screen talent on their live shows etc to also wear them while performing. (and it might be poor risk-wise for very airborne diseases like COVID, but otoh, if monkeypox is also as prevalent, it might actually be a pretty good mitigation step in combination with the usual hand sanitation protocols).
posted by cendawanita at 9:17 PM on August 14, 2022

Mod note: Just as a quick note: Please be aware of the fact that in the US, radical right wing individuals and organizations, anti-choice groups, anti-vaxxers, covid-deniers, etc. often co-opt the words "my body, my choice" to demean, belittle, and dilute this message against forced birth. And since it's easy to sort of pick up phrases in the zeitgeist and incorporate them in ways that actually do not reflect the intention of the original sentiment or idea, we should probably be careful to avoid this when discussing completely different things, like masking. Thank you!
posted by taz (staff) at 1:16 AM on August 17, 2022 [14 favorites]

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