Covid & Self & Society
September 30, 2022 12:51 AM   Subscribe

If you are answering this question, you have been able to keep your covid caution level (or at the very least, until the past week or so) approximately similar to or more cautious than my own.**

Here's what I do. I'm in California (if you're not, please say where you are for context).

- Bubble with partner, who basically follows all the same precautions
- Up-to-date on covid shots (and flu shots and all other vaccines)
- 90-100% of indoor time is groceries. All indoor time is correctly N95 masked, except I went to the dentist recently, since I hadn't been in 2 years. I don't eat at restaurants.
- Keeping an eye on I don't keep tallies but I probably fall somewhere between "high caution budget" and "standard caution budget" most of the time, depending on what the virus has been up to lately.
- Not typically masking while existing outdoors.
- N95 masking during rare outdoor friend visits
- Still trying to do the at least 6' distancing thing
- Avoiding crowds
- Testing every 3 days with the at-home kits

Not in high-risk categories myself, but I haven't seen any reason why that should influence my behavior, since I don't want to spread covid. Bonus for caring about people in high risk categories: I'm neurodivergent; catching long covid would be an extra-bad idea.

I don't drive because I don't want to kill people (or armadillos! Or the planet! Etc.). So I assume that even if covid goes down to flu levels, I'm not expecting to change my habits because I'm not going to be ok with choosing that risk for someone else and I'm able to prioritize my values. I recognize that not everyone is in that position or has the same priorities as me. Me biking and not riding in planes, trains, buses or cars, that happened gradually over a period of 1-2 decades. The pandemic (plus the news that I should care about the flu) happened all at once and society may be moving on, but I'm still trying to digest the change and what it means for me and my responsibilities as a member of the world in which I live.

* Social groups are really important on a human level! How do I navigate the social complexities of trying to make friends in this new world? (The sorts of in-person volunteering I preferred to do for social interaction no longer make sense. Also I used to rely heavily on bonding over food.) I haven't studied microcovid in a while, but right now it looks like if I can find a tiny outdoor group that does a thing, that would be ok. Does that look right to you? Why or why not?
* Social interaction is a physical and emotional need. Inadequately met for me now. I moved right at the start of the pandemic, so I don't know many people where I live. But aren't we still basically in the middle of a pandemic, pretty much everywhere worldwide? Especially in this "post-pandemic" era, it's hard to understand how to start in-person relationships.
* Is there anything you've told yourself that has helped you let go of some of the tension of the past two years while still holding true to your values?
* If you're going to reassess in a certain number of years or at a certain checkpoint, when, and what will your assessment look like?
* My body has followed my body language. I love people, I think of myself as someone who loves interacting with people. But I've been backing away from people for two years. Etc. My body interprets this as misanthropy. I want to whole-heartedly believe that I love people, and I still also want to be doing the right thing. Please answer this question in your own words without recommending therapy.
* If any of my assumptions are outdated by clear scientific consensus, please let me know.

* Especially in this "post-pandemic" era, it's hard to understand how to start in-person relationships. Specifically, I think, all the new logistical bits. Do I care about their covid precautions or lack thereof? I know this is a whole debate but I mean on a personal level. If someone drives a car (for example), we can just have incompatible values on that point. But if someone isn't wearing a mask or getting their jabs, to what extent does choosing to spend time around them make me complicit in potentially spreading covid?
* Am I going to be wearing n95s forever?
* It's frustrating when I'm trying to maximize my distance between everyone crowding around me (pre-pandemic socializing distance) when I'm in line at the grocery store and nobody else seems to care. For me, this is not about judgement. This is about struggling to do what I feel is right. How do I let go of my frustration while holding to my values?
* Approximately how much social life can I ethically have, given the above constraints? I'm new to town so I'm starting from scratch and haven't figured out what this looks like. I know I could calculate using microcovid but some real-life examples would be nice.
* What have you personally done to process your grief or other big pandemic emotions? Please only answer this question if you can complete the answer without referring me to a therapist.

* Disposable n95s and at-home covid tests go against my environmentalist self, how do I compare and contrast those ethics?
* I worked through some pretty strong emotions to be an early adopter of masks. I was right, I learned to wear them just fine, and a year later it was normal just like I told myself. But I still sweat instantly and drippily in my masks and they give me a fungal rash. They also give me tension headaches when worn for longer periods of time.
* Is there some sort of trustworthy "in order of effectiveness, here's how effective each of these covid precautions is"?

* Everyone is doing the best they can with the resources they have available to them.
* I know about therapy. I don't want to be told about therapy. If you find yourself trying to answer with "therapy" please flag yourself and move on.
* Everyone has a different idea of what "covid cautious" means. If you think I'm being too cautious or too carefree etc., please be gentle. This is hard.
* If you don't understand why I'm worrying so much, please flag yourself and move on.

* 2021 - outdoor jobs
* March 2020

**If you do not meet the criteria for answering this question, I'd like to hear your relevant thoughts 1) if you have given deep and extensive consideration to your approach to covid, and 2) if you and others would consider values-centeredness and caring for others to be primary in your general approach to life.
posted by aniola to Religion & Philosophy (40 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I am saying this because I feel like you seem open to hearing it- I want to very gently ask, what is your long-term strategy in regards to your current level of precautions and self-imposed guidelines? What would need to happen in terms of the "levels" of covid for you to loosen your precautions? I feel like it might be important to start thinking about this because I don't think your current strategies seems sustainable for the rest of your life, if you also want to sustain an in-person social life.

I assume, personally, that covid will become endemic, meaning that it will be impossible to avoid. I have adopted some long term coping mechanisms for that, which I will share below- not because I think you should follow them too, but just because you asked, and I do consider caring for others to be primary in my approach to life (though not perhaps to the same level that you do).

1. Before covid, if I had an important deadline or if there wasn't enough coverage in my team, I probably would have gone to work with a streaming cold or bad cough if I didn't have a fever and didn't otherwise feel too terrible. I cringe thinking back to that now and I absolutely would never do it anymore, and if I were in the office and someone came in with those symptoms, I would leave (I recognise I am privileged enough to be able to make this rule for myself without endangering my job). I will no longer put other people at risk of catching what I have, even if I'm positive that it isn't Covid. Bad colds can lead to bronchitis and even pneumonia, and we all know that Flu kills, as well.

2. If there is a covid booster, a flu shot, or anything else that people smarter than me recommend, I'm having it. I never bothered with flu shots before Covid unless they were being handed out free at work or something but now I seek them out even if I have to pay.

3. I keep a mask with me and still wear it in shops, when ordering takeaway food, etc. I don't wear it to bars, pubs, or restaurants where I am sitting down. I will probably stop wearing masks even in shops by next spring, after flu season is over, but I will probably always keep one with me and put it on if I see anyone else in a shop or cafe wearing one- ESPECIALLY if anyone who works there is wearing one.

4. I will also probably always wear a mask on public transport, at the doctor, and in other places that people have to be whether they like it or not. Even if Covid magically disappeared, I probably still would, just because of the flu and the common cold. Unknowingly spreading covid (or the flu or a cold) at a club or a party or something is one thing- people are allowed to take risks they are comfortable with and I can't control that for them, nor do I feel like I have a responsibility to be more cautious with their health than they are themselves. However, accidentally spreading it to someone commuting to the job they have to go to to feed their family and pay their rent is another thing entirely.

5. Got an event coming up? If I have so much as a tickle in the throat, I don't go. If I know I'm going to be seeing someone older or in any way vulnerable in the next couple of weeks? I make a point to avoid crowds and am more careful with the mask and then I test before I meet them. I do my best to assess things on an ongoing basis, and I still check in with people to ask what their preference is in terms of masks, testing, etc. if I don't already know.

That's basically me at this point- just as an example for you of someone in the UK who has had all available vaxes, who sees themselves as careful, and is far more careful than most everyone around me, but still far LESS careful than you are. I have had Covid once, that I know of, earlier this year, which I caught while in Switzerland for a big client conference that could have easily been done on Zoom. Of the 50 people who were part of my cohort, at least 20 people came down with it. No one wore masks and I stupidly went along with it, and I didn't see one person in Switzerland wearing one outside of the airport. I was pretty sick for a few days but luckily no long-covid symptoms.
posted by cilantro at 2:41 AM on September 30, 2022 [54 favorites]

I think cilantro gave a good response, so I will simply add this:

Assuming your statement about not being in a high-risk category is correct, then I don't think your current approach to COVID aligns with the current risk from COVID. And, given that you repeatedly tell us not to refer you to therapy, I think you know that.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:30 AM on September 30, 2022 [24 favorites]

I am interested to see the spectrum of responses here, just because it is so variable where someone's sense of appropriate and self-preserving behavior is at at this stage of things. I suspect many on your general wavelength will feel that they are far more cautious than others around them, but probably also less cautious than you.

I was what I thought to be extremely cautious up until very recently, when I chose to take a calculated and reasonable risk which of course resulted in me and my partner getting Covid for the first time, but we still prior to that took certain liberties beyond your set of constraints. We masked indoors in public spaces always, didn't dine indoors ever and heavily restricted our indoor social activity to a degree that has been very challenging even if not absolute. We've socialized indoors with family or very few friends maybe a handful of times over the past two years, and outside of recent major waves and increased reports of outdoor transmission, we've been comfortable socializing in small groups outdoors unmasked. When community transmission has briefly been low enough, we've gone to bars and restaurant patios and masked when required to pass through indoor environments. Of course all of this with the maximum of allowed vaccinations where we are.

Even after all of that we've felt very much out of step as even our most cautious peers have resumed some degree of the old normal life. Our decision that resulted in us catching Covid was defensibly strategic, it was in between the BA.2 and BA.5 waves where we live, we had just received our second boosters 3 weeks prior, and the social event was outdoors with a not enormous capacity.

I have to confess that our motivations have been much more selfish than altruistic all along, by which I mean I don't hold much hope that my behaviour can have any impact whatsoever on the trajectory of the pandemic and that avoiding Covid for ourselves is the most we can really hope for. I still feel that way, but then of course I don't think anything we do directly endangers other vulnerable people insofar as we don't go anywhere unmasked and anyone we interact with takes far greater risks and has greatly more opportunity to catch and convey Covid than we do.

Where.does that leave us now with an even wavier winter season coming? I'm really grappling with that myself and I dont have a satisfactory answer. It was so necessary to see old friends and have actual fun the one time, but it also wasn't worth getting Covid.and I am definitely not in any hurry to get it again. As previous, it kind of feels inevitable but the game remains to get it as few times as possible. It won't be zero and it probably won't be once either, but long game I guess if I dare hold out hope any more I do have some naive optimism that nasal vaccines or some other breakthrough semi-sterilizing vaccine might be around the corner and it will be worth in the long run minimizing my chances of long term autoimmune disease and soldiering through.

But I'm working my mind around to the reality that this will never change and my hopes and expectations will just have to be forever altered. I also built my life around sharing food and drinks in the past, as well as my job and plans for future work, and that's all mostly gone now. I guess insofar as you're asking for advice rather than just differing experiences, I'd say considering scenarios where outdoor unmasked social activity can take place, like BBQs and picnics, would maybe be the most realistic way for you to balance your values and needs. But I'd also look really hard at which part of your values are realistic and which might be more anxious or avoidant. I don't mean to judge your choices at all I just think that there are circumstances where your actions really can't reasonably be protecting an anonymous and vulnerable other person out there somewhere down the chain of transmission. We have to be realistic about how much unmitigated sharing of air is taking place everywhere and everday right now.

My other glimmer of hope is that actual clean air standards and things like far-UV can practically and honestly pretty easily in the grand scheme of things make indoor shared life not risk free but sufficiently derisked as to meet standards near to yours or mine. For myself in that hypothetical world, I would accept that I could get Covid in everyday activity there, but that it would be rare enough, or about as rare as I perceive outdoor dining to be, to be acceptable. Of course that's conditional on the arms race between viral evolution and the scalability of air sanitization technology.

For now I'm going back in my bubble to think it all over, but whatever conclusion I come to I know I can't personally go on as I have. Good luck.
posted by kaspen at 3:34 AM on September 30, 2022 [5 favorites]

I’m going to come back and answer more of these questions when I’m at my laptop and not trying to tap away at a big string of questions on my phone. But what jumps out at me is that the one way in which my own risk tolerance diverges from yours in a way that might help you is to have one or two specific, carefully chosen, risks I take that feed social needs. In my case that’s one friend who I trust absolutely to communicate with me about her activities, who I see regularly, unmasked, indoors in Pennsylvania. She does riskier activities than I do but usually not hugely risky (by my reckoning), and she knows that if she does certain riskier things like travel or a concert we will skip two weeks before we see each other, and we both test before every visit, and that’s good enough for me.

I also do one self care thing, regular haircuts with my hairdresser who I love, who works solo, wears a mask, and always lets me book the first appointment of the day so I’m not breathing everyone else’s air. Again: testing beforehand, every time. Also spaced out from friend visits so that I’m not a link in a transmission chain between them if one of them gives me covid.

I do these things intentionally and with risk mitigation that feels appropriate to me, so that my life feels sustainable to me. With these points of regular human contact, I could otherwise live as I’m living pretty much forever and be fine. My specific things might not be your specific things but I encourage you to find one or two of your own things that help make your life sustainable and fulfill your social needs.

(And then, having said all of that: next week I’m taking a train trip. My parents are old, one of them is abruptly very sick, I haven’t seen them since 2019, and I think we’re at a “now or maybe never again” point with the ill parent. So: a trip. Again, with what mitigations I can manage. We timed it for when we’re all freshly boosted and before any holiday travel covid surge. I booked a sleeper car on the train to minimize proximity to anyone else. I’ll wear my mask throughout. On my way back I’ve offered to quarantine at an Airbnb for a few days so I don’t expose my partner if I get sick, though he’s decided he doesn’t need me to do that. I still don’t think this trip is a *great* idea but I think it’s the best of my bad options. So again: a risk, thoughtfully taken with precautions in place, because I assume the way I am living now is the way I will live for years or decades to come, and I have to make some choices in line with that expectation.)
posted by Stacey at 4:23 AM on September 30, 2022 [6 favorites]

Addressing community aspect—from point of view of a cautious, mask-wearing California person.

Found outdoor small yoga class (under a roof). Most people didnt wear masks, but there was space and choosing a spot at the back of the class felt right. Good opportunity for ongoing acquaintanceship.

Library events including book club, now segueing into hybrid with in-person attendance for those who want.

Small-group cycling adventure: four of us, multi-day. Masks when encountering others, unmasked when riding.

Family & friend visits masked and/or outside. On we go.
Sounds like you’re navigating well considering conditions.
posted by xaryts at 4:26 AM on September 30, 2022 [2 favorites]

For a way to reframe in terms of your responsibilities to the world, I think the main thing you need to remember is that the rest of the world/society isn't just something you need to protect from yourself; it's something you can/should actively participate in and contribute to.

Like, you say, "Social interaction is a physical and emotional need. Inadequately met for me now." - but this isn't just true for you! It's true for lots of people, and when you participate in in-person activities you are helping meet that need for others. There are surely people in your community right now whose health is at equal or greater risk from loneliness than from respiratory disease.

Building strong communities is so important for society and the planet, and in-person interaction allows non-online people to participate in those communities, which I think is important. And when you're a member of a community, you have power to influence the community. (A group I belong to has frequent discussions about whether it's time to take our masks off and so far I have advocated for keeping the masks on; if I weren't an in-person member of that community I would have much less standing to make that request. If I weren't there, the group would still exist and would still meet in person; would the group wear masks as frequently? I don't know!)
posted by mskyle at 4:37 AM on September 30, 2022 [16 favorites]

I think I was in your general range of cautiousness until a month ago when my kid started daycare and opened the plague floodgates. I'm in Canada, where attitudes seem a little more cautious than some places in the US, not sure about California. People were fairly content masking while it was mandated, with some very vocal exceptions, but well under 10% of people mask anywhere now that it's not mandatory outside of hospitals. My main goal was to prevent catching it until the vaccine was available for babies. Some minor differences: we never masked outside unless expecting to be in crowded places, and for the whole pandemic, have gotten groceries almost exclusively by curbside pickup. Other than a couple grocery trips and doctor visits, we only did two indoor family visits, unmasked because all the family members in question had recently gotten over covid both times. Nothing else indoors. We were fortunate to both work from home for a long time, although that's also changed recently. We also never did tests until recently because we had almost zero exposure (or risk to others) and no symptoms. And didn't really keep tabs on local covid levels much since we were already at maximum caution for us and wouldn't change our behaviour regardless.

I've had to think a lot about what's worth continuing though now that we have a large, unavoidable source of risk (and while we all tested negative, we recently all had a horrendous cold that may have been covid). My partner was fine with the restrictions until now, but wants to almost go back to normal now that we're extremely likely to catch it through daycare. He's now shopping and going to work in person without a mask. I'm still avoiding going anywhere for now while I try to develop my new sense of caution. I may start occasionally grocery shopping or even regular shopping in person now and would like to be brave enough to wear my N95 mask for that even though my social anxiety hates it because almost nobody else here wears them now. We have recently had my partner's parents over a few times without masks, which isn't my preference but I don't feel up to forcing it anymore. I also feel like it's pointless for me to wear a mask for these visits when nobody else is, so I don't. It feels weird though after so long being hyper-cautious.

I am definitely feeling the pain of social relationships fading, although for me it's complicated by having a baby during the pandemic and now having almost zero free time to go socialize. I've done occasional zoom chats but it's not the same. A few outdoor visits with friends. I may invite a few friends over for indoor visits over the winter (it gets too cold to socialize for long outside). I think your idea of outdoor activities with a small group is a fine one.

My understanding of the scientific consensus (as a scientist who is not in a closely related field) is essentially that N95 masks are great and and that we should use them regularly when indoors and generally speaking, avoid places where they can't be worn if we want to greatly reduce the risk of catching covid. I was not able to find clear consensus on wearing masks outdoors when I looked earlier. On the other hand, there's strong evidence that limiting social interaction, physical activities and other outings drastically is unhealthy for our bodies and minds too. There are many other health risks to be aware of besides covid.

Cutting down waste: The N95 masks I buy claim to work for 8 non-consecutive hours, so I can reuse them several times to cut down on waste. I also severely restrict indoor events so I rarely need to use them anyway.

I strongly believe that regular asymptomatic testing is not scientifically warranted or helpful at all unless you're at high risk of exposing extra-vulnerable people (e.g. healthcare workers, regularly visiting someone at high risk, etc). You're extremely likely to test false-negative on a rapid test if you're asymptomatic with covid anyway. Testing only when symptomatic would greatly reduce the environmental impact too.

I think a lot of the covid caution is anxiety-based, for myself and maybe for you. That doesn't necessarily make any of our decisions wrong, but it does make it harder to change when the situation may warrant it, and it definitely makes it harder to accept that others won't follow the same limits and often increase your own risk as a result. I don't have a solution though since I'm also not inclined to go to therapy about it. I have similar semi-warranted anxiety about driving, mainly due to the risk of hurting someone else, and I'm not very sure what to do about that either, other than planning to get driving lessons when I'm comfortable with the covid risk.
posted by randomnity at 4:59 AM on September 30, 2022 [3 favorites]

I live in Chicago. I live alone, and it would be very bad for me to be sick. Covid hasn't found me yet. Here's what I'm doing these days:

Vaccinating: Staying up to date, as soon as shots are recommended and available.

Mask use: I've been using washable cloth masks this whole pandemic. I wear masks in transit, in stores, in any enclosed space with strangers.

Testing: After every extended social event, after any close extended situation I wasn't able to avoid, and/or before I spend any time with friends/coworkers.

Activities: The only thing I'm not doing as much is eating in restaurants. I'm not limiting myself on anything else anymore, though. I was never much of a doing-things person to begin with, but it's important to me to be doing those few things again. The biggest change is that I'm allowed to work from home all the time now, and I do.

I've got a good weekend lined up here, let me walk you though it:

Last night I went to see Prokofiev's 5th at the CSO. I decided not to take transit, and drove there. I wore my cloth mask the whole time I was inside the building. It was lovely, 10/10, you know it's gonna be good when they've got 6 people working the percussion section.

I took a mental health day off work today. In a couple hours I'm taking the train downtown and I'm going to get a massage. I'll wear my cloth mask on the train and in the lobby, but I'll take my mask off for the massage. They've got air filters running in the little rooms and I spend most of the time facing away from the therapist. Monthly massages is a new habit I've been lucky enough to afford to pick up this year. They're lovely, 10/10.

Then I'm going to get on a bus and go to the Field Museum. I'll wear my cloth mask on the bus and in the museum, but not while I'm eating lunch, which I'll do in the museum. After I eat I'll switch to a fresh cloth mask for the rest of the day. Museums are lovely, 10/10. I may hit up the Trader Joe's before catching the train home. TBD.

No plans on Saturday. On Sunday my friend and I are driving up to Milwaukee to visit the Bitchcraft Fair. I'll take a covid test Sunday morning before leaving for her house. Then I'll be sharing a car with her and her toddler up to Wisconsin. I'll ask her if she wants me to mask around her baby, but she's probably going to say no, because she knows I wouldn't come be in her space without a negative covid test. I will definitely be masking once we get there though, albeit imperfectly because I do intend to be smelling a bunch of candles. We'll eat out somewhere, almost certainly inside because it's gotten chilly here, and I'm fine with that. A lovely day planned with a friend, on intention alone I'll be giving this a 10/10. I don't anticipate that I'll need to go anywhere next week, but if I have to go be around anyone before Thursday, I'll take another covid test just in case. If I don't, I won't.

I feel very satisfied with my own covid approach and how it's adapted over the last few months. It's comfortable for me, it's achievable for me, and I'm done making my world smaller. So far it has been working great. I don't know what answers you wanted asking this question, but this is mine.
posted by phunniemee at 5:14 AM on September 30, 2022 [4 favorites]

I guess it kind of depends on what your moral foundations are, right? I'm in the UK. Almost nobody is masked or avoiding meeting people indoors. I'm not either.

Do you go to greater lengths to to avoid catching and passing on COVID than you did for, say, flu in the Before Times? For flu, I wouldn't go to work if I had symptoms, and I'd avoid vulnerable people, but I wouldn't (and didn't, pre-COVID) mask up everywhere and avoid close contact with everyone because flu was about in winter, say.

I say this because COVID is less deadly than flu because of vaccination/previous infection and the reduced virulence of omicron (source). In the UK, everyone has the chance to be vaccinated, for free, and this coming winter, vulnerable people will get boosters for COVID (and flu), again for free.

There are still people who are especially vulnerable (perhaps they couldn't be vaccinated or the vaccinatation would be less effective for them), but again, pre-COVID the less vulnerable didn't restrict their social lives because of the chance of giving flu to someone vulnerable. If you accept that there is some large number people whose happiness at seeing others, going to the pub etc. is worth the risk of killing a small number of people (without intending to do so!), then the point is made, and we're just arguing about the price. I think we rightly accept such tradeoffs all the time.

Relatedly, the marginal gain of me deciding to mask up and stay away from people is tiny, because the number of people doing that here is negligible and my doing it wouldn't influence more people to do it.

The two previous paragraphs are kind of a utilitarian view, though, so perhaps you're a virtue ethicist or follow some sort of rule based system. I do worry that there's a subset of people who had the fear of God (or rather, COVID) put into them during the pre-vax period and are naturally more scrupulous than others, who're now missing out on life for no reason. That seems less likely to be common here as in America where I get the impression mask wearing (or not) has become a form of signalling identity, which might be hard to let go of, I guess. We hardly had that here beyond a few very loud people on Twitter/the comment sections of newspaper websites, who were probably actually all called Ivan/Olga and based in downtown Moscow anyway.
posted by pw201 at 6:09 AM on September 30, 2022 [8 favorites]

I’m in Portland, Oregon, living in a world that’s been pretty cautious until recently. I was able to do a lot of socializing outdoors this summer, especially bike-related. I do eat outdoors at restaurants and plan to keep doing that (and dress warmly). Would you eat outside with a friend?
posted by bluedaisy at 6:13 AM on September 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm an immunocompromised person whose job requires me to be completely surrounded by unmasked college students much of the work day. Two-way masking is much more effective than one-way masking, but I'm not even supposed to ask them to mask (and requiring vaccines is actually against state law). It sucks and is really hard.

I recently moved to a new town and would like to meet people, but I'm obviously concerned about the safety of doing so. There is a community garden in our neighborhood that has monthly community volunteer days and there are also monthly hikes organized by the public library. I'm thinking that those might be safer, lower stress ways to start meeting my neighbors.

I wish I had more answers for you. I just want to thank you for caring about other people and to promise you that you're not some big weirdo for caring about other people. There was this amazing time early in the pandemic when we all accepted that caring for our neighbors was a thing we were supposed to do, and I really miss it.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:30 AM on September 30, 2022 [21 favorites]

I'm like you in intent, a little different in the details, which I won't belabor. Like you I also don't drive, and I think this is a good framework for thinking about this problem. When the infrastructure that serves everybody else doesn't serve you, what do you do instead? How can you make choices that feel right to you and are also sustainable in the medium to long term? What other bits of your life can you flip to make that possible?

The balance that I have struck is: indoor masking nearly always (unless it's only a few people and all have tested negative), go to larger events sparingly, and move most socializing outdoors, where I relax precautions. Except for me, my household works and studies outside the home, but so far none of us has tested positive. I do think that transmission exceeding my drop-the-mask comfort zone is with us for the long haul, and like you I'm trying to make choices that are sustainable in the medium to long term, but still align with my values. One place your choices have been pretty different than mine is that I'm less conservative with outdoor events. For me, I'll gather pretty freely outside -- I know the risk of transmission isn't zero but it's lower. That's what makes this sustainable for me, and makes it possible to agree with friends on how to be in community with each other in person, when we don't agree on the stakes.

I think that my biggest emotional challenges might be ones you have already surmounted (to wit: social anxiety around being visibly different by continuing to mask; difficult feelings toward friends whose values aren't aligning with mine; in some sense these might be two facets of the same problem). I see your environmental concerns -- I said to a colleague recently that in a very real way, fighting COVID and fighting climate change are in opposition. I was only thinking then of air quality improvements but of course waste is an issue also. Perhaps more annoyingly, as climate change comes I expect more pandemics to happen, and we need to find ways to make society resilient to them. It's not going great so far! Because of all the COVID backlash, I worry that if we get hit with another pathogen in the next ten years or so it'll only be harder to get people to agree on how to fight it, or even whether to try.
posted by eirias at 6:32 AM on September 30, 2022 [4 favorites]

Also, because I have found his words heartening, here is a Twitter thread from Ed Yong on the costs of being fully present, in an emotional sense, during the pandemic. You're not alone in believing that we can do better than we have done; nor in your commitment to continuing to try; nor in your fatigue or your loneliness or your need for community. I wonder whether you could find a community online of people in your new home who want to meet up in person, outdoors, with whatever precautions, with others who remain committed. It might help all of you.
posted by eirias at 6:43 AM on September 30, 2022 [8 favorites]

My relationship to risk, Covid, and masking is similar to yours. My cost-benefit analysis is this: while I think the chances of me getting seriously ill via Covid are pretty small, the possibility--even if it's small--of mental impairment from long Covid would be so disastrous to me, I'm scared to back away from safety precautions.

I know that brain fog and so on are horrible things for whomever gets them, but I live almost entirely in my head. I'm not proud of that. I should move more, dance more, be physical more, but that's never been me. I come from a family of eggheads, and my entire life and identity is about reading, writing, research, and so on. And, like you, I'm neurodivergent.

During Covid, I've dealt (imperfectly but with some degree of effectiveness) with my social needs by (1) hanging out with a small number of trusted friends who are as risk-averse as I am, and (2) hanging out virtually with people via Zoom. (If I was a gamer, I'm sure I'd socialize that way, too, but that's never been my thing.)

I went on, found some virtual book clubs, and joined them. My participation in these groups has led to some Facebook friendships, some email corresponding, and even some face-to-face hangouts with folks who are as Covid-shy as I am and are fully vaxxed, wear masks, and so on.

Oh, and in addition to the company of my wife, I live with two needy dogs and three needy cats. They are constantly in my face. That helps immensely. I don't always have human company, but I am never alone.
posted by grumblebee at 6:48 AM on September 30, 2022 [4 favorites]

I don't have tim.e for a full answer, but I want to echo eirias. You have the opportunity to foster relationships either online or outside, especially living in California. You can look for groups, or start one of your own, such as through Meetup or otherwise, either based on an interest that can be developed online or outside, or focused on being covid cautious.

Some examples off the top of my head -- book clubs, gardening, sports, trail maintenance, gleaning.
posted by NotLost at 6:55 AM on September 30, 2022

**If you do not meet the criteria for answering this question, I'd like to hear your relevant thoughts 1) if you have given deep and extensive consideration to your approach to covid, and 2) if you and others would consider values-centeredness and caring for others to be primary in your general approach to life.

At this point I'm way, way less cautious than you are (though still more cautious than some people), and I can't think of a single person I know personally who is still living life at the level of caution that you describe. (That's not to say that people shouldn't be -- just that on the graph of covid concern, this level of caution is over on the far edge of the curve, not where most people are at, rightly or wrongly.) Your comparison to driving is apt -- that is a risk and a acceptance of causing climate damage that most people have made peace with, but being an outlier doesn't make you wrong.

* My body has followed my body language. I love people, I think of myself as someone who loves interacting with people. But I've been backing away from people for two years. Etc. My body interprets this as misanthropy. I want to whole-heartedly believe that I love people, and I still also want to be doing the right thing. Please answer this question in your own words without recommending therapy.

This is exactly why I, and most people I know, have gone back to a variety of in-person socializing and events. It started feeling more and more unhealthy to be so isolated, and quite frankly I'm still dealing with the lingering aspects of that. (Small talk still feels weird and hard to do.) I think you are getting great suggestions above about options for finding social connection without compromising your values, and I would add that this should probably be an equal priority along with your covid caution, rather than secondary.

Something that I do as a mark of respect and to help make connections is to mirror the covid precautions of anyone who is more cautious than myself. (Like, wearing a mask, or keeping more physical distance, or whatever.) It's usually easy to do and people seem to appreciate it. In your case, since you are near the upper edge of covid caution, you are probably looking for people who are willing to mirror at least some of your precautions. Depending on what you would require, that might be a simple ask, or it might be really limiting.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:29 AM on September 30, 2022 [5 favorites]

Background: I am currently more Covid-cautious than any of my friends, but less so than you. Viewing it from an ethics perspective, the higher-risk activities I engage in (seeing vaccinated people I know indoors unmasked in groups of eight or fewer; seeing larger groups outdoors unmasked) only risk me passing on Covid to other people who chose that risk. That doesn't remove the fact that it's not good (my contacts could expose others who had no choice in the matter) but it feels better than, say, going to restaurants where staff may have little choice to work. (Plus they are less risky choices than that.)

If you wanted to relax your efforts, you could also reduce your potential spread by spacing out activities like that. If you only do one every ten days, for example, it's unlikely you'd pass on Covid contracted at gathering #1 to Covid contracted at gathering #2.

I personally have found that I can't connect with new potential friends if we're masked. YMMV, but as you figure this stuff out, consider whether that is something you need to consider and how to address that problem.
posted by metasarah at 7:33 AM on September 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think one way to think about the moral dimension of things is to consider whether they're universalizable - whether the world would be better if everyone did the thing.

For me, that might be a useful filter to evaluate some of these things. Would it be reasonable, for the indefinite future (years, certainly) for everyone to follow.
- it seems possible/reasonable for everyone to wear masks in the places that are core to everyday life, and unavoidable for those who are higher risk - grocery stores, pharmacies, doctors offices and public transit.
- to me, at least, it does not seam reasonable to remove all communal dining - so I would dine outside and lobby/agitate for research and implementation about radically improved indoor dining.

For me, this is a framework to thing through how to think about COVID decisionmaking and risk beyond the invidual risk tolerance and risk profile framework.
posted by mercredi at 7:57 AM on September 30, 2022 [5 favorites]

I find that I can be cautious without having to do so many daily assessments and calculations by using a very simple rubric:

Indoors: N95
- work (going outdoors to have food/water)
- transit (including taxis)
- restaurants (therefore no eating unless it's outdoors)
- theater

Outdoors: Distancing
- if it's not possible to distance, e.g. a busy food festival, then "Indoors" rules apply

That's it!
I don't have to test, even if I get a notification that my coworker is out with Covid. I don't have to look at MicroCovid.

- Indoors without masks, as in the dentist, I get the first appointment of the day to maximize air quality in the space.

- I miss the gym.
- I tend not to see friends in person from November to March because it's too cold outside, except for walks/hiking.

Future outlook:
- Wearing an N95 forever in crowded unventilated situations such as theater and transit, and when co-workers are visibly/audibly ill.
- I expect that eventually when transmission is more "like the flu" then I will be able to go without a mask in normally-ventilated spaces like work and stores. I don't typically get the flu/colds, perhaps due to good hand-washing and a natural aversion to crowded spaces.
posted by xo at 7:59 AM on September 30, 2022 [10 favorites]

I skipped a dog training class because I had transient symptoms. I'm a bit salty that the trainer doesn't do makeup classes, so won't sign up again. I did a self-test, had a doctor's appt. anyway and got the PCR test the next day. All negative. Did you mention testing? I feel that it's a big help in making sure I'm not carrying Covid to others.

I felt so strongly about the 2020 elections that I volunteered for the local Dem campaign office anyway. We masked, temp-checked, and kept all the windows wide open. I am volunteering again this year; 3 people out of @ 20 regular office and canvassing volunteers have just had Covid, so I am really making sure the windows and usually the door are open wide. I have nice Enron N95 masks I use. I can swap them daily.

Dora Ann Mills, MD, used to be Dir. of the Maine CDC. She is my favorite Covid advisor, writing occasional pieces on facebook. She is full of common sense and facts (just like her sister, the governor of Maine, who we must absolutely re-elect).

I am reducing air travel a lot because of Climate, and thank you for your commitment. Haven't seen my grandson in years, and would love to visit, which will require air travel, but I'm not ready yet. I'm 65+ and have asthma, and the idea of getting on a plane is Nope. It's fraught. I appreciate your question, and the chance to hear from others.
posted by theora55 at 8:10 AM on September 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

One idea that comes through clearly in your post is that you strongly believe in the idea of DO NO HARM (or at least, minimize the harm that you cause) to the world/people/beings around you. This seems central to your ethos of how to relate to the universe outside yourself.

Do you also hold other values vis a vis your relationship with the world and society around you?
  • Is serving your community important to you? (Volunteering at the local animal shelter, fundraising for immigrant families in your town, organizing a beach cleanup, etc.)
  • How about building & honoring your connections with people, is that an important value for you? (Group texting with extended family, throwing a weekly neighborhood bbq, mentoring students from your alma mater, initiating impromptu weekend bike trips with friends, etc.)
  • Being a good friend who shows up in their time of need
  • Introducing your children (or your relatives'/friends' children) to all your favorite haunts around town
  • Spending time alone in nature or with animals
  • Being politically active (whether that's running for a local office or helping people get to their polling station on election day)
  • Supporting the local indie music/food/arts scene
  • Making a weekly pilgrimage to your local library to browse the less-travelled dewey decimal paths
  • etc.
Right now it seems as if your DO NO HARM practice - not even in general but just specifically the Covid-related aspect - is completely overshadowing every other social value that may be important to you. Is this what you really want? Is that truly in line with your values?

What would happen if you loosen up on your Covid-related rules in order to serve your other values a little better? Do you think the higher risk of you spreading Covid to other people might be more than adequately balanced out by the concrete contributions you will now be able to make to people's lives..? Or do you genuinely believe that under your loosened rules, your capacity to spread Covid will become so high and you will potentially cause so much harm that you'd really rather let your grandma celebrate yet another birthday without you, leave yet another friend get through their breakup alone?
posted by MiraK at 8:24 AM on September 30, 2022 [22 favorites]

How do I let go of my frustration while holding to my values?
Jettison the "6 feet apart or 6 feet under" rule. It is wrong. 6FAO6FU was based on the wrong assumption that the disease spread in slobber/snot droplets. Droplets are too heavy to travel more than six feet, hence the rule. But COVID is airborne. So 6FAO6FU, like the stupid directional arrows on the floor at the grocery store and putting up sheets of plexiglass everywhere and wanting everybody to wear gloves to stop the fomite spread--which also turned out not to be a thing--was COVID-prevention theater. That stuff just causes needless frustration and makes people more recalcitrant and more likely to throw up their hands and refuse actually helpful things like vaccination and masking. Forget about 6FAO6FU and trust your mask to protect you in line at the grocery store.

Devote all possible energies to solving this fungal rash situation so that masking becomes easier. Telehealth with doc? And maybe in long-term inside masking situations, try to take breaks to go outside and take the thing off so your poor face can get some air?

Remember all the people like me, to whom you are a hero. You are a huge comfort to those of us who feel weird and alone when nobody else is masking in the store. Whenever I'm in that situation and then I see somebody like you still masking in the store, I feel greatly relieved and grateful that I'm still in the real world and not (yet, anyway) in... The Twilight Zone.

Florida! Blue dot, but still very few still masking.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:29 AM on September 30, 2022 [13 favorites]

Not in high-risk categories myself, but I haven't seen any reason why that should influence my behavior, since I don't want to spread covid

This stands out to me because given the level of precautions and (lack of) socialization you describe, who exactly are you protecting right now, other than you and your partner? If you're accurately and fully setting forth all your interactions in the question above, you're not actually around anyone other than your partner long enough to seriously risk passing covid onto them: you're masking indoors and you're only indoors to shop, you rarely see friends outside, you avoid crowds, you're not dining out, etc. You say your partner follows all the same precautions. And yet you're testing every three days even though you're not even doing anything high risk or having prolonged contact with people outside your household or having symptoms. That honestly seems enormously wasteful to me. So idk, I would recalibrate based on the purely utilitarian view that you're not having enough prolonged, masked or unmasked, interactions to risk passing covid on, or catching it yourself. You seem very concerned with doing harm to others, which is laudable, but your level of current concern doesn't seem proportionate to the risk to yourself or others in your current activities.

My current caution level: get all vaccinations available, mask indoors in public including at work at the office whenever I'm in common areas or in someone else's office, keep up with the handwashing and hand sanitizing, try to avoid seriously crowded places, try to avoid dining indoors. But since being vaccinated I've traveled abroad, I've gone to the movies, I've gone to an indoor concert, I see friends and family indoors and outdoors, I've mostly dined outdoors but have been stuck dining indoors on a couple occasions. I test on request/when required, and after high-risk events. While I was traveling, I masked the entire time on planes and transit, apart from eating, and I masked almost the entire time indoors in public. I masked at the concert (which also required proof of vaccination), and I mask at the movies. I have not tested positive for covid so far, and as far as communicable illnesses go, have only had one mild cold since the start of covid (confirmed not to be covid both by rapid and PCR tests). I don't have a super active social life, but I'm pretty much back at my pre-pandemic level social life, barring indoors dining, and feel my level of caution is adequate to that level of social life. I'm also in California, fwiw.

I pretty much agree with xo above, and I think this level of caution is a good balance of protecting myself and others.
posted by yasaman at 8:32 AM on September 30, 2022 [14 favorites]

My practical suggestion is go hard on any outdoor socializing and activities – birding, lawn bowling, golfing, walking club, swim club, etc. – when the weather is good, and ease up a bit on that.

For perspective, my family’s Covid risk is very different than yours. But I do have a few things to share from the other side of the fence, as it were.

At work in 2021 we opened, with trepidation, a very small – two cohorts of 10 students – summer camp, in person. One of the first kids that signed up has some challenges. Her parents wrote me a heartbreaking letter that she had gone from relatively verbal pre-pandemic (she was a student with us) to almost completely non-verbal. She had a teacher during online learning who insisted she keep her camera on and who berated her for not participating vocally and this kid had shut down.

One of the first days of camp dad came in to pick her up and heard her laughing at a joke and replying to a friend. He broke down right in my lobby.

This impacted me a lot. This child needs not to get Covid and her family does too. But she also needs friends.

My parents are both extremely high risk – over 75, my mother has an auto-immune disorder and a clotting disorder, and my dad has had a brain aneurysm. I’m genetically related to them. They live 20 minutes away and have been as strict or stricter than you.
As a result, my dad has lost a lot of the mental ground that he gained after therapy for his brain aneurysm. My mother didn’t go in for an injury because she was afraid of being infected with Covid and her mobility is shot as a result. They have gone from active, connected seniors to watching television news 24/7. We are getting together indoors for Canadian Thanksgiving for the first time since Easter (we had meals outdoors over the summer) and will rapid test in advance and monitor for any symptoms. They just got the Ontario Moderna bivalent booster.
I’ve been through my dad’s aneurysm where he was given a 50% chance of survival, 10% chance of walking and talking again. He beat the odds 11 years ago and I’m grateful for all that time. I am angry and upset that Covid introduced parameters that meant he has had to isolate.

My MIL is the same age, and lives with us and has kidney damage and diabetes. We had to work out as a family what risks we could take (kids in school, I work among about 500 customers, mostly kids, at two locations.) As a group we decide together as much as possible. My kids are still masking, especially the one that occasionally takes transit, but are not 100% with it; I mask and my husband mostly masks although at his office there’s a bit of push back. We got Covid this summer, all of us but my 11 year old who never tested positive, and we got my MIL Paxlovid right away. She did great. I had the most impacts and am still dealing with a few sequelae.

My MIL is doing great, she is registered in an art class, writing her memoirs, and recently saw a group of friends in a friend’s backyard. She goes on transit at off times from time to time with an n95. Her life is rich and full. She knows that could change on a dime. She won’t stay at home because she is scared of being lonely and losing her zest for life and mental faculties slowly over time. (She did experience a lot of that.)

I lost my daughter to a 1:10,000 medical event and I have said it many times and I stick with it. What I wished for her was not merely survival – we took her off life support as she would have had a painful life with no swallow reflex – but to enjoy life.

Somewhere in all of that here is where I have come to. I don’t want to infect anyone, but as with my MIL, we are a connected community, not a series of hygiene portals. At the time that there were no vaccines and no antivirals, my family opted for virtual school and locked down. Things are better and we take risks together when everyone agrees. Sometimes we screw up. We’ve had Covid. Our risks are different post-Covid. This is part, for me, of living in 2022. When I was growing up, I had a mental map of where payphones were and I carried quarters. My kids have cellphones. Times change, circumstances change. By the statistics, my life expectancy will now be less than my parents’. I intend to make the most of those years – mine and theirs- without any risky things I can do without (things we don’t do include concerts, indoor dining, indoor weddings, choir – god I miss singing with a group – etc.) But not without everything that includes risk. I try to find some middle ground.

In my community I try to provide leadership by masking joyfully and obviously even when others are not, and by making our events as well ventilated as possible (moved the staff dinner to the summer etc.) But also by continuing to work in a field where we believe we help physical health and mental health as well as helping our students to work through their traumas and to learn to defend themselves in times to come.

I am sure I have things wrong from time to time.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:35 AM on September 30, 2022 [14 favorites]

I think after a long time of considering COVID as a danger absolutely essential to avoid, and feeling like you could achieve moral correctness through radical action on that score (98% of people actually couldn't [*], but that's not how it felt like to some, especially if surrounded by people who were being aggressively careless with their own and others' health, as so many of us were), it's most helpful to try to frame it as one of the ordinary risks of life, the avoidance of which has both costs and benefits. If I was okay with doing [x] before the pandemic and I feel uncomfortable with it now, is it because even before the pandemic it was kind of stupid and thoughtless to be doing it (e.g., going unmasked into public indoor spaces with symptoms of a respiratory virus, which I will do my best to avoid doing in the future), or is it because I'm oversensitized to COVID risk as opposed to other risks or wedded to an unrealistic model in which individual heroism will address a problem that arises from the mutual entanglement of living in a society (e.g., seeing friends indoors, which I did before despite the existence of the flu, which is quite respectably dangerous to similar populations)?

Gently, I suspect that if you think about it from first principles, you will find that you do choose risk for other people, all the time, not because you're a bad or careless person, but because we live in an interconnected world and it is simply unavoidable. You may not drive, but do you eat produce harvested by agricultural laborers in grim and dangerous working conditions, including exposure to carcinogens? (Almost certainly.) COVID is a risk. Depending on community transmission levels and the vulnerabilities of you and those in your life, it may be a higher or a lower risk, but it's not a unique risk, and it may be time to stop treating it as such in your own personal risk calculus. Some of your choices are, at this point, more self-soothing than based on science; using a rapid antigen test every three days when asymptomatic is just pouring money down the drain, as a single RAT is basically no better than flipping a coin at identifying infection for the asymptomatic. So what I'm suggesting is working over some time to think about your approach to risk in life generally, being very blunt and uncompromising with yourself about admitting the kinds of costs you impose on others just by existing in society as a normal well-meaning person, and reconceptualizing your COVID precautions in that context. I don't drive either (in NYC) and the worse climate change gets the more glad I am of that, but...well. I'd be incapacitated in the summer without a/c and I use it.

If you want another way to think about it, historically we have generally lived with much higher risk of illness, disability, and death from transmissible diseases. (So much higher it's genuinely hard for us to fathom!) It's safe to say that no group larger than a cult has ever tried to live long term with the degree of precautions you are presently taking. Why? Some of it is surely human ignorance, selfishness, laziness, etc., but is that all? What are the constraints that human behavior has historically reflected? Are you able to circumvent them for the foreseeable future, or do you need to think about accommodations?

(*) I still remember the pushback I got here when I pointed out that people who were priding themselves on their extreme COVID care in not even going to the grocery store (as opposed to other, more careless people), were actually pushing their own risk onto whoever was delivering them the necessities of life, and those people were almost certainly much poorer and had much less choice than they did. My point was not that they were secretly actually bad people, or even that they were hypocrites, but that the common Mefi/liberal model of obtaining consent to risks or harm can work well on an individual-to-individual basis but can break down quickly when extrapolated to society as a whole unless you're willing to ignore a lot.
posted by praemunire at 8:44 AM on September 30, 2022 [46 favorites]

I've been struggling how to reply to this question since last night, but honestly, xo above did it very well. My personal rules for myself are almost exactly theirs': N95 indoors with others, always (eat/drink outside, no cheating). Unmasked outside, if able to have at least some space, otherwise masked outside too. I am in the office more often than not these days due to my job responsibilities. So far, one-way masking has been effective for me. We've had some COVID in the building but as far as I know personally there has been no spread, and definitely no spread to those of us who are masking.

I choose to see friends unmasked outside, or masked inside if unavoidable. I think people do see me as a bit of a weirdo for holding that line, but I am a weirdo in a lot of other ways so eh whatever, nobody's given me shit overtly and to the one guy who screamed obscenities at me for walking down the sidewalk with a mask on my arm, f*** off. This has happened only once in two years, so coastal California ain't bad.

I'll admit I'm cautious about COVID for selfish reasons, as grumblebee articulated well. I mean, I don't want to spread it to others I might meet, so I'm careful to allow a week or more between visits to different friends, but at this point I wear a mask for the same reason I bike commute (it's good for me). It's also good for the environment / public health, but I have reached a pretty low point of believing-others-give-a-shit; secure your own oxygen mask first, etc.

One thing I'm considering is getting a good-quality CO2 meter for my work desk, as a proxy for "how many other peoples' air am I breathing?" There are days when there's nobody within 30 feet of me and I think I could probably safely take off my mask for a second to sneak a snack/drink, but I'd like a better metric for that than "eh, seems alright."

Another thing that may be somewhat aligned with your environmental values that I'm considering is swapping from disposable N95s to a half-face respirator with P100 cartridges. They look even weirder than masks in public, but there's less waste per cartridge change, and the cartridges last longer. I've just started looking into this, and there are some challenges: It's harder to be heard through half-face respirators unless they include a speaking diaphragm; most do not filter outflow air so that means giving up on "my mask protects you" 100%, which I'm not quite ready to do.
posted by Alterscape at 8:58 AM on September 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

I am at this point much less cautious than you, but also not "back to normal" and consider myself generally concerned about the well-being of the earth, in broad terms.

Some ways to perhaps reframe things (some of these are big, some are small):

-From your post, you are giving a lot of emphasis to the social risks posed by COVID, but de-emphasize the risks from social isolation. When COVID was new, I think that approach made sense. But if everyone prioritized COVID risk above all else, society wouldn't function and many people would experience great harm (just not COVID), and what is ethnical isn't so cut and dry. For example - soup kitchens provide a critical resource for vulnerable populations. If you volunteered in one regularly, indoors and masked, yes, that would increase your COVID risk, but you'd also be doing a real service to your community. Volunteering with an environmental group doing tree planting or removing invasive species, also important and valuable to the community. So I'd encourage you to feel comfortable doing any volunteer work, whether outdoors or indoors.

-For environmental reasons, I would stop testing so much. Tests only indicate if you're infectious. If you are not having symptoms, the likelihood of being infectious are low. So I would only test if you either have symptoms, or you're about to do some activity where you could expose a lot of people and/or a vulnerable person.

-My priority is less about not getting COVID (I mean, that's my goal too), and more about not spreading COVID. Since it sounds like you WFH, if you do a riskier thing, and then isolate for a week afterward, it's unlikely you'd contribute to the further spread of COVID. I'm on an academic calendar, and my "riskiest" activities have be planned for during school vacations - because I knew I could preemptively isolate afterwards and not spread the disease, should I become sick.

-Like mskyle says, other people benefit from your presence too. My parents were some of the first people I saw in-person, unmasked - this was as much if not more for them than me.

-My social circle is mostly progressive and on the COVID cautious side of things - but I don't know anyone being as cautious as you, including immunocompromised people that I know. So this level of caution will make it hard for you to forge new friendships - I'm sure there other people out there like you, but being a bit more flexible (especially with outdoor socializing) will open you up to more possible connections.

For this one: It's frustrating when I'm trying to maximize my distance between everyone crowding around me (pre-pandemic socializing distance) when I'm in line at the grocery store and nobody else seems to care. For me, this is not about judgement. This is about struggling to do what I feel is right. How do I let go of my frustration while holding to my values? It's been a long time since I've witnessed people keeping 6' apart anywhere, honestly. Not even in CVS. Just like you presumably don't get frustrated when you see people driving a car, I would remind yourself that as an individual you cannot force people to adopt ethical behavior. That's up to business owners, politicians, etc. You could of course take that frustrated energy and write to your elected officials, the CEO of whatever grocery store you patronize, and advocate for keeping the 6' rule in lines. But ultimately, this is out of your hands. Meditation/yoga can help (helps me anyway) work on accepting limitations while still working toward improvement.
posted by coffeecat at 9:02 AM on September 30, 2022 [2 favorites]

I feel very similar to you in that while getting Covid is not something I want for myself, I have been primarily most concerned with not giving Covid to others. We are also similar in that I do not drive, because I am afraid of hurting or killing someone else. We are both extremely privileged to be able to arrange our lives such that we can have this priority and live according to it, and that is so even as it is also inconvenient and burdensome in other ways.

The way I have balanced expanding my own activities during Covid is to maintain that focus on protecting others. When I plan to do something riskier than my norm—like eat outdoors at a restaurant—I make sure that I haven’t done anything with increased risk in the previous week, and I plan to be more isolated in the week after. I pay close attention to if I have any symptoms, and cancel if I do. I test in the days before, and right before I leave, and then also some spaced out tests after. This way I am as close to sure as one can be that I won’t be spreading Covid to the staff while I am there, and if I contract Covid while there it stops with me.

I also calibrate my behavior to some extent depending on who I am with. If I am with friends at their home we might decide together not to mask, in part based on what other risks we have incurred recently and that we have all tested negative beforehand. But when I am indoors with strangers, especially when they don’t have a choice about being there (like staff at stores or events, or on public transit), I don’t ever unmask, period.

Assuming a risk for myself (that I might contract Covid at an event) but not assuming that risk for others (because after the event I will isolate and test) is a compromise I can live with. I feel very, very lucky to have this much control over my life and schedule.

A final note: I have respirator masks that are both very comfortable for my face and that I think look good. If you haven’t experimented with different masks and brands since early on, I would recommend trying again now. I bet you can find some that will cause fewer problems and be more comfortable. Personally I think of masks now like bras or shoes: they can be very uncomfortable and burdensome, but most people with trial and error can find options that are good enough to even great. (With a good mask, like a good bra, sometimes I even forget to take it off when I get home.) When people get indignant and ask, “Are you going to mask forever???” I can very easily just say yes. When I’m feeling snarky, I add that I’m planning to wash my hands after using public restrooms for the rest of my life, too.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 9:09 AM on September 30, 2022 [6 favorites]

I live in Chicago, a city that is pretty covid-aware by US standards, and still I suspect that my partner and I are like 90th percentile cautious. We are teachers and so have worked in-person for a lot of the pandemic, which got us pretty comfortable with the effectiveness of (KN-95) masks. At this point, we do whatever we want unmasked outdoors (restaurants/bars, seeing friends, festivals, concerts etc.) and do whatever we want masked indoors (I saw Wicked yesterday, it was great!) We see friends and family indoors, unmasked, but we don't have a huge social circle and we're comfortable with everybody's level of precautions (generally less than ours, because that's true of most people). As far as we know, neither of us has gotten covid.

Re: testing: Last year my school offered/gently required weekly PCR testing, so I tested weekly. Now I only test if I have symptoms. My understanding is the home tests are not super useful if you're asymptomatic anyway.

Re: environmental concerns around masking: I re-use my masks. I last purchased a 10-pack of KN-95s in like...June?? And I wear them every day.

Re: having a social life: depending on where you are in California, you really could just have a social life outside (masked or not, plenty of folks here still mask outside). In the summer here my social life is 95% outside even pre-covid because it's nicer to be outside! The park a block from my house always has yoga classes, art classes, martial arts groups, dog buddies, picnics, concerts, plays, book clubs, tennis matches, adult kickball leagues -- and I live in a random residential neighborhood miles from downtown. What's on at parks near you?
posted by goodbyewaffles at 10:39 AM on September 30, 2022 [3 favorites]

I think you may be setting yourself up for some kind of moral whiplash (if you haven't already).

You primarily say that you're taking all these precautions to protect others, but they may not be taking any precautions themselves while reaping all the benefits.

I unfortunately discovered this myself when people I was trying to protect eventually got infected, were incredibly nonchalant about it, possibly infected others, and didn't seem to have any remorse over it. There were feelings of anger, of betrayal. The longer you sacrifice yourself and the more you see others not sacrificing, the worse that feeling is going to get.

I'm not saying you should give up; I'm saying you may need to mentally reorient yourself in what you're doing and why you're doing it.


I spent quite a bit of time in 2020 reading about the Spanish Flu, and it gave me quite a bit of perspective. People have always been like this. Pandemics always suck. The weird terms like social distancing are from that era. It didn't exactly console me, but it made me feel that this isn't quite the exceptional event that news likes to portray it, and people's strange behavior isn't unheard of at all.


N95s can be reused for much longer than eight hours if they still fit well, unless they've been damaged for a while (or are actually growing stuff inside), but you should probably let them dry between uses. Reusable masks (elastomeric) are often more comfortable, fit better, filter better, and can be cleaned; but communication is usually difficult, they have a high initial cost, and you won't be winning any fashion contests (unless you're nickelpin).

Rapid at-home tests aren't particularly useful if you're not having symptoms. I think you should only test when you are experiencing some kind of symptom, not on a fixed schedule and already are limiting contact with people.
posted by meowzilla at 11:19 AM on September 30, 2022 [3 favorites]

One thing I neglected to address! Is there anywhere that your experiences during the pandemic have brought you joy or contentment or pride? I know that sounds weird, but we need those things to sustain any kind of life change. For me, the joy came from becoming a fluent biker. In fact, biking in this morning for one of my rare in-person times in the office is what brought your post back to mind. These are skills I would not have developed, anxieties (road biking etc) I would not have faced, joy I would not be experiencing, if it were not for this pandemic lifestyle change. I'll take a bus or a Lyft when I must, and I haven't yet tackled snow or ice biking; but when I can ride, I do, because nothing else gives me this kind of warmth inside.

As someone who avoids motor vehicles, you might have had this particular joy locked in already. But perhaps my comment will bring some other new joy to mind!
posted by eirias at 11:46 AM on September 30, 2022 [8 favorites]

except I went to the dentist recently, since I hadn't been in 2 years

I was/am similarly covid-cautious to you, and I also recently went to the dentist for the first time in 2 years.

And that was pretty much how I justified it to myself. "It's been 2 years. I'm due every 6 months, and now it's been 2 years." On repeat. With a little bit of, "I can't go on like this. It's been too long. Something's got to give." If I try to think through safety and risk and ethics, I get stuck. I give up. I stay in.

With that in mind, I upgrade from N95 to P100 when I go somewhere with shared indoor air. As in, 100% instead of 95%. I test the fit. It's not comfortable. I look weird. People stare. But I think of it like a mobility aid. It's an accommodation (to COVID protection, to my own anxiety, take your pick), and that's what it takes for me to feel well enough to be out and about.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 3:08 PM on September 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

You could look for a new social group of severely immune-compromised people who are taking the same level of precautions as you are. You may not be immune-compromised yourself, but joining a book group, for example that was organized for the sake of people who need a social life but require these sort of precautions for their own safety, could enlarge your social circle.

Look for some outdoor social activities such as geocaching if you want to meet people in person, activities that don't require strenuous effort and which can be done outside, distancing a bit and masked.

A lot of the people who will continue to take these precautions may be unhealthy and possibly have poor stamina or be frail, so concentrate on finding social opportunities that are within the capacity of people who cannot be active. Joining a running group, for example, provides the opportunity to meet with people outside and social distance while you meet with them, but it will be harder to find people who run and who are diligent about masking, then to find people people who stroll and are making masking a priority.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:27 PM on September 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

Late 40s, near Boston, chronic health stuff that includes multiple high risk factors for Covid complications. I live by myself with my cat.

I am:
- Full boosted for Covid, will get my flu shot in October.

- Mask everywhere inside (KN95 or N95, depending on what I'm doing, I find the latter masks more comfortable for something longer like a medical visit).

- I don't mask outside on walks where I'm some distance from other people, but generally do if I'm going to be closer for any reason.

- In the office 2 days a week (about to add alternating Mondays). My office has its own HVAC that pulls in outside air: I don't mask in my office, but do anywhere else in the building. (My workplace which has medically vulnerable kids in it, went mask optional in September).

- Limit visits elsewhere: I have regular medical appointments (and this summer had to catch up on a couple of things that had been delayed due to the pandemic). When possible I do telehealth, when it's not, I mask. I grocery shop twice a month in person, and get delivery for a third trip. (My laundry is via a laundromat that picks up and drops off, as I don't have laundry options in my apartment).

- I do a rapid test only when I'm going to be around people at close distance more than briefly where we'll be unmasked or if I have noticeable symptoms. (My chronic stuff includes half the list of possible Covid symptoms on a regular basis one way or another - cough, sniffles, things that can feel like a fever due to temperature regulation issues, aches, etc. so it's something of a guessing game. Mostly I test only if I know I'll be around people or have concerns about a particular exposure.)

In general:
In the past few months, I've made a couple of very specific exceptions for doing things in person, always with people where I know and trust them to informatively report exposures or "not sure about this", and with small numbers of households - one ritual last weekend where we couldn't mask, one picnic outside (inside only for bathroom access), etc. But I make those count: I want them to be things that I really want to do, with people I trust, where the benefit opportunities are really high. (And my friends, bless them, understand this.)

I also spread out the things that might be riskier or social things from necessary work-in-person stuff / extended medical things, so that if I do have concerns, I'm not scrambling to rearrange things in most cases or worried I'm going to pass something on without realising it.

However, I also have had my chronic health stuff for more than a decade, and it has made doing stuff in person with people difficult (for stamina and 'am I safe to get myself home after' reasons) for that long. I have arranged my life so I have a fair chunk of quality social time (with the same people, who I know well and share a lot of things with - more emotionally deep interactions) that's entirely virtual.

These days, this includes two different closer chat spaces, three regular roleplaying games (two of which couldn't have us in the same place because people are across the country...), and a bunch of lighter but ongoing Discords and other online spaces where the same people participate regularly. I have a regular video chat on Friday afternoons with one of my best friends. (Who again, I wouldn't see in person anyway, she's half way across the country from me.)

People with chronic stuff have been figuring this out for a long time, and there are options for the emotional connection pieces, though it doesn't solve all the physical wanting to be with people parts.

In terms of masks: because I'm not wearing my mask all the time on the days I go into work, I generally use the same mask for a week (wearing it maybe 2-3 hours total, depending on grocery shopping), with time to air out between days. I replace them if I feel like I've gone through at least 8-10 hours, or if the elastic snaps (which often happens around that point.) Much better usage rate than one a day. I would replace more often if I was wearing it around other people for any length of time, especially something like public transit.

I normally go through a test box every month or two, though I've tested twice this week because of specific risks, and I may do one more this weekend.
posted by jenettsilver at 4:06 PM on September 30, 2022 [2 favorites]

I have solved very nearly all of your questions with upgrading to non-disposable p100 elastomeric masks. They generate no waste except filters about once a year. They are easy to sterilize and the latex seal doesn’t create the fungal infection or acne issues. Because their seal and filtration is rock solid, I am able to let go of caring about what other people around me are doing. I don’t worry about social distancing or the poor form of other people’s masking of vaccination. I will NOT catch covid and I will not pass it on.

I don’t go inside buildings for anything other than medical appointments (I do curbside for groceries). I feel fine seeing people outdoors.

This is my plan for … forever? I am annoyed that I have to take the burden on myself of looking out of place, but I already look out of place in most contexts. I can’t change society or how other people are doing things, but I can wear a mask that makes it essentially none of my business how other people are living their lives. It has really helped me let go of the misanthropic feelings I have around people not caring for me or the community.

Anecdotally, I know of a fairly large number of people who are making this same choice (through Facebook groups) and none of us has caught covid. P100 masks WORK and they work well.

My level of covid caution is higher than yours, as I wear them outside, too. I don’t want to have to be thinking about and making calculations of how many people are how close to me. I just put on the mask and let all that worry go. I have been physically inside covid wards several times for over 8 hours and not caught covid wearing a p100.

The thing that I have learned is that keeping an eye on microcovid and the like is pretty stressful to my system. It gives me anxiety, and doesn’t help me. I have decided to stop worrying and love the mask. Doing all the mental work of trying to assess risk was super bad for my mental health and kept leading me to have breakdowns. I no longer do any assessing because my assessment is “I will wear my mask and I will be fine.”
posted by Bottlecap at 4:39 PM on September 30, 2022 [12 favorites]

Also, I wanted to mention that it is extremely rare to have fungal infections if you are not immune compromised in some way. Your level of caution is appropriate for the risk factor you mentioned in passing, and I have found that many people are unaware of their risk factors. I also think people are quite cavalier about preserving their quality of life and underestimate how big an impact fatigue, being easily winded, brain fog and other extraordinarily common long term symptoms will have on their day to day experience. I don’t think it’s a sign of anxiety or any other mental illness to be concerned about your well-being as regards a still novel virus. The number of newly disabled people in the last two years bears this out, and taking sensible precautions is merited, regardless of what other people are doing. Covid still ranks way above car accidents as a cause of death in the US. There were a record number of car accident fatalities last year and it was still a factor of ten lower than the number of covid fatalities.

My line for relaxing my covid precautions has been when it is as safe as a car. We’re not there yet.
posted by Bottlecap at 5:24 PM on September 30, 2022 [14 favorites]

I am also in California and mostly socializing outside, which is easy to do here. You could join a local hiking group, your local community garden, invite your neighbors to go for daily walks, volunteer to clean up trash in parks, etc. I still wear masks in stores; I've been wearing the same mask repeatedly for a long time and haven't gotten sick. I see no reason to throw out masks after a single use.
posted by pinochiette at 6:02 PM on September 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

**If you do not meet the criteria for answering this question, I'd like to hear your relevant thoughts 1) if you have given deep and extensive consideration to your approach to covid, and 2) if you and others would consider values-centeredness and caring for others to be primary in your general approach to life.

I don't meet the caution criteria now. I did during the first two years of the pandemic.

I think my experience might be a useful reality check, or maybe I'm just commenting because my reality is so different from yours and I want to be heard.

From what you say about driving, our values probably align pretty closely.

But I live in with my husband, who teaches in a school where, during the entire pandemic, social distancing and mask wearing was lax at best. His students come from some of the poorest areas, which have also been most affected by Covid.

We can't bubble (I'm not even sure I'm using the right term) because we're constantly exposed to Covid.

We don't have access to n95 masks.

We don't have access to tests unless we go to a clinic or testing centre and it's expensive.

We don't have access to paxlovid.

We are both fully vaccinated and boosted, but with the original vaccine, I have no idea when we will have access to newer vaccines. Or if we ever will.

We've both had Covid multiple times, despite being extremely careful.

I experienced a kind of mental breakdown during the hard lockdown because of the extreme frustration of having no control over my and my husband's exposure to Covid.

I became so thin, it was frightening. I was in constant and severe mental distress.

Now, because of therapy, medication, and the discovery that I am autistic, I am a new person.

I had to learn how to live with the fact that I have no control over so many things, and that I can't keep the people I love safe. Well, I'm still learning, I don't think this is a process anyone masters.

We live in different worlds, you and I. But we have so many of the same struggles.

What would you do if you had to live like I do?
posted by Zumbador at 9:51 PM on September 30, 2022 [4 favorites]

I wonder if it would help you to think about how other people handle covid based on their individual circumstances. I think then you will discover there is no moral absolute here.
- Is a janitor who had to go to work in person during the pandemic and also goes to church being careless or immoral?
- Is a doctor who works in an ER being careless or immoral?
- Is a mother who sends her child to daycare (no masks) so she can work and the child can socialize being careless or immoral?
- Is a kindgergarten teacher who decides to unmask because her students need to see her lips and hear her clearly to learn phonics being careless or immoral?
- Is a woman who visits her elderly parent indoors with no masks, per the parent’s preferences, being careless or immoral?

Once you think through these, ask yourself why you think you have to meet higher standards of carefulness and morality, and why you have go make such sacrifices.

Background: started out the pandemic extremely cautious but saw how isolation ruined my child’s
mental health, so was forced to loosen up.
posted by haptic_avenger at 6:24 AM on October 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

My masking approach is very much like Bottlecap’s, with the addition of glasses that allow me to feel comfortable within 6 feet of unmasked people indoors and out. I have N95s that I consider comfortable, and each gets a few or several uses. Because these are N95s and not P100s, I do have a get in, get out hurried approach to any indoor time. Outdoors, I hold my breath when I might be in the slipstream of another person, and the glasses ease any concern that I might be infected through my eyes.

It is so nice not to worry what anyone else is doing (unless they take their mask off to cough, I do judge people for that). I am fortunate to have a wfh lifestyle, and I think the curbside pickup is the most ethical approach, since it means you’re not adding additional shoppers to the store or bringing an additional person into my building’s elevators who might infect my neighbors.

I think people who see me show up at an event in an N95 understand that I am very desirous of seeing them, and we can get super close with no worry that one of us will hurt the other. That physical closeness really feeds my soul. I also go maskless around some people outside, but that’s with moderate distancing (4-6 ft), and I am always mindful of wind conditions. Depending on which of us I perceive to have lower infection risk, I may choose to have them upwind of me. When I wear a cloth mask around others, it is purely to be respectful to them, since I don’t expect it to protect me at all. I think there is a minimal likelihood that I am infectious at any time due to my own caution, but they don’t know that, so I wear it to put them at ease.

A major fear is that I will have to admit that I’ve been irresponsible or cavalier with someone else’s safety, or not know if I was infectious when we met. I often do a rapid test because I can’t assume that a vaccinated person like myself will have any sort of symptoms, but I don’t always tell the person that I’ve done the rapid test. It’s just nice to know that if I do get sick, I could notify my contacts while giving them some reassurance that they’re unlikely to have gotten it from me.

I can see from this thread that I have a much higher opinion of the relevance of rapid testing than others. I drew my understanding from reading Michael Mina on Twitter. Basically, even if I were twice as likely to get a positive result with PCR, most of those tests would actually be irrelevant for answering the question of whether I’m infectious, since the PCR test is good at picking up the tail of the infection, once I’m already stopped being infectious. I also don’t trust my ability to get the timing right for a PCR, since I have been vaccinated and therefore might show very early immune response symptoms before the virus can be picked up on either the rapid or the PCR.

I feel more social toward people I see on the street, and I think there have been many more people walking in my neighborhood as a result of the pandemic. I usually see someone I know when I go out for a walk.

I think my approach is something I can maintain long-term, though I know I will probably get infected outdoors at some point. I do feel like it’s a hindrance to me personally, since I formerly benefited from being tall in in-person interactions, being reasonably good looking if I were to go unmasked, and having an extroverted personality. Hopefully the masking and distancing allows this decrease in my privilege to be experienced by others as an increase in theirs.
posted by puffinaria at 11:29 PM on October 1, 2022 [5 favorites]

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