If you’re like me and you don’t live in a state that has already started re-opening, you are likely taking a lot of walks. Regardless of where you are in the U.S., I think we can all agree that if you cough or sneeze in any public setting, you automatically feel like you may as well have a scarlet “S” hung around your neck. I have found myself looking around to see if anyone has noticed after I sneeze in public, regardless of the personal protective equipment I wear. The reality is, allergies, other upper respiratory infections (beyond coronavirus), and a multitude of other reasons can cause someone to cough or sneeze. What is particularly striking to me is how quickly we have adapted to an action that would have caused someone near you to shout “bless you” a few months ago, is now met with worried stares or even folks fleeing your general direction. How long after this COVID-19 era has passed will we carry on our newfound fear of being around others who may be ill?
Pandemics are certainly not a novel concept. Many references to the deadly 1918 Spanish Flu have been made over the last several weeks. SARS-CoV and H1N1 “Swine Flu” in more recent memory captured the attention of many around the globe, and were even quite deadly, but never before now has there been such widespread worry about becoming ill. Many of those self-isolating will be venturing out of isolation either now, or very soon, and have to re-enter the world where viruses and other “bugs” still roam. We aren’t made to live in a bubble, but where does caution cross the line?
I think a lot of it has to do with you as an individual. What are you comfortable with? Do you personally or someone you are close to have any underlying health conditions? How comfortable are you at taking risks in general? The fact is, we take a risk every time we leave our home. Those risks come in many forms. Ironically, there is even a risk if you just decided to stay in bed all the time (deep vein thrombosis or DVT). Each individual must weigh the risk versus the benefits as we re-open to the world. Your answer may not look the same as your neighbors. Your risk may not be the same as theirs. Empathy and understanding will be key as we venture out again all the while maintaining contact with those that may not feel comfortable or be able to make the journey into the outside world. Follow the best data for your area before you decide to head out the door. We are not past the risk of COVID-19 and must remain vigilant regardless of our assumptions of risk. Your friend or neighbor’s life may just depend on it.
K. Maravet Baig-Ward is a psychiatry resident and can be reached on Twitter @drmaravet.
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