Still afraid of covid: People still isolating and masking
Still afraid of covid: People still isolating and masking
These measures seem like common sense to Pelofski and Grimaldi. They are trying to protect themselves and their baby, plus they want to protect their elderly parents and do their part to reduce the spread in the community. Not so long ago, the couple thought their precautions were in line with the rest of society. But in recent months, their idea of covid common sense has painfully disintegrated with the view that it’s time to throw caution to the wind and masks into the trash.
“I didn’t feel draconian before, and now I feel draconian,” says Grimaldi, 36. “Everyone seems to have abandoned the things that used to be de rigueur.”
Pelofsky and Grimaldi are among Americans still doing their best to avoid the virus. They do not dine indoors in restaurants. They still practice social distancing. They wear highly protective masks if they have to see a doctor or stop by the pharmacy. Some educate their children at home. Others refuse to return to the office. They fill dozens of social media groups whose members identify as “still suffering from covid”.
Many of them would unmasked masses to know that it is not easy and that it is only more difficult.
“We’ve turned down a lot of indoor parties and events because we don’t feel comfortable with that yet,” says Pelofsky, 47. “Unfortunately, we are somewhat cut off from some friends.” And although none of their guests objected to their requests, the couple knows that it will be increasingly difficult to go in the winter, when it is less pleasant to socialize outdoors.
They took the threat seriously from the beginning and managed to avoid contracting the virus (as far as they know). For a short time, after the vaccination, they relaxed the restrictions. But they doubled down after learning Grimaldi was pregnant last fall, especially since the pregnancy took a toll on Grimaldi’s health. The couple continued to take precautions after the baby arrived, not wanting to expose the unvaccinated infant.
But also when the baby gets their second dose of the vaccine next month, Pelofsky and Grimaldi expect masking to continue and other measures to mitigate risk. Grimaldi had a taste of long-term illness during pregnancy and does not want to return to that state; Pelofsky fears the long-term consequences of covid.
The precautions do not seem particularly difficult for the couple. What eats away at them is the feeling that they are not in step with society.
“I feel like an exception because I’m doing things that were standard until recently,” says Grimaldi.
There is no reliable number of people “still suffering from covid”, but they are certainly in the minority. AND September survey Monmouth University found that 22 percent of people are very worried about a family member getting seriously ill from Covid, compared to 45 percent last September. And a quarter of Americans supported mask mandates and social distancing guidelines, down from 63 percent last September.
People who continue to take many precautions know that when President Biden said the “pandemic is over” during an interview last month, he was reflecting a popular view: Available vaccines and drugs have made things safe enough, for enough people, that we can finally close book about 2020 and start having fun — or at least living — like it’s 2019 again.
Which makes it that much more isolating for people still in the pandemic.
“People make judgments without some kind of community consensus, which makes people’s jobs harder,” says Steven Epstein, a sociology professor at Northwestern University.
Epstein often contrasts the covid pandemic with the AIDS epidemic, when clear, universally accepted guidelines emerged about how to stay safe (wear condoms, don’t share needles). “The problem with covid is that we don’t have that kind of clarity,” he says. “People are kind of dumb. We make very personal judgments at a time when there is no clear consensus.”
People who are still taking all available precautions fall mainly into two groups: those with underlying health conditions for whom contracting the covid-19 virus – or, in some cases, even getting vaccinated – could be very dangerous; and those who simply do not want to get this virus, either because they fear acute illness or long-term adverse effects. Both camps have largely given up on waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel. They see covid as here to stay and have changed their lives accordingly.
Lindsay Poveromo-Joly spent years as a hyper-involved mom, the guy who knew everyone at her kids’ school and ran half the parent-teacher association committee. She also follows the rules, so since the start of the pandemic, the 36-year-old mother of two has continued to follow all the rules, even when the rules were lifted in her home state of Florida.
“People talk about you like you’re a bunker,” says Poveromo-Joly. She had friends who subtly questioned her decisions. Not to mention foreigners. At one point when she was out with her masked children, she says, a passer-by pretended to cough aggressively in their direction.
But Poveromo-Joly considers her ongoing efforts to keep the virus out of their home completely rational. She is worried about her youngest child, a daughter who is now six years old and has been hospitalized twice with severe cases of the flu, and her husband, who is diabetic. That concern has not gone away with access to vaccines. Now her children are homeschooled. They bought a new house with a home office for her husband so he could continue to work remotely. She refilled her social circle with new friends who make similar decisions.
Most of their social circle consists of other homeschooling families, whom they regularly see at outdoor gatherings and games. Instead of sending her daughter to a nearby gym for a tumbling class, Poveromo-Joly found a gymnastics instructor to teach the girl outside. When other fourth-graders boarded the bus to see the state capital, Poveromo-Joly packed up the family, rented an Airbnb, and toured St. Louis on her own. Augustine.
“Am I talking to a lot of people from our old life? No, unfortunately,” she says. “For a while, people tried to make it work. But sometimes you lose connections.”
The adjustments may take time—”Let me call ten dentists and see which one is still wearing masks,” Poveromo-Joly says of a recent attempt—but the changes have also brought benefits. Poveromo-Joly says they spend a lot more time together, their lives are less hectic and their daughter, who has been diagnosed with dyslexia, gets more personalized instruction. So Poveromo-Joly stopped thinking about the changes during the pandemic period as temporary and stopped hoping that they could be.
Emily Landon, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine, understands the concerns of people like Poveromo-Joly. While acute covid is “mostly survivable” because of advances in therapy and vaccines, she says, there are still very real risks associated with long covid, including prolonged illness, heart conditions and neurological symptoms.
“There are good reasons to avoid getting covid,” she says, such as the possibility of those long-term effects. Landon still wears her mask when he goes to the grocery store. People who take care of long-term covid patients, she says, “are a little shy about getting covid.”
Still COVIDing Facebook groups are made up of people like Poveromo-Joly looking for each other and looking for things like extremely attentive dentists. Last month, members of the Mid-Atlantic group put out inquiries seeking veterinarians and eye doctors who still wear masks and occupational therapists who would still hold virtual appointments.
“In 2019 has passed. It’s gone. And it’s not coming back,” says Kara Darling, the moderator of that group and several others like her. “At my house we had many long conversations about what makes life worth living.”
Darling is a partner in a network of medical clinics that provide care coordination for people with complex illnesses. Three of her four children have a rare condition called autoimmune encephalitis in which their immune system can cause debilitating inflammation of the brain. Darling says her son was given two years to fully recover when he contracted hand, foot and mouth disease, a common childhood viral illness that is usually mild.
“Getting covid is just not an option for my kids to stay functional,” she says.
At times, Darling feels frustrated with people who don’t want to wear masks in shared spaces like doctors’ offices and pharmacies, but mostly she’s upset that federal health agencies aren’t issuing stricter guidelines. He worries that people who walk without masks in crowded spaces don’t have enough information about the possible dangers of long-term damage from covid, especially from multiple infections.
“I feel really sorry for them,” she says. “Because they don’t know what they’re doing with their bodies, what they’re doing with their brains. I believe that if people are given the right information, nine times out of ten they will make the right decisions.”
Her own approach came at a cost. The family moved from Colorado to Delaware in late 2020, but Darling says her husband couldn’t take the loneliness anymore and returned to Colorado. “He was just finished,” she says. Her eldest daughter, a 21-year-old former theater girl who had long dreamed of being an actress, had to rethink her career. And when one of Darling’s sisters had a new baby this year, the sister asked when Darling would come to meet the baby.
“I said, ‘I really want to see your child, I love all those pictures,” she recalls, “but will you take the week off before we come and then the week while we’re there?’ And she said, ‘Well, no. I can’t do that.” The visit never happened, says Darling.
Don’t blame your sister or even your husband. “It is what it is,” she says. “I saw big splits — people who don’t even talk to their family members anymore. I just have to be practical and know how I can protect my family.”
Ariella Cohen Coleman harbors some resentment.
“We would be more comfortable going out into the world if people would just show a little respect and put on a mask,” says Cohen Coleman, who has a number of genetic conditions that cause severe immune system reactions. He worries that the infection could be fatal.
At the start of the pandemic, the health advocate felt a renewed sense of solidarity. Finally, people seemed to understand a little what it was like for her to live with a chronic illness, to be at home all the time, to be withdrawn.
“In the early days of the pandemic, people were checking on each other,” she says.
These days she feels lonelier than ever.
“It’s absolutely more isolated now,” she says. “That makes me feel kind of left behind and forgotten.”
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