How do we decide if not taking precautions against COVID is irresponsible and dangerous, generally as well as personally?

This question is being discussed elsewhere, of course, but I don’t think this angle has gotten a lot of traction from what I’ve seen. Apologies if I’m mistaken.

I think there’s an impulse (in my mind) to think, as long as the risk of getting COVID is above X%, it is necessary to take as many precautions as possible, no matter what your personal health or situation, and to do less is irresponsibly playing Russian Roulette with your health and the health of everyone around you. Basically, if you’re not with all reasonable precautions, you’re with the anti-vaxxers.

It’s been more obviously the case at some times during this pandemic than others, but I think that mindset is being questioned especially now, in this weird in-between time where precautions are being eased, which obviously many think is unjustifiable. While there’s going to be differing opinions all across the spectrum, the fact that this is so intimately tied with consequences visited on people other than yourselves has always complicated things in my mind. Then, of course, there’s long COVID; I get the sense that many people think that its very existence is a trump card that means that no easing of caution on any level is justified or wise.

So where does everyone else fall on this? Anyone feel guilty for eating in a public business? Do you think ending WFH is physically dangerous and morally unjustifiable? Or are you taking a plane somewhere without nervousness or guilt? Or somewhere in between?

The difficulty with all of this is that we only have binary tools (either we take an action or we don’t, there’s no in-between) for an analog input (level of risk to ourselves/others). There is quite obviously a level of risk that we find acceptable, as demonstrated by the flu which in recent decades has killed 20,000-50,000 people in the US every year. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, virtually nobody masked up or altered their activities to avoid or help control annual flu outbreaks, and flu vaccination rates hovered around 40%, and there really was no national controversy or acrimony about it.

I think the original thought early in the pandemic was that we could/should implement tough-to-live-with protective measures until a vaccine could be distributed, and then we could relax those restrictions and start moving back toward normal. At this point, pretty much everyone who wants the vaccine has got it: the “fully vaccinated” rate moved up by just half a percentage point over the last month. So maybe it’s no longer socially irresponsible to live your life normally, without masks or social distancing, except for following the specific policies that are in place in certain venues. As to whether living your life that way now is an acceptable risk to yourself, well, that’s up to you.

For me:

  • WFH: My employer has encouraged WFH ever since they reopened in late summer 2020. At the end of this month (April 2022), they will start requiring people to come back to the office at least one day a week. This will ramp up to five days a week by early summer, except for people who do the kind of work (i.e. desk work) that doesn’t require them to be physically present all the time; they will have quite a bit of latitude to work remotely. Starting last month, masks were no longer required on-site as long as the county had a “low” or “medium” covid community level. I’ve been going in to work a few days a week for a few months now; attendance is generally about 25% of normal, and since they dropped the mask requirement last month, I’m part of a very small minority of people who are still wearing masks voluntarily while there. I feel comfortable with the risk like this especially since occupancy is so low; I don’t cross paths with many people while I’m there. OTOH it feels a bit socially awkward to be in that mask-wearing minority, but then I remind myself that 3/4 of my fellow workers still aren’t even coming in at all. It’s not clear to me how much of that is because they enjoy not commuting, and how much is because they are genuinely uncomfortable with the risks of coming in.

  • Eating in a public business: I’m still not doing it, although with prevalence having decreased quite a bit in the past month or two, I’ve been briefly entering restaurants to pick up carryout (and was also doing this last summer when prevalence was low). Last summer on a road trip I made a point to visit restaurants where I could eat outdoors; the one exception was a breakfast place that didn’t have outdoor seating, so I visited right when they opened at 6 AM, when almost nobody else was there. None of my decisions here were particularly related to protecting others: people who are eating at restaurants are doing so because they feel comfortable with the risks of being in a dense crowd of unmasked people.

  • Flying: Risk seems low, at least while COVID prevalence is low. Public health officials haven’t really pointed to air travel as a significant cause of the spread of COVID. Everybody in an airport/airplane is masked, and the air in an airplane is pretty clean. I’ve taken two air trips during the pandemic, one last June when prevalence was really low, and another this past February to visit my dad, whose health is failing. Prevalence was uncomfortably high during that second trip, so I opted for an N95 mask instead of a surgical mask, and on both trips I avoided eating/drinking from the time I entered the airport on one end until I left the airport on the other end, and when waiting to board my flights I positioned myself away from dense crowds as much as possible.

It depends not only on the risk of getting Covid, but also on the degree to which a particular precaution would reduce that risk, weighed against the economic and social costs of taking that precaution.

Most people in my area take precautions according to community spread levels. When cases are low, I rarely see masks and restaurant parking lots are full. When cases start creeping up, masks start to go on and less people in restaurants. Most people in my area are vaccinated. I think this is a very reasonable approach. I’m nervous about eating inside in public, but eat outside frequently. I never mask when outside.

As far as WFH, I have issues with forcing people to come to work regularly if they are productive and can do the job at home. These have nothing to do with covid.

Anybody who goes out in public without being vaccinated is irresponsible and dangerous.

The vast gulf between the effects of the unvaccinated and the effects of masking/wfh/restaurants as engaged in by a vaccinated person makes the moral culpability of the vaccinated person pale in comparison.

I wish masks were still Very Common mainly because I want social pressure to encourage the unvaccinated to wear a mask, but that horse left the barn long ago.

It seems to me that if you’re out and about, you’re going to get COVID. Mask or no mask. Around here, masks disappeared about two weeks ago when the State mandate was lifted.

WFH. I think working from home is probably the best preventative measure. Reducing 8 hour interactions is a good thing. We’re still allowing all of our employees to work from home as much as they want. All of our employees are vaccinated, however, and some come to work. No masks required.

Eating at Restaurants. We’ve been eating inside restaurants several times a week for at least a year. I don’t give it a second thought.

Flying. We haven’t flown much, but mostly because the places we want to go are pretty closed up. Also, with zoom, etc., business travel is much less necessary. We’ve flown 3 or 4 times in the past year. No nervousness or guilt.

My wife is somewhat immunocompromised and, while I understand that we have to find a reasonable balance between protection vs living, I really wish that vax passports and associated checks were maintained in certain situations such as restaurants and other heavily populated indoor spaces. Yes, it’s a pain but my wife and I do not want to sit in a crowded room, for a couple of hours, possibly beside anti-vaxxers at the next table.

In addition to my wife’s immunodeficiency, I’m 63 and, given the time, I often bike about 30 km per day and there’s no way in hell I want long Covid and its consequences. The thought of transitioning from my cycling, walking, and some running, to being destroyed by walking up the stairs because of entitled anti-vaxxers and their conspiracies.

Here’s the thing: for two-plus years, we’ve been told by people at all levels of government, by business, by the media, etc. to follow CDC guidelines. Now that the CDC has relaxed said guidelines, some people don’t want to follow the new guidelines. What’s up with that?

People have spent a lot of time hearing the message that being anything less than 100% COVID-cautious 100% of the time made you selfish, immoral, and personally responsible for anyone who died as a result of catching the disease from someone who caught it from someone who caught it from you, no matter how remote the likelihood of meaningful risk from the behavior. I mean, there was a thread here in the spring of 2020 where people were scolding some poor guy for thinking of going on a solo drive in the country. (ZOMG! You might get in a car accident!) For some people, I think it’s going to be basically impossible to roll back the guilt and anxiety that come from that sort of messaging, especially since we haven’t yet managed to develop a vaccine that reliably blocks transmission, and may never have one. For other people, it seems to have had no effect except making them feel personally attacked and less likely to go along with requests that are actually reasonable, like getting the vaccine when it finally became available.

IMO, the one big thing we should have learned from the last two years is that it’s a terrible, terrible idea to moralize disease transmission – it seems to lead to all kinds of messed-up thinking and polarizing societal effects that aren’t worth whatever short-term public health benefits it may achieve.

People are people and can’t turn on a dime like that. Some people are immunocompromised and have to stay cautious, even as per the CDC. Some people are caring for sick or elderly people, and want to be cautious to be on the safe side.

How many people are “some people” in your question? Because I see lots of people out and about, mostly unmasked, both in Maine and NJ.

Yeah, I mean, the CDC issues minimum guidelines. They never said anything about “you’re not allowed to go above and beyond.”

The CDC has been pretty bad at keeping up with the pandemic. By the time the CDC recommended some precaution it was generally months too late. Then, they said last year “masks only for the unvaccinated” as if people who rejected vaccines were going to walk around with masks while everybody else didn’t. That was so absurd as to be laughable, even at the time.

The precautions they recommend are generally a good idea…but not NEARLY enough. I would think December’s Omicron wave would have shown that, but even at the height of the most recorded cases of the pandemic I heard people talking about, “back during COVID” which just broke my mind. I blame the CDC for much of that attitude.

CDC is a political body. Their recommendations take into account what they think they can get people to actually do. They do not have dictatorial powers, nor are they some Internet likeminded bubble.

I said at the outset that we could expect about 18 months of rapt public attention on the Covid issue. After that, people were going to go their own way more. That bore out to be true. The preventive measures done earlier in the impact would have to be increased tremendously to have the same impact with Omicron, to less positive results as the vaccinated were getting substantial protection from serious illness and death. So there was never the same level of public buy in, beyond the long stretch of pandemic, and the clickbait constantly warning us that Covid can mutate into something deadlier or more infectious.

I want the CDC to take into account they cannot fatigue people with constant screaming. I want them to be aware that they have limited ammunition, limited times to come to the public where the public will be the most receptive. Not dull the public with constant screaming. People who want constant screaming and doomy clickbait can get that without the CDC.

This very much aligns with my own experiences.

I think some people think we can still “beat” COVID, and anyone shirking that responsibility is doing real damage to society.

My mindset is that the level of community spread we have now is the new normal. We are down to an average of 65 cases a day in a county of 2.6 million. I don’t think its ever getting lower, so if you are advocating for mask mandates and closing indoor dining and no large gatherings or whatever when it looks like this, you’re advocating that that is the new permanent state of society.

I don’t think the risk is high enough to justify putting me and my students in masks, every day, all day, forever. If it were just about masks in the grocery store, sure. But teaching through a mask sucks. It makes me spend as little time at worj as possible, because after 8 hours masked, i don’t want to spend another hour masked to sponsor a club or stay for tutoring. And my kids stay for tutoring less, anyway, for the same reason. They are terrible for class discussion, because they can’t hear each other across the room. We are less friendly than a normal year, less connected. Its been dreadful.

I’m not saying masks were a bad idea. I’m saying they have real costs. Of a new variant appears in the fall and we are worried about hospitals being overwhelmed, I’ll cheerfully put on a mask. But right now, when no one i know has had COVID since February, when hospitals have closed XOVID wards? I am making hay while the sun shines.

Yes, I have found that I have a hard time understanding people talking to me with masks on, and apparently other people have a hard time understanding me when I’m wearing one. Of course I wear a mask when’s required or recommended, but it is very unpleasant.

Not directed specifically at you btw, however, bearing in mind that most of the third world is unvaccinated, and that not everyone in North America is vaccinated (indeed many actively fight basic common sense measures (freedumb anybody?)), there are steps that could still be taken. For example, I would like it if restaurants and other crowded venues still were required to admit only those with Vax passports. Those who don’t want vaccinations, screw 'em.

My wife is immuno-deficient and I’m not interested in long covid from some asymptomatic anti-vaxxer.

My state never had them. Tavern League is powerful and sued to have all restrictions lifted. So for months, bars and restaurants were wide open while schools were remote.

Honestly, I don’t see the point of vaccine passports post Omicron. There are plenty of opportunities for you to get Covid from a vaccinated individual. It’s not going to help that much.

Some places still are requiring proof of vaccination. I was in New York last week, and one museum I went to (Tenement Museum) was demanding proof of vaccination for tours and requiring masks on the tour even in outside courtyards, while another couple of museums I went to (Guggenheim, NY Transit) require masks.

I didn’t make it to a Broadway show, but as I recall when I was looking, all the Broadway theaters still require proof of vaccination and mask-wearing. Just looked it up, and ditto for Broadway in Chicago.

Yes, and there are plenty more opportunities to get it from an unvaxxed individual. And from a cost/benefit perspective, the cost of having and enforcing Vax passport usage for certain categories of business is very low compared to the benefits accrued from that.

I really enjoy metal concerts and, unfortunately being in tight confines with a bunch of other people singing along at the top of their lungs just doesn’t seem conducive to health these days, unless everyone is vaxxed, though even then I’m not too sure.