Practical Magic: COVID Is Here to Stay — So What Does It Mean to Keep Each Other Safe?

The first time I got COVID, sometime in May of 2020, it was practically inevitable. The virus had taken the world by storm that winter and spring. How it spread was still emerging science, leading to unprecedented global shutdowns in an attempt to curtail the devastating quantity of fatalities.

Two and a half years later, on October 2, 2022, I got COVID again, and a few days later I had a positive rapid test to prove it. Unlike my experience in 2020, I know exactly how I got it and from whom. And this time, it was completely avoidable, even as the U.S. and countless other countries around the world threw caution to the wind and eliminated pretty much all COVID safety measures in the name of preserving global and national economies.

From a political and public health standpoint, things were certainly going in the wrong direction, I felt. At the end of the day, that’s also not how I got COVID: it wasn’t at work, it wasn’t on the train, it wasn’t at the store or the museum or the theater.

I got COVID visiting a friend at their apartment because they were in denial about their own mild symptoms after attending a big concert, misread their rapid test results, and did not tell me about any of this uncertainty until I was already inside their apartment, after having traveled over an hour to get there.

Most of the media explainers about how to mitigate COVID risk would say this was probably ok. I was 33 at the time, healthy, not immunocompromised, and fully vaccinated with one booster. By all accounts, it should’ve been a mild case that set me back a week or two, at most, before I was up and kicking again.

The first time I got COVID, I had extreme fatigue and a low-grade fever that lasted through July. I basically worked half weeks for two months, and on the days I did work I was extremely sluggish and my head felt like it was on fire. Some nights, I’d hear phantom Bollywood music and wonder who in my building could possibly be blasting that specific genre at 2 am. And then, after plenty of rest, one day, it just all stopped, and I was able to resume my life. I ended that summer going on long walks in my neighborhood or down to Liberty State Park nearly every day.

The second time I assumed that since I was fully vaccinated, I wouldn’t get the mystery not-quite-long COVID symptoms again. But of course, nothing is guaranteed.

You can be in your early thirties, healthy, not immunocompromised, fully vaccinated and boosted, get COVID and four months later, still struggle to get out of bed some weeks, even after sleeping ten hours a night. Still find basic interactions to be so mentally exhausting your head rings for hours afterwards. Still fall asleep or wake up hearing phantom music and wonder if it’s your neighbor’s record player through the wall or your confused brain forming patterns out of the ambient sounds or both. Still struggle with memory and cognition so often that you seriously start to wonder how much this has heightened your risk for dementia or Alzheimer’s or related diseases in the future, despite having no family history of any of them. Still have symptoms so poorly understood that even after seeing three different doctors and two different specialists the best medical advice you can get is, “Well, it sounds like you get better with rest. So just keep resting,” or, alternatively, to take medications off-label that might fuck up your sleep even more. Still be so worn out and tired that you seriously debate quitting the job you really wanted and finally got after years of trying, and the only thing really keeping you from letting it go is the fact that you wouldn’t have the health insurance you need for the surgery you were supposed to have in December but had to postpone indefinitely.

There are large, systemic failures at the global level that have led to the devastation we continue to bear witness to more than three years after the coronavirus SARS-CoV2 was identified as spreading rapidly among humans. Frustrating — and, frankly, soul-crushing — as that reality is, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it, other than find our hope and joy in the small places we can.

But what we can do, is be a little more thoughtful about how we interact with others during these enduringly uncertain times. I’m not here to tell you that you can’t see other people or to wear masks endlessly. As angry as I can still be with the friend who gave me COVID when my symptoms are at their worst, I also recognize the faults of my own decision-making in that moment, largely clouded by the fact that I live by myself and was desperate for intimate, in-person connections nearly three years after we’ve all had to make our lives much, much smaller.

The Basics: Vaccinate, Test, Mask

The best way to protect yourself and others from COVID is to get vaccinated, plain and simple, and to be on top of your booster shots. Now, not everyone can get vaccinated for a number of legitimate reasons ranging from access to ongoing medical issues. This is all the more reason for the rest of us to keep our own vaccinations up to date because, more than protecting ourselves, this is about protecting others.

The same applies to testing and masking. And look, I know that tests, especially, can be expensive, are not consistently covered by health insurance, and in the U.S. at least the days of publicly available tests, vaccines, and treatments are quickly coming to an end. But honestly, if you’re planning on going to a large event (especially if it is indoors) or traveling, then add the price of several days’ worth of masks, rapid tests, and potentially a PCR to your costs. I know that’s a shitty calculation to make and in a time of rampant inflation it might make life feel even more inaccessible, especially if you are already uninsured or under-insured.

But the alternative is that you’re in a space with a large number of people, contract COVID without realizing it (maybe you’re asymptomatic), don’t test before and afterwards, don’t mask, give it to someone else, and that person may experience a particularly bad case of it or get long COVID. In other words, by not testing before attending a crowded event or after potentially exposing yourself and by not masking, you’re literally paying the price in someone else’s health.

Test Effectively and Accurately Use the Results

There seems to be a certain amount of confusion and uncertainty around the rapid tests. After speaking with two close friends, both trained in epidemiology, here are few facts to keep in mind.

First, if your rapid test result is really faintly positive, that doesn’t mean you’re less symptomatic or that your result is a false positive. The testing kits state this quite clearly, that a faint positive test is a positive test, plain and simple. There is no debate there.

Second, it can take a few days to actually turn up a positive test. So if you know you’ve been exposed or you think it’s possible (because you were in a poorly ventilated indoor space, for instance), and especially if you’re starting to experience symptoms of fever or fatigue, keep testing with a rapid kit and possibly even seek out a PCR. If you’re really not sure whether you have COVID or not, talk to a healthcare provider before assuming that you don’t.

Third, for all intents and purposes, unless you are or have spoken with a trained health care provider, operate under the assumption that there is no such thing as a “false positive” test result. There are false negatives, yes, but a positive test is a positive test, and you need to act accordingly.

Plan to Cancel

At the height of the shutdowns, I was video chatting with a friend who made an incredibly astute observation, that to be able to plan for the future is a privilege, and the COVID-19 pandemic has taken that privilege away from all of us. Nearly three years after that conversation, I still think about it, and I think about who continues to see the world through that lens and who doesn’t.

The truth is, with COVID a firmly accepted part of our lives, my friend’s words are no less true now than they were in 2020. And especially as I’ve had to live with my own long COVID, I’ve had to grapple with that reality again and again, as I repeatedly made plans that I had to later cancel and then, eventually, just stopped making plans.

If we really want to protect ourselves and, more importantly, protect each other we need to make plans with the understanding that we may have to cancel them. We might lose a lot of money. We might have to harbor disappointment and sorrow and the pain of not being able to pursue something we had hoped for. We might have to miss life events or an opportunity to connect with someone who could change our life.

Because if you test before a flight or a trip or a concert or pretty much anything that exposes other people to you and your result is positive, you should cancel. If you were in an indoor space — especially if it was poorly ventilated and you were unmasked — and you start experiencing even mild symptoms, but your test result is still coming back negative, you should also plan to cancel. If you’ve been planning for something special for months and then there’s a COVID surge right when you’re about to see those plans through, you should also really seriously think about canceling or, at the very least, take even more precautions than you would otherwise.

You almost certainly won’t get your flight or your booking refunded. It will likely end up meaning missing a wedding or a funeral or a birth or some other milestone that means the world to you. But as I said earlier, to refuse to do so, to think about your financial or personal loss first, is to literally pay the price in someone else’s life and livelihood. And believe me, whatever it is you didn’t cancel, that other person will end up paying for it tenfold, probably without you ever even knowing it. A really cruel irony, isn’t it?

Quarantine and Mask

The most basic way to “stop the spread” is to not allow spread to happen in the first place. So if you know that you have COVID, isolate for the recommended number of days from the onset of your symptoms.

Again, when I think back to that rainy Sunday afternoon in October, after which my life would never be the same again, I remember thinking, It’ll probably be fine, and I really want to see this person, I really want to explore whatever possibility might be here between us. I’ve been so lonely and so isolated for so long, after all. It’s only in retrospect that I realized that my pursuit of short-term gratification (really, we’re talking about a few hours that afternoon) came at a long-term price. I can’t even tell you how many days since I’ve spent alone, lonely, and isolated.

I do want to acknowledge that many employers have eliminated paid (or unpaid…) sick time for quarantine and isolation, if they ever even offered it, and that most people don’t have the option to work remotely, like I do. And so in that situation, where you know you likely have or were exposed to COVID but you must go to work or risk losing your job — first of all, I’m really sorry, for all of us, that this is your reality. And second, be sure to wear a proper mask and increase ventilation in your workspace to the extent possible, even if this means opening a window in inclement weather.

Be Honest with Others

Over the last few months, I’ve tried to come to terms with the fact that my luck ran out, as far as getting COVID a second time goes. I know that there’s nothing constructive from playing the blame game, but in my long months of off and on brain fog and endless exhaustion since then, I can’t let go of the fact that my friend waited until I was inside their apartment to tell me about their positive test. And it’s on me for not thinking much of it at the time, for assuming that I was likely going to be ok even if I got COVID again.

But it’s also an unfair situation to be placed in, by a friend, to have to decide on the spot whether you’re going to stay or go after you’ve traveled over an hour to get to their place and they’ve spent over an hour cooking for you. And I know that my friend didn’t mean harm. Like the countless articles I’ve read on The Atlantic, NPR, and Vox — to name a few — my friend probably assumed that the risk was low for both of us, and in fairness that was my assumption as well.

The truth is, with COVID, you just can’t know. You really just can’t know what your risk will be. That’s not to undermine the science, but as of now there’s no science that can predict long COVID risk, and I really would not wish this on anyone.

So communicate and be honest with others. Don’t make assumptions about their health or their risk tolerance. If you’ve tested and you have a faint positive result or you’re experiencing mild symptoms or anything else, let the people you made plans with know beforehand so they can have the proper space to make their own decisions, weigh their own risks. And please, if a friend asks you to test before you get together or to mask through a gathering, take it with grace and do what they ask of you.

Bonus: Things Not to Say to the Person in Your Life Struggling with Long COVID

As a final closing, I want to leave you with some guidance for approaching people with long COVID. Ultimately, this boils down to the same advice for offering someone support through pretty much any difficult situation.

Meaningful compassion is always welcome, but please refrain from the following:

  • “My cousin’s friend’s brother’s aunt has long COVID, and she found this vitamin supplement helpful.”
  • “Have you tried keto?”
  • “Hope you get better soon!” (As my sister put it, you would not tell a cancer patient, “Hope you get better soon,” or constantly ask how they are feeling. Long COVID may not be a terminal illness, exactly, but there is no definitive cure for it, either.)
  • And for the love of what little joy exists in the world, please don’t tell them to “manifest good health.”

Instead, ask the person about what they need. Reach out just to let them know that you care and you’re thinking of them. Meet them where they are at in terms of how they can connect, whether that’s over the phone, video or in-person, masked or outdoors, in a place they feel up to going to or a place that they can easily access without too much exertion on their part. And show real understanding and kindness when, inevitably, they find they have to cancel because they’re having a bad day of their symptoms.

Practical Magic is a column that curates how-to articles for living your best queer life, edited by Meg Jones Wall.

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Himani is a dabbler of a writer. Her work includes reviews of media centering Asian stories, news and politics, advice and the occasional personal essay. Find her on Instagram.

Himani has written 53 articles for us.


  1. Thank you, Himani! This is comprehensive and important! As I personally move forward into more of a harm reduction model instead of an all-or-nothing way of life (where I did nothing), these things are always on my mind! Being able to be upfront with one another about our masking, testing, and known exposure practices is particularly important. I don’t want to judge anyone, I just need the information that will inform my behaviors!

    One thing I want to emphasize: Because people who test positive often just TL:DR the CDC isolation guidelines and assume it’s fine to be out and about after day 5, like the person I caught covid from outdoors on their day 6, it’s really important to remember that masking, distancing, and avoiding unnecessary interactions is still important in days 6-14 and/or until you have had two negative rapid tests at least 24 hours apart!

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with the LC stuff, it’s absolute crap! I lol’d at your list of things not to say. Keto! My god.

    • Thank you so much for reading Darcy and also for breaking down the quarantine guidelines bc they are super confusing! But that key point about potentially still being contagious for 14 days (2 weeks!!) after you get COVID is so, so critical to remember!

    • Thank you, Darcy, for the words “harm reduction model” applied to COVID. That’s exactly how I am approaching things and it’s wonderful to have a simple and clear way to communicate it. And thank you, Himani, for the wonderful advice!

  2. thanks for this. I’m really struggling with covid and just really don’t see an end in sight. I’m someone who has taken covid tremendously seriously but still got it twice (the first at a job I needed which forced us to be in-person, the second at an outdoor event in 2021 before I understood how common outdoor transmission can be). last year my partner got covid, took paxlovid and rebounded, and ended up testing positive for 25 days. all of that time I had to share a house with them, bring them all of their meals, stress compulsively about air ventilation (while it was summer and 100+ degrees, trying to keep the windows open). it stole a month of my life — all while the person who gave it to my partner (bc they downplayed their fever/cold symptoms) felt totally fine after 3 days.

    but despite that, it’s the intense like, shaming and disdain that I have the hardest time with. it’s lonely being in this world – both literally (avoiding gatherings that don’t meet my safety level) but also psychologically. I feel like most of the other people I know who practice my level of caution tend to be really intense in their criticism of people less cautious than them, or for people who got the virus. so I really appreciate that this article didn’t play into that.

    the other part of that is that people who are serious about covid are also the ones who talk most at length (I’m thinking on twitter) about the intensity of the havoc it wreaks on your body. and it’s really hard be around that information as someone who’s had it. the more time I spend reading people talking about how covid ruins your body in all these incredibly serious ways, the more devastated I am- I go full health-spiral. on the one hand, the less I pay attention to how fucking terrible covid is for your health, the more likely I am to give a little on my cautiousness meter.

    this is a long comment and it’s mostly me processing my feelings, but basically thank you for writing and posting this, for being so generous with your readers, and for giving such real, practical advice. honestly I think that’s the best thing – I’m amazed at people who don’t know that they’re probably still positive after 5 days, or who don’t know how to read a test, or that early rapids can be wrong! this is just darn helpful advice, and I appreciate it.

    • last thing — any practical advice for always being That Friend who asks people to test before hanging out? now that the government is ending the state of emergency, people don’t get the 8 free tests from insurance that they used to, and I feel really self-conscious about asking people to drop $10 every time we hang out, especially the early tests can even still be wrong! plus I just feel like a burden in the group chat, and then it’s super weird when someone just… doesn’t test and comes anyway. like, now game night has to start with a weird confrontation?

      • hi lila! i’m not himani, but i did want to say that the best deal i have found thus far on rapid tests is from walmart — you can get a 5-pack of iHealth tests online for $32.48 (buy two packs at once or add a $3 item onto your order to get the free shipping). That’s about $6.50 a test, which isn’t nothing — it’s so much more than what it should be, which is FREE — but at least it’s less than the $10-12/test I see so often! <3

      • Right now insurance is still covering covid test kits so I’ve been buying the max I can every month and sharing them with others who either haven’t figured out how to get reimbursed (it’s confusing but it works) or don’t have insurance.
        Thru May anyone with insurance gets 8 tests per person in their household per month.

        Obv this is inadequate, a stop gap etc but I wanted to make sure you saw that you probably can still get tests reimbursed now.

        And thank you for caring about your c

    • @lilapeach, Thanks so much for reading and also for sharing your own experience and struggles both with COVID itself and with the discourse around it.

      It’s really wild how insensitive people can be about oversharing the consequences of having COVID. In one of my rare days in the office a couple weeks ago (I was trying to show my face at a team event and see if I could handle showing up to work bc you know you have to play that game and whatnot), my coworker talked at length about how her father is a respiratory therapist and all that she’s learned from him about how COVID affects your health. This is literally as I was sitting there telling her how continuing to struggle with long COVID is so hard, I can’t make plans for my future (even basic ones, like what am I doing this summer…?), and that I worry about what all this means for my longterm physical and mental health. Needless to say, after that day and a few other things that happened, I was like “yea, I need to get an ADA accommodation and not be around these jokers for a while because I really cannot even…”

      The shaming and disdain is really hard and also something I really struggle with. Honestly, there’s a certain amount of guilt I felt pitching and then writing this piece because prior to getting a long COVID that actually stuck around for nearly 5 months and counting (at this point), I would read some of the stuff online that was basically like “isolate forever to protect everyone” and really struggle with how to take that in. The loneliness is so real. So, so real. I think everyone can be more cautious, but I also think that shaming people who are genuinely trying is also really not helpful or productive.

      To your other comment about asking people to test when tests cost money, I’ve been thinking about this a lot because as far as I’m concerned I literally cannot get COVID again. I don’t know what would be left of my brain after a third time, frankly. And the place I’ve personally landed is that I will ask people to test; if they tell me they can’t afford it, then I will offer to pay them back for the test; and if they still refuse to test and honestly share their test results with me then… I’m sorry we cannot be friends, or at the very least we cannot be friends who see each other in person. Frankly if someone is that unwilling to accommodate something that is literally a matter of life and livelihood for me at this point, I’m not really sure how I can be friends with that person moving forward. I have yet to actually enact this bc for the most part my brain cannot handle in-person gatherings at the moment, but at least right now this is what I’m telling myself.

      For your group gathering that involves multiple friends, perhaps try bringing everyone together and express your concerns, allow others to air theirs and then state quite clearly that you cannot continue to participate in this activity if your friend continues to disrespect the rules you have all mutually agreed on. That might seem like an ultimatum (it is, in fact), but IDK, in the place I’m in right now (especially bc I’m having a particularly bad day of my own long COVID symptoms), it’s hard for me to feel forgiving of someone who refuses to be considerate at this most basic level. Sorry if that’s not helpful, what Darcy suggested about the lower cost tests might be the more practical and politic way to go ultimately.

      • I try to keep in mind that I have had a head start in emotionally processing all of this terrifying research on covid.

        I have had long covid for over a year. Since I got sick, I have been in this stuff up to my armpits, learning, processing, etc., and I have to remember that most people have zero psychological preparation to learn about this stuff… One of the only people who saw what happened to me, heard what I have learned about the research, and took it seriously was my therapist, bc she had the coping skills to deal with it.

        I am trying to spread the word, and do it sensitively, because I think people deserve to have informed consent on the real risks of a covid infection. The research is coming out way faster than the headlines, so if you’re not paying attention you just won’t know. I can’t sit quietly while my loved ones get sick again and again. It’s not hopeless, and we are not helpless. There are lots of strategies and tools that we could use to keep each other safer (like described in this article!).

        Between covid and the climate crisis, we have to figure out a way to accept these terrifying conditions, cope with them emotionally, and then do what we need to do. It’s not too late, and the sooner we turn things around, the better off we will be. We have to dig in deep for our strength and help each other.

        I’m really grateful for this article encouraging people to accept that covid is still around, and that we still need to be dealing with it.

        I also hope that people will have a little more patience for the people who are angry about being left behind. While the rest of the world drops protections, and the virus keeps evolving, it gets more and more dangerous for those of us who can’t risk another infection. Sometimes my communication isn’t as gentle as it could be.

        Most of us aren’t asking everyone else to stay home forever. We’re asking for people to wear masks in public spaces, plan safer gatherings, stay home if sick (if you have the privilege), and to JOIN US in demanding free masks/tests/sick leave for everyone.

        If everyone took precautions, it would be safer for everyone to live more normally. What’s happening instead is that most people are trying to live normally, so if you don’t want to get sick, you’re being forced to take ALL of the precautions. I hope more people will recognize that, and fight it, because that’s not okay either. (It’s not even safe to access medical care – I was wearing a N95 mask, goggles, etc, and got reinfected at the doctor’s office last week. What are high risk people supposed to do?)

        Thanks again for this article ❤️ I’m clearly bored as shit stuck at home/sheltering in place.. would appreciate hearing others thoughts’ lol!! lmk what you think!:)

    • thank you so much for sharing this, especially your thoughts on the shaming/disdain. I’ve been struggling lately with how to balance my own caution and boundaries around covid without shaming folks I love or feeling angry/paranoid all the time. it’s so hard to balance out what is useful healthy caution versus what is just stoking my anxiety and making me feel needlessly isolated.

  3. Thank you so much for covering this, Himani. It’s heartening to see practical COVID safety advice up on our site. And I’m so sorry you’ve been dealing with long COVID symptoms.

    One thing I want to add here in the comments: If you’re an event planner, PLEASE require masks at your in-person events (especially if you’re not providing a virtual means of participation)! It’s easy to do, it sets a positive example for other event-planners, and it clearly shows your isolated, high-risk participants that you care about their safety and equal access to in-person community-building. Saying that masks are “highly encouraged” might be a well-intentioned guideline, but ultimately, it’s an empty (and sometimes performative) promise. We all know that many people won’t mask unless it’s required. And based on Himani’s story and so many other stories I’ve heard, many people can’t be trusted to test themselves or stay home if they’ve been exposed to COVID or have symptoms.

    I’m sending lots of love and solidarity to everyone who’s doing what you can to protect your own health and your community.

    • Seriously. I feel so deeply loved when I see the words “masks required.” It’s like the difference between a “safe space” run by a well meaning but oblivious straight person and a truly queer space.

    • Thanks so much for reading Ro and also for this incredibly important point! You’re absolutely right that if a space clearly articulated that masks are required, that would make so many people (myself included) feel so much safer!

  4. So so appreciate this article and will be aharing it. I also highly recommend following The People’s CDC for vetted data and safety planning guidance that hasn’t capitulated to capitalism.

    • Thanks so much for reading! I also didn’t know about The People’s CDC and will definitely be looking into them and sharing them in the future. I was on the fence about sharing links to CDC bc with the WH announcement that come May the US will “no longer be in the COVID-19 pandemic” (or whatever the legalese) it made me question further how reliable the CDC guidelines would actually be and if the CDC would even be funded to continue to track cases, provide meaningful guidance, etc etc. So this is a great resource, thanks again!

  5. Thank you so much for this reminder. It’s hard to be one of only three people in wearing a mask at the grocery store, or the outdoor farmer’s market. My wife and I are also experiencing pressure from family to just stop being so careful so we can help our aging parents more. But staying physically distanced is part of how we’re trying to help them.

    I’m really grateful for the information and personal experience you shared and I feel supported by your article as well as by the other comments. Thank you all.

    • Thanks so much for reading Deb! I’m glad you found the piece and this space here supportive — it’s so hard these days to know what the “right” thing is when we’re getting conflicting information from reputable outlets, people are doing whatever they want, and all the while we’re struggling with our own dreams, desires, connections, bonds that have had to be put on hold. Wishing you all the best, -h

  6. I really appreciate AS having covid related coverage like this. Thank you, Himani, for sharing your stories surrounding the pandemic. I am so sorry you have had to deal with the long covid situation.

    It is really tough when the world at large has just decided people’s health is disposable. I’ve given up on begging some vulnerable family members to take precautions. I have so, so much appreciation for my loved ones, who, even if they take more risks than me, respect that I am still cautious. Less appreciation for the coworkers that show up on Monday saying “oh yeah I tested positive over the weekend but feel better now” 🙃 I’ve tried to let go of the resentment and just enforce my own boundaries, which mostly works. I just wish people would respect them more, the negative comments I have gotten about still masking in public are truly wild sometimes! But I really appreciate this article, the best thing we can do is figure out how to care about each other ❤️ Thank you for the continued pandemic coverage, it makes me feel less alone and less crazy for still being careful.

    • Thanks so much for reading @desertdear! I really feel your pain, the loneliness of being the only person wearing a mask in the store or on the train or even in the office, of being the one to constantly enforce boundaries… Thankfully I have not had to deal with negative comments about continuing to mask — I’m pretty sure I would lose it if someone did that to me.

      I have people I really love who make different decisions than I have made, but are still super respectful of my decisions, and I’ve made my peace with that. The forced exposure at work to everyone doing whatever they want is something I still don’t really know how to grapple with…

  7. Wow I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this Himani!! Thank you for sharing your own story as well as your guidance.

    Knowing how exactly to conduct myself and proceed with life is so challenging. And weighing everything as a parent has felt doubly hard.

    • Thanks so much for reading and the well wishes @manzanita! Yea, I also struggle with how exactly to make decisions at time. In part I wrote this as a guideline for myself and my own future decision making whenever my brain can handle being in groups settings again. I think it’s ever evolving but open and honest communication is key. And yea, I did not address the parent/child angle at all because I honestly do not even know what to say… The cost/benefit there of weighing like mental/social/emotional needs vs COVID safety is even harder to negotiate than as a single adult.

    • Just wanted to give sympathy for the parenting challenges. My kindergartner is the only one in their class who’s (supposed to be) consistently masked. It’s so much harder than last year when everyone in their school was required to mask. I don’t have an answer for them for why other kids’parents don’t say they have to mask. The one positive is that we’ve found the Flo mask really helpful for actually getting a seal on their face, which is essential for effective one-way masking. (The downside is they’re 6, so chewing on masks and losing masks has been a constant struggle.)

  8. This is really frustrating for me to read because it is so important to have this conversation.

    The vaccines we have at this point *do not* prevent covid infection consistently. You know this unfortunately from firsthand experience, and everyone knows someone who was vaccinated and got covid. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get the shots. Everyone who can be vaccinated should absolutely get all the shots they are eligible for. But too many people think their vax is protecting them and they are putting themselves and others at risk because of this misconception! How can we possibly keep saying the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID is to get vaccinated???

    The best way to protect yourself and others from covid is to wear a quality mask in shared indoor spaces and crowded outdoor spaces! If you know everyone tested beforehand, that’s different, but in most public situations it’s just not possible. Vaccinations mitigate symptoms of covid. *Masking* helps prevent covid infection and the spread of covid.

    Wear masks *before* you get sick! Talk to organizations and venues you care about and ask them to support masking! Share masks with friends and family! Donate masks to folks who can’t afford them! Masks work!

    I just wish masking was emphasized more in this piece because it is otherwise very good.

    • i appreciate your concerns, and agree this is a necessary conversation, and it’s disheartening that autostraddle is one of the few place that safe to have it, though i’m grateful all the same.

      but you are mistaken that the article emphasizes masking (mentioned 9x in context) less than vaccination (mentioned 7x in context).

      also, just like laws do not stop crime, neither can vaccines *nor masks* prevent all infections. but they are each helpful in preventing alot of the things they target (laws and structural racism/misogyny notwithstanding, but that’s another discussion).

      vaccines do provide immunity, which does help keep people from contracting Covid, and we know this because as vax levels rose, infections decreased, despite people congregating in very high numbers. we also know that even in environments wear PPE was deployed, people got sick (doctors & nurses specifically).

      i appreciate the details you’ve added about masking, and agree that masking (along with distancing) is necessary to prevent illness, which for some of us is awfully important. i hope folks keep Himani’s points in mind – the consequences of our individual behavior have communal effects, and less Covid is all around better.

    • Hi KB, thanks for reading. As msanon says above, I actually spend more of this piece talking about strategies other than vaccinating (primarily: testing, isolation, and masking), but I didn’t want to take it as a given that most people are vaccinated and/or keeping up with boosters. As per a CDC analysis from December 2022, in the U.S. at least, bivalent booster rates were at less than 30% among adults and less than 20% among adolescents.

      And to that note, I’d like to kindly correct something you wrote above: “The vaccines we have at this point *do not* prevent covid infection consistently.” Based on your full comment, I don’t think you mean this in the anti-vax way but it’s kind of a slippery slope. So breaking this down, the vaccines protect against specific strains of COVID and the problem is that because as a society nationally and also globally) we never properly dealt with stopping the spread, COVID has continued to mutate and that is why it continues to spread and why people continue to get COVID despite being vaccinated. In the vast majority of people, those cases are in fact mild and that is because of the vaccines. But the point of my essay here is that there are practical and actionable things that individuals can do to try to protect people like me who end up getting long COVID.

      That said, I do think that masking is important. But I also wanted to focus on practical advice knowing that, by and large, people aren’t going to be masking at many types of social gatherings, which often revolve around food. This isn’t a reason to downplay masking, but this is why I spend the bulk of the piece on the mindset and decision making process. Because really, are you going to go to a wedding or a friend’s birthday happy hour or whatever other gathering and mask the whole time? If someone has been exposed to COVID, or is testing positive on the rapids, or has symptoms, I’d prefer they not show up at all than show up masked, TBH.

    • Ventilation and air purifiers are also super helpful. I’ve only come across TWO dining spaces in my city of Chicago with air purifiers. I’m sure there are more but I’ve only come across the purifiers once I’ve been inside the space. I wish there was a directory of businesses taking ventilation and air purification seriously. I came across a Twitter thread of a restaurant owner who has managed to keep their staff free of COVID due to air purifiers and ventilation.

      I wish I wasn’t one of a handful of people in masks at queer events and I wish more queer event organizers invested in air purifiers.

      This article and my own reflection I’ve done before seeing this has me rethinking giving funds to event organizers who aren’t taking COVID seriously

        • Last summer I went to brunch at Tweet with a good friend and some of her friends. We ate outside and I had to use the restroom. Was pleasantly surprised to see a sign in the restroom about them using air purifiers.

          While not a restaurant, Beermiscuous (sp?) uses Air purifiers and requires masks when you’re not seated at your table. I went there for co-working and again, was pleasantly surprised to see air purifiers.

          Last night I found an Instagram that could prove useful: COVID conscious Chicago. They highlight businesses in the city that are COVID conscious. I have no need for hair services but there were two salons, which was nice to see because I’ve seen people lament the lack of COVID safe hair salons.

        • Tweet and Beermiscuous. Beermiscuous is more for drinking as the name implies but they do allow you to bring outside food in.

          Last night I found an Instagram that could prove useful: COVID conscious Chicago. They highlight businesses in the city that are COVID conscious. I have no need for hair services but there were two salons, which was nice to see because I’ve seen people lament the lack of COVID safe hair salons.

  9. It’s heartbreaking that you’re going through this. Reports of long covid look a lot like how I felt when I first developed bipolar disorder (and how I often still feel) – not the symptoms, but grief over the lost life. It’s maddening that people are joining the chronic illness club due to something they weren’t consigned to. But the main reason I’m commenting is your writing is impeccable. I envy it in the best way. And – that you are doing it while sick is a triumph.

    • Thank you so much for reading and for this incredibly kind comment, Esther. You have no idea how much it means to me, given all the things I’ve been struggling with lately. Thank you, truly.

  10. Well, this is timely. I caught Covid for the first time last Friday after the stupid idea of attending a poorly ventilated carnaval party. Started feeling unwell on Monday and my suspicion was confirmed on Tuesday with a positive rapid test. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a sore throat like I did yesterday. 0/10 would not recommend :’ (.

  11. I really appreciated this article and Autostraddle’s treatment of COVID in general, even as I’m so sorry you are going through this.

    My university just ended their masking requirement in classes, which is extra frustrating on no notice midsemester (even as I’m grateful it lasted as long as it did and that most of my students this week were cooperative about masking anyway at my request).

    Thinking about ventilation: one other tool that I’ve started using more at this point in the pandemic is air purifiers. I know they’re not accessible to everyone because cost is a genuine obstacle, but if you can afford them and/or convince companies/organizations to purchase them it’s worthwhile. We were able to get one for the classroom I work in, and my kid’s school has them. (For me it’s in addition to me masking, and especially applicable in contexts where other people aren’t.)

    I also got a hand-held air purifier as a present for the holidays, and it made me feel a lot safer during some necessary air travel. I generally don’t eat inside in public spaces, but now if I know I will need to eat or drink near (a few) people I can bring it as an option that makes everyone somewhat safer, and I’m grateful to have that option. (Especially living somewhere cold where eating outside with people won’t be a viable option for the next couple of months.) It was about $100 and is basically the size of a small purse, so not cheap, but also an investment that more people might make if they were aware of the option?

  12. thank you himani! 3rding or 4thing the People’s CDC. i like i can just send ppl their resource instead of writing it all out myself. that said when i sent it about a wedding shower, i ended up leaving the wedding party bc the fact that i had to start the covid conversation was a Sign.

    i am rolling the dice to see a baby nibling next wk & i’m pretty scared, it’s the best chance i’ll have in a while in terms of minimal risk in that household. for friends and most family, i agree that if ppl can’t quarantine, mask, test, and communicate, and hang out outside to keep me safe they are not friends or family i need to see in person. but for my very busy overloaded sis & sis-in-law/mothers of my niblings who have no real choice but to send said niblings to daycare & school, and i’d like to see my niblings in person, i am so far willing to gamble a bit. i don’t know how i’m gonna work out staying in my niblings’ lives without that gamble . . . everyone else i’m like ‘unless you are prepared to pay me a lifetime pension if i can’t wagelabor anymore, no, i don’t need to see you inside your house or come to your event.’

  13. Himani thank you for sharing this and thank you to the commenters for such thoughtful discussion and resource-sharing. I’m really struggling with both the new developing norms of masklessness in my community and also my current immunocompromised status as a pregnant person. I both want community around me, especially in postpartum, and am also scared I will not find a balance of the social support I need along with the medical protection I want my family to have. It’s such a complicated time, and it feels like there’s so many versions of a right answer and also so many different wrong ones.

    • Thanks so much for reading @originalrjc and for sharing your struggles and experiences. That sounds so, so difficult because from the people I know who have had kids, having support and connections during pregnancy and post-pregnancy seems really really critical. That’s really hard and I hope that you’re able to find a small network that can support you in ways that feel meaningful while keeping yourself and your family protected. As you said, there are many “right” answers and also ones that are definitively “wrong” and then a lot of grey in between. It’s unfortunate for all of us that this is our new normal and reality, but we’ll make it through one way or another. Wishing you all the best, -h

  14. Thank you for highlighting our collective responsibility to protect each other’s health and safety. Even those of us who don’t love capitalism have fallen back on individualist behavioural norms. Masking, testing, staying home as much as possible when we are sick, and keeping vaccinations up to date are all things we do for our loved ones and the public good. Our governments and most employers have proven that we are disposable to them; all the more reason to do our best for each other. Himani, I am sending you solidarity and appreciation for this excellent piece.

    • Thank you so much for reading and your incredibly kind comment @donnamartingraduates! Totally agree that I’ve been a little surprised by the very broad swathes of people who I know to hold all sorts of collective/anti-capitalist/etc ideologies that I’ve seen make… less than ideal decisions as relates to COVID safety…

  15. Thank you for this. I’m still masking, I’ve been working in person for most of the pandemic. I appreciate the people still masking, and taking precautions when so many people have stopped. This was a good reminder to order the 8 rapid tests my insurance will still pay for, and who knows what will happen after May 11th.

  16. Great thanks for this article Himani! I appreciate so many of the things you point out, including the list of things not to say to people with Long Covid, like ‘Hope you get better soon’… It reminds me of what many people say after someone has died. They find it hard that this is the “new normal” now and there is no “quick fix” – nothing that makes it better; to accept that this is a person’s life now and that there is no silver lining. Therefore, they give unsolicited advice and come up with how some random human handled their loss, rather than just being there without cheering the grieving person up or on.

    When I had Covid recently, I was asked a lot “How did you get it?” and also wondered myself who had infected me. Then I watched the series “It’s A Sin” in which gay men with AIDS in the 1980s ask themselves and others “who gave it to them”; it is a very prominent question. In contrast, the movie “120 BPM” (which is about ACT UP activists in the 1980s and 90s) handles this question differently. To quote an article that compares the two portrayals of queer people with AIDS in that time:
    »Nathan, new to the politics of HIV, suggests that Sean’s older lover is at fault for infecting him. ‘You can’t split responsibility,’ Sean replies. ‘When you infect someone, you’re 100% responsible. And when you get infected too.’ Everyone With AIDS Is Innocent.«

    I keep thinking about this when I weigh my options how to keep others as safe as possible from me, and me from others in regard to Covid. (And yes, I know that AIDS in the 80s/90s and Covid today as well as how governments handled them are very different.)

    Thanks for your thoughtful articles Himani!

    • When I’ve been asked “How did you get it?” re: Covid, the knee jerk reply in my head is always: “How could I NOT get it??” 😤 It literally feels impossible to avoid with the way everyone has moved on.

    • Thanks so much for reading and also for sharing this, Katha! It took me a while to understand what you shared about the way responsibility has been viewed in the context of AIDS but (at least as I understand it now) I think it makes a lot of sense. I’ve had to sit with this for a long time in terms of my own latest bout of COVID — that it was both 100% my fault and also 100% my friend’s fault. And also, that we are both innocent. (Ok, TBH I’m less convinced of this as relates to my friend, considering the actions that led them both to get COVID and some of the things they continued to do even after having both a positive rapid & a positive PCR… but that’s another story and also my own shit to work through…) Regardless, it was a really thoughtful observation — thank you for sharing it!

  17. Besides looking for our hope and joy in small places, we can also participate in advocacy.

    I know of multiple organizations doing Covid advocacy:
    * People’s CDC has a petition asking the national government to not end the covid state of emergency:
    * Mandate Masks US works on making masks available to all and reinstating mask mandates in public spaces. There may be a chapter local to your region.
    * Marked By Covid works on advocating for a Covid remembrance day and focuses on Covid-justice that centers people who are least able to protect themselves from the virus.

    Also, as the wife of a disease researcher, I feel the need to add:
    * the type of mask you wear and how you wear it really matters. People’s CDC has a resource here:
    * Ventilation is a really useful and cheap mitigation. I have purchased an Aranet4 sensor because I got tired of not knowing how ventilated is sufficiently ventilated. The price tag is likely out of reach for a lot of people, so I’m going to just list some ventilation-improving suggestions based on my personal observations after 8 months of carrying a CO2 censor with me everywhere:
    — Opening any window in an apartment makes a huge difference. Opening windows in two different parts of the same room such that there is a path for air to flow through the room is even better. If you put box fans in the windows to funnel air so it comes via the open windows in one part of the room and leaves via the open windows in the other part of the room, you can get even a fairly large apartment room down to almost outdoor levels for a small gathering.
    — A covered outdoor dining space is outdoors CO2 level-wise as long as it is fully open on at least one side.
    — The least ventilated space by far that I have been in is a taxi with closed windows with 4 other coworkers for 10 minutes on a rainy day.

    The CO2 sensor only measures how much of people’s breathing lingers in a room. Some people I know have purchased particulate meters to see how clean the air in a room is, which would pick up how good any HEPA/air filters present in the room are cleaning the air.

  18. Himani! You always write about community care so beautifully – thank you for sharing this.

    I have so many jumbled thoughts I want to share so i’m just going to word vomit them out.

    I joined a couple Still COVIDing groups on Facebook recently, including a LGBTQ+ one. Having that in my feed, even though I don’t use FB much these days, makes me feel less alone.

    Figuring out how to balance my mental health needs with my fervent desire to not get COVID or be in the position to infect anyone else is really tough. My ADHD brain doesn’t do great with working 100% remotely, so even though I could work from home every day, I’ve been going in 1-ish days a week. I mask and can usually find time to eat when the break room is almost empty. It’s a compromise but one that I feel like improves my quality of life enough to be worth it. At least right now.

    For Thanksgiving and Christmas, my spouse and I celebrated with my parents and we all agreed to mask indoors (except at home) for 5 days prior and test 2 days prior and the day of. I felt a little awkward requesting it, but was so relieved to do it. I also trust my parents for this.

    I need to learn more about outdoor transmission. I’m planning to throw an outdoor picnic for my dad’s 85th birthday this summer and am trying to figure out how to / if I can / safely include some of our extended family. My dad’s extended family, especially his brother and sister, tend to be charming but not particularly reliable when it comes to things like health and safety. So it’s a challenge. And my dad was diagnosed with mild dementia last winter – I’m very protective of his health and I’m also aware that we’re running out of time to spend with him.

    • Thank you so much for reading @cepperly and for sharing your experiences and struggles!

      “Figuring out how to balance my mental health needs with my fervent desire to not get COVID or be in the position to infect anyone else is really tough.” << I've really been struggling with this lately and it's so hard to find the balance that feels right. I'm glad you were able to find something that kept you, your spouse and your parents safe and good luck with planning the celebration for your father in the summer!

  19. truly cannot say how grateful i am for this article. all of this should be *such* common sense, and it shouldn’t be falling to you (and me) as people with Long Covid to have to be the ones always saying this, but it means a lot to see it somewhere like AS when I can’t even trust that leftist organizing spaces, gatherings of queer young people, or even disability events will require masks or have precautions in place generally.

    • sorry to be all “and another thing!” but the point about always being prepared to cancel is not something i see a lot and really resonates with me. when i travel with ppl or ppl come to visit me, i always make them talk through their plan for what they will do if they test positive on the trip which has the effect of a) making it absolutely clear that it is morally unacceptable for the answer to be “pretend i don’t have it and get on a plane home,” and b) to make them think through how much that would suck and take more precautions to prevent it from happening. i also have bought some concert tickets in the past two years, and I always tell myself that I am paying $50 for the *possibility* of being able to go to this concert in 4 months IF it is safe and that if i am not prepared to basically eat that $50 if it’s not safe to go or i’ve been exposed, then i should not buy the ticket.

    • lela- thank you so much for reading and for the very thoughtful comments. totally agree with your point about buying tickets, etc with the understanding that i am eating the cost if I get COVID or am exposed and might not actually end up going.

      What you’re saying reminds me of something that happened to me 10 yrs ago that I almost put into the piece but it was already too long. I planned a solo trip to Iceland — flights, hotel bookings, guided events, etc etc etc all booked and it was my first time traveling as an adult and traveling by myself so I was really excited. And then the day of my flight, I broke my foot and I had to cancel the whole trip because medical guidance says you shouldn’t travel by air with a recently broken bone. And it’s like, if only people would see COVID in that way. I think most people, if they broke their foot or had some other super painful and debilitating injury the day they were supposed to travel, they would eat the costs and cancel their plans. COVID might not be that painful and debilitating for them, but the mindset and approach around it really should be the same IMO…

  20. This is soo important thank you! And only reinforces the need to push about government to NOT lift the stay of emergency and effectively care.

    This is why work of collectives like The People’s CDC is so important.
    Please consider signing this petition demanding:
    “Universal Access to Free Tests, Masks, Ventilation Upgrades, Paid Sick Leave, Funding for Long COVID research and treatment”

  21. Thank you so much for doing this work. I was really struck by the bit about how people should invest in masks and lateral flow tests (which is what we call rapid tests in the UK) where you acknowledge that yes, those aren’t free for most people any more, BUT if people are already investing in entrance fees, travel and accommodation costs for a big in-person event… is it really such a big ask to expect them to also invest in a few items that will help them manage their own and others’ risk?

    It seems bizarre that this is a framing I’ve never seen before, and I really appreciate how you set those costs in context. Somehow, most of the time when the monetary cost to individuals of Covid protection is talked about, there’s this indignant tone of “why should I have to pay for others’ peace of mind?” and an implication that people going out in the world for work and events are uniquely embattled financially. Perhaps this is an aspect of the pervasive ignorance that assumes disabled people get everything in our lives paid for.

    In the end, if we’re going to a big work conference or comics convention or arena/stadium tour date, can we afford the financial costs of *getting* Covid? People’s relationship with expense tends to be self-serving and short-termist; it often takes the form of sticker shock over the price of Covid tests, while being disconnected from concern about the larger economic costs, both personal and society-wide, of developing an illness that potentially has no end date.

    Also, people can really dig their heels in when they feel they’re being “told what to do” even in an officially recognised emergency, let alone outside of one. I’m not mad that people have that sense of entitlement per se – it’s obviously deep-rooted and has causes many of us are likely ignorant of. But having a reaction obliges us to notice and self-examine about it.

  22. Thank you for this. It echoes a lot of what I’ve been thinking and where I’m at.

    The discussion in comments about what event organizers can do is so important. Does anyone have references for how, as an organizer picking a venue, you can evaluate the ventilation and air filtration situation? I’ve volunteered to help plan a multi-day event mainly so that I could make sure we are still taking common-sense precautions like mandatory masking even when the rest of the world isn’t, but we do also have the power to pick a venue and due to where we are and the non-negotiable dates of the event, it may be unpleasant or unsafe for people to eat outside due to wildfire smoke. I want to make sure that if people choose to eat indoors together, we’re as protected as possible, but I don’t know how to test that in a venue.

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