Opinion | Please Don’t Tell Me ‘It’s Not Covid’ While Coughing in My Face

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By Jenni Avins

Ms. Avins is a Los Angeles-based journalist who writes about culture and lifestyle.

“Don’t worry!” you reassure me cheerily between coughs, removing your mask to release a particularly phlegmy one. “It’s not Covid!”

To which I say, with tenderness and concern, while also trying not to inhale: Nope.

This holiday season, the fear of missing out is particularly acute, and everyone’s eager to step out for a smidge of sparkle and cheer. But even if you’re reasonably sure your chest cold, stomach bug or swollen sinuses are not coronavirus-related, I’m going to ask that you step away from the mulled cider until you are healthy.

I get it! We’ve been in this pandemic for what feels like a lifetime, and the rapid spread of the new Omicron variant has thrown many of us off balance. I recently watched an adult friend dissolve into tears upon realizing she had missed a 3-year-old’s birthday celebration because she had the time wrong. That’s right, a 3-year-old’s birthday party. At a park. We are languishing, and it makes us want to gather together, even if it means we need to put on real pants again.

But please, if you’re sick, don’t.

Even if it’s not Covid, it’s never a good look — especially in flu season — to show up resembling an extra from “Contagion.” At the risk of being a Grinch, I’d rather not catch your head cold or stomach flu, thank you.

In 2021, health feels like a greater, and perhaps more fragile, gift than ever before — which means that if you’re feeling unwell, the best present you can give might be sparing others your presence.

If you’re worried that being a no-show is rude, don’t be, says Lizzie Post, a professional polite person — the great-great-granddaughter of the etiquette advice columnist Emily Post, as well as a co-host of the “Awesome Etiquette” podcast and a co-president of the Emily Post Institute, which offers advice and training on good manners.

“From a social perspective, canceling because you are sick has always been a thoughtful and considerate thing to do,” Ms. Post says. “That’s just always been true.”

Ms. Post acknowledges that a runny nose can be a symptom of allergies or other noncontagious circumstances. When that’s the case and you’ve fully ruled out Covid with testing, she says, it’s polite to proactively tell a companion or a co-worker exactly why you’re sniffling. “Transparency is really a part of politeness today when it comes to our health and well-being,” she says. In other words, speak up and don’t put others in the awkward position of having to ask about your symptoms. And, of course, if you’re feeling unsure about whether to attend a gathering, discuss the situation with your host.

The same principle of transparency applies to parents socializing with babies or children — especially those too young to be vaccinated. A friend and I recently rescheduled a play date twice: First her baby was congested, then mine had a cough. We spoke about it both times and mutually decided to postpone. I was disappointed, but watching my 1-year-old chew on toys with a stuffy-nosed playmate would have been unnecessarily stressful.

Jim Thomas, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, has researched many countries’ approaches to public health and found himself particularly moved by New Zealand’s.

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