Op/Ed: COVID-19 has changed the way we view illness


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Self-isolation, wearing masks and maintaining distance between others became our new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still ongoing. Nobody wants to get sick and it is common to take extra precautions around wintertime due to flu season, but continued outbreaks of COVID-19 have made everyone especially wary of the spread of illness.

It used to be that you might choose to maintain some distance between yourself and the person at work or school with a cough or stuffy nose, but now any sign of illness is more highly scrutinized. If you come to work or school with a cough, you can expect everyone to stare at you like you have committed an unforgivable offense. Your symptoms may warrant questions like, “Are you sick or do you have allergies?” and “Have you gotten tested for COVID yet?”

Sure, you might just have allergies or a cold, but you also might have the virus that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. If you transmit COVID-19 to your coworkers or classmates, everyone will have to go into isolation.

Being young and vaccinated, I do not worry too much about getting COVID-19, especially because I have already had it once. However, I do not want to expose any of my more vulnerable family members to the virus. In addition, having to isolate due to COVID-19 exposure can completely alter your plans, whether that be attending school, going to work or visiting family and friends for the holidays.

Nobody wants to be the person who gave COVID-19 to their at-risk family members or friends, so there is now a new level of caution surrounding social interactions. Due to the amount of deaths that have resulted from COVID-19 and the fact that people are continuing to become infected with the virus, the culture surrounding our views of illness have changed since pre-pandemic times.

For years, we have been told to wash our hands and stay home when sick to prevent the spread of illness, especially during flu season. However, we should now also make sure we get a negative COVID-19 test result before returning to normal activities.

In a way, this may be a positive change. Some workplaces do not like when employees call in sick, even if they are actually sick. Getting tested for COVID-19 gives employees a “more valid” excuse to take a sick day when they are ill. Pre pandemic, an employer might have demanded a worker come in even though they were sick. Although some employers still act this way, they should think twice before potentially exposing both themselves and their other employees to illness.

Nature has a deadly side to it and part of nature is human interaction. Humans have the ability to spread deadly diseases to each other. This has always been true, but the COVID-19 pandemic has increased our awareness of this. We can and should take precautions to protect ourselves and others, such as getting vaccinated and getting tested when we feel under the weather, but the risk of illness itself is nothing new.