Chances are, if you’ve been paying attention for the last eleven months, you are an expert on the public health rules designed to keep us all safe. You know to wear a mask in public, to wash your hands frequently, and to social distance from anyone not in your household. You’re doing what you can to protect yourself and those around you from becoming infected with COVID. (And if you’re not—well, that’s a different discussion.)
But even when it comes to folks who are trying hard to follow all the rules, there are some common mistakes that we seem to be making, either because we’re succumbing to pandemic fatigue (totally understandable) or because it’s hard to know what the right protocol is when information can change quickly.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of eight common mistakes you might be making while trying your best to stay safe from COVID-19.
Focusing On What You’re Allowed To Do Rather Than What’s Safe To Do
Pandemic fatigue is certainly playing a role in this common mistake. We all want to go out and do—that’s “do” with a fill in the blank after it. Do anything. So it’s easy, for example, to fall into the trap of believing indoor dining is safe if it has newly reopened in your area. But unfortunately, allowed doesn’t mean safe. When local governments allow an activity that was previously closed, that’s likely due to a number of factors that may or may not also take into consideration community transmission. Activities that are allowed on an arbitrary date are not necessarily any safer than they were the day before when they were prohibited.
Getting Tested Too Soon After Exposure
You’ve taken all the precautions, but you learn that you were still exposed to COVID-19. As a result, in an effort to be responsible, you go for a COVID test. When the test comes back negative, you celebrate and return to your careful pandemic rule-abiding life.
Unfortunately, that celebration may be premature. It’s possible that you tested too early and there wasn’t enough viral load in your system to be detected by a test. Rather than running out to get a test right away, experts recommend quarantining at home for five days after exposure and then getting tested. Also, don’t forget to quarantine while waiting for the test results.
Trusting Friends Who Say They’ve Been Careful
After eleven months, it’s certainly tempting to take up a friend’s invitation to get together, particularly when that friend has assured you that they’ve been ultra, super careful about pandemic protocols.
The problem, however, says Lucy Yardley, professor of health psychology at the University of Bristol, in an article for The Guardian is that “A lot of people don’t disclose their breaches of social distancing or even their symptoms to other people.”
In confirmation of that observation, a study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that 25% of folks have concealed aspects of their social distancing practices.
Assuming Taking One Precaution Is Enough To Keep You Safe
Experts increasingly talk about pandemic defense in terms of the “swiss cheese” model. Imagine each layer of protection against COVID as a slice of swiss cheese. The holes in the swiss cheese represent the ways the virus can get through. Each layer has its own holes, but as more layers are added, the smaller (or nonexistent) the holes become, providing a more impenetrable layer and better protection.
This is particularly important to keep in mind considering that severity of infection is likely related to the amount of virus you breathe in.
Assuming Outdoors Is A Free Pass
Certainly it’s easy to loosen pandemic rules because “you’re outside.” But while outside is safer, it’s not completely risk-free.
Length of contact and proximity are what matters when determining whether an outdoor activity is safe. You can be infected outside if you spend a prolonged period of time with an infected person, particularly if airflow is restricted in some way, and you should take care on busy streets. However, the risk of becoming infected while crossing paths with a stranger on a quiet street is minimal (though not entirely non-existent).
Thinking You Can Go Back To Normal Because You’ve Had COVID and/or Have Been Vaccinated
Vaccines will help us return to normal—and despite the slow rollout, they’re on their way. But being vaccinated is not a free pass to return to your normally scheduled life. There’s a lot that we still don’t know about vaccines, particularly whether someone who has been vaccinated can transmit the virus asymptomatically. As a result, you might be putting the unvaccinated folks in your life at risk by treating the pandemic as if it’s over before it actually is. Also, immunity from the vaccine doesn’t kick in until at least a few weeks after the first dose, if not a week or so after the second.
Similar rules apply to folks who’ve had COVID. While reinfection is rare, it is possible, and we don’t yet know how long those natural antibodies last. Additionally, as with vaccines, it’s unclear whether someone who recovered from COVID could still pick up a new infection and asymptomatically transmit the virus. It’s certainly possible.
Until we’ve reached herd immunity, there are no free passes out of this pandemic.
Relying on News Sources That Aren’t Credible
It’s easy to get lost amidst the barrage of COVID-19 information, particularly when even the experts seem uncertain about some of the questions we need answers to. But relying on the post shared by a relative, or a friend of a friend’s experience, for information will probably not give you the answer you need.
Believing It Won’t Happen To You
I’m a big (huge) proponent of hope, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that—yes, it can happen to you. The thing that isn’t supposed to happen can happen, and when it does, it’s devastating.
Pandemic fatigue is real. But I have to believe we’re in the home stretch of this thing, and we can’t quit at the end of the race. Now is the time to check-in with your COVID precautions and make choices that will keep yourself and your community safe.
Information about COVID-19 is rapidly changing, and Scary Mommy is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. With news being updated so frequently, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For this reason, we are encouraging readers to use online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization to remain as informed as possible.
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