Monday, July 31, 2023

Measuring Risk in the Woods

I was up north, camping, and started chatting to neighbours. I had a mask in my pocket, but thought it would be fine to just have a brief conversation together, outside, unmasked. But then they both started coughing. "Summer colds." 

I was dubious. They had done some travelling lately, and Colin Furness said travel was fuelling the current cases: 

"Much of the current Covid burden seems travel-related. Yes, that's right. Everybody flying everywhere with masking rates around 2% will ensure that any new variant that emerges anywhere will almost immediately be everywhere. (Yup: given what we know, nearly everybody traveling is choosing to act dangerously.)"

But I still didn't put on my mask. 

It just felt so rude to suddenly whip it out mid sentence. I risked my health, potentially my life, rather than offend people, just like a third of the participants in that Asch study

So I completely understand when others are sheepish about it. It's far easier for me to put a mask on when I leave the house and keep it on until I get home, but up north feels different. I feel more of a weirdo wearing a mask in the middle of the woods. We need to make it feel rude to be unmasked when sick around people, even if it is just a summer cold, but I have no idea how to shift that mindset.

Luckily, the air quality got really bad, so I was able to cite particulate stats to justify my mask. I was still the only one, but people were more comfortable that it's the air quality that I was worried about, not them.

I thought it was just a foggy morning, but the fog never lifted! The particulate level was in the 50s, and I was breathing it in unawares all morning, canoeing solo (with a water jug for a paddle buddy).  

And it was only in the area nearby. I'm at the blue dot in the middle of all the orange:

It made a difference being away from Twitter and other forums where we share information and commiserate about the Covid situation. That daily check-in is a reminder that the virus is still here and still needs active efforts to mitigate, and it's a place to shore up any nerves around openly wearing a mask in public. Away from social media, one could be excused for thinking that Covid was a problem of a very distant time, long forgotten.

There's also a different level of risk up there, with lots of people using axes and chainsaws on the regular, likely more gun owners because there's definitely a concern with bears and wolves. A pack of wolves took down six deer a couple hundred feet from my campsite. Somehow, I slept through the ruckus, but it was the talk of the area in the morning. I usually forgo tucking my pants into my socks in the meadow despite knowing there are deer ticks, and I regularly walk barefoot around a pond that I've seen toe-biters in. For me, it was way too hot for pants and boots, but not at all too hot for a mask. Go figure!

But to most people, I get that it seems silly to wear a mask around people who are coughing. 

The pain inflicted by a toe biter is unbelievable, but then it's over. Ticks can be found with a quick once over back on solid ground, and antibiotics can help if bitten. But there's not much we can do about Covid. I'm too young and healthy to be allowed access to Paxlovid, and a Covid infection could mean the end of my ability to think clearly. It could mean that suddenly my children have to care for me for the rest of my life, feeding me, and helping me get back and forth to the bathroom. 

I'd rather be eaten by a bear. 

ETA: Featured on VoicEd Radio (from 35:40 to 43:40), they discuss that sometimes it's easier to just be told to put a mask on than to have to circumnavigate norms. One of the podcast team thought it strange to have a mask sign at the DQ when so few were wearing masks inside, so he assumed it was just an old sign and didn't put a mask on. He also called my final paragraph severe and disagrees that I would actually prefer being eaten by a bear, i.e. rather die that live with Long Covid. They think I said that because of the certainty of death from a bear, but they note that extreme disabling from Covid isn't really discussed anywhere -- not in their circles at least or in their choice of reading. From one article on studies on suicidality and Long Covid,

"People are suffering in a way that I don't think the general public understands. Not only are people mourning the life that they thought they were going to have, they are in excruciating pain with no answers. . . . Covid-19 survivors were almost 50% more likely to experience suicidal ideation than people who hadn't had the virus. . . . Long Covid can be incredibly painful [in one case, a man's wife had] foot pain that prevented her from walking comfortably, tremors, and vibrating sensations in her chest that kept her from sleeping. . . . 'My wife didn't kill herself because she was depressed. She killed herself because she was in excruciating physical pain.'. . . There's been little tangible progress for long-haulers."

It's not the lack of certainty that makes me keep masking and do all I can to avoid getting Covid, it's the physical pain associated with the one in ten cases that become Long Covid, and the total upheaval to my children's lives if they were tasked with caring for me. I'm more assured of protecting myself (and my family) despite social norms to the contrary every time I read about the reality of this ongoing pandemic.

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