Before COVID-19, most people didn’t think about going to school or work with a stuffy nose or a mild cough. The pandemic has changed all that. Although we are in a very different place now than we were in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be difficult to figure out what to do when the symptoms of a runny nose and sneezing appear at this stage of the pandemic.
“We have been trained to stay home at any sign of illness during the pandemic.” Hedy ChangExecutive Director of Attendance Works, a national group promoting solutions to chronic school absenteeism, told the New York Times recently. “We actually need to change the norms again to be sensible and considerate about when we keep kids home, and only keep them home when we think it’s really a problem.”
Since germs don’t take a day off, the question remains: How do we define sick etiquette in 2023?
What is medical etiquette?
“Medical etiquette refers to behaviors among members of society designed to protect one another from infectious diseases.” dr Christine Eady Mann, a family doctor who works in urgent care in Leander, Texas, tells Yahoo Life. “It varies depending on the type of infectious disease. For example, airborne diseases require different rules of conduct than diseases that remain on surfaces or are transmitted through skin contact.”
Mann adds that when COVID arrived in the U.S., there was almost a “universal societal adherence” to medical etiquette, including staying home if showing signs of illness and wearing a mask in public. “People were willing to take precautions to protect others from this new disease,” she says. “However, as the pandemic continues, people are much less willing to take measures to prevent the spread of COVID if those measures are even a little inconvenient.”
Linda Yancey, an infectious disease specialist at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Katy, Texas, tells Yahoo Life that we’re in uncharted territory right now. “Now that we’re moving into the… endemic phase of COVID“We can’t send everyone home like we did in the early days of the pandemic,” she says. “But we shouldn’t be as careless as we were before the pandemic. We will depend on people to be a little more vigilant with themselves and to show consideration for their colleagues.”
What to do if you feel sick?
If you’re feeling stuffy and sluggish or have a cough or sore throat but haven’t yet been diagnosed with a cold, flu or COVID, working remotely would still be your best bet, says Yancey. If clocking in from home isn’t possible, she strongly recommends masking up.
“Masks absolutely work,” Yancey says. “Masking traps those large respiratory droplets so you don’t have to sit there and spread them all over the office.” If wearing a form-fitting KN95 or N95 mask makes you feel even more annoyed, Yancey says disposable masks are also “very effective.” .
Another tip for sick etiquette is to take your lunch and coffee breaks either outside or in the car. “The goal is to avoid being exposed in a closed, indoor setting,” she says.
For school-age children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends them Stay home if you have symptoms respiratory or gastrointestinal infections such as cough, fever, sore throat, vomiting or diarrhea.
Both Yancey and Mann emphasize the importance of hand hygiene — frequent handwashing with soap and water or cleaning hands with alcohol-based antibacterial hand sanitizers — as well as coughing and sneezing into the crook of your elbow (Yancey calls it a “vampire sneeze”). when a tissue is not readily available.
If you or a family member are experiencing the common upper respiratory symptoms, such as a runny nose or sore throat, associated with EG.5, also known as Eris – the dominant subvariant of the coronavirus in the US, accounting for nearly 22% of cases in the last two weeks, according to the CDC – Yancey and Mann recommend getting tested for COVID.
To get an accurate result from an over-the-counter test designed to detect viral proteins (called antigens), Yancey explains that it is imperative to get a swab either when symptoms appear or three to five days after initial exposure to avoid taking a false negative.
The final result
As COVID cases rise again, people who are feeling unwell should resume some of the key precautions they took at the start of the pandemic — or continue if they never stopped, Mann says. “These measures include avoiding public spaces when sick, having food delivered and wearing masks,” she says.
Yancey agrees: “All in all, I would urge everyone to err on the side of caution.” If you wake up with a stuffy nose and a scratchy throat, experts recommend taking an old-fashioned sick day if possible.
“Americans are terrible at taking time off,” notes Yancey. “When you’re sick, you get better faster when you rest. So if you have the chance, stay on the couch for a day or two and give your body a chance to recover.”