Healthy and Want To Stay That Way

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

What’s contagion etiquette during flu season? I’m talking about people
who show up at parties, bridge games, or sporting events dripping and
sniffling, and then get offended when others who are healthier ask
them to wear a mask, wash their hands, or go home. To be very clear,
I am not a wing nut fanatic about Ebola, though I think we (as in we
The West) should be doing much much more to combat its spread in
Africa. I am talking about simpler diseases like the common cold, or
the flu, which can be the cause of a lost sick week and much more
harmful to those with chronic conditions and the elderly. I know people
can be contagious without being asymptomatic, but am I being too
cautious when I hear people say “I’m not contagious” and don’t want
to believe them. Who should go home, them or me?

Healthy and Want To Stay That Way

Dear Healthy:

Short of walking around in a HAZMAT suit, you have no guarantee that
you won’t be infected in the grocery line, at the hairdresser, at work,
or in synagogue. Years I have been a High Holiday greeter I have
almost invariably gotten sick. But those are contact realities that we’re
all exposed to with the frequency that a life of engagement with others
imposes. You could choose to live in at home in a bubble but you’d be
a pretty miserable recluse and likely tire of it quickly.

Get used to speaking up when you invite people to your house and
when you accept invitations to other people’s realities. Talk to the
organizers of every place from your health club to your Human
Resources Department. Ask what their sick policy is in terms of
informing people before they show up or asking them to leave if they
are clearly symptomatic. Ebola or not, everyone is more aware of
contagion in fall/winter than in summer. People with children,
traditional germ carriers, may accept a level of contact illness that
comes from undeveloped immune systems sharing every “it” that goes
around. But adults who know better have an obligation to set the bar
higher. If you are willing accept the ire of those who will insist they
know their own bodies better than your caution suggests they do, go
ahead and sing your “Put on a mask!” song loudly. Otherwise stay
home and stay well. PS get your flu shot!