“Have you had Covid yet?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
“Wow! You’re lucky!” the nurse replied, prepping the alcohol swab for my latest booster shot.
Surely, true to some extent. Privilege, or lack thereof, indeed affects the Covid course depending on who we are. This blog is by no means a critique of those who have experienced Covid-19 diagnoses; when government and public health responses fail so profoundly, of course many of us will be exposed in an airborne pandemic. Nor is this a condemnation of the nurse’s words. She was kind and simply making conversation. I imagine many of those she vaccinated recently had answered the question differently than I did, prompting her surprise.
With those disclaimers out of the way, I’m still thinking about that word, lucky, and its part in public health.
I have certainly increased my chances at luckiness by double-masking indoors with an N95 and surgical mask over it a majority of the time. I freely admit that I am human and messed up during some social situations in the past, but I am striving to stay the course now. I’ve gotten vaxxed and boosted. I’ve avoided large, crowded indoor events and indoor dining 98% of the time for almost 3 years now. So many in my educated healthcare social circles have done the same- with my immunocompromised friends being even more honorably stringent than I have been. This road has been unpopular and difficult. But we have done our parts to increase our own luck- to protect ourselves from the potential and well-documented cardiovascular and neurological repercussions post-Covid, particularly- as much as we can. Simultaneously, our actions protect others, too.
So some of this is manufactured luck. And Covid is all around us currently, with hardly any societal mitigations in effect in the U.S. My “luck” may run out with Covid exposure at the grocery store this winter, for example. There is so much we still do not know regarding long-term effects, genetic protective factors, and so forth. I don’t love those odds, so I increase my luck where I can. Yet privilege informs so much of this luck: education, health literacy, connections for navigating, work environment, socioeconomics, social supports, and so on.
For many answering the nurse’s question with a “yes” as to prior Covid infections, their luck was undermined by our society’s refusal to do the right things, consistently. We haven’t conceded the awakening about clean indoor air, akin to cleansing our drinking water in the past. Like we did with solar panel energy incentives, governments should have given tax breaks to businesses investing in ventilation and air purification. Entities like major hospitals or government agencies with the financial capital to improve air quality should have done so, yesterday, setting a good example for all. We should use good quality masks indoors not just to protect ourselves, but to support the community at large, as we never know how Covid will strike each person and we are all ultimately at risk.
As one nerdy healthcare advocate writing this blog from her couch, it is admittedly easy to critique policy decisions which affect us all. Yet, we deserve better and it is indeed attainable, at least in America. Japan and New Zealand’s strong leadership, science-informed decision making, and communal buy-in to public health translated to far better outcomes, and far less loss, than we have endured.
Having lived with type 1 diabetes for over thirty years, with the predominant theory being that viral illness often contributes to T1D onset, it’s difficult to look around at our packed indoor sports arenas and bars and not feel a sense of impending doom. We won’t know what we are losing health- and quality of life-wise until it’s gone.
Do we really want our futures to be based on luck on behalf of ourselves, or imposed on others less fortunate?
One moment in time. One exposure. That’s all it takes.