Beverley H. Johns – Welcoming the immunocompromised behind the mask

We hear such comments in public and in the media. You can hear people saying “we’re fed up with this pandemic, it’s time for us to ease the restrictions, let’s get back to living like before”. Restrictions are eliminated, risks are taken, shortcuts become the rule rather than the exception.

What about the more than 7 million people who cannot live as before because they are immunocompromised? What about the millions more who are caring for someone who is immunocompromised or who have relatives or friends who are compromised? Would any of us want to be responsible for someone dying because they transmitted the virus to someone who was compromised. In a letter to the editor this week by Matthew Bednanchik, he made some excellent points about our need to be sensitive to the needs of others.

The purpose of this article is to share ideas on what these accommodations might look like for those who are compromised. After traveling for the past two months, here are some recommendations that might help someone traveling who is compromised themselves or has a loved one who is.

• Recognize that you may have to wear a mask for several months when others may not have to if you have to go out in public. If you’re immunocompromised or a loved one is, you don’t want to take the risk. If wearing a mask protects you or a loved one, it’s worth it. You may be alienated or laughed at, but it’s a small price to pay to stay alive.

• Double-mask in an airplane. Don’t eat or drink on an airplane unless you’re lucky enough to have no one with you. I know a friend who bought the seat next to her so she could keep her distance.

• When seated at the airport, find a secluded place to sit as some people will be eating for long periods of time.

• Check with conference organizers and hotels and other venues and ask if attendees are required to wear masks. I was scheduled to speak at an event and the conference organizers had informed us all that masks were required. However, when I called the hotel where the conference was being held, I asked about mask wearing and was told that no guest was required to wear a mask. I called off the engagement.

• Keep your mask on when in public places, especially where people don’t have masks. Be sure to wear a KN95 or N95 mask or wear a double mask.

• Avoid eating indoors when you and someone else are eating together in a small space. Keep the people you’re with company, but don’t take your mask off when they’re eating. I was at a conference and wanted to visit a friend who was eating. I didn’t eat while he ate, instead I took my food to my room to eat in private.

• When you go to an indoor restaurant, ask if there is an isolated place where you can eat alone. Ask if you can take your food. I had an experience in a hotel that served continental breakfast and people came in and out without masks. After the maskless people left, I walked into the restaurant and asked if I could take some food. Restaurants should be prepared to do this accommodation.

• If someone gets on an elevator with you and they’re not wearing a mask, get off and get another one. I was in a hotel where there was a state mandate, but some people decided they weren’t going to wear one. They tried to get along with me. I calmly said, “I’m sorry I can’t take the elevator with you because you’re not masked. I got off the elevator. They were so self-centered that they didn’t seem to care. I felt comfortable saying something in a calm voice. I advise you to be careful what you say. They could have made my nose bleed, but I was not aggressive with them.

• Do not get in a taxi or Uber if the driver is not wearing a mask. You must inform the company that you are wearing a mask, but drivers do not always wear one.

• If you don’t have to have a roommate in a hotel right now, get a private room so you have the choice of eating your food in your room and isolating yourself when people get too close. It is important to know that the rooms of many large hotels are no longer cleaned daily, they are cleaned when you arrive and not cleaned again until you leave.

• If you choose to travel, you will need to take note of your surroundings and the people there. It may seem like you’re avoiding people, but in some cases you have to do just that. If you’re in a gathering where you know the people, you’ll need to speak up and let them know your limits.

We can get through this pandemic or this endemic, but we must be vigilant and we must defend our interests and those of our immunocompromised loved ones, so that accommodations can be made to protect lives and will become routine in the future.

We must take care of our fellow human beings.

Bev Johns has worked in public schools in special education for over 30 years. She began her work in Jacksonville in the Four Rivers Special Education District, where she was a supervisor, founding the Garrison Alternative School, and coordinating staff development. For many years she also taught classes at MacMurray College in Special Education and was a Professional Fellow. She also taught at Illinois College. She is the author of over 23 books and numerous articles.

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