As the pandemic peaks in the second half of its third year, highly transmissible and immune-evading variants of Covid-19 are fueling another spike in infections. While Covid-19 fatigue and official case data might point to a modest surge of positive cases, home test results are largely ignored in the published data. Just as the testing infrastructure has largely turned to the individual given the closure of many public testing sites, so has contact tracing. In the event that someone tests positive for Covid-19, the responsibility now lies with that person to inform their network.
“These conversations, compared to a few years ago, are not only much more widely accepted,” says Donald Yealy, chief medical officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, “they are actually more expected. an act of kindness to share this.
By telling those you have recently interacted with that you have become ill, you are giving them the knowledge to get tested and isolate themselves, in hopes of further preventing the spread, especially among the elderly or immunocompromised.
Who to tell
You don’t need to alert everyone on your contact list that you’ve caught Covid-19, but you should tell the people most likely to have contracted the virus, Yealy says: the people you were within six feet indoors – masked or unmasked – as well as people who were within reach outside during the two-day period before you started showing symptoms, or the two-day period before you get tested, if you don’t have symptoms.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to tell anyone you were with for 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period, “the virus takes hold more easily now,” Yealy says. “Think how close I was and for how long? If you’re very close together, a few feet apart, or in physical contact, you don’t even need that 15-minute window. Think about intimate partners, roommates, family members, co-workers, friends you’ve recently seen, your child’s teacher (if your child has tested positive), hosts at a party or a wedding you attended.
Party hosts or organizers of events with more than a few people should tell as many attendees as possible if they have contracted Covid-19 or if another guest has. “Often, we don’t know all the health problems of [other attendees]Yealy says. “We can really struggle to quantify how much and how close the contact is. I would advise sharing the information more widely. For example, when etiquette expert Lizzie Post, co-chair of the Emily Post Institute and author of several etiquette books, tested positive for Covid-19 after attending a friend’s 4th of July party, she texted her host, who then informed the rest of the attendees.
If you attended the same event as an older person or knew they had underlying health conditions, even if you weren’t necessarily interacting with them, “I would let them know because their risk of ‘infection is higher,’ Yealy said.
Sure, there are people you might not know – waiters at a restaurant, friends of friends at a party – but you should do your best to contact everyone you were with. nearby, Yealy said.
When to share
If you feel sick enough to warrant testing, you should start telling your network that you could potentially have Covid. Given the relative accessibility of rapid tests, you might have a diagnosis fairly quickly after developing symptoms. But if you’re waiting for an appointment or the results of a PCR test, you can always tell your housemates that you’ve been exposed, for example, or that you’re under bad weather in the meantime. Yealy cautions anyone against attending social events, work or school if they have respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms of any kind.
Of course, once you get a positive diagnosis, whether it’s a rapid test or a PCR test, you have to go through your list of close contacts. The sooner you inform your network, the better, as the treatments and antivirals available are often the most effective at the start of an infection.
How to inform your network
As for the actual message and its delivery method, communicate with your contacts the same way you normally would. Do you prefer texting to phone calls? Dark. Do you typically email book club members? Opt for email. “Connect with people in the most common way you usually communicate with them, because that’s what they’re most likely to pay attention to,” Post says.
Be as simple as possible in your delivery and stick to the facts: tell them when you tested positive and if you had any symptoms. Post suggests saying something like, “I wanted to let you know that I tested positive for Covid-19 today. It seems the last time we saw each other was within the window of when I could have picked it up and released it to others. The same approach applies to everyone from friends and family to your boss or your children’s school. “I would keep it very factual and direct,” Yealy says.
While we may feel inclined to apologize for reporting others, remember that you didn’t mean to get sick, says marriage and family therapist Abby Krom. Accidents happen. “We tend to blame ourselves because it’s hard to recognize that we don’t have control,” she says. “So it’s almost easier to feel in control even if you blame yourself.” If you’ve suggested indoor meal plans despite your friend’s preference for eating out, for example, you can say something like, “I downplayed the risk and realize that was wrong,” suggests Krom.
If you’re telling guests about your event on behalf of another guest who got sick, don’t name them and say, “I just wanted to let you know another guest tested positive.”
While a Covid-19 diagnosis is mired in far less shame than two years ago – an estimated 82% of people in the United States have caught the virus at least once, after all – some people may having less than positive reactions when sharing the news. When people are angry or scared, their instinctive reaction may be to react harshly; “How could you be so careless?” or “I had to go to my cousin’s wedding. I can’t believe you could jeopardize this.
Take a moment to determine if what they say is true: have you been negligent? Did you knowingly jeopardize their health or their travel plans? “Our instinct is to apologize or take blame, but that’s not a healthy instinct because it might not be our responsibility,” Krom says. You may need to allow the person to cool off. Then, to pick up the conversation later, say, “I can tell you were really mad at me. Do you still feel this way? Can we talk more about it? suggests Krom.
Another reaction can be genuine curiosity: a friend asking where you think you got Covid-19 or describing your symptoms. Post says it can be helpful for your network to have access to this information so they can determine when to test and if they should start notifying their networks of possible exposure. However, you don’t have to divulge everything, Krom says. Try responding with “I’m a bit overwhelmed myself and still digesting the news,” if you’d rather not share.
The reality, Post says, is that most people will be understanding and grateful for the insight. Of the nearly two dozen people she informed of her Covid diagnosis, no one was upset. “I definitely felt guilty about the party I attended and having to tell these people, ‘I may have exposed you to Covid,’ and they were very kind about it,” says Post. “So be kind if someone tells you they have it. Don’t go into fear mode first. Access information and questions. Be curious, investigate.
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