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Monday, October 3, 2022

Is It Just Us or Does Everyone Have a Cold Right Now?

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A nasty cold hit New York City and much of the country this summer.

It arrived just when life seemed good again. Or at least when life seemed like it maybe could become good again. It was that halcyon window of summer — after vaccine second doses but before “breakthrough” and “Delta variant” had fully entered the lexicon.

Remember? When gathering on streets and in warehouses and at bars seemed like it was permissible, maybe even emotionally healthy? When, as this publication put it, “New York Felt Alive Again”? Oh, how young we were 20 weeks ago.

Vaccine optimism led to celebrations; celebrations led to gatherings; and gatherings led to a bunch of us getting summer colds (not to be confused with what later was identified as the Delta variant surge in the United States).

Of course, nobody likes to get a cold.

Well, actually, that’s not entirely true: I did come across some online forums devoted to coughing and sneezing filled with people who seem to like cold symptoms. Like, they really like them.

Still, I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of people don’t like to get a cold.

It wasn’t just that we had forgotten what colds felt like. Science supported the fact that some of the colds going around this past summer really were worse.

There was talk of the “gay cold,” as some of us in the community called it, following L.G.B.T.Q. Pride celebrations in June.

Dr. Andrew Goodman, the site medical director for Manhattan’s Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, which specializes in L.G.B.T.Q. health care, said that he did notice an uptick in upper respiratory infections among his patients this summer. Many were returning from gay party destinations like Fire Island and Provincetown, he said.

But he emphasized that, from a medical point of view, this wasn’t shocking.

“People were getting together and partying, and for 18 months we stayed apart,” Dr. Goodman said in a Zoom interview. “And so, now, these bugs are getting together and they’re partying, too.”

To be fair to all us complainers, having a cold right now is particularly unpleasant. Wearing a mask may help slow the spread of the common cold, but wearing one while sick is, scientifically speaking, gross.

As the comedian Guy Branum joked on Twitter in October: “I full sneezed in a mask and it did its job, but at what cost?”

But sometimes worse than stewing in your own juices (sorry) is the reaction cold symptoms can provoke in other people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that most adults in the United States contract two or three colds each year. But even though the common cold is (again, sorry) common, the coronavirus pandemic has amplified anxieties about communicable diseases.

People with colds right now have experienced a variety of blowback for coughing or sneezing in public. And it’s not always just dirty looks from strangers on the subway.

Carlie Guadagnolo-Edwards, who works in sales at a television station in Sacramento, was at a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday for a problem with her wrist. She also had a cold, which did not go over well with the doctor’s receptionist.

“The amount of suspicion that I was treated with when I had the audacity to sneeze, you’d think I had insulted the receptionist’s mother to her face,” Ms. Guadagnolo-Edwards, 27, said in a phone interview.

She explained that she was fully vaccinated and that she was particularly careful about masking and socially distancing since her husband is immunocompromised, but the receptionist still kept her distance, physically and socially. Ultimately, the appointment happened as planned.

According to Luna Dolezal, an associate professor of philosophy who studies the impact of shame in medicine at the University of Exeter in Britain, a situation like the one Ms. Guadagnolo-Edwards experienced is far from uncommon.

Professor Dolezal said in a Zoom interview that there is a power imbalance inherent in a medical appointment that could induce shame, but also “the stigma has become just so widespread that coughing signifies something so much more than it used to.”

Be warned. According to Professor Dolezal’s research, feeling ashamed about a medical condition can exacerbate health problems and discourage some patients from seeking treatment.

But of course, none of us, including Professor Dolezal, is immune (again, so sorry) to judging or being judged.

“I’ve had a cold the last two weeks and every time I cough I feel compelled to say ‘Don’t worry, I’ve had a P.C.R. test,’” she said.

To put it reductively, if you get sick right now, you may feel shame or be shamed. It’s a grim prognosis.

The good news is, if someone gives you a hard time for a cough or a sneeze, at least you can feel good about kvetching to your friends. There is some research that shows griping and joking can increase bonding and group identification.

Lots of us will get colds and colds feel bad. Lots of us will feel guilty about having those colds — indicators we may have socialized without enough distance — and that will make us feel worse. But at least we’ll have lots of people around us who we can feel bad with together.

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