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What I worry about now
I'm in Cairo right now, on a work trip. I flew here from my home in Sri Lanka. The flights were Colombo, Dubai, Cairo, and then I'll do that in reverse when I go back.
I did this same flight a year ago. I was still getting paid speaking work then.I was nervous, really nervous, about the trip. The COVID transmission data for Egypt is best described as murky. I didn't have a lot of faith in the infection prevention protocols of the conference I was speaking at.
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But my speaking agent negotiated a fee high enough that I was willing to get COVID and off I flew. I was right to be concerned about the conference’s COVID measures, but I also didn't get sick.
Last year, I worried so much about that trip. I was lying awake at night frightened. If I didn't have a kid to put through college, I probably wouldn't have taken it. This year I boarded my flight out of Colombo with barely a second thought.
So what changed?
COVID prevalence has not changed. Let me just put that up front.
But I've flown enough without infection that planes don't frighten me like they used to. I know how to keep my mask on. I wear an extra layer of clothes so I can turn the air blower on high and aim it at my face. My habits are solid and I know I can trust them.
I'm still deeply worried about the consequences of COVID infection. The data on long COVID keeps getting worse - and on an anecdotal level, more and more people I know are living with long COVID. I'm less worried about the acute initial COVID infection, but I'm way more worried about the long term.
On this trip, I noticed I really am the last mask standing now. Even among global health colleagues, I'm the only one in a mask. It's rare for someone to ask me about it, but I am still finding my best answer. Sometimes I tell them that I live in a multi-generational household and I refuse to bring the virus home to my mom.
That is true, but I'd be wearing a mask anyway. Because I don't want to get COVID. Which is a 100% valid reason all on its own. Sometimes I just say: I've never had COVID and I don't want to start. The thing though - that answer implies that other people do want to get COVID. I'm quite sure that's not true. I suspect this is a situation with no comfortable phrasing and I just have to live with that.
The paid speaking work is, alas, long gone. No one wants to hear about public health any more.