Should we redirect "but my case is special" COVID-19 questions on Ask? June 22, 2020 9:29 PM   Subscribe

The answer is always going to be "no." No, you can't visit your daughter for her birthday safely just because the number of cases in her town is declining. No, you shouldn't take a road trip so long as you're only going to stop "a few places" where you might be in close quarters with other people. No, it's not safe to have friends over if you have an immunocompromised roommate, even if the windows are open. No. No. The answer is "no."

Can we put some text on the AskMe form that gently points people with these questions to "no?" Maybe a stand-alone page that says something to the effect of "AskMe's answer is no. If you want a second opinion, please call your doctor."
posted by tzikeh to Etiquette/Policy at 9:29 PM (124 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

For how long? What about people outside of America? And a million other questions.

There is no reason really we can’t continue to do this work as a community together. Let’s keep on treating people like individuals and reach out to educate them personally in a way that recognises their circumstances and fears and ignorance, etc. It’s what they’re really asking about anyway and I don’t see how shuffling them over to a collective, canned response is going to be better than the personal interaction.

Changing minds is a 1-2-1 job. If it’s annoying or exhausting for you right now to engage with or see, step back and let someone else do the work for a while. It’ll also take the burden off doctors offices and other places that are having to respond to questions where the answers are already out there. We can help get that info to the people who are asking and need it.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:04 PM on June 22 [86 favorites]


I suspect that a large number of mefites saying “no” will be more effective than a boilerplate. It’s the community thing that people are looking for with Ask, they probably know the answer but want to hear it from their peers.
posted by rodlymight at 10:15 PM on June 22 [49 favorites]


rodlymight said it better, which is exactly why we should keep on responding to questions with all our unique perspectives and ways of putting things.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:20 PM on June 22 [3 favorites]


It is a balm to my anxiety to see the many mefites saying no in many ways to the covid questions. It helps me swallow down my outrage and shame when my parents tell me about the restaurant or whatever they went to the other day, and sometimes gives me new angles to try or at least reinforcement for repeating myself. It even makes me feel empowered in a tiny way when I can be one of those people saying no on AskMe, too.
posted by Mizu at 10:29 PM on June 22 [23 favorites]


It's funny, I was just thinking that a problem with answers to COVID-19 AskMe questions is that too many people respond with a knee-jerk "No, the answer is always no" without considering whether the reasons the answer is usually no actually apply in that situation. A lot of people seem more comfortable with absolute rules, especially when it comes to giving advice to other people.

It's like what you see on parenting forums when people ask about leaving a baby alone in the car. If someone asks, "Is it safe to leave my baby alone in the car for a few minutes with the doors locked on a cloudy 50 degree day while I go inside to pay for my gas?" the most reasonable answer is "Yes." But you can bet that a huge percentage of people will say, "No! You can never leave a baby alone in the car at all, not even for a minute." It's true that if everyone follows that blanket rule it's safer than if people try to use their judgment based on the situation, because some people will make bad judgments. But that doesn't mean that not following the rule is actually dangerous in every situation.
posted by Redstart at 10:33 PM on June 22 [78 favorites]


No, because the answer won't always be no. The solution is teaching people to evaluate risk to themselves and others in an intelligent and rational way rather than simply screaming no at everything. Honestly, I find it more concerning overall that someone was feeding someone's pretty extreme anxiety about taking a 90 minute car trip from NYC to Philly by posting relatively old articles saying that "your shoes are going to infect you!!" in an Ask today than that people ask, "how can I safely expand my life a little?"

The psychological damage being done by extreme social isolation is a very real thing, especially for anyone that happened to find themselves single in mid-March in the US. And the preliminary data we have from the protests is that keeping some physical distance with masks on outside is pretty damn safe.

So when the question is, "should I get together in an enclosed house with 30-50 of my relatives coming in from all over the country," the answer should be, "no, and here's the risks and reasons why." But if the question is, "Can I go visit a dear friend an hour away who's been observing good practices and our plan is to sit outside with masks on while we catch up," the answer should be, "maybe, here's what you should keep in mind."
posted by Candleman at 11:16 PM on June 22 [143 favorites]


I think people are having a hard time, and askme may be one of their few outlets to express their fear, doubts, uncertainty, frustration etc. As answerers, I think we have a duty not to let our fear, doubts, frustration etc come into our responses.

This place is, now more than ever, a community rather than an answer production factory. And reality is, most of us don't know the answers, any of them - so I think leaving the door open for some discussion should be okay.
posted by smoke at 12:05 AM on June 23 [26 favorites]


I think this is also one of the (many) topics on which metafilter's USA-centrism is a problem. People are not always specifying even their country in these questions, let alone their region within a country. The COVID-19 situation is now very different depending on where you live. Tzikeh's assumptions in this post are also incorrect for many parts of the world, so this post itself is another example of the expectation that everyone here is from the USA. It is not unsafe to do just about any of those things in New Zealand at the moment (which admittedly is an outlier) but there are also plenty of countries where the kneejerk answer is not and should not be "no", but it would depend on the specifics and there are precautions you should take to make yourself safer. I don't see why metafilter as a supposedly international website is not an appropriate place to have those discussions and share that information.
posted by lollusc at 1:53 AM on June 23 [86 favorites]


I live outside the US/UK, so, yes, actually, on this website "but my case is special" does in fact apply to me. Normal life where I am is resuming but with many precautions and changes. I have to go to work and am expected to shop and go to the gym and socialise as normal. We have never had a lockdown.

We cannot pretend that people will simply stay in their homes forever, and it's fair for AskMe answerers to offer suggestions and advice to people based on their context. "No, you shouldn't go" is a valid answer that I've given here to a person early on who seemed a bit unclear on the risks they might post to others, as is "It sounds like you've taken enough precautions - good luck" to someone who clearly has a lot on their mind and seems to be going to great lengths to keep people they might encounter safe.

AskMe's usefulness is not in blanket answers, but in the very fabric of a family of answers from which people draw an overall conclusion (or, indeed, ignore entirely). Such is humanity.
posted by mdonley at 2:00 AM on June 23 [30 favorites]


Redstart: > It's true that if everyone follows that blanket rule it's safer than if people try to use their judgment based on the situation, because some people will make bad judgments. But that doesn't mean that not following the rule is actually dangerous in every situation.

And, as said, not even the blanket rules are the same all over the world. So the answer is most certainly not always going to be 'no'. And even where it's 'no' now, it will not be 'no' forever.

This is a global crisis and US based boilerplate answers don't cut it.
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:05 AM on June 23 [15 favorites]


This is a global crisis and US based boilerplate answers don't cut it.

I would argue that "No" isn't even a US boilerplate answer, insomuch as there are parts of the US that have responded well to the pandemic and are able to start reopening in limited ways, and then there are 26 states where the infection numbers are on the rise.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:44 AM on June 23 [15 favorites]


This is a bad question, and it reflects some bad impulses on MetaFilter.

I understand that for a lot of people, the answer is always going to be no. I would submit that at some point, even those people are going to have to dwell in the zone of complexity, but for right now, they can just stay the fuck home and always say no. But some of us are living our lives in the zone of complexity, and the answer cannot always be no. My mother, who is dying of brain cancer and who is mostly non-verbal at this point, had to go to the ER two weeks ago. I went with her, even though I knew it was a risk. And that's because I am always, constantly, weighing a whole lot of risks, only one of which is the pandemic. If I go, I might be exposing myself to coronavirus. If I don't go, then my mother, who cannot express her needs in ways that strangers can understand, will get bad care. I have to weigh those conflicting imperatives, and I don't have the luxury of easy answers. And saying "the answer is always no" is not just unhelpful: it's also kind of insulting and dismissive of those of us who are dealing with dilemmas that we cannot avoid.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:55 AM on June 23 [138 favorites]


These questions don't necessarily come from ignorance. Sometimes they come from anxiety, overwhelm and guilt. I've had a lot of guilt and internal back-and-forth over not visiting my parents during covid. I have the information, but so many people I know - even people who are taking the disease fairly seriously for this part of the country - are still seeing family members they aren't quarantined with. You can really start to question yourself when your judgment is not in line with the people in your community that you normally trust.

I posted a question about seeing my mom on mother's day. I did feel judged for asking (not saying anyone meant to come across like that in the answers - just my perception at the time) but it was still helpful to have the gut-check. I still felt awful about not seeing her but was able to stop questioning my judgment and stick to my guns.
posted by bunderful at 6:16 AM on June 23 [12 favorites]


I think it's helpful to understand why the answer is no, and I think it's more powerful to hear from people who aren't perceived as overreacting. I'm... well, calling me a COVID skeptic isn't accurate, but I'm not as worried about it as a lot of other people seem to be. I wear masks dutifully, but I've still been doing my regular grocery shopping and stuff, going out to eat once restaurants reopened, the kids have stayed in daycare, etc. I'm not living in a state of panic. I understand there are real risks, but the risk to me as a healthy, non-immuno-compromised person in a low density area with low numbers of cases who wears masks and complies with social distancing is much lower than to someone in a major city, or with an immune disease, or whatever.

So if I asked a question and got directed to a boilerplate "no", I'm not sure I'd buy it. But if someone came back and explained "I'm kind of a skeptic, but this particular aspect of your plan seems risky", I'd be more willing to listen. That's what I've been trying to do in my answers. And honestly, even though I have a lower estimation of the risks than most people, I've still been answering no to most questions.

The reason people ask these questions is because they want the answer to be yes. Just saying no, with no further explanation, isn't helpful. It may be the right answer most of the time, but it's more helpful to understand why. I can tell you that if a right triangle has one side that's 2 inches long and another side that's 3 inches long, the third side will be 5 inches long, but it wouldn't take that much longer for me to explain the Pythagorean theorem to you so that you could figure out side lengths for yourself going forward.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:22 AM on June 23 [8 favorites]


These questions don't necessarily come from ignorance.

I agree. There's nothing wrong with the questions, but some of the answers have made me wince.

I feel like others have already said this much better than I can, but because not every situation is the same, and most situations aren't clear-cut, this isn't a case where boilerplate or one-size-fits-all is going to be appropriate. (And, outside of a few exceptional situations like clear risk of self-harm, I don't think this approach would ever be right for AskMe.)

Even when the answer in terms of risks of covid is completely clear, that doesn't make it the right answer in terms of that person's life and needs. ArbitraryandCapricious's comment above about going to the ER is a perfect example of this -- purely from a perspective about risk from covid, the answer would be to not go, but that would be the wrong answer for that situation.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:47 AM on June 23 [7 favorites]


The more we learn, "no" is increasingly not the answer. There is such a thing as reasonable precautions. I've seen these questions fall all over the spectrum and for some of them, the consensus was that what the asker proposed to do was quite sensible. For those where it wasn't, I suspect that the chorus of vehement no's was more persuasive than a boilerplate statement would have been.
posted by HotToddy at 6:47 AM on June 23 [9 favorites]


Just adding my voice as someone not from the US (though unfortunately in my case no is the safest answer right now), that there are several variables at play when people ask these questions, geography and local guidelines being some of the considerations. AskMe does a great job of providing qualified and helpful guidance is a lot of nuanced situations, and I don't see why this should be any different. I mean, if you want to write 'no, it's not safe' and move on, that's okay too, but I for one would like to keep seeing advice from various perspectives.
posted by Nieshka at 7:08 AM on June 23 [3 favorites]


The answer to questions involving COVID judgment calls is and always should be "No."

We are with a few exceptions a bunch of yahoos on the Internet. We are the very epitome of people who like to express opinions without any serious expertise behind them. We like to interpret rules, go with the newspaper articles, and even our own feelings (“I'm kind of a skeptic“) when giving advice. It’s all well and good except that in this case people can die.

Unless you’re a healthcare worker or an epidemiologist, you had best be giving the most conservative advice possible, and that is "No."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:15 AM on June 23 [5 favorites]


The answer is always going to be "no."

The answer increasingly is not "no."

Both individually and as a society (/ societies) we need to weigh when the costs of staying in lockdown overweigh the benefits. Real people are suffering, and some will die from lack of social contacts and income, real injustices continue unhindered without protests, kids development is harmed, marriages are ruined, spouses abused, etc.

Usually answer is something along the lines of: "It depends, ..."
posted by zeikka at 7:43 AM on June 23 [15 favorites]


Tzikeh's likely answering about the 'hey can I go hang/go on vacay/see my out of state family' questions, but many here are jumping to worst case scenarios situations involving ER visits (yes, of course) and mental health situations (which can be yes/no).

And I get it! It's frustrating as someone who keeps an eye on COVID news when people create elaborate asks about hanging out or going on vacation or seeing their bestie. But as someone who has quit answering "no" after I had a tough-love no deleted*, even I can't get behind boilerplate. My solution for the frustration is that I don't even read those questions anymore. Do what you want, just don't come to NJ.

*I'm not popular enough to have snarky or mean answers stand.
posted by kimberussell at 7:45 AM on June 23 [6 favorites]


kimberussell: I'm not popular enough to have snarky or mean answers stand.

So you decided to try your luck with a snarky and mean dig at the moderators instead?
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:13 AM on June 23 [20 favorites]


kimberussell is right that my reasoning behind this question was stress and frustration from the barrage of questions for which the answer is clearly, obviously no. It seems every day we get a question where someone is trying to loophole-rules-lawyer a pandemic so that they can visit their cousin with her asthmatic husband and the like, and it's a steady source of extra stress/annoyance/GAH-have-you-not-read-the-news.

HOWEVER, all of you who are saying that I did not properly consider how U.S.-centric my thoughts were are absolutely right, and I'm sorry for that. I promise to try to do better all the time on MetaFilter and elsewhere.

Number Three: I hadn't thought about the fact that hearing "no" from lots of members of a respected community is more helpful than just getting one "no" and that's the end of it.

On the fourth hand, part of my frustration is exactly as Tell Me No Lies has said, in that the majority of MeFites aren't the people who should be asked about this once-in-a-lifetime medical crisis.

And lastly, ArbitraryAndCapricious, I am so sorry about your situation. I can't imagine what you're going through. If my thoughtlessness contributed to your pain, I am sorry for what I said and what I wrote.
posted by tzikeh at 8:43 AM on June 23 [11 favorites]


AskMe's Wall of No on COVID questions would keep me from asking anything about COVID honestly. And unless it's the edgiest of edge cases, I wouldn't dream of it. I've noted before that a month ago, I drove 120 miles away to see my dying grandmother, who doesn't have Zoom or a Smartphone and lives by herself. I followed all protocols. It was the right decision, for me, and for her, and one of the only things I've done in the last year that was not (at least a little) tinged in regret.

There is not a one-size-fits-all answer, except maybe compassion.
posted by thivaia at 8:47 AM on June 23 [51 favorites]


"No" to literally all situations has been demonstrated to put people's mental health and welfare at risk in ways that are very, very real and harmful to the point of death. Many places around the world are currently well past a "no."

This is important. I get the CDC's regular emails and the last one talked about how people's visits to doctors are WAY down and ER visits likewise. Some of this is people just waiting something out and hey it turns out okay. But sometimes this is them staying home because of anxiety about COVID and then they wind up having a worse problem or, over time, they get worse when they could have been treated earlier.

People are welcome to have their individual impulses be always-no. People should be mindful that other people aren't them, have differing risk tolerances and personal health conditions, and life circumstances that might honestly make a small risk of contracting a possibly-fatal disease be worth whatever it is they are thinking about doing which might also come with risks of its own. I think a lot about how you're safer on a commercial airliner (in the Before Times) than in your bathroom, but you wouldn't tell people not to take a shower.

AskMe can function as a way for people to reality-check their plans, and get feedback on whether their ideas are bad ones, and help them make plans to be as safe as possible if they need to do a thing that isn't advised. Also many people are in forced-choice situations (i.e. their workplace in the US is opening up and their choices are go to work or get fired) and giving people advice that is not "It's a death sentence to go into your office" is a compassionate way to respond.

"I'm really sorry, that sounds hard, but no" is a different answer than "You're stupid to think about this" and AskMe can be good at the former, sometimes.

I've been reading what the epidemiologists are saying. I'm also in an incredibly low-COVID area and so what might be okay for me isn't okay for my partner's mom in Arizona. I'm personally really risk-averse w/r/t COVID, haven't seen my partner in person in months and, I'll be honest, am kinda mad at my no-mask wearing neighbors and the one post-Memorial Day spreader event that put Vermont on the "bad" charts when 90% of the state is doing well, but we all muddle forward, always have. Competing priorities make it hard for people to make decisions, AskMe can potentially help
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 9:08 AM on June 23 [39 favorites]


People don't go to the CDC website, to their state's website, to check the current guidelines. They don't look at previous ask.mes or visit the wiki. They are going to ignore boilerplate because they want the answer to be yes. Or what jessamyn and others have said. I don't think more management of questions is useful here. I think MeFi members addressing individuals' concerns personally is a good thing. You may not agree with all answers, but the best response to that is to write persuasive, well-documented answers.

It's all hard. No one in my neighborhood wears a mask. I'm at home all the time and it's easy for me to forget, too. I have acute cabin fever. The news is so stressful I yell at the tv or radio sometimes, apparently a cabin fever symptom. I have to give up control every day right now, and it's not great.

How can we, as a community, help each other deal with the stress of Covid?
posted by theora55 at 9:45 AM on June 23 [5 favorites]


I think a big step forward would be a moratorium on posting any article over a month old as an answer. There was an Ask about traveling from LA to Phoenix the other day (yesterday? I don't know; what is time?) and a couple answers were posting articles from the "your shoes might kill you" era of COVID articles, which is... not particularly helpful in late June.
posted by Automocar at 9:51 AM on June 23 [17 favorites]


The answer is always going to be "no."

This is just objectively untrue. As of yesterday, you can officially (with certain safety restrictions) go get your hair cut, go shopping, and eat at outdoor restaurants in former hotspot NYC. The official public-health answer to the questions of whether you can do these things in NYC is "yes." I personally will be getting a hair cut (it's been more than six months, it looks pretty unprofessional for my professional job, and I want to get it done before any potential new rise in infection rates makes it riskier) but I will not be doing any casual/leisure in-person shopping and while there may be a place or two set up in a way that satisfies me, for the most part the outdoor setups I've seen do not have sufficient space between groups of diners for me to feel safe eating out. Those are my risk assessments, but to say that these are obvious flat "no"s when in fact these activities are now explicitly permitted is...just not true. And it undermines the credibility of "no" answers in riskier situations. If I wanted to ask Mefi whether getting a haircut was a good idea, knowing that there is a belief that "the blanket answer is 'no'" would make me feel it was a waste of time, thereby cutting myself off from possibly being persuaded that it was still too unsafe despite the change in guidance.

While there have been many good and thoughtful answers to COVID-related questions on AskMe (including many "No, this is a really bad idea, you shouldn't do this"-type answers), it has also been a place where authoritarian impulses and uncontrolled anxiety have sometimes converged to produce some unfortunate results. Both of those are understandable under the circumstances, but I think there's been enough time for some insight on that.
posted by praemunire at 10:01 AM on June 23 [43 favorites]


I vented on the latest Covid thread on the blue on how frustrated I am with California, for opening too quickly and doing too little. I'm not a Covid dove, as it were.

I'm also not an "everything is NO" person. I mean, even the original post felt the need to add things like close proximity and immunocompromised to make be able to say "No. No. No."

There are definitely cases where it's at least not obvious the answer is no. Two healthy people staying socially distant and masked on a hike together? Backyard visit with otherwise isolated people in a county with few cases? Driving around the Bay Area to drop off yeast to other MeFites? There's a line somewhere and people will ask around where they perceive the edges are.
posted by mark k at 10:19 AM on June 23 [3 favorites]


Reading the MeTa charitably, it doesn't seem like places which have reasonably loosened restrictions are really being targeted here because it's specifically talking about "but my case is special". tzikeh admits to not considering how US-centric the the post is, but even if it wasn't considered specifically I don't know that it's necessarily missed. Around here things are cautiously opening back up. We've had five cases total, all recovered, and the Territory is keeping a tightish lid on travel. If I was to do something that has been specifically okay'd by public health officials here, that's not me trying to carve out an exception for myself, so the answer isn't "no". Going out to a restaurant in New Zealand isn't a special case, so the answer isn't going to be "no".

On the flip side, there seem to be a lot of places where public health officials really do not have a handle on things, so you probably shouldn't take their word as absolute. I also think that sometimes your case might actually be special. I haven't been answering questions because I have no idea how and where to draw lines. I don't know how helpful Ask MetaFilter is going to be in drawing them either, but as with everything else I hope that the answerers post their reasoning and sources and askers think critically about the information they're given.
posted by ODiV at 10:27 AM on June 23 [1 favorite]


"Unless you’re a healthcare worker or an epidemiologist, you had best be giving the most conservative advice possible, and that is 'No.'"

With respect, that's not how the green works. Most of us aren't food scientists, but we feel confident telling people it's OK to eat whatever they're asking about. We're not marriage counselors, but we advise people to end their relationships. The reason why is because we're intelligent, thoughtful, and considerate people who want to help others. We are capable of reading and understanding news and data, and then making recommendations based off of that. Some of the recommendations aren't great, but that's true of all questions, not just health-related ones. But as a whole, I think people have been pretty responsible. Even people who say yes to doing things do so with caveats about being aware of the risks and taking precautions. No one is out here saying "hell yeah bro, YOLO". Our duty is not to be conservative; our duty is to be reasonable.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:30 AM on June 23 [28 favorites]


I don't understand why so many people post requests that boil down to, "Can we automate this thing on MetaFilter?" The filter in MetaFilter is people. That's kinda the point, it's a community of people that interact and share and converse. If you would prefer to interact with algorithms or bots, there are lots of other places to do that.
posted by oulipian at 11:03 AM on June 23 [39 favorites]


In a lot of questions, people aren't even looking for scientific advice; they're looking for moral advice. They're asking about situations where it's clear that what they're thinking of is not the safest possible action and their question is basically, "Is it morally defensible to do this thing even though it's not the absolute safest choice?" Being a healthcare worker or epidemiologist doesn't make someone more qualified to answer that question. It's a question that doesn't have a single objectively correct answer, so it's helpful to get a lot of different takes on it.
posted by Redstart at 11:05 AM on June 23 [31 favorites]


"Just Say No"

Oh wait, what did that campaign from the 70's do to society in general?

I'm very glad to see there are strong views here for examining situations with care, understanding nuance.
posted by sammyo at 11:10 AM on June 23 [5 favorites]


And saying "the answer is always no" is not just unhelpful: it's also kind of insulting and dismissive of those of us who are dealing with dilemmas that we cannot avoid.

This reminds me of a thought-provoking response I heard on, I think, Law and Order, of all places. One judge said to some hard-ass judge, something to the effect of, "your reflexive 'no' just leaves the hard decisions to the rest of us."
posted by JenMarie at 11:27 AM on June 23 [16 favorites]


The answer is always going to be "no."

This is just objectively untrue.


Speaking as someone who's generally on Team No, and most definitely always on Team Going To Your Favourite Restaurant Can Fucking Wait Because Your Area Doesn't Have A Handle On Community Spread, Testing, And Contact Tracing, I do agree that the answer is not always no.

As a personal example, a friend of mine with a number of complex, chronic health problems that put her at extremely high risk if she were to contract the coronavirus flew cross-country (in Canada) over a month ago, from an area with a higher number of cases and deaths, to a place where things were very much under control, to stay with family. This was after extensive consultation with her doctors, whose answer to the question "Can I and should I make this trip?" was essentially, "Yes, assuming you're following these here precautions, both for yourself during the trip, and for others upon arrival. And since you live alone, we think the impact on your mental and physical health by virtue of the opportunity to socialize with family you'll be staying with and being able to get out and about safely in the rural area you're heading to is a net positive."

You couldn't get me on a plane at gunpoint then, and not right now, but this was totally the right decision for her.

I think it's important that people hear reasoned arguments for and against certain things, and as people have said above there's a bunch of nuances to consider.

This is important. I get the CDC's regular emails and the last one talked about how people's visits to doctors are WAY down and ER visits likewise. Some of this is people just waiting something out and hey it turns out okay. But sometimes this is them staying home because of anxiety about COVID and then they wind up having a worse problem or, over time, they get worse when they could have been treated earlier.

My doctor's office called me yesterday asking me to schedule an appointment and to come in to get the blood work done that I've been sitting on since the pandemic/lockdown kicked off. Nothing super-pressing, but definitely necessary routine stuff that I should be following up on.

Their message was basically (and emphatically) along the lines of, "Follow our instructions for necessary precautions when you come in, but don't neglect your long-term health right now. It's still important to come in for things that aren't Covid-19 related."

So I made an appointment.

"AskMe's answer is no. If you want a second opinion, please call your doctor."

I'm lucky in that I live somewhere where we pay literally nothing out of pocket for any of the medical things the clinic called me about (blood work, a visit with my GP, etc.). It goes without saying to this audience that "call your doctor" is not a feasible option for everyone everywhere.

I think MeFi members addressing individuals' concerns personally is a good thing. You may not agree with all answers, but the best response to that is to write persuasive, well-documented answers.

Yeah, I feel like this is the way to go.

Some of the Covid-19-related questions cropping up are of the "Help me explain to this person why this is o.k/not o.k" variety, from someone who's saying "no" to something but looking for help in managing/delivering that message with people in their life, or who just wants a bit of help in feeling more comfortable pushing back on something.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:24 PM on June 23 [6 favorites]


I think one of the ways that AskMe shines is when people come asking a question that is driven by external pressure to do a thing about which they are uncertain, and pretty much every covid-related question I've seen go by has had that as a facet.

Sometimes exactly what people need is re-normalizing the "no" they're feeling when everyone around them is gaslighting them that things are fine and - in some countries anyway - "reopening" is not happening because it is safe to do so, it's just an economic decision, but even those "no" answers are nuanced and it can be helpful to hear many different angles. This is where I hate seeing a short hard no with no additional detail, it's not terribly helpful and it's pretty hostile.

There have also been some questions that have complex, difficult, no-clear-right-answer decisions involved, and hearing multiple perspectives - even ones that are way off base or making incorrect assumptions - can be helpful for determining one's own feelings in the end.

I think it's worth regarding these questions with a lot of compassion, rather than assuming the asker is bad or wrong or uninformed or has a doctor who will answer them or hasn't had that conversation already. People are struggling to get usable information, people are under tremendous social and economic pressure to do things about which they are uncertain, people with anxiety and/or specific reasons to be especially worried are having an especially hard time making well-informed decisions. That's why they're asking here.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:25 PM on June 23 [21 favorites]


Made a simple flowchart
posted by chavenet at 2:25 PM on June 23


> Made a simple flowchart

Cute, but not actually helpful. Many of the "Can I do this?" COVID questions also contain "How do I mentally adjust to not being able to do the thing?" or "How do I gently break the news to the people I love that I'm not going to do the thing with them?"
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:43 PM on June 23 [17 favorites]


Honestly, I find it more concerning overall that someone was feeding someone's pretty extreme anxiety about taking a 90 minute car trip from NYC to Philly by posting relatively old articles saying that "your shoes are going to infect you!!" in an Ask today than that people ask, "how can I safely expand my life a little?"

Thank you, yes! I think that ask is instructive in the real harms created by the caution maximalism that seems to have taken hold on Covid Green threads. This is a person who, despite not belonging to a high-risk group, has not left the apartment since March 16, and who is now saying, about a 90-minute car ride from one place with falling case counts to another place with falling case counts, "I haven't been so scared about anything, ever, in my entire life." And while it's nice that nobody seems to be saying "no! you can't go!" people are still in there posting "your shoes could kill you" links and suggesting wearing a diaper.
posted by Ragged Richard at 2:43 PM on June 23 [50 favorites]


One comment about the the green not being epidemiologists or public health professionals: things are different in different places, and in some places the public health advice is, or seems to be, being ignored, silenced, or twisted (and there's a secondary effect of people then not trusting that same public health advice). So it's not even true that a blanket statement of "just do whatever your local public health officials say" is good enough.
posted by quaking fajita at 3:31 PM on June 23 [8 favorites]


people are still in there posting "your shoes could kill you" links

But it is information from the CDC, doctors, and public health experts, offered for the OP to consider, including because there appeared to be a previous comment with unsourced "it seems to me" misinformation offered, that contradicts advice from public health experts, both about shoes, and seemingly much more importantly, about the ongoing usefulness of a 14-day quarantine. I did the research, for the OP, including because it looked like they got unhelpful and potentially dangerous information in that previous comment, so I figured I could offer reassurance to the OP and some additional ideas.

I don't understand why it is so objectionable for people to try to follow the Covid-19 posting guidelines here and offer sources to the OP to consider, while we're in the midst of a public health emergency. I am speaking from a US perspective, where it is widely reported that the pandemic appears to be getting worse.
posted by katra at 7:22 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


There is advice from public health experts and doctors that could add detail to your ideas for precautions related to shoes, e.g ("“I recommend having a dedicated pair of shoes to go out in and then a clean pair to change into before entering the house,” [emergency physician Cwanza] Pinckney told HuffPost [...] [public health specialist Carol] Winner advised taking off your shoes before you enter the house any time you’ve gone outside to work or to a public place.") and CDC: Your shoes could carry COVID-19 (WTSP / MSN) ("It's better to err on the side of caution at this time, especially with everything going on," said [Dr. Paul Nanda, Chief Medical Officer at Tampa General Hospital's Fast Track Urgent Care].)

Those links are from three and two months ago, respectively. They do not represent current public health advice and, to be frank, are an appalling way to way answer that question. Long quotes and lots of links are clearly your style, but this was not a good implementation and should have been reconsidered.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:31 PM on June 23 [39 favorites]


"let me Google that for you" is both condescending and impersonal, even when it isn't being used as a truth sledgehammer.

That is exactly the opposite of what one should find in Ask, IMHO.
posted by ashy_sock at 7:54 PM on June 23 [12 favorites]


Did you read the information in the linked articles? Do you have any sources to suggest that erring on the side of caution is not representative of current public health advice? It is my style to try to add sources to AskMe, including because of how much unsourced misinformation appears in the answers on a regular basis. If someone disagrees with the content of my comment and wants to offer the OP additional information, they can, because that's how AskMe works.

I continue to not understand why compliance with the site guidelines for posting about Covid-19 is so objectionable, but there seems to be less concern about the posting of misinformation. Do we, as a community, want to work together to do what we can to help encourage people to take reasonable precautions? Or do you want to continue engaging in personal insults against anyone who tries to share information from credible sources like we are encouraged to by the site guidelines? Why is there such a defensive response to my attempts to share information from public health experts?
posted by katra at 8:02 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


Do you have any sources to suggest that erring on the side of caution is not representative of current public health advice?

The burden of proof is in the other direction. If you want to make a claim (especially through selective quotations, from old articles) that a respiratory disease that is spread almost entirely through shared indoor air is actually spread by shoes and that this is something that people should be concerned about, you need to find much better sources.

If someone is a nurse and is working in the covid ward, then yes, contaminated shoes and clothes are a serious concern. For the rest of us, the current public health understanding is otherwise.

This might change, obviously; it's a new disease and for all we know it could turn out to be primarily transmitted by shoes. But realistically, that isn't likely to be the case.

Specifically, in the answer you provided, you used old sources, selectively quoted, to play to the asker's anxieties. That is not helpful, useful, or anything close to providing good and actionable information.

(Of course, everyone takes their shoes off at the front door anyway, making this all a moot point, right?)
posted by Dip Flash at 8:21 PM on June 23 [23 favorites]


Dip Flash, I feel like I met my "burden of proof" by sharing perspectives about how science works from public health and medical experts, and you haven't offered any sources to contradict the advice from a public health official about how it's okay to err on the side of caution. Also, maybe for some anxious people, it can be comforting to note that while scientists are working on figuring these issues out, it's okay and it's fine to take a simple precaution like taking off one's shoes before going inside. Like you say, it's a new disease, and I think anxiety from the uncertainty can be understandable, and the concluding line in that graf was from a source offering a perspective on how to navigate the uncertainty about the shoe question. The OP is free to dismiss my answer as unhelpful as they wish, but it was offered in good faith, linked to broader, more nuanced discussions, and was responsive to their question, which appeared to ask for ideas about additional precautions.

I also used a source published that day about the reliability of testing (and thus the ongoing usefulness of a 14-day quarantine), even though the information in the article wasn't breaking news. And the link to information from experts about increasing airflow to help reduce the risk of transmission was close to a month old, but you don't seem to have an issue with the age of that source, which I added to back up a sourceless answer because it seems like a really great point. I appreciate feedback, but I feel like selectively quoting and mischaracterizing my answer and sources is not a great way to communicate anything constructive to me.
posted by katra at 9:44 PM on June 23 [7 favorites]


Ya know when people point out that you can't actually make a difference, because that's the job of a well organized democracy to mobilize itself?

Yeah, you can't make a difference. Masks are now somehow symbols of a tyrannical state, and not a way to KEEP MY ELDERLY MOM FROM DYING. I have no idea how to move forward, no-kidding genocidal forces are arrayed against us, using our worst and most selfish instincts. Grown men want to flaunt their healthiness ahead of protecting my Mom by ripping off the masks. Seriously, white supremacy, police supremacy, removing the right to vote through little bureaucratic slices of free-form legalism, gerrymandering and voter-registration purges and voting location shutdowns...

I have no idea how to come back from this.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:56 PM on June 23 [8 favorites]


I continue to not understand why compliance with the site guidelines for posting about Covid-19 is so objectionable, but there seems to be less concern about the posting of misinformation.

The site guidelines for posting about Covid-19 include the phrase "Remember that the situation is evolving, and answers or posts from a short time ago may no longer be the best available information -- so take into account when the question, answer, post, or comment was posted." An answer from March -- when the US had fewer than 2000 Covid-19 deaths in total nationally -- about whether shoes can spread Covid-19 is no longer the best available information.

The CDC website has no mention of shoe cleaning; in fact, the coronavirus section as of right now has more mentions of card shoes (used in casinos to deal cards from) than of regular people wearing street shoes. The WHO website currently mentions shoes in the Myth Busters section: "The likelihood of COVID-19 being spread on shoes and infecting individuals is very low." They note that if someone is in a home with an infant who crawls on the floor, they should "consider" leaving their shoes at the door; the presence of an infant was not mentioned by the (thorough and detailed) poster you were replying to.

This part of this answer was not compliant with the site guidelines, and is misinformation.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:35 PM on June 23 [23 favorites]


The WHO website says:
As a precautionary measure, particularly in homes where infants and small children crawl or play on floors, consider leaving your shoes at the entrance of your home.
So it looks like my point that it's okay to take the simple precaution of leaving shoes at the entrance is supported by this credible source, regardless of whether or not someone has an infant or small children in their home, and thank you for adding it here to help support the concern about a sourceless "it seems to me there is no reason to worry shoes" comment, especially in the context of that Ask.
posted by katra at 10:47 PM on June 23 [3 favorites]


So, I think the above illustrates the vagaries of opinion and different risk thresholds people have.

It shows why blanket statements of any description are probably not the best move. And I think it also shows that we may have a tendency to drape our own anxieties, fears, resentment, frustration and other emotions with a cloth of objectivity, or science, or authority.

We don't really need to dig into any one particular piece of advice on ask.me to see this; many active answerers in COVID-19 related threads bring their own consistent perspectives to these answers.

When different authorities are offering changeable, different, context-laden advice, I don't think we should get too cute about being 'objective'; there is a smorgasboard of objective opinions out there are this point in time. I don't say this in a "truth is dead!! My deadshit opinion is worth as much as a NASA scientist!!" way, but in a more gentle way, that acknowledges the limitations of our current, unprecedented, environment.
posted by smoke at 11:07 PM on June 23 [11 favorites]


I would also be tempted to add, that if you feel you need to weigh in to every COVID-19 post, maybe it's a good idea to take a step back - for your own mental health, and possibly others as well.
posted by smoke at 11:09 PM on June 23 [22 favorites]


We've got some strong, loud, opinionated blocs of answerers on AskMe — people who think that breaking up or cutting ties with difficult family is always the answer, or that everyone needs more therapy, or that everyone with gender angst should at least take a moment to think good and hard about transition (I'm at least on the fringes of that bloc myself).

Maybe an unpopular opinion, but I think blocs like this can be great for the site. They're not always right. But they do a valuable service making sure that a point of view that's stigmatized in broader society is represented here, and that the arguments for it are familiar.

Still, they're not always right, and their valuable point of view should never be the only point of view represented. Sometimes, that means the mods need to remind them to be kinder and gentler so that other people feel comfortable answering.

This feels like another case of that. In a larger world where "just quit worrying" is dominant and caution is stigmatized, it's great that we've got a subcommunity here who make sure that case for staying the fuck home is represented. They're not always right. They're still doing a valuable service. But since they're not always right, their valuable point of view shouldn't be the only one.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:19 AM on June 24 [9 favorites]


Dear AskMe: Should we hold a national convention July 8-12 in a hotel ballroom in Orlando with 1,000+ delegates flying in from around the country? Many who believe Covid-19 is a government hoax and thus refuse to take any precautions?

Asking for the Libertarian Party. :(
posted by Jacqueline at 5:57 AM on June 24 [5 favorites]


winterhill, your answer makes a great deal of sense to me.

I have fast internet, but I am a single person who struggles with depression and who lives alone, in a tiny place. Despite my best attempts to keep on top of cleaning (it is not my strong suit), my place has reached a level of grubbiness that reflects that I am here 24/7.

I work with one other person (I work with many other people, but my department is very small).

Co-worker and I meet every morning via Zoom. It is ... telling how jealous I was that Co-worker's partner temporarily appeared on screen yesterday morning, ruffling Co-worker's hair and saying, "Hi, virago! Excuse me, I need the dictionary." My last in-person interaction with someone who wasn't wearing a mask was three months ago.

Sometimes a person just needs not to be alone.
posted by virago at 6:00 AM on June 24 [28 favorites]


I agree with winterhill and others.

There is a parallel pandemic sweaping my country due to solitary confinement, exploding domestic violence, and job loss. Mental health. It is mostly unmentioned in big media, but if you dig around ...

I myself fell into a depression before the crisis hit; isolation led me close to collapse. For three weeks, I hardly ate and it took hours to motivate myself to get a glass of water. After contact started again I recovered from the slump. But still need regular interaction to not relapse. Professional attention is virtually impossible to come by - very different from February when I felt depression creeping in and tried to build a team of professionals & look into hospitalization just in case. Then, I had my pick. Now, everybody is way too bus. I've been waiting for hospital callbacks for a month.

Nebulawindphone, I disagree or at least look at things differently: the problem for me at least isn't so much that people say 'no', it's that they treat others with so much contempt and aggression. Metafilter has had a problme with tough love for many years, exacerbated after 2016. I am absolutely making a tone argument and find it incomprehensible that on this site where so much lip service is being paid to the destructive effects of emotoinal abuse people can be so unkind and unempathetic about and to each other. And when it comes to mental health ... not a day goes by where I don't feel in my body like I've been stricken reading this site. Quite a number of COVID answerers seem to take their hatred of others to a whole other level, accusing others of wanting to murder their families, etc.

I am completely addicted to Metafilter, but due to the tone some people take (and which I 100% regard as emotionally abusive) I despise this in myself. Reading Metafilter is on the one had really enriching but on the other very triggering (in the usual sense, with racing pulse, migrains, the need to flee, to hide, etc) and has done a number on my self-esteem (even if the impact is mostly experienced vicariously - I hardly ever comment for the above reasons). For different reasons, I find the attitude in many answers to COVID questions (and certainly not the questions themselves) as bad or worse in mental health effects than the megathreads were.

Also plus one to the non-USian aspect of the issue.
posted by doggod at 6:55 AM on June 24 [16 favorites]


The burden of proof is in the other direction. If you want to make a claim (especially through selective quotations, from old articles) that a respiratory disease that is spread almost entirely through shared indoor air is actually spread by shoes and that this is something that people should be concerned about, you need to find much better sources.

I couldn't disagree harder. You and others keep saying things that suggest"Months old info regarding shoes isn't accurate anymore" but you don't offer up anything that would show that the months old info regarding shoes is inaccurate. If you want to make the claim that certain info is inaccurate because it is months old, the burden of proof is on you to share the new information which refutes the older information.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:57 AM on June 24 [4 favorites]


But it is information from the CDC, doctors, and public health experts

It was very old info filtered through MSN and Huffpost, and came after an earlier comment that said you probably couldn't catch the virus from your shoes. I actually took the time to look at the CDC recommendations about removing shoes and they do not appear to have anything regarding shoes as transmission sources. I did find a CDC study that found virus particles can be found on the bottoms of shoes worn by healthcare workers in COVID ICU wards but not the general COVID wards of the same hospital. That would lead me to conclude I'm not going to get the virus from my shoes unless I wear them to a hospital and/or lick them, and leaving them in the garage isn't a simple precaution, it's a pointless one.

You and others keep saying things that suggest"Months old info regarding shoes isn't accurate anymore" but you don't offer up anything that would show that the months old info regarding shoes is inaccurate.

So this is where the problem arises in Ask. Someone tosses out "Huffpost says that the CDC says the virus is on your shoes!" and it's not technically wrong but it's also not providing enough data for people to reasonably come to a different conclusion about their own situation. Individually, these answers are usually not worth jumping into a thread with a "well, actually" correction but cumulatively they're a problem particularly when they're taken as gospel and then used to shame people for not wearing full PPE while they fill up the car or whatever.

A linkdump of old, secondary sources is not as helpful as it would first appear, and is often deceptively uninformative. We should strongly encourage linking to original sources, either in addition to or instead of simplified reporting. If you're going to cite something, find the original paper or article, read it, and then link to it.
posted by stefanie at 7:55 AM on June 24 [17 favorites]


You and others keep saying things that suggest"Months old info regarding shoes isn't accurate anymore" but you don't offer up anything that would show that the months old info regarding shoes is inaccurate.

So, I actually went to the AskMe that has the link that is the source of this OMG SHOES derail (and yes, it's a derail) and actually R'd the F A.

First of all: it's a HuffPo article
Second: the article's headline is the question "Can Coronavirus Live On Shoes And Be Brought Into Our Homes?" to which I say "Betteridge's Law"

Third: The first person quoted is "public health specialist" (note it doesn't say "Doctor") whose link goes directly to her store selling "anti-microbial ponchos". This is followed by quotes from some doctors who make vague statements about porous materials and tests under laboratory conditions. In the end, the recommendation is that it couldn't hurt to leave shoes outside and to wipe surfaces that you touch frequently, which has always been good advice about avoiding diseases transferred by touch.

If you want to make the claim that certain info is inaccurate because it is months old, the burden of proof is on you to share the new information which refutes the older information.

STRONGLY disagree with this. In fact, I'd say it's directly in opposition to the normal path of scientific consensus.
The concept of respiratory viruses being transmitted by people exhaling is solid and supported by decades of research. The article's claim -- and by proxy, YOUR claim -- that it could transmitted on the soles of our shoes is (a) recent, (b) unverified and (c) an extraordinary claim which requires extraordinary proof.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 8:06 AM on June 24 [28 favorites]


Individually, these answers are usually not worth jumping into a thread with a "well, actually" correction

AskMe is only as useful as Mefites make it. If old, inaccurate data isn't worth correcting, then (imo) it's not worth complaining about. In my opinion, if it is worth complaining about, then it's worth correcting.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:06 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


There's always going to be a degree of overlap between "people who put a lot of free time into answering questions on the internet" and "people who like scolding others".

I think jessamyn deserves a lot of credit for making AskMe a less reproachful place than it would otherwise be.
posted by matthewr at 8:11 AM on June 24 [14 favorites]


my reasoning behind this question was stress and frustration from the barrage of questions for which the answer is clearly, obviously no. It seems every day we get a question where someone is trying to loophole-rules-lawyer a pandemic so that they can visit their cousin with her asthmatic husband and the like, and it's a steady source of extra stress/annoyance/GAH-have-you-not-read-the-news.

I've been thinking about this for a couple of days, and I think what I find troubling about this phrasing is that . . . it's a matter of perception that people can genuinely differ on.

I mean, I don't feel that we're being "barraged" with COVID questions, or with folks seeking to "loophole-rules-lawyer." I'm cruising Ask several times a day, and sure, I'm seeing some questions that might count as "loophole-seeking", but I'm also seeing questions about how to find certain masks, and folks looking for perspective on get-togethers or travel in the face of outside pressure from friends, family, or work, and questions about how the hell to keep your kids from bouncing off the walls, or how to get license plates quick when the DMV is mail-only, and there are plenty of regular old "What is this thing I found" and "what should I name my pet" and "Recommend books" Ask questions.

All of which is to say, while it seems obvious on the face of it, feeling barraged by loophole COVID questions is not nearly a universal reaction. And asking for a policy expansion based on feeling barraged by loophole questions seems awfully close to asking for MetaFilter - both the mods and the community - to manage your feelings for you.

Yes, this is a global emergency unprecedented in our lifetimes, and yes, we like to think of ourselves as a community who support each other. Are people with COVID questions that might be - or even definitely are - loophole-seeking not still members of this community? If we have to occasionally throw together a pile-on of "No, you really really should not lick all the doorknobs in your apartment building no matter how good they taste", is that such a burden?

And if you're feeling overwhelmed by "obvious NO" questions, or feeling strong urges to jump into lots of COVID questions with "ABSOLUTELY NOT NO WAY NO HOW" answers, it might be worth trying to take a step back and consider whether your personal feelings and perspectives are as universal or common or objective as you may think they are.

It's OK to step away from questions that push your buttons. It's . . . less OK to push for site-wide adoption of definitive positions when there is still so much unknown about the disease and wide variations of circumstances.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:13 AM on June 24 [17 favorites]


While I, like many others, strongly disagree with the idea of a template answer, I'd like to thank the OP for posting this because I think this has been a really useful conversation.

Also, yes - whatever your personal opinion on this, people need to be kinder. There is far too much snarkiness, holier-than-thou judgementalism particularly in Covid questions. I get it, answerers are anxious, so sometimes their fuses are going to be shorter than usual.

But I would really urge people to consider the impact a sarcastic, snide or hostile answer is going to have on someone who is anxious enough about Covid to post a question about whether it's safe to do a thing or not. The pandemic and lockdown has been disastrous for mental health. Until the UK government told us a couple of weeks ago that single-person households were ok to 'bubble' with another household, I had not touched another human for 3 whole months. The impact of prolonged isolation, anxiety about a new illness, work and financial stress are real. People really, really need to be kinder even if the answer is no.
posted by unicorn chaser at 8:14 AM on June 24 [16 favorites]


The article's claim... that it could transmitted on the soles of our shoes is (a) recent, (b) unverified and (c) an extraordinary claim which requires extraordinary proof.

I also think what is worth paying attention to in this instance is that it was not the subject of the question, not really. The question was about a very-anxious question asker asking about precautions for taking a drive, a drive that they had postponed for months, to the detriment of their own mental health. I think a lot of people did a good job at saying

1 these are reasonable and necessary precautions
2 these are "best possible" precautions
3 these are "almost certainly unneccesary but I guess you could also do them if it would make you feel better" precautions
4 these are precautions that you maybe could take, but they come with their own sets of downsides which are worth separate consideration

And really part of that is talking to the OP, really hearing what they are asking, and finding a way to have a compassionate response that answers the question being asked, but also in a tone that will help the asker solve their problem.

So yeah, having a second pair of shoes if you want to treat yourself like you came from a COVID ward is probably more like #3 and not #4. However, saying it in a way that implies that the OP needs to treat that advice more like #1 is where we get into trouble. Stuff like diapers or a way to pee inside someone else's moving car is more like #4.

Anxiety is a real problem, and COVID anxiety is real and really affecting AskMetaFilter, BOTH in the types of questions we see but also in the urgency level of some of the answers (and, as I've seen, in some of the flag notes). Many people are getting a steady diet of always-no or never-no from their media sources. "It depends" can be anxiety-provoking but basically in nearly all cases, it's what we've got. Be kind to yourself and others.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 9:06 AM on June 24 [47 favorites]


I've been thinking about the FPP I recently posted, titled "A full moon American fever dream," which was designed to continue the US coronavirus/political news threads, but has mostly turned into a long discussion of people sharing their personal experiences - I am very glad there is a forum for this, because it seems obvious that there is a need for a space to talk about it. A general theme seems to include concerns about people not taking the pandemic seriously and what that means for everyone else, including people who are disproportionately impacted by covid.

I am not sure what to make of how there seems to be so much energy focused in this MeTa on one part of one of my answers, which was sourced, led to general recommendations, hasn't been contradicted, and was later supported here as a general precaution, because as noted in the original source, that's essentially how science works, and I don't think it is misinformation or deceptive to suggest it. But are we finally having a discussion about how important it can be to link to quality sources? I will jump on that pyre if it is necessary to burn me at the stake in service to that larger goal. But I'm not sure that's happening if people are reading it as "these are reasonable and necessary precautions," despite the framing in the answer and the content of the links.

The first link I posted in the FPP was about what public health officials have been facing, including threats and a wide variety of personal attacks. Trump is on the attack, too, and recently referred to Democrats as intolerant and "totalitarian", as the data and Fauci contradict his denial about the scale and risks of the pandemic, and as the racism of how he is responding to the pandemic becomes more clear. It reminds me a bit of some of the challenges related to trying to share credible sources on Ask. The pandemic varies around the world, and there are a lot of competing interests and priorities and values that I don't think Ask can resolve. It's not easy and it can be exhausting, but when I feel positioned by this discussion on the same side as public health experts, it does make me want to try harder to figure out how to effectively communicate public health information.

I also hope the amount of energy that has been directed towards one part of one of my answers could also be channeled towards refusals to wear masks without a medical reason, refusals to engage in physical distancing, etc, (as warranted by local conditions), because I think if we really are going to address the mental health impacts of the pandemic, maybe we could work together to try to encourage people to do what they can to help reduce the risks for everyone.
posted by katra at 10:10 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Who on earth on Ask Metafilter is planning on doing those things? People are seriously just asking you to have some awareness of how you come across, especially when you double down on your right to lecture people.
posted by sagc at 10:23 AM on June 24 [22 favorites]


I will jump on that pyre if it is necessary to burn me at the stake in service to that larger goal.

The first link I posted in the FPP was about what public health officials have been facing, including threats and a wide variety of personal attacks....It reminds me a bit of some of the challenges related to trying to share credible sources on Ask.

This discussion between obviously well-informed users about whether it’s unduly extreme to warn people about coronavirus on shoe bottoms is in no way comparable to being burned at the stake or the personal attacks public health officials are facing. What people are providing here is free advice from strangers on the internet. No one here has the weight or, more importantly, responsibility of a doctor or public health official. Choosing to give advice here is voluntary and anyone can stop at any time. Feeling this level of attack because other advice givers disagree with you (even vehemently) is not reasonable.
posted by sallybrown at 10:33 AM on June 24 [25 favorites]


And, you know, the point of Ask is to actually help the people asking the questions. When I start feeling like my participating there becomes more about how it fulfills or entertains or soothes me, or the outlet it provides me for unleashing my own anxieties, stresses, etc (“definitely dump this ass who sounds exactly like my ex who I’m still angry about and let me tell you why!”), it’s usually a sign that I’m not really helping the Asker, I’m trying to help myself.
posted by sallybrown at 10:38 AM on June 24 [21 favorites]


Feeling this level of attack because other advice givers disagree with you (even vehemently) is not reasonable.

I don't appreciate the mind-reading, but fwiw, I have had to learn how to develop thick skin, and I was trying to say that as unhelpful and uncharitable as a lot of this feedback feels, I'm still motivated to try to figure out how to do better. But in the event that people aren't following my links, or if I am being too subtle in trying to navigate a discussion that feels like an unfair pileon that is hard for me to process and quickly respond to so many people, I am trying to speak up on behalf of marginalized communities disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, as an anti-racist and anti-ableist form of action. I read the defensive responses and I am processing the feedback with those perspectives in mind, because I would like to help build a more constructive and helpful community.
posted by katra at 11:28 AM on June 24


I am trying to speak up on behalf of marginalized communities disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, as an anti-racist and anti-ableist form of action.

I think those marginalized communities don't need you to speak for them with outdated information you refuse to interrogate or screen out and with walls of text quotes that alienate folks who you're supposedly trying to help. Also very DARVO of you to call pushback against an incorrect precaution "defensive responses". How can we push back against that? It's prefect lawyer speak because there's no way to refute it. If we don't like being called "defensive" well, that's proof to you that we're defensive! Seriously that's a loaded statement that's super inappropriate.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:34 AM on June 24 [20 favorites]


Yeah, katra, I think there's a major disconnect between what you think you're doing and the effect it's having.

How does an answer that acknowledges that sometimes you need to go see someone for caregiving, for your own mental health, to protest not promote anti-racism and anti-ableism? How does a link to an article about how, if you're a nurse, maybe you should switch your shoes, promote those goals?
posted by sagc at 11:37 AM on June 24 [9 favorites]


I am trying to speak up on behalf of marginalized communities disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, as an anti-racist and anti-ableist form of action.

Frankly, this comes off as really condescending to those marginalized communities.
posted by armadillo1224 at 11:55 AM on June 24 [20 favorites]


Hey folks, this feels like it's turning into a dogpile on katra, which was not my intent when I brought it up (and part of why I did not link to it). So maybe let's turn the conversation back to how we can help people understand risks and when they're worth taking rather than dwelling on this one minor detail?
posted by Candleman at 11:57 AM on June 24 [14 favorites]


Hi, katra, FWIW I really appreciate your answers and the obvious effort you put into them. It also feels wrong to single out a single person when it's mostly a synergistic effect of more than one person vehemently representing a perspective and coagulating into an occasionally antagonistic and hostile stance that feels so intimidating.

BTW, I think I understand where you are coming from with the anti-racism and anti-abelism observation: given that people who are vulnerable from one POV (racism/ chauvinism, health, economic status) are ALSO seeing worse outcomes for COVID, trying to increase caution seems supportive of these groups.

But there is the other perspective, too - the fact that a surfeit of caution and particularly expressing it in too aggressive a manner can also feel like an attack to people who are vulnerable in certain ways: if you feel you have no choice other than act in an apparently less cautious manner or if you have less mental fortitude than others...

But mostly I just wanted to say that I really appreciate you katra & actually also the impulse that led to this thread. Also, even though as mentioned above there are (some) answers to COVID that feel designed to be hurtful, i personally find it hard to be completely angry about them - given the way this whole thing has gone down, it's not impossible to understand why attitude sharpen. The reality is that it seems incredibly difficult to navigate the info that is out there given the fear and utter confusion that seems to dominate in the media space.

For example, I've found it impossible to figure out what if anything is going on vis-a-vis various COVID strains - a lot of sources (in various languges) mention several strains, including the more virulent European strain. Just this week a 'COVID specialist' at my local hospital was quoted as talking about this. Meanwhile other sources - some seeming more founded than the European strain people - emphasize that there are no different strains, etc.

Same deal with reinfection. First it's possible, then it wasn't actually live virus, then we don't know, then it seems resistence only works for 2-3 months, then the same doctor at my local hospital talks about several reinfected patients, while looking for other sources describe a totally different situations, etc. Meanwhile, the WHO displays a top page announcement on Google to NOT go the doctor if you are sick, while all around me people drop from various cardiovascular, hepatic, etc. complications and our doctors chide us for staying home and not taking our health issues to professionals. It's crazy-making.
posted by doggod at 12:10 PM on June 24 [11 favorites]


I don't feel like I've taken the hard line that some seem to imply that I do, or may be reading into my tendency to try to avoid being a lecturing or condescending voice on AskMe by instead trying to share sources and let the Asker decide. As to AskMe generally, I also think a 'no, not under any circumstances' type of answer is either an extreme outlier or a strawperson that is overheating what could be a more nuanced and respectful discussion here. People have different communication styles, risk tolerances, values, priorities, research abilities, assessments of sources, etc, and there isn't going to be a perfect agreement on what those are, which is part of why AskMe answers are so varied.

I also have to leave it to others to reflect on the nature of the pushback against my defense of a correct general precaution, backed up by multiple credible sources and how science works generally. If anything, please read this FPP about ableism and racism.
posted by katra at 12:42 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]


The level of snark/scorn that gets leveled at some question askers is not at all unique to metafilter in my experience, at least during this pandemic. "Just stay the f*** at home" was a refrain that was all over twitter and reddit (at least, the city-specific subreddits I frequent, which are for places where there is no significant covid-skeptic population).

I'm more of a mind that this is an unprecedented (is that word dead yet?) situation where there are a lot of real question marks still (e.g. what doggod refers to above) and many people IRL and across the internet are reacting to it by doubling down on whatever seems to promise safety, rather than this being a trait of the metafilter community in particular.

As someone who is pregnant and who has been reading a lot of baby forum stuff I have a whole bunch of thoughts about the idea of safety/risk and how different people react to it differently and there are definitely lots of people for whom minimal risk is the only acceptable amount of risk. And babies are way better studied than covid-19, so answers should be easier. And yet.
posted by quaking fajita at 12:42 PM on June 24 [5 favorites]


Katra, can you describe more the failings of answers that take a more conversational approach, and don't just try to provide All The Information, from your view?

Like, what is the actual connection between what you think you're providing and anti-racism? How are other people failing to do so? Otherwise, you seem to be conflating two absolutely different things to defend your particular style.
posted by sagc at 12:50 PM on June 24 [5 favorites]


I also have to leave it to others to reflect on the nature of the pushback against my defense of a correct general precaution, backed up by multiple credible sources and how science works generally. If anything, please read this FPP about ableism and racism.

You... gave an incorrect/outdated source. All you had to do was say- "oops that one's out of date, I'll retire that one from rotation." Instead you're calling folks who would prefer their answers to their covid questions to be scientific and recent and up to date instead of old and fear mongering, racist and ableist? You are using the language and terms of anti-racism to push back against criticism of yourself so I really have to ask... are you white? Because this seems like a pretty fragile thing to me.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 12:51 PM on June 24 [14 favorites]


I have been thinking a lot about risk assessment and decision making recently, since things are opening back up around here and we're trying to make personal choices about what we're comfortable with. Part of my job is doing risk mitigation on systems that can potentially kill a lot of people (no one wants to find their airplane suddenly meeting the ground, believe me), and after doing this for long enough I've learned two things:

1) People are terrible at assessing risk. Just really, absolute garbage. (There was a fairly recent study about this which I can now no longer find.)
2) Sometimes the mitigation is just not worth it.

In my industry (aviation/space/defense), we think of risk in three dimensions: likelihood, consequence, and "burndown" or the steps required to get from initial risk level to final risk level. You can have risks that are anywhere from virtually impossible to almost certain and consequence from "someone may bruise their arm" to "many dead, millions in damage." From my viewpoint, one of the reasons why questions about what is safe less risky and what is more risky is that people who are not used to assessing risk ignore or are not aware of the second axis on the chart - the consequence. Something else that people are also not usually aware of is that option A could be very likely but of low consequence, option B could be nearly impossible but of very high consequence, and they both carry the same amount risk according to our risk assessment systems.

In my opinion, a lot of the discussion around Covid risk does a generally poor job of identifying the likelihood of getting sick. And there's also the conflation of "Can the virus transmit to me?" versus "Can I get sick from this?" which are two separate questions. Touching your groceries does not carry the same likelihood of transmission or sickness than being in a confined space with a known carrier of the disease.

The consequence factor is much more personal and I think where a lot of the friction arises in some of these questions. The personal consequence to you getting sick will be very different from the consequence to me, because we have different risk factors and personal circumstances. And there are still a lot of unknowns about how the disease affects people, which is a totally valid reason to assume the consequence will be higher than your current situation suggests.

The third axis here, the "burndown" as we call it, is a bit trickier because it only outlines the mitigation steps and does not really take in to consideration any side effects. But it is our primary method of determine whether a risk mitigation is cost effective. Remember, you can never eliminate risk - you can only reduce it to an acceptable level. Sometimes that acceptance level is going to be relatively high because the mitigation is simply too costly. This is the mental calculus everyone is dealing with right now, and it's going to be a very personal decision. Wearing a mask has a large influence on your likelihood with very little cost, so it makes sense to adopt that measure, right? But if, for example, the situation is different - "my daily exercise routine is a run down a road that is only trafficked by vehicles and I never see another pedestrian, but wearing a mask interferes enough that it's preventing me from exercising" - then you're already starting from a low likelihood and the "cost" of adopting this mitigation (losing out on exercise) is going to outweigh the benefit (reducing an already very low likelihood).

This came out long-winded, and I'm not sure if there's any benefit to anything I wrote down. I guess what I'm trying to say is a couple of things:
-Properly assessing risk is hard and we are all bad at it.
-Identifying the impacts is very situational.
-You can never remove all risk, and sometimes the costs outweigh the benefits. It's important to think about our lives holistically when we make these decisions.

Of course, there's always going to be the next risk assessment you have to make after any of these decisions are made; the subsequent risk you pose to others should not be ignored.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:59 PM on June 24 [42 favorites]


I don't feel like I've taken the hard line that some seem to imply that I do

I don't either, for what it's worth. I feel the last time there was an AskMe about covid-19 that derailed to your commenting style, you got advice about how to write answers related to covid-19, people kept mentioning that your answers were too long and too frequent. The answer you left about shoes is a reasonable length and it's the only one you left in the thread and people still don't care for it.

It is, however, the only comment in that thread that has any links in it. I think it's really weird that people are taking offense to the information in your links because they are supposedly out of date, but don't want to share any links (in this thread or that one) that would help show people that they're out of date? Like, it wasn't just a HuffPo article, there was a link to a CDC study that says it can live on the bottom of shoes. I'm willing to listen to anybody who says that coronavirus cannot live on shoes, but I've already tried finding the info myself and I can't seem to find it, and the people who seem to take it as a given that coronavirus can't live on shoes aren't sharing links to info that shows that coronavirus can't live on shoes.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:01 PM on June 24 [6 favorites]


There are quite a few comments in this thread linking to and describing the CDC study as incorrectly summarised in the HuffPo article, to the extent that it's not about "Always change shoes" and to me sounds much more like "Don't forget that your shoes are a surface, too, if you're in an environment when you're likely to be physically tracking spores." Mostly thinking of Stefanie and The Pluto Gangsta's posts upthread

I guess I haven't seen any defenses as to why linking to it *isn't* just increasing the anxiety of the poster without actually addressing the risk/consequence tradeoff backseatpilot mentions.
posted by sagc at 1:05 PM on June 24 [4 favorites]


there was a link to a CDC study that says it can live on the bottom of shoes

And again, this is why it's important to be able to read the source, because that's not what the study says. It only says that virus can be found on shoes but clearly states that they don't have data on the viability of those samples, and yet it's reported here as "can live" on the bottom of shoes.

It's a small but important distinction. If I didn't have the source study I might believe that they proved the virus can survive on shoes. They have not.
posted by stefanie at 1:19 PM on June 24 [17 favorites]


I guess I haven't seen any defenses as to why linking to it *isn't* just increasing the anxiety of the poster without actually addressing the risk/consequence tradeoff backseatpilot mentions.

Ooh, I can (try to) defend it. (This is all just my view of things.) To me, that Mefite that posted that anonymous AskMe is already very anxious about how risky their behaviors are, and their list of precautions is an attempt to help regulate their anxiety. All those things they listed are to help them feel less anxious, and the list of things they want to do, while their list has a number of things on it, none of things seem expensive/time-prohibitive- it's just like, lots of extra things to remember, extra precautions to take. And "remove shoes, leave outside" was already on the list.

So (to me) when katra mentioned how the coronavirus can live on shoes, if *I* had asked that AskMe, I would be like: "Okay, good job on the shoes thing self, I am feeling confident about my choices to feel safer and reduce my anxiety about coronavirus." Like, obviously I can't speak for the anonymous Mefite who wrote the AskMe, but personally, when I am doing some anxiety-reducing but average-ish things and someone mentions there's good reason for one of the things I was already going to be doing, that would help me feel *less* anxiety.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:28 PM on June 24 [3 favorites]


And again, this is why it's important to be able to read the source, because that's not what the study says. It only says that virus can be found on shoes but clearly states that they don't have data on the viability of those samples, and yet it's reported here as "can live" on the bottom of shoes.

It's a small but important distinction. If I didn't have the source study I might believe that they proved the virus can survive on shoes. They have not.


I did read the study on the CDC website, they just included the part about viability at the very end (like, the second to last sentence, ha), and I didn't fully understand what they were saying until you took the time inthread to point out that I was wrong- which has been a point I keep circling back to- if someone posts something wrong, the best thing to do is just correct the error. (This will be my last comment, I'm going to bounce out of this thread now.)
posted by 23skidoo at 1:38 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]


To me, that Mefite that posted that anonymous AskMe is already very anxious about how risky their behaviors are, and their list of precautions is an attempt to help regulate their anxiety.

This is actually not always a helpful strategy for mitigating anxiety, but can perpetuate it instead. Anxiety is not itself costless. Under those particular circumstances, that Mefite, I thought, needed to be talked down a little rather than encouraged to adopt ever more elaborate protective measures. A 90-minute car ride in an area where infection rates are way down, for goodness' sake.

Obviously, that's my own judgment call and I don't pretend that one can't reasonably disagree with it, but an anxiety-disorder sufferer myself it sometimes seems pretty clear that a person is in the grip of unmanaged anxiety and could use some gentle, respectful de-escalation rather than the winding up that is endorsing and recommending further amplifying their precautionary measures.
posted by praemunire at 2:14 PM on June 24 [29 favorites]


I cannot believe this pile on. That was an anonymous question. Are you trying to say that every one of you have had Covid questions and have been dissatisfied with a single poster’s response? Of course not.

Some folks do not like Katra’s particular style of responding to questions. So fucking what? Who put you in charge of the green? I have been wincing at some of the responses to questions on the green since the day I got here. That is the reality for virtually all of us. I am appalled by how this one extremely active and generous participant here on MF has somehow become, seemingly, a scapegoat for people’s bottled up frustrations with the green in general.

Maybe that’s not what is happening. But some of the commenters here have been pretty damn sloppy themselves. There was no posting of a “your shoes will kill you” link. Maybe that’s how some of you chose to interpret it in a fit of hyperbole. Some poster said that link was from March. I went back, and it was from April. Does that mean anything? Yes. It means none of us is perfect but I’m not going to hound anyone personally over that small detail because that’s bullshit. It is small and petty of us to dig so deeply into one individual response or responses in general. I mean, there was a lot of compassion discussed further up in the thread but I have not seen a lot of compassion toward Katra. Why are y’all playing gotcha? WTF?

More than once there have been discussions here by people pointing out that some of the information about health issues or about food could make people sick or dead. The response has always been that people who post questions get to take what they like and leave the rest.

That’s a very Al-Anon perspective, which I highly endorse. If you don’t like the response given by Katra or any other person to a question, flag it if it is truly against the guidelines or skip the hell over it. That is excellent advice if you posted the question and it is even better advice if you did not post the question.

I get that these are challenging times. Apparently we are getting on each other‘s nerves here on MetaFilter. Fine It happens. But stand the fuck down when it comes to attacking individuals for their efforts to be helpful. Maybe you don’t find them helpful. You don’t have to. You can just ignore them.

(And for fucks sake asking anyone to attempt to clarify a defense when they’ve been jumped on for no good reason is horrifying to me. There have been thousands of shitty answers in the history of the green and somehow y’all have decided to pick on a member who works her ass off to make this place better?)

I hope Katra doesn’t button. I am deeply disappointed by how this thread has evolved. if anybody has specific comments they want to address to me, I suggest they send me a message directly because I’m not coming back into this thread. Be well, folks.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:24 PM on June 24 [14 favorites]


PS: For those of you who don’t know about Katra’s work here, check out her profile at https://www.metafilter.com/user/295999.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:33 PM on June 24 [5 favorites]


Apparently we are getting on each other‘s nerves here on MetaFilter.
Apparently we are.
posted by neroli at 2:47 PM on June 24 [7 favorites]


so I really have to ask... are you white?

I've discussed my racial identity elsewhere on Metafilter, and in the context of this MeTa, I don't feel great about offering up the complexities of myself for the type of discussion that is happening here. When I talk about anti-racist and anti-ableist action, I am trying to explain some of the core values that inform my posting and commenting here. While I don't think there is anything more constructive that I can add to this discussion, I don't plan to button. Reactions like the ones I have received here create more motivation for me to try harder to become more effective in how I participate on Ask.
posted by katra at 3:27 PM on June 24 [3 favorites]


But some of the commenters here have been pretty damn sloppy themselves. There was no posting of a “your shoes will kill you” link. Maybe that’s how some of you chose to interpret it in a fit of hyperbole. Some poster said that link was from March. I went back, and it was from April. Does that mean anything? Yes. It means none of us is perfect but I’m not going to hound anyone personally over that small detail because that’s bullshit.

There were two links, one from 3/25/20 from Huff Post, and the other from 4/15/20 from MSN. Everyone makes errors, but that wasn't one of them.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:24 PM on June 24 [5 favorites]


Can we get a mod in here to steer this convo appropriately or...?
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:25 PM on June 24 [7 favorites]


[I feel like people may have already circled around to a close on the sidebar about katra's comment and that ask etc, but, yes, if that hasn't already organically settled for now then let's aim explicitly to so do. There are always going to be conflicts in expectations, and differences between intent and impact, and talking that stuff out in metatalk can be necessary sometimes, but let's try to make sure it manages to be constructive wherever possible and try to avoid situations that end up feeling like pile-ons.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:31 PM on June 24


Some folks do not like Katra’s particular style of responding to questions. So fucking what? Who put you in charge of the green?

I think this comment doesn't... uh, do a tonne to lower the heat in the room, and kinda not cool to lob a bomb then run off. I think people are responded to Katra in particular because - for better and for worse - I feel like she has dominated many conversations about COVID-19 on Metafilter (and I do mean for better and for worse. She has put an awful lot of work into gathering and synthesising information, and it should be acknowledged).

Personally, I feel that her omnipresent voice in COVID-19 content is a bit too much, especially given that she has no particular medical expertise and is more akin to a covid enthusiast as it were. The linking etc can lead an air of authority and certainty to her responses, which are not necessarily warranted when there is so much uncertainty about this virus and what we should do about it.

And I think that relates to this broader thread, in the sense that people are - understandably, but in some ways inappropriately - craving certainty when it comes to COVID-19 that currently just doesn't exist. The reality is, there is no one set of rules for every circumstance; the situation is changing on a near-daily basis; we don't actually know very much about this virus and its impact. Many of the questions are as much requests for empathy and and comfort as they are for revised guidelines.

This doesn't mean everything is a free for all, but I think all of us should be mindful of just how qualified even a lot of official COVID-19 advice is (for example, here in Singapore, the government initially said that masks were not required and didn't make a big difference in reducing spread; now they have completely reversed and are insisting people wear masks everywhere except when exercising. The Australian government said that installation of a contact tracing app was critical to containment efforts; turns out it's been over a month and no health authority has used it successfully. Even govt advice has its limits).
posted by smoke at 5:32 PM on June 24 [21 favorites]


That 'can i relocate' thread, and more than that the precursor thread, were painful to me to read because of the obvious stress. The person had already reduced their risk--even with the proposed travel--well below the median New Yorker following the rules. But so much anxiety.

To be explicit about this thread: Some people are special. The rules are set to deal with individual safety and with societal risk. A lot of risks that are near zero for one person, like getting in your car and driving some place, or going to the beach, needed to be managed because you couldn't have a lot of people doing it. But they weren't intrinsically risky.

You don't want to emphasize that, because at the beginning, and now again, some people are selfish assholes. They might be like "no one else is using the trail, so it's completely safe" (like some cheaters who pissed me off in my area) and the chorus of "you're going to kill us" made sense as enforcement.

I'm trying to minimize my risk in every way I consider reasonable, beyond the laws. But one of my goals was so that people who needed to work in grocery stores would be safer, since they couldn't be protected by the rules. You know who else I want to be able to have exceptions? People with dying parents they'll never see, or mental health needs, and so on.

To put this another way: Public health guidelines are saying its OK to get fucking takeout, it might be OK for someone to see a dying parent.

So yes, definitely allow questions. There are people who deserve exceptions.
posted by mark k at 10:25 PM on June 24 [15 favorites]


I do listen to medical experts. oh, you mean your medical experts the ones in America?... all over this damn site... can't even discuss the killing of a indigenous Canadian without it being back to America... so no, I'm not gonna support a blanket no to askme. I mean, if I was honest what does the CDC, run by a failing death cult of a nation have to do with accurate advice?? I don't drop that in questions so maybe you all could stop the tough love that people have been saying is needed for years... unless you equate tough love, and firm logical answers with only the ones that seem obvious to you?
posted by kanata at 12:45 AM on June 25 [10 favorites]


saying needs to stop for years.
posted by kanata at 12:46 AM on June 25


I apologize for being shouty and sweary but stand by the points I was trying to make overall. Official policy has been, for years, that mods do not police the responses on the green for accuracy. This feels to me like a disagreement on tone or style rather than accuracy but I have been wrong about many things, and this may be one of them.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:40 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]


I stopped reading any AskMe relating to COVID for my own mental health. Blanket "nos" and even worse, harsh judgement do not help. Labeling anyone who asks if something is okay as a loophole seeker is cruel. If they didn't care, they wouldn't be asking.

I have struggled with contamination OCD. Some of the advice given is frankly the sort that plays into my darkest fears.

I have seen people call a poster a potential killer if they didn't call the authorities on their business neighbours who were likely immigrants. I have seen a much adored and immunocompromised poster told they were putting a delivery person's life at risk for getting shopping delivered.

Unless someone is planning a hundred person nude cuddle party in a Phoenix nursing home, then please cut them some slack.
posted by daybeforetheday at 2:41 AM on June 25 [28 favorites]


Unless someone is planning a hundred person nude cuddle party in a Phoenix nursing home, then please cut them some slack.

There was an AskMe close to that in late Feb, and the general consensus then was "go, have fun!" Love in the time of Coronavirus.

Actually, this is a good example of how quickly situations around Covid shift and change. It's understandable that people have questions, and the answer isn't going to always be "no" . Let's at least listen to the question, and assume the asker is an intelligent adult, and go from there.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 4:42 AM on June 25 [6 favorites]


I think one of the places AskMe shines is in its ability to provide perspective - and the more perspectives we get, the better. When I post an ask, a predominance of advice in one direction or the other can sway me, but at the end of the day I'm the grown-up who has to make the decision to eat the cat-lick soup or not. Or to leave my shoes at the door or not (I do.)

We've had so much information thrown at us about COVID and so much of it has changed rapidly from day to day, and from place to place, that all we can know for sure is that there are no guarantees. There's always been an understanding on AskMe that the responses are not designed to hold up in court - they're the best an individual responder can do based on their own knowledge and understanding of the situation in question.

I feel like piling onto anyone in this thread is inappropriate, but I especially feel like katra has gone out of her way to be transparent about her sources when she posts. The fact that anyone who read her response can actually clink the links she provided, read the articles, and then make their own informed decision about the content is proof that the OP of that question could do the same. To me, that's the best any of us can do, and better than most of us tend to do when we respond.

I really hope this thread doesn't discourage katra from participating; I really value her voice here.
posted by invincible summer at 10:22 AM on June 25 [8 favorites]


For how long?

Until over half the world is immunized, either through infection and recovery or via vaccine. Until then it's just an hour or two away by plane, probably less, no matter where you are.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:33 AM on June 25 [2 favorites]


Until then it's just an hour or two away by plane, probably less, no matter where you are.

This is only relevant if a meaningful number of people are taking planes in your area and not self-quarantining afterwards. Lots of places within a 1-2 hour flight of NYC (including my city) didn't see anywhere near the same level of explosive growth. The risk is so much different in a place where under 1% of tests are coming back positive vs. 10-30%, and where people are generally being fairly cautious. Most activities that are ambiguous enough to ask about on AskMe could be worth the risk in some cities right now (especially outside of the US) and not in others.

I'm definitely on the more paranoid end of things - I haven't entered any building other than my home since mid-March - and even I don't think "the answer is always no" for every possible amount of risk, particularly in areas where there is good testing coverage and a low, stable number of cases. There are risks associated with never leaving your home, never doing X somewhat-important errand and never seeing another human being, which also need to be considered in the equation. Sometimes maximizing coronavirus precautions is the smartest path, but often other factors are also important.

This is even more true when the risk being discussed is purely theoretical. It's really misleading to link articles showing virus particles being detectable on whatever object and call that "scientific proof" that these things must be sterilized before it's safe to be in the same room. That kind of thing just feeds people's fears and derails from discussion of far more meaningful risks. I get that those commenters have the best intentions and are not purposefully misleading people, but that's why public safety experts exist. People that actually do have the expertise to look at those kinds of studies and make educated guesses about the risks of certain activities. Even in the many places where politicians are pushing to open things prematurely, you can hear a huge chorus of public safety experts saying that it's a terrible idea, that we all need to be wearing masks indoors, that our social bubbles still need to stay small, etc. You do not hear the same chorus warning about the dangers of things like the ground or physically-distanced interactions outside.
posted by randomnity at 12:15 PM on June 25 [7 favorites]


Going back a little ways but also on the topic of providing accurate answers,

Just saying no, with no further explanation, isn't helpful. It may be the right answer most of the time, but it's more helpful to understand why. I can tell you that if a right triangle has one side that's 2 inches long and another side that's 3 inches long, the third side will be 5 inches long, but it wouldn't take that much longer for me to explain the Pythagorean theorem to you so that you could figure out side lengths for yourself going forward.

I wanted to note that there is no 2-3-5 right triangle.
posted by eviemath at 2:45 PM on June 25 [10 favorites]


Oh thank God. I've been staring at that comment since it was made wondering if I had somehow forgotten my middle-school math.
posted by praemunire at 2:53 PM on June 25 [6 favorites]


Haha, my bad. It’s 3-4-5.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:54 PM on June 25 [4 favorites]


I just thought this year sucked so hard that spacetime distorted and we were now in hyperbolic geometry.
posted by biogeo at 8:19 PM on June 25 [9 favorites]


Until then it's just an hour or two away by plane, probably less, no matter where you are.

Jesus Christ, can we please stop with the American-centricity of this discussion for just this one thread if nowhere else? There are at least 30 million of us down here who are about an 8 hour flight (on airlines that aren't flying right now) to anywhere with more than a handful of active cases.
posted by lollusc at 8:46 PM on June 25 [25 favorites]


winterhill: I'm aware that it's an unpopular viewpoint, but I don't want to live in a world where we can't meet new people "until there's a vaccine".

Assuming that 'meeting' includes touching and other forms of physical closeness here:
I don't think that's an unpopular viewpoint, I think it's widespread. I think that no one wants that. But some of us feel that it can be avoided, and some feel that it's unfortunately necessary.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:11 AM on June 26


I want to put in a plug for remembering that individual "covid risk" is not just the risk to our own personal health, but also the risk that we could do harm by passing along the virus to someone whose health is at greater risk. Or, to put it another way, a lot of the discussion above has been talking about individual risk, when this pandemic is a collective risk.

This is not to invalidate any conversations about risk that are happening. Everything we do is a balancing act in this respect, and we do have to weigh other health risks against covid risk and make hopefully informed and compassionate decisions in that respect. Rather, this is a reminder to expand the discussion and look at the whole, collective picture.

This is hard! We're talking about trying to figure out how individual decisions or actions impact emergent phenomena (emergent in the scientific/mathematical/computer science technical sense) within a complex system where we don't yet have full information (though we're a little better informed than we were a couple months ago).

One of the things that I've, personally, found discouraging in the past month or so has been what has felt like a turn toward individualist reasoning and responses and away from collectivist reasoning and responses, though. Eg. with many US states seemingly giving up on their coronavirus response efforts. Mutual aid efforts are still going on, of course, but they're not getting the effusive wider media attention that they got at the beginning of shutdowns in North America. Perhaps we can keep this in mind in both Ask and MetaTalk threads, and also brainstorm answers that involve collective care solutions?
posted by eviemath at 6:46 AM on June 26 [11 favorites]


I want to put in a plug for remembering that individual "covid risk" is not just the risk to our own personal health, but also the risk that we could do harm by passing along the virus to someone whose health is at greater risk.

This is very important to remember! It also adds to the nuance of each individual scenario, because someone who is basically never in a position to infect anyone else can tolerate a higher level of risk (ethics-wise) than someone who regularly interacts with strangers (even just for essential tasks and even with precautions), or at the most extreme end, someone who lives with a highly-vulnerable person. This information is not always provided in questions, but it's another relevant part of the equation when it is.
posted by randomnity at 7:44 AM on June 26 [2 favorites]


It is important to remember, for sure, but I think most commenters DO remember it. That's actually a good argument to not redirect/auto-answer questions: The asker may not have considered it, but commenters are good about reminding them that it's not just about them.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:12 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


My argument a bit ago is that some people are in fact special precisely because this is a collective risk. Public guidelines should be written such that we expect most people will follow them. AskMe is about individuals, and can make finer grained judgments.

For me It's why "I miss my friends, is it OK to host an in person book club or board game night or dinner parties" is almost certainly no because that's a class of activities that, if allowed, would mean a lot of people start reforming a lot of connections that'd make the virus easier to spread.

Seeing a very sick parent, or even a child before they move out of the country, might be a similar individual risk, but it's much narrower class of people who'd be "allowed" to do this, thus lower collective risk and for me (depending on some other specific factors of course) open for discussion.

FWIW many AskMes I've paid attention to make sense only if people are worried about collective risk. Sometimes it's explicit ("You're going to give me Covid") but often it's subtext. Being a bit nasty to people, which I don't endorse, is a way of helping enforce norms.
posted by mark k at 8:47 AM on June 26 [3 favorites]


I'm aware that it's an unpopular viewpoint, but I don't want to live in a world where we can't meet new people "until there's a vaccine". I just don't think that'd be a worthwhile life.

Except this is some people's actual lived reality, and my life and my partner's life are absolutely worthwhile. My god.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:09 AM on June 26 [20 favorites]


Except this is some people's actual lived reality, and my life and my partner's life are absolutely worthwhile. My god.

What is worthwhile for one person may not be worthwhile for another; we all draw our own lines in this life. I, frankly, am not strong enough to do what this pandemic is demanding of me, and that's a wall I keep slamming into with no ready solutions. I won't be able to slam into it forever, and I just have to hope I can somehow get out of it without hurting anyone else.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:22 AM on June 26 [5 favorites]


This occurred in the last of these conversations--people with partners/families seem readily to forget that if you happened to be living on your own in March in U.S. states that instituted lockdown, you have been in social isolation for upwards of three months now. That prolonged social isolation can be severely harmful to mental health is not controversial. This is another set of pressures that will be affecting some individuals asking questions on Mefi differently from others. Last weekend I did take a ten-minute car ride with someone (both of us masked, and using sanitizer, and never touching) to get to a park where we could take a distanced walk. That is technically not forbidden under NYC rules anymore, but it is a bit more of a risk than I have taken before "just" for social contact. But it is literally the first purely social (i.e, not in the course of obtaining essentials) in-person interaction I've had in three and a half months. Depression will kill you, too; a friend of a friend died of its indirect effects just this week. Individualized thoughtful balancing taking into account both personal and communal repercussions is necessary.
posted by praemunire at 1:16 PM on June 26 [23 favorites]


Arguably, there are socio-cultural, collective aspects to the health harms of isolation and depression. At the least, it's an issue that many people are facing, which makes it a collective issue. So what are some potential collective responses to help with mental health care in regions where coronavirus risk is still high/increasing?
posted by eviemath at 2:22 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]


I'm late to this thread, but as a health professional who was, in fact, working on COVID units and doesn't want to go back, it's been a while since I have had to start answering questions and then stop and delete them. It's all the frustration I get for people who won't make any lifestyle adjustments after a major medical event, but it's like, a global one.

Also people are starting to scream at me on the phone at clinic due to clinic rules, so I'm getting a new form of stress from the partial-reopening, as well as the looming feeling that I might have to go back to the COVID units.
posted by cobaltnine at 3:24 PM on June 27 [8 favorites]


Nthing the mental health hazards of isolation. I think of myself as an introvert, but after too much time alone I don't exactly miss humans, I just start to feel really awful. It's like the inside of my brain is getting mildewy and gross. While on WFH I've spent a few days crying on my couch instead of working - luckily my boss has been fairly understanding but I'm very aware that too much of a decline in productivity will have repercussions at some point - I do expect layoffs in my industry. So my mental health is not just about not being less mopey, it's about keeping my job (and my health insurance!)

I've begun taking selective risks. Will I go to a house party? Heck no. But I'll go for a socially distanced walk in a quiet area with a friend who is taking precautions similar to mine. Once I started doing this, my meltdowns and depressive spirals pretty much stopped, and I've had fewer "lost days."

This Atlantic article from May has been helpful to me. As it points out, shame is ineffective in getting people to change their behavior. Just as the only truly safe sex is abstinence, the only truly safe socialization is none. But I can educate myself and make thoughtful decisions about when and how I'll take risks, and what precautions can help me do this more safely. Ideally, the green is a place to help people evaluate those risks and identify precautions, without feeling shamed.
posted by bunderful at 10:26 AM on June 28 [8 favorites]


I'm one of the auto-no people, generally speaking. Here's why:

If someone asks, "Is it safe to leave my baby alone in the car for a few minutes with the doors locked on a cloudy 50 degree day while I go inside to pay for my gas?" the most reasonable answer is "Yes." But you can bet that a huge percentage of people will say, "No! You can never leave a baby alone in the car at all, not even for a minute." It's true that if everyone follows that blanket rule it's safer than if people try to use their judgment based on the situation, because some people will make bad judgments.

This is because of the high consequences of what happens if something goes wrong. I read that Gene Weingarten article about people who forgot and left their babies in the car. Same issue here with the case of this disease: sure, most of the time you may be fine, but the consequences of something going wrong could be death.

"Something else that people are also not usually aware of is that option A could be very likely but of low consequence, option B could be nearly impossible but of very high consequence, and they both carry the same amount risk according to our risk assessment systems."

Yes, this is exactly what is going through my brain. If something goes terribly wrong and kills me or something else, I can't figure out how to mitigate that in my brain. This is why it took me sixteen years to get my driver's license, because I was terrified of killing people if I fucked up behind the wheel.

We've had so much information thrown at us about COVID and so much of it has changed rapidly from day to day, and from place to place, that all we can know for sure is that there are no guarantees.

So it's not even true that a blanket statement of "just do whatever your local public health officials say" is good enough.

Also this. I have no idea how to judge what is "okay" or "safer" or what when it keeps changing. I don't feel like I can trust my state or county guidelines because reopening and saving the economy just took precedence over saving lives. By reopening, people now think it's safe and okay to throw family parties again, which is what my county specifically says is causing our spike in disease. Reopening signals that things are fine and okay to go back to normal, but then everyone is catching it. Should I trust my state or county?

I've always been of the view that life is risky and that people should be permitted to take whatever risks they want with their own bodies as long as others aren't put at risk.

I generally agree, but the problem with a pandemic is that any choice you make with your own body may be putting others at risk now. This is just too fucking high of a consequence to deal with and breaks my brain.

"If your own answer to all your Covid-19 "can I do it" questions, for yourself, is always "no" then that's fine. It's totally up to you. But that is increasingly going to be a personal decision rather than one that can be imposed on everyone, in all situations, all the time."

If it was up to me, great. I would agree with that. It should be my choice to decide to shut myself up for years on end. But I got a notice saying I'm being considered for jury service when the courts reopen. That will literally and legally be imposed upon me to rejoin the world and expose myself. Because the rest of the world has decided to reopen again, I may be forced to rejoin it for jury duty. A lot of people now have to go back to jobs that aren't taking precautions, for the same reason. The world has decided to reopen whether or not it's safe and okay to do so, and people may very well be forced to go out.

You can really start to question yourself when your judgment is not in line with the people in your community that you normally trust.

See, right now I am feeling super fucked up because my mother asked to see me on the 4th of July, I said no, and she took it well. Now she's asking again, saying she'll stay outside and wear a mask and gloves and she's sure she doesn't have it. Logically speaking, if I had any, this should be "okay." I have had very little contact with any humans for months, she's had very little contact with anyone but her boyfriend for months. I will still be in a "two week wait" period on July 4 because I had to have a repairman in my apartment on Friday. I had on a mask and literally got nowhere near him and hid in the back of the apartment while he was here for three minutes. But I have the screaming meemies in my head saying that there is nothing you can argue with me that makes it "okay" because the stakes are too high if something goes wrong. And also because if I see my mom I don't think I can maintain six feet of distance and I will hug and cry all over her and become a potentially infectious biohazard. And even if I keep her shut out and away from me, I'm going to feel like complete shit for doing that, too. Nobody wins in either option and I sure don't feel better because I saw her. I already had one parent die on a ventilator as is.

Sure, a lot of people are doing things and as far as we know, coming out okay. My coworkers are doing shit all over the place and are just fine, though two of them just had two close COVID calls because someone a few degrees of separation from them got it, so who knows. But hell, we just don't know if you so far have gotten lucky. About the only thing I feel like mostly convinced me lately is that study about the hairdresser with COVID and a mask on and as far as they know nobody caught it from her, but that does require people to wear masks, and we know how Americans feel about that.

That's where I am coming from on answers to that. Obviously I'm not sane for various reasons and I know I'm unable to logic it out like others are or able to figure out what I am willing to take risks about. There is a LOT OF SHIT and calculations and risks for yourself and for other people to juggle and frankly, it's easier for me to say no to everyone than figure out the shades of gray and risk. Especially in a world where other people are straight up not following best practices and you can't control what they do. You may make the best judgments for you and what you are willing to risk, but what control do you have over your best friend's job that forces her to work with a coworker who did something risky enough to catch it and she's asymptomatic and hasn't gotten tested?

Ethically, I find it extremely hard right now to say anything but no.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:50 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


If someone asks, "Is it safe to leave my baby alone in the car for a few minutes with the doors locked on a cloudy 50 degree day while I go inside to pay for my gas?" the most reasonable answer is "Yes." But you can bet that a huge percentage of people will say, "No! You can never leave a baby alone in the car at all, not even for a minute." It's true that if everyone follows that blanket rule it's safer than if people try to use their judgment based on the situation, because some people will make bad judgments.


This is because of the high consequences of what happens if something goes wrong. I read that Gene Weingarten article about people who forgot and left their babies in the car. Same issue here with the case of this disease: sure, most of the time you may be fine, but the consequences of something going wrong could be death.


I think one thing to keep in mind, and this is a good example, is that for people who are cautious, they actually keep their risk small. Generally, babies who die in cars are those that are left on accident because the parent forgot they even had a baby in the car or parents who are generally bad parents anyways (i.e. there was a dude who left his baby in the car while he went to play tennis, not because he forgot, but because he didn't want to bring the baby along). So someone who asks if it is ok to leave their baby in the car with the windows down or on a cool day while they run into the store for a minute probably have little risk of their baby dying in the car. The people most at risk of this happening are those who are not consciously making a decision.

That's where I am coming from on answers to that. Obviously I'm not sane for various reasons and I know I'm unable to logic it out like others are or able to figure out what I am willing to take risks about. There is a LOT OF SHIT and calculations and risks for yourself and for other people to juggle and frankly, it's easier for me to say no to everyone than figure out the shades of gray and risk....Ethically, I find it extremely hard right now to say anything but no.

Granted, we generally appreciate the wide range of answers on the green, and I'm not the boss around here so feel free to ignore. But you have recognized that your own precautions are extreme and your own risk assessment is way outside the norm, even for places where things have worked. Do you think then maybe it's best if you don't answer? You don't seem to be coming from a place where you are able to actually assess someone else's situation and instead process everything through your own very strict guidelines.

(And seriously all the hugs to you. I know you're not asking but seeing your mom outside while you are both masked and far away from each other is totally fine. If you really think you'll need to touch her, you could wear gloves and immediately throw all your clothes in the wash and then shower, or maybe build one of these things to hug her through plastic?
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:43 AM on June 30 [14 favorites]


“ reopening and saving the economy just took precedence over saving lives”

Respectfully, several other commenters here, and numerous people elsewhere, have pointed out the mental health risks of continued lockdown, including suicide. Continuing to equate reopening with death and lockdown with not-death is overly simplistic and disrespectful to people whose mental health is in crisis during lockdown. It’s just as irresponsible as immediate reopening without restrictions, because both options ignore vulnerable groups of people. It is possible to leave the house and not immediately be infected, as evidenced by the millions of people who have left their house and not been infected. It’s possible to balance reopening and virus safety, and both need to be considered.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:00 AM on June 30 [8 favorites]


I think it’s important to think about if you’re a good person to be answering those questions if all you can say is no. While there are clearly questions where that’s the right answer there are a lot of downsides to aggressive social distancing which aren’t economic.

If you’re unable to take into account other people’s various problems, including mental health issues aggravated by the situation, and your answer is coming from a place of fear it’s better to step back. Instead of answering maybe it’s time to take care of yourself or find a outlet for your own anxiety.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 5:45 AM on June 30 [14 favorites]


I think this gets at a theme that’s been running throughout this thread—AskMe questions are personal, sometimes very intimate, especially when they involve medical and family issues (which describes a lot of the covid questions). Ideally, at least in my mind, the answers should be specific to those personal questions and show some thought and consideration of the question details. We all have knee-jerk reactions on certain topics (for me, “check with a lawyer/therapist/doctor, not AskMe”), but keep in mind how impersonal it can feel to the Asker to get sort of a premade answer that doesn’t show any indication that the poster actually thought about the very personal question posed.
posted by sallybrown at 5:55 AM on June 30 [2 favorites]


Perhaps we should, as well, be considering other options besides just lockdown as it currently looks/"opening up" as it currently looks. For example, mutual aid groups talk about pods (governments in some places have been using "bubble" instead). What sort of networks can we build or expand on/reconfigure to meet people's mental health needs while also keeping our social graphs as much disconnected small-number-of-people bubbles as possible? What sort of tools do we need to support each other in communicating with friends or family members to safely form a pod/bubble, so that everyone in the pod/bubble is on the same page around risk and behavior expectations? Why are the only two options under consideration either do the thing or don't do the thing, and not "have you considered this alternate way to get that need met, that might be less risky?"

This is what I'm talking about when I talk about community care and thinking about the challenges communally rather than individually.
posted by eviemath at 8:20 AM on June 30 [5 favorites]


Also, the US is experiencing a large number of different outbreaks in completely different geographical locations, which all have different levels of competence in the government and public response. I live in Washington, DC, where we've tremendously rushed "reopening", but at the same time, our metrics are all trending down, we're testing enough people to have a sub-5% positivity rate for two weeks, we do at least rudimentary contact tracing for just about every positive case and their close contacts, and we have free no-appointment testing for anyone who wants it. So I'd give someone in DC pretty different guidance than I'd give someone in, say, Miami. And I'd extend that to other countries too. Location matters.
posted by capricorn at 7:58 AM on July 1 [7 favorites]


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