Audrey N. Glickman
Audrey N. Glickman

COVID Morality

Not COVID - Artwork by Audrey N. Glickman.
Wishing for a neon sign - but would it be morally sound? Artwork by Audrey N. Glickman, used with permission.
For nearly 12 years I have had a chronic cough. Doctors are still trying to address the issue, but so far we only know what conditions are not causing it. On top of the cough, I get seasonal allergies.  I carry cough drops in my pocket all the time, and if I’ll be speaking in public I usually am overly medicated with various things that I couldn’t consume on a regular basis.
During the pandemic, I’ve been extra sensitive to folks backing away from  me when I cough.  I can’t blame them!  I wish I had a neon sign hanging over my head blinking alternatively “Chronic cough!”  “Not COVID!”
I’ve worn my masks much more than officials call for.  I made them with extra layers of tightly-woven cotton and non-woven interfacing.  I build pockets into some of them to hold hand sanitizer.  And I’ve tried to find a way to explain to folks I interact with that I would never knowingly put others into harm’ s way – that my cough, though it sometimes sounds like consumption, is not to my knowledge contagious.
Of course, I have gotten my vaccination against COVID-19, and I get flu shots each year.  I do this both for myself and for the others around me.
Still, I find myself mired in a COVID moral quandary.   We know that COVID-19 can have severe, long-term, and deadly consequences.  We know it causes suffering.
We know that having more and more persons take the vaccine seems to be reducing the incidence of folks contracting and carrying the virus to others.  (We don’t seem to know yet fully how that works, but the data show it to be believable that more persons vaccinated equals fewer transmissions.)
We know absolutely that the vaccine will nearly always reduce the severity of disease should a vaccinated individual contract the virus in a “break-through infection.”
We know that children younger than 12 years old cannot (yet) get vaccinated, and that babies under age 2 are not good at wearing masks.  We know that the virus can have severe and sometimes cause long-term consequences in children, and that those may be different from what can be caused in adults.
We know that the virus can mutate as it goes forward infecting people.  Sometimes a mutation might make it less potent, but often the virus is rendered more potent, more transmissible, more deadly.  The more people get infected, the more chance for further mutations.  The job of the virus is to propagate itself.  If it were truly smart, it would mutate to become ever more contagious and ever less deadly.   (Dead persons no longer transmit it.)
We now know that the Delta variant is running rampant.  So I worry more, and keep on pondering and deliberating.
People tell me that I can only take care of myself.  I cannot govern what others do.  If others wish to put themselves into harm’s way, I cannot do anything about it, they say.
Yet, I cannot help but worry that any one of us could be transmitting the virus to others just by breathing.
Yes, I agree that it feels good to be back to working in the office.  It feels good to go out to our favorite restaurants together and enjoy someone else’s cooking.  It feels good to be among others.  And those things are also good for us.
Still, I worry about containing the pandemic, about stopping the virus from mutating, about saving lives.  I worry about trying to understand my part in this, much as I worry about taking care of many other pressing matters such as poverty and hunger and such.  What is my part?
Friends say that I should look at it differently.  Maybe this is God smiting the arrogant, they say.  Maybe God is also smiting the ignorant and stubborn and the witless.  God seems always to have had a bee-in-the-bonnet about the stiff-necked.
But then I wonder whether maybe this one is on us.  Would God create a virus to be more deadly to those who do not follow health recommendations?  Well, there was the Black Death, which was spread more in unclean conditions than in cleaner homes.  But that wasn’t sent by God – I’ve long thought it was a failure of teaching by those of us who know how to be clean.  And we suffered – they suspected that we were causing the Plague since we were not so much dying of it, and decided to kill us for it.
Much as in the Bible, there are those who suffer the collateral damage, those who are not arrogant, ignorant, obdurate, or witless.  Those are my least favorite Bible passages – where the person doing good also suffers.
Do we have the ability and are we expected by the Almighty to take care of ourselves?  Once again, I think we are we failing to spread the word that was handed to us – contain the contagion, quarantine illness away from others.  We read these things multiple times each year, we ought to know them by now.  We ought to have figured out what action to take.
My doctor tells me to just accept that I am going to keep on coughing, she says that I should just get used to it.  As far as we know after twelve years my cough itself is not contagious.  Yet I still worry that should there be a COVID virus lurking in my respiratory system unbeknownst to me, if I were to be unmasked it might travel to another individual.
Yes, treat me as if I am contagious.  We should all keep on treating each other to some extent as if we are all contagious.  The horror of passing along a virus is the returning moral dilemma of our time.  It horrifies me, anyway.
I couldn’t forgive myself.  Because I know the potentials, if I transmitted disease to someone else, I would never forgive myself.  Even if that other person were stubborn and stiff-necked.
About the Author
Author of POCKETS: The Problem with Society Is in Women's Clothing (, Audrey N. Glickman is a rabbi’s assistant, with prior experience in nonprofits, government, advertising, and as a legal secretary. A native Pittsburgher, Audrey has served on many boards, organizations, and committees, advocating for many causes, including equal rights, secure recountable voting, preserving the earth, good government, improving institutions, and understanding and tending to our fellow human beings.
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