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Covid-19 in the community

How people caught Covid

In this section we explore people’s thoughts about how they might have caught Covid, as well as reflections on who the might have passed it on to and their efforts to minimise transmission. This includes discussion of:

  • Catching Covid
  • Catching Covid when restrictions eased
  • Trying to limit passing it on to other people  

Catching Covid 

Several people we spoke to worked in jobs that could not be done from home. They were doctors, nurses and care home workers, people working in public transport or taxi services, school teachers, and many others providing essential services. They knew being in public spaces, even during periods of national lockdown, had increased their risk of acquiring Covid. They did their best to wear masks and maintain social distancing, but it was not enough.
 

 

Dorte, a care home manager, recalls when she believes she caught Covid at work

Dorte, a care home manager, recalls when she believes she caught Covid at work

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I myself, was one of the people that went around definitely wearing my mask, apron, gloves, cleaning, I did everything that was within my power to [er] minimise the spread but I went into one of the residents that hadn’t, at that stage, been tested positive and I was stood in the doorway. I believe that’s how I caught it because she coughed. She didn’t hold herself, you know, even with her hand in front of her mouth and I, the only way I can think that I would have picked it up was by the droplets that came from her coughing.

 

Dawn, a teacher, felt that she would definitely catch Covid at school.

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Dawn, a teacher, felt that she would definitely catch Covid at school.

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I really do feel like I got Covid from school [sighs]. If children aren’t - is it asymptomatic - you know, they’ve not got the symptoms, but they are carriers. And, if you are working in an environment where there are thirty five children in a small classroom and you are less than one metre away constantly, and these children are coming into school when they have got parents at home that are showing symptoms and are being tested or, even if they are asymptomatic, you are putting yourself in a situation where you are in contact with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people because that one child then goes home to their parents, their siblings, their siblings who have been in other classes, you know. It is bound to happen, and I definitely know, hand on heart, that I got it from work because I had not seen anybody else.


 
Covid-19 is an airborne disease, which means that people catch it by breathing in air that contains particles of the virus. As the above experiences show, individual risk of getting Covid is affected not just by our own actions but by the actions of other people around us. This often created anxiety for people who were doing their best to protect themselves (and others) by following the guidance, but found themselves in situations that they had no control over.
 
 

Mudasar realised the passenger in his taxi was coughing and was not wearing a mask

Mudasar realised the passenger in his taxi was coughing and was not wearing a mask

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I normally work in a day shift like from morning like four, five to two, three o’clock, four o’clock and on that particular day, which I see myself like, you know, I’ve got virus from someone. I picked up this customer, a customer who was sitting behind me and she was a lady and she coughed a couple of times in my car like once or twice and, when I look back, I see she’s not covering her face so I made a request to her, I said, “Please can you cover your face because there’s already the panic in the country that Covid is around so like it’s not safe for me, like you know, I can catch it off even the cough.”


 
In the months following the start of the pandemic, the lack of appropriate protective equipment (for example, high-quality masks), also made some frontline workers more vulnerable to infection. Gertrude, a care home worker asked her senior for PPE but was told that “we don’t have Covid here yet so it’s not a matter for us”.
 
Among those not working in public-facing jobs, some told us that particular events had been the source of their infection. Gatherings such as weddings, funerals and religious ceremonies were places where Covid spread easily, even when limited to smaller numbers.
 
 

Esther attended a funeral where several people got Covid.

Esther attended a funeral where several people got Covid.

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The whole family kind of got together obviously for the funeral and of the, of the family chat afterwards. This is kind of the extended family chat on WhatsApp afterwards. Every few hours somebody would just say, I’ve just been, I’ve just, I’ve just confirmed, you know, I’ve just had a positive test. I’ve just had a positive test. I’ve just had a positive test. And so it was quite comic how kind of everybody got Covid at this funeral. I mean no-one really knows like who had it, who patient zero was exactly.

 

Shaista became ill in March 2020. She isolated in her room to help protect her mother.

Shaista became ill in March 2020. She isolated in her room to help protect her mother.

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I started feeling a little bit unwell when I was there, but I put this down mostly to being fatigued because of travelling and lots of long days. It’s quite gruelling to be on pilgrimage and it’s very, it’s very beautiful but very gruelling so I put it down to that, but I was starting to feel a little bit unwell. So, I came back In February and then the information about Covid was swirling. There was much more information, a bit more public awareness as well. And so that was February and then we headed into the lockdown in March I believe and so like a lot of people my working reality, my day-to-day reality changed so I was working from home. I was inside, I was abiding by all the rules that we were told to abide by, so I wasn’t going out anywhere apart from going on my daily walk. But what I noticed was from March onwards I started to cough quite a lot and I started feeling very, very tired so I was isolating in my room. I’m lucky enough to have, have a home where there’s more than one room, where there’s some space where you can isolate. My, I live with my mum. She has diabetes, she’s an asthmatic. She is a woman of a certain age as well, so I was very aware of the fact that, you know, my mum was very vulnerable, so all of these factors were very much on my mind.

So, I, at the time, there was no access to testing, there was no access to any, anything that would enable me to know if I had Covid or not. The rules were very straightforward which was stay at home, don’t, you know, wear a mask, don’t go out unless it’s absolutely necessary so I followed all those rules. So, I carried on working in part because it’s the kind of person I am, I kind of push on through but what I remember in terms of symptoms were just exhaustion was increasing. I started developing an eye infection.

 

Catching Covid when restrictions eased 

Being cautious and isolating from each other over long periods of time has been difficult. People we spoke to suffered from loneliness, with serious implications for mental health. Most people we spoke to had followed the rules carefully. However, a few got unlucky and were infected with Covid when they finally met friends and family when restrictions were eased.
 

 

Iqra’s father got Covid from meeting a close friend who was about to travel abroad.

Iqra’s father got Covid from meeting a close friend who was about to travel abroad.

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He was very obedient of the government’s rules so what had happened is he found out that his friend was going to Pakistan. And he was like, when, he didn’t know how long his friend was going for, if he was going for a month or two, so he was like, “Oh yes, meet up and like catch up on life.” And things like that. So they met up. My dad really didn’t think he would have Covid. He was like, “Oh, he’s planning going to another country. He’s even done his PCR test. There’s no way he’s going to have Covid.” So he met him, gave him a hug and spoke to him and, before he went home, gave him a hug again like have a safe flight, this that.


 
A few people we spoke to expressed their disappointment about how the government restrictions had been rolled out. Elvis’ father got covid (and later died from it) when the social distancing rules had been relaxed. He met with friends after months of careful isolation. After his traumatic experience, Elvis wonders how the government makes decisions about when to ease restrictions.
 
 

Elvis expresses frustration with government measures regarding Covid.

Elvis expresses frustration with government measures regarding Covid.

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He’s been very careful throughout, you know, and then they, they, they, you know, I think they had, easing the measures, you know, that’s when he went, and then he came and got it from there, you know, and that’s what it is. And even now they have really, they have decreased, they are easing these measures, and I’m like, you know, I can’t even though they have easing these measures, I still have to wear my mask, you know. I still have to do social distancing so that I don’t get it, you know. That is something that it’s clear as day, you know. So I’m afraid like when I go to town today, I see people in their pubs, in their things, you know sitting, and I’m like is it corona finished, is it gone? I haven’t heard anything about it, you know. For that reason I have to keep wearing a mask, which I do, you know.

 

Trying to limit passing Covid on to other people 

A few people we spoke to described feelings of guilt about potentially passing on the infection to others when they did not know they had Covid. Cat was “wracked with guilt” when she realised that she might have spread her infection to others before she finally got tested. Like many people, she had displayed a range of symptoms that were not initially listed on NHS sites as signs of Covid. Difficulty accessing testing, especially during peak periods of infection, further complicated matters.
 

 

Samena received contradictory advice about whether she and her husband should get tested.

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Samena received contradictory advice about whether she and her husband should get tested.

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The only thing I would say is what I felt was that everybody’s so focussed on the main three symptoms that they, they, because even me at the initial got told don’t get, you don’t need to get tested if you’ve not got the main three symptoms which is why it stopped me and my husband getting tested. Had the doctor not said get yourself tested before I give you antibiotics we would never have gone and thought this was Covid and got ourselves tested. You can only imagine my husband being a taxi driver how many people he would have picked up and been in contact with, you know, some are elderly, some are, you know, got other health conditions and it could have been really critical for them that’s my main thing. I would say that, you know, I mean I don’t know why it’s, maybe it’s, I don’t really know why they focus so much on the three symptoms when you look at my story look at my parents, look at me, look at my husband none of us had any of the three symptoms.


 
Once people knew they had Covid, they often thought about ways they could limit its spread. Even if they stopped going outside the house, it was often difficult to isolate from other members of their household. Sometimes this was due to practicalities, like needing to share kitchen and bathroom spaces.
 
 

Milembe found it difficult to isolate from her family at home

Milembe found it difficult to isolate from her family at home

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You want to go to the bathroom or the kitchen you have say, “Hey, I’m coming so just stay away,” and so even that in itself, the management of having one, even one person in the household you don’t think about it. It’s just actually very, very difficult to feel that you can actually be, you know, infecting other person within your house, so not only now you’re worried about yourself, now you’re worried about you passing it on to someone else.


 
Other times it was also because family and household members needed to maintain some level of caring relationship with each other. People managed their behaviour within the household by making an estimation about how seriously ill they thought their family members would be, if they were to get Covid. For example, while Jess felt safe enough to share space with her family, Pooja was frightened for her partner and son.
 
 

Jessica thought it might be better if her husband and son got Covid from her so they could isolate together

Jessica thought it might be better if her husband and son got Covid from her so they could isolate together

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I didn't feel all that concerned if they got it, and in a way, I thought it was better if they did because then they'd be unlikely to get it again at another point. And I thought... sort of thought the sooner the better because if they get symptoms later on in our ten day isolation, they're going to have to isolate for another ten days while I go back to work and desert them; they're going to hate me even more [laughs].

 

Pooja was frightened about passing on covid to her daughter and husband.

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Pooja was frightened about passing on covid to her daughter and husband.

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I just locked myself in the room and never came out again. Because I just didn’t want even to take that risk of my daughter is asthmatic. My husband is, like I say, stage three liver fibrosis. If either of them get ill, they could go critically ill, you know. It was so frightening.


  

 

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