A-Z

Covid-19 in the community

Worries and actions about transmission of the virus

Covid-19 is an airborne virus, which means that is usually transmitted through the air. Early in the pandemic there were lots of different ideas about how the virus might be transmitted between people. 
 

 

Temitope first thought Covid was transmitted through touch, but later learnt that the virus passed through the air.

Temitope first thought Covid was transmitted through touch, but later learnt that the virus passed through the air.

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It was a bit confusing then. Before, I think when it first came in, I thought it was by touching, never knew it could be spread by air, I just thought it was more or less touching, so you need so, no handshakes, then you need to just put, use hand sanitiser. Then later, we knew that we heard it going, Covid passed through air. Then later we were told that it could actually stay in air for a number of hours or so then it will have, maybe somebody has passed some minutes or hours and you passed it so yeah, the ways that which you could catch it was a bit confusing and again, that also, I understood that, because it’s a new virus, everyone is trying to investigate so there’s a probability that we might get things wrong. I mean the scientists, the government might get things wrong, and they will keep trying until they get it right, so I wasn’t really bothered. That’s why I stayed indoors.


 
In this section we look at how people tried to protect themselves and their households, others in their networks and the wider community. This page covers: 

  • Avoiding bringing the virus into the home
  • Balancing risks against competing priorities 
  • Protecting vulnerable people and the wider community 
  • Differences of opinion and conflict 

Avoiding bringing the virus into the home

In 2020, a big worry among people we spoke to was whether the danger was mainly through touching contaminated surfaces, or whether you had to be in the same room as someone who was infected for ‘15 minutes’ or more. Others worried about being infected if they walked close to someone in the street and tried hard to maintain distance.
 
After the March 2020 when people were in ‘lockdown’ many people were very nervous about anyone, or anything, coming into their house. Those who did not have to leave home for work did things like spraying disinfectant on all packages they received in the post, wearing gloves while putting away the shopping and regularly cleaning and sanitising doors, bathrooms and shared areas of the house.
 

 

Lyn who works in mental health used masks and sanitising wipes and sprays. She was sad and disappointed in herself when she found out she had Covid.

Lyn who works in mental health used masks and sanitising wipes and sprays. She was sad and disappointed in herself when she found out she had Covid.

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I had a type of spray. I carry a spray, a mini one like this spray. In my backpack, I’ve got a hand gel, disinfectant wipe and three or four masks in my bag besides the one I have just in case I soiled them. So I will use spray everything down before I enter the house and before, you know, and I try my best but sometimes no matter, because there’s only so much you can do and that’s why I felt really sad. Disappointed with myself because I got Covid. Despite everything I done.

 

Mahabuba wore a mask and avoided going out. She was worried about the impact of Covid on her existing health condition.

Mahabuba wore a mask and avoided going out. She was worried about the impact of Covid on her existing health condition.

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We start using mask and that and because, as I got a health condition, so my husband told me not to go outside that much so we, totally not locked but you can say a ninety five percent locked for me because not always. When I got a problem that affects my whole body, start going, you know, like shaking and that, breathing problem. Otherwise, when you see me, I’m totally fine, hundred percent moveable, like you can see.


 
Gulsoom and others said that only one person in the household went out to get shopping and they changed their usual shopping patterns to avoid crowded spaces. Frequent washing of hands and sanitising became normal. Some people we spoke to took extra precautions. Mr. Eshaan did not even open letters until they had been in the house a week and Sunita kept her dog away from other dogs in case the virus might be transmitted that way.
 
Kashif was still working in his business at the start of the pandemic and was very careful to shower before he saw his children at home. Households that included ‘key workers’ who met with members of the public through work in shops, as taxi drivers or as health and care workers were particularly careful when coming back into the home.
 
 

Razia’s husband is a taxi driver. To address their worries about him bringing the virus home he changed clothes and showered as soon as he came in from work.

Razia’s husband is a taxi driver. To address their worries about him bringing the virus home he changed clothes and showered as soon as he came in from work.

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So he was like, he was concerned about him with bringing it home to the kids more. And bringing it home to me because he was like, “The last thing I want is be the reason why you fall ill.” So he was more concerned about that, but I said to him but, “Well, I’m concerned that you might get it because you’re the one who’s running around looking after us and, if you’re poorly I’m going to struggle to do his role.” And he was he was able to be a bit more flexible and cover a bit of my things. So I said, “I’m struggling to do yours.” So we came up with a plan where, when he would come home, he wouldn’t touch the kids or he wouldn’t come and grab them or he would go straight sort of make sure, even though he wore gloves and everything and masks. And so he would, you know, come in and make sure he’s showered and he’d make sure he’d like cleansed himself and everything and then played with the kids. And he’d always make sure that that he would he had like loads of sanitiser in the car and he’ll sanitise the car properly, even like in between picking up customers like the door handles because you never know how careful someone else has been or not. So because of all that, we weren’t as worried. And he felt a bit like, we agreed that he shouldn’t rely on everyone is taking the right measures. He needs to take extra.

 

 

Jaswinder’s husband works in a supermarket and avoided contact with his family in the evenings. This was hard for their son.

Jaswinder’s husband works in a supermarket and avoided contact with his family in the evenings. This was hard for their son.

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So did you have any fear for a specific family member? 

Yes, for husband, as he used to go for work every day. Costco was very busy, you must have seen, in the news, that up to two or three metres, four and five metres like there use to be two or three queues of people. People crowded in, shoving and pushing for their groceries.

My husband drives a forklift, does the stocking, everything…meeting people, “This is kept here, that is kept there”. So, don’t know, we just didn’t know. Young people also come there, as do old people. Poor things, who has what, who doesn’t have it, So he had, my husband had warned me strictly that, like at night, he’d leave work at ten, he’d come home at 10:15. “Before I arrive, you all go upstairs to bed” [laughs]. “Yes, don’t wait to meet me”. So he would unlock the house, go straight for a bath. He would put his work clothes in the washing machine. He would bathe carefully, and then come downstairs for dinner.

He also had that fear somewhere in the back of his head that “our kids are young, I come from outside”. Like my little one has a habit that he has to first hug his daddy. Wants to mess around with him, wrestle with him all that, and then tell him about his day at school, like “I did this, this happened today”all that kind of stuff. But then they weren’t allowed. They meet each other. They just met in the morning, that’s it [laughs].

 


 
Aytana, Sam and Dawn, among others, pointed out that safety measures were sensible and that the ‘rules are there for a reason’. Everyone we talked to for this study had been unwell with Covid, despite all of their efforts to avoid the virus. People were sometimes very confused about how this could have happened. Several people told us that they were disappointed, or even ‘ashamed’ to have caught Covid. Even people who felt they had been following all the rules when they became ill sometimes felt shame.

 

Sam X felt embarrassed and ashamed when she got Covid in summer 2021.

Sam X felt embarrassed and ashamed when she got Covid in summer 2021.

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Well, I guess people know what the risk factors are and so I, one of the risk factors is like, you know, cleanliness I guess and then another one about being close to people and taking risk, risk taking behaviours and I just, with like any virus or illness, there were a number of risky behaviours that people are aware of because it’s been drummed into us for the last eighteen months and I felt embarrassed and ashamed, like a little bit, just a very smidge embarrassment and shame because I took some made some decisions that were risky for my health. I attended, you know, I went to city that was high on the list of infections. I sat around people, who I didn’t know, probably spoke to them a little bit too much in their, in a small proximity. Drunk a lot so battered my, you know, weakened my immune system and I ended up catching what everyone in the world is aware of but doesn’t want to catch. And kind of proving, I suppose proving myself my own fears right and everyone else’s fears right that if you do these things, not risks, like if you take too many risks and put yourself in a, in harm’s way, then it will get you. And so yeah, those kind of feelings yeah, those kind of feelings.

 


Balancing risks against competing priorities 

We talked to people whose concerns about avoiding transmission to close family members had to be balanced with other priorities, for example caring for young children or older people. Sue, for example, explained that because her father was hard of hearing he could not understand what was said if people wore masks.

 
Jess, who works as a doctor, was aware that she was probably ‘shedding virus everywhere’ but she and her husband decided that it would be too difficult and upsetting for their child if she separated herself. They also reasoned that being healthy, young and White their risk of serious illness was relatively small. Other people we spoke to, such as Sarita, decided it was worth trying to separate, even if it was sad. Not everyone was able to make these choices about isolating from each other, because of home size or caring responsibilities.
 

 

When Sonal’s son became ill with Covid he used a different toilet and she left his meals outside his bedroom on a tray.

When Sonal’s son became ill with Covid he used a different toilet and she left his meals outside his bedroom on a tray.

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Yeah, so we kept the table outside his bedroom and I was leaving the food. I was going away and then he used to open the door and take things like food. That’s how we kept the distance and stuff like that. When he leaves the plates or anything, I wasn’t taking it straight away, and leaving it out for long and all that. So, all these things we did and I make sure that I am not gonna get affected. But it was for nearly six weeks because his test kept coming positive.


 
As the pandemic continued, concerns about the impact of isolation on mental health and the potential damage to children’s lives and education led many to wonder what was the right thing to do. Some people we spoke to reviewed their actions regularly, which might involve either more or less cautious behaviour than the official advice.
 
 

Rabbi Wollenberg described how being together is an ‘integral part of Jewish life’ and that it was hard to completely stop seeing people.

Rabbi Wollenberg described how being together is an ‘integral part of Jewish life’ and that it was hard to completely stop seeing people.

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Whatever the reasons, the probable reason that the community that I minister to was hit quite hard is because we are very sociable. We gather together for, you know, life cycle events, we gather together every Friday night. People go to their parents and grandparents, so the very strength of being a close-knit community is a terrible weakness when it comes to infectious diseases. The things that mark us out like when there’s a bereavement people gather, and they have a Shiva service in someone’s home, and it’s very comforting to have your friends come round to your home, and it’s built into, and for many people that’s the last bastion of their Jewish tradition. That they might do nothing else, but they have a bereavement, they’ll do it properly. Gathering for Passover Seders together is such an integral part of Jewish life. Friday night dinners, community events, daily prayer services, people saying Kaddish for those who are bereaved. We were denied all of these things for close to 18 months. People who were in hospital were denied pastoral care and visits, and family support. People who were bereaved had almost a triple whammy.


 
Some people we spoke to reflected that they had probably been a bit ‘over the top’ at first but often they knew of others who they felt had been even more cautious. Sindhu said that she had felt quite resigned that she would be infected with Covid because her husband is a medic.
 
Many of the people we talked to said that they had continued to avoid crowded spaces, outdoor as well as indoor, throughout the pandemic, regardless of the current ‘rules’. Early on, people often crossed the road to give other people space. When wearing a mask on public transport and in shops became law, most people accepted that they should wear a mask around other people.
 
 

Haliza, a frequent traveller, was familiar with Asian countries where it is normal to wear a mask to protect others.

Haliza, a frequent traveller, was familiar with Asian countries where it is normal to wear a mask to protect others.

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In Asia a lot of people wearing masks if they’re not well, if they go somewhere, because of pollution or, this and, that’s normal, you know. I don’t particularly have mask before that but it’s something that I’ve seen and that I’ve, you know when travel to the other side, to that side of the world. So, yes. And I, you know, read about and know about SARS and bird flu, all that so it is, it is some of them airborne so, yes.

 

Protecting vulnerable people and the wider community 

While some were willing to accept a certain amount of risk for themselves or young and healthy members of their households, there was collective concern about people who were elderly or had underlying health problems. This meant that some of the people we talked to did not see their older relatives for many months, especially if they lived in a care home. Samena said that her mum did not really understand why they could not visit each other and sit and talk together as usual. People we spoke to also recognised that there were risks faced by people who were from ethnic and religious minority communities

 

Surindar was immuno-compromised after chemotherapy and was fearful of going out.

Surindar was immuno-compromised after chemotherapy and was fearful of going out.

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Yes. I started panicking I thought “God I’ve had this. What if I haven’t got the antibodies because they kept saying that people who’ve had cancer and have had chemotherapy, they’re less likely, their immune system is less likely to respond. And there was me.” And I thought “oh that’s me.” So, I was afraid, I didn’t go out anywhere, and I had to send, my son used to do a bit of shopping for us and drop it outside, didn’t come in.

 

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.

 

Differences in opinion and conflict

The pandemic has been a time of great uncertainty, anxiety and differences of opinion. Sometimes these worries have caused arguments. The most debated issues described by people we talked to were whether or not people were sticking to ‘the rules’ about mixing with others, and whether or not they were wearing masks when required. Cindy commented that some people from Hong Kong, who are used to wearing masks, feel that people in England are selfish because they do not wear masks.

 

Medhi was very worried that students on his course were not wearing masks. He stopped attending and asked for online access.

Medhi was very worried that students on his course were not wearing masks. He stopped attending and asked for online access.

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I told them many, many times, “Please wear a mask.” But my teacher said, “Oh no worries, it’s not any reason to worried about a pandemic.” I said, “So sorry, I don’t know you. You don’t know me. We must follow the rules, we must wear a mask to avoid this virus. Don’t leave to virus.” So, I decided to leave the college and I said to my teacher in college please if you can send me to online course, I can’t come to face to face because I can’t stop the people to his mind, their mind because they don’t believe in the pandemic, to wear a mask.

 

Sarita was shouted at in a supermarket when she wasn’t following the one-way arrows.

Sarita was shouted at in a supermarket when she wasn’t following the one-way arrows.

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I remember being shouted on in a Tesco store in [place name] because I was, you know where, if you remember, you know the, most super stores had those one way arrows they had marked on the floor so you can go, you can just go in this direction but don’t come back kind of a thing and I just happened to step in the wrong direction, you know I had just taken, you know, and this man just shouted at me. And he say “how can you do this?” And I said, “look I am really sorry I didn’t mean to, I completely did not notice the arrow” and it’s not like, it’s not like I wanted to argue it was a genuine mistake. He’s like, “oh gosh.” You know people were paranoid at that point and he’s like, “Dude, I do not want to get Covid” and I said “just because I walked in the wrong way it does not mean to say that I’ve got Covid” [laughs].


 
Members of the same household, family or friendship group did not always agree about how best to stay safe or whether they needed to protect each other. Parents told us that they were quite sure that their children were not obeying the rules, although some also understood that it was very difficult to maintain distance at school and it was more important that children could socialise.
 
In the media young people, who were generally at lower risk of serious illness from Covid, were sometimes blamed for being less ‘responsible’. Karin was initially frustrated by young people who appeared not to care about the risk they posed for others but is more understanding now.
 
Cat says that she was very careful when staying with her parents but that when she came back to University she did not want to be a ‘party pooper’ and joined in with the socialising.
 
 

Karin feels less judgmental than she was at the beginning of the pandemic.

Karin feels less judgmental than she was at the beginning of the pandemic.

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No it’s more in general how you behave how you have behaved amongst people throughout Covid that it’s so easy to be critical towards people that you’re not, you know, standing 2 meters, you know, of course and also you see people dropping masks everywhere, there’s masks lying around everywhere and you think “bastard why don’t you pick up your masks” because then you can think “oh that poor person dropped their mask, you know, because we’re not used to having any masks”. So if you pull it down, pull out your keys from your pocket your mask could slip out and then you have somebody like me coming after “oh how could you drop it, you know, bastard” and there were lots of these plastic gloves everywhere and yeah. And yeah you know, it brings out the worst in you doesn’t it the suspicion, yeah definitely it’s almost like, you know, a war, warzone feeling but everybody could be your enemy.

 

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