can I ask my coworkers to keep masking around me and not come to work sick?

A reader writes:

I’m wondering about how much I can ask my coworkers about minimizing my infection risk in a less-masked world. I have been recently diagnosed with cancer and will be undergoing chemotherapy for the next six months. I’d like to work as much as I can throughout this, but I’m concerned about infection risk from my coworkers while I am immunocompromised. It will be about 20-25 people throughout the office on different days/schedules.

Our workplace very much still has the toxic “you’re abandoning your coworkers if you call out sick” mentality, which I think is only going to increase now that our clients and we are no longer required to wear masks at the office.

How much can I or a manager ask my coworkers to wear masks, wash hands, and stay home if they’re sick, since they’re no longer required to do so from Covid?

It depends heavily on your coworkers and how responsible they are.

In theory, you and/or your manager can absolutely ask for these things! Depending on the dynamics on your team and what you’re comfortable with, you could explain the situation yourself or your manager could (and could keep you anonymous if you prefer that).

But from there … well, some teams would be really diligent about doing what you need to stay safe! But if you have any coworkers who are belligerent or even just careless about masks, all bets are off. And if you have a workplace culture that discourages people from calling out sick and your manager isn’t working to actively change that, you probably have to assume someone’s going to show up sick.

So it’s a big risk to take. If you can work from home yourself during this period, that’s the safer route. If the nature of your work doesn’t permit that, can you ask about a more private space and the authority to enforce masking rules on anyone entering it? Given the stakes, I’d rather you control your surroundings than leave it up to coworkers who may not be as conscientious as they need to be.

I’d love to say you can fully count on your coworkers to get what you need and be vigilant about accommodating it … but if the last two years have taught us anything, a lot of people will not.

{ 240 comments… read them below }

  1. Aarti*

    I have a really responsible, respectful workforce, who social distanced and masked and stayed away from each other. And now that we are allowed no masks, they are done with masks! They don’t mean to be disrespectful, they are just tired of it. I just don’t think even in a good office such as mine you can count on people, I am afraid.

    1. Dino*

      This. I did all those things and even kept on masking last summer when the mandates were lifted. When they came back again, I was so bummed that I didn’t enjoy the maskless few weeks. I decided this time to make sure I enjoy air on my face until the next variant comes up.

      I will say, I’m taking my cues from other people. If I’m heading to the elevators and someone is there waiting who is wearing a mask, I call another elevator rather than ride with them. If someone is masked, I’ll keep my distance. And if I knew that Susan in accounting is immunocompromised, I’d definitely wear my mask when interacting with her. But outside of that, I’m going to enjoy the relative freedom while I can.

    2. L-squared*

      I wrote the same thing. I’ve done what the science said for 2 years. And now, in my area, transmission is extremely low. I can’t say I’d be very happy to have to sit in an office for 8 hours with a mask at this point.

      1. Espeon*

        I feel the same way. I tried to follow the guidelines, wore masks where required, got my vaccines and boosters. While I understand why masks were/ are still necessary sometimes I have to admit I prefer not to wear one simply because I find them extremely uncomfortable. I’ll wear it if asked around certain people, but if I don’t have to, I’m ready to take them off already.

        1. Luthage*

          You know what’s really uncomfortable? Cancer. And knowing that many people would rather be slightly more comfortable than protect the most vulnerable around us. It really sucks going through the absolute nightmare that is chemo only to have everyone around you consider you disposable.

          1. done*

            I guess you didn’t read the parts where people are willing to wear masks around at-risk people when asked.

            1. quill*

              The thing is that as tired as everyone is, as careful as everyone tries to be when they think they’re near someone who’s at risk, all reduction in mask wearing, distancing, etc. carries some added risk. And I’m more likely to forgive someone who has been seeing news rhetoric that “everything can go back to normal, only at risk people are dying!” (with the subtext being: we are not going to support any measures that lessen the chances of you dying, figure it out yourself while everyone expects you to “go back to normal”) and people complaining constantly about the required masking measures for snapping at people right now than I am at someone whose main complaint is about having to wear a mask.

                1. Fikly*

                  Sure just as soon as society drops the whole if you have a disability, your life doesn’t matter mindset.

                2. Calliope*

                  Fikly, that is the kind of straw man that makes these discussions incredibly unproductive. And on a number of levels since most disabilities don’t make a vaccinated person more vulnerable to Covid and plenty of things that aren’t generally considered disabilities do. And also . . . everyone here has been trying to figure out constructive ways to protect the OP.

                3. Eliza*

                  I *wish* it were a strawman, but it is a real mindset that people express. I’ve seen people openly celebrating the idea that the pandemic will “cull the weak”. Right now, unfortunately, that means that any solution that relies on trusting people to do the right thing can’t be relied on. The world shouldn’t be this way, but it is.

              1. Espeon*

                I would caveat that everything in life has added risk. All the time. Before covid, immunocompromised people were still at higher risk its just that wearing masks wasn’t common (at least not in USA). Now, CDC is recommending that masks are no longer necessary for everyone since the numbers are low. People want to return to being mask-free in public- this doesn’t mean we hate immunocompromised people. Yes, cancer sucks, my sister had it but she wore a mask, not forcing everyone around her.
                If your argument is that we should wear masks forever to protect some people- I will disagree because it should be on the at-risk people to wear a N95 or other medical grade mask that protects the wearer. Don’t force all of us to permanently change and insult us for it.

                1. Alice*

                  “People want to return to being mask-free in public- this doesn’t mean we hate immunocompromised people.”
                  Sure, I accept that you don’t hate immunocompromised people. But I can see that you are unwilling to accept a modest inconvenience in order to make people like OP and your own sister safer and more comfortable. That’s not hate — it’s indifference.

              2. Splendid Colors*

                +10000

                We know that COVID is airborne and isn’t going to stay in a 6′ bubble around someone infectious.

                I had a few reasons why I quit an OT “clinic” and one of them was that 2-3 students still have not grasped the idea that wearing a mask under your nose is like wearing your pants under your p****. I kept getting paired with them for group exercises and being told that it’s uncool to bug them about their masks. I finally spoke up and the student in question whined about not understanding how to make the mask fit around his nose on top, then left class because I made him uncomfortable. The supervisor of the class hadn’t realized they were doing this and said she was shocked it was happening, but the class is just not worth getting up 2 hours early for. My volunteer groups are still not ready to meet in person and the class just isn’t what I thought it would be in many other respects.

          2. miss chevious*

            It’s terrible isn’t it? I never had a very high opinion of other people, but once the pandemic hit, that opinion dropped through the floor. I don’t know that my faith in people will ever recover even to the level it was before this.

            1. Squirrel Nutkin*

              I’m with you — the callousness I’ve seen during this pandemic about the safety and well-being of the vulnerable has really upset me and caused me to revise my opinion of people I used to like and respect. The number of people who feel that their inconvenience is worth more than someone else’s life is staggering. If a society is judged by how well it protects its most vulnerable members, boy, have we failed . . . .

              1. Squirrel Nutkin*

                P.S. Best of luck, Letter Writer! I hope you have as easy a time as possible getting through your treatment and that you figure out a way to be safe doing your work.

          3. Magenta Sky*

            Did you wear masks around people with cancer before the pandemic? Did anyone even think to bring up the subject?

            New cases in the US are down 96%+ in the last two months, and continuing to decline. Until and unless those numbers start going back up, a lot of people are simply not going to do masks any more. If cancer patients didn’t drop like flies because people weren’t wearing masks in 2019, why will they in 2022? And your accusations will directly result in *more* people refusing to wear masks, not less, because it is aggressively confrontational. So consider what’s more important to you: the well being of those cancer patients, or “being right.” Because you can’t have both, the way you’re going about it.

            (Not coming to work sick should be the law, though.)

            1. Nikki*

              There were roughly 1,800 flu cases in the entire flu season in the entire state of MA in 2018.

              In my county of MA, which is highly vaccinated, there were 1,700 COVID cases just last week. And Omicron is much, much more transmissible than the flu.

              I have worn a mask when sick and when around immunocompromised people before 2020. I got a lot of strange looks but it was the right thing to do.

              I understand that everyone is tired of wearing masks and taking COVID precautions. But it’s not accurate to say that the situation pre-2020 is the same as the situation now.

              As a high-risk person I’m well aware that lots of people are too tired to take precautions to protect me, and I make my decisions accordingly. People want to go back to normal even if it makes the lives of vulnerable people difficult. But it kind of amazes me that those same people turn around and accuse the vulnerable people of being selfish!

          4. Polecat*

            I hope the OP carefully read this thread before she decides to share her cancer diagnosis with her coworkers. It is a transition to be a part of cancer world and to be a part of society that people consider a pain in the ass. The lack of empathy and the cold heartedness in this discussion should be an eye opener for her.

    3. Annon*

      Agreed. I was a huge proponent of masks, social distancing and vaccines. However, I feel like (at least for now) those days are past and it’s time to enjoy freedom, if for a while. For me–as the pandemic winds down or lulls–I would think this would fall more and more into the bucket of an immunocompromised person during normal times. Would I be willing were a mask for several days? Sure. A week? sure. A month? probably. However, I don’t know that I would feel it is reasonable for the entire office to wear masks for an indeterminate time. I would find it more reasonable to support their bid to work from home and perhaps clean and wear masks if they are coming into the office.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        This is well put.

        We’d spread fewer germs, including but not limited to covid, if everyone masked and distanced and never gathered forever. But people who followed “stay home for two months” and “mask for a year +” are largely not thrilled with “and do those things forever, so fewer germs.” Even though that is epidemiologically sound advice.

        I type this as someone who spent the shutdowns undergoing radiation, and gets a painful bout of radiation recall with every mrna vaccine. And whose mom died shortly after everyone got vaxxed. Extreme caution forever is not how I want to spend my remaining years.

      2. How About That*

        The problem is, the pandemic hasn’t wound down, most of the planet still has an abysmal vaccination rate and world travel is a thing.

        OP, sadly, few really care about the aged and immunocompromised, unless they have a friend or family member with this status. Do all within your power to protect yourself. Work remotely if possible, and if not, consider changing jobs. Get a HEPA filter for your work area, or see if the job will buy you one.

        Before Covid, as an immunocompromised person, I was already wary of catching the flu and other nasty infections in the winter. Lysol spray and frequent hand washing were already part of my routine. I do not intend to remove my N95mask anytime soon when indoors with others, maybe never. I will keep my distance from people. Good luck to you OP.

      3. Ally McBeal*

        This. The reasonable accommodation is for OP to work from home most of the time. And on the few days they have to go into the office, I think it’s reasonable to give her a private room with a door (spare conference room or office) and ask her teammates and others sitting in close proximity to mask in enclosed spaces, or work remotely. It’s inconvenient, but that’s the trade-off for helping one of your coworkers stay alive.

    4. generic_username*

      I’m mainly pulling my cues from the people around me – so I mask up when I’m walking around the office, but it’s off when I’m at my desk (and now when I’m chatting at some of my coworkers desks). Everyone in my office had a conversation about it to see what the general comfort level is though so I know no one is worried.

    5. ES*

      My organization recently went back to the office and we’re in a major east coast city where masks are now optional. The organization made clear that individuals are welcome to wear masks if they like but they are not required. Just as no one can ask someone to take off a mask, no one can require another colleague to wear a mask. I see that as basic respect — someone who’s not wearing a mask shouldn’t be hounded about his or her choice. (Plus, in our context the staff are 100% vaccinated, air filtration has been upgraded to MERV-13 filters with additional HEPA filters throughout the workspace, and we have liberal telework for those who’ve been exposed or who test positive but are asymptomatic and able to keep working.)

      Mutual respect ought to be the order of the day.

      1. MM*

        See, this is the thing exactly. Your workplace has made infrastructural changes (ventilation, time off, WFH) that reduce risk and increase trust for everyone, so it’s reasonable to treat masking this way. In situations where that hasn’t happened and masking is still one of the only lines of defense, I think it’s understandable that people’s emotions and fears run a lot higher.

        1. How About That*

          THIS, especially with the air filtration upgrades which are key to managing indoor covid risk.

          And sorry but no, sometimes mutual respect is not warranted. You can judge me for continuing to wear a mask, and I can judge you for not doing so, but we are free to do what we want.

      2. bratschegirl*

        What you’ve left out of your argument for “mutual respect” is any acknowledgment that my choice to wear a mask has zero impact, actual or potential, on anyone else including you, whereas your choice not to wear a mask absolutely can adversely affect those around you. The two are not equivalent.

    6. June*

      Yes. I’m pro vaccine and pro mask but people are done being policed. All we can do is double mask up and protect ourselves.

    7. Polecat*

      You say your office is a good office, but the rest of your comment doesn’t support that.

      If the people in your office are over the safety measures and they wouldn’t do them again to keep a coworker with cancer safer, then I challenge your description of them as responsible and respectful. And I replace it with selfish.

    8. Cocafonix*

      These responses really illustrate Aarti’s point. If a manager sent a request to continue masking because someone in my 20-25 person group will be severely immuno-compromised for the next “x” weeks or months, I’d do it in a heartbeat. These aren’t nobodys, these are people I know and largely respect. Clearly not everybody who was previously diligent would.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        I work out of a shared studio space and I am careful not to get COVID because I know some of my studio mates are immunocompromised to the point that vaccines don’t work on them. I am so scared I will have an asymptomatic case, or one that looks like seasonal allergies, and will transmit it to someone who will end up in the hospital. We have never revoked the mask policy, though they had a special happy hour for First Friday where people could drink and socialize and vulnerable folks just stayed home that evening.

        Plus, I don’t want Long COVID. Random microclots throughout my body and nobody really knows what might prevent it? No, do not want.

  2. L-squared*

    I definitely think this is a situation where you should try to get accommodations that work, like working from home or a private office, more than putting it on others. Many people, even good, responsible people, have mask fatigue at this point, and have done what they need to do for the past 2 years, and if numbers are low, they are going to want to go maskless. And honestly, I don’t blame them, I’m kind of in the same boat. So I think its just easier for you to try your best to remove yourself from the situation instead of trying to get 25 people to conform to what you want.

    And while I get not wanting people to come in “sick”, what that means to people is going to vary. I had a cold last week, there is still a bit of a cough where maybe a few times a day I will, but other than that, I feel fine. I of course wouldn’t want to infect you, but I’m also not going to possibly anger my boss for needing to stay home sick, especially knowing how I feel personally.

    1. Laura*

      I agree. It’s 100% on the employer to accommodate this employee, and they absolutely should. The solution is not asking the entire staff to adjust to medical needs of another. It’s not from a place of inconsideration, it’s just not how US workplace protocols are supposed to function.

      1. June*

        Employers only have to accommodate to the point where it does not interfere with productivity/business outcome.

    2. The Original K.*

      Yeah, I’m still masking because I have an immunocompromised family member I’m trying to protect, and often people will say to me “you don’t have to wear that!” And I say “I’m choosing to,” and thankfully people leave me alone. But a lot of people are just done and want to move on, even though this is very much with us (I think lockdowns are resuming in China now). And OP’s office sounds … less responsible than the people I know and come in contact with, so I wouldn’t trust them.

      1. Been There*

        when I see someone with a mask, I respond with “do you want me to put one on? I keep some in my purse.” as I reach into my purse to grab one. I’ve never actually had someone say yes, when I ask, but they’re always thankful. Like, if someone is wearing a mask, they’re not worried about spreading it, they’re worried about CATCHING it.

        1. The Original K.*

          I had a lot of work done on my home over the summer when most people had been vaccinated and I would always answer the door for workers masked. They’d say “I’m fully vaccinated; would you like me to wear a mask?” I’d say yes; they’d comply. I was paying them so they didn’t have much choice, heh. (And the people who did the floors wore them anyway because of dust.)

        2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          They’re worried about catching it, and possibly also about catching it and bringing it home to an immune-compromised person.

          A lot of immune-compromised people look just like everyone else: you can’t tell by looking at us that we’re on immuno-suppressant drugs. If you pass me on the street, I just look like I’m being particularly careful (N95 for a walk to the mailbox); it certainly isn’t apparent that an immune-suppressed spouse is why he’s masking when he goes for a walk.

          1. Quiet Liberal*

            This right here. I still wear a mask most places because my spouse is immune compromised and I don’t want to expose them to Covid if I can help it. It is annoying when people try to lecture me about the current masking rules. That I don’t “have” to wear one. I usually just kindly say “thanks for the info”. But, seriously, why is it anyone’s business what I wear on my face? I’m tired of masks, too, but I do what I gotta do to keep loved ones safe.

            OP, I’m afraid in my area you’d be on your own. Covid has never been taken seriously here. It sucks that you not only have to worry about having cancer, but also that you might catch something else that will jeopardize your health further. In my city, my only solution was to get some very effective masks and do my best to stay distanced from people. I’m sorry you have to deal with this.

          2. Mf*

            “A lot of immune-compromised people look just like everyone else: you can’t tell by looking at us that we’re on immuno-suppressant drugs.”

            This is so true. My husband is immunocompromised. He’s in his 30s with 6-pack abs. You would never guess for a second that he has an incurable disease that requires immunosuppressive drugs.

            Both he and I take extra precautions because he’s high risk, but we both look young and fit. The amount of assumptions we’ve had to dispel during the pandemic has been very frustrating, especially at work.

        3. Midwestern Scientist*

          As a mask wearer in a place that no longer has mask requirements, this is not accurate. I’m in my 20s and relatively healthy. I mask maybe 5% (generous) for myself and 95+% for the other people I come in contact with (multiple immunocompromised, in cancer treatment, elderly, etc family members).

      2. The Original MP*

        Absolutely the same here, Original K. I’m taking a graduate class, and the instructor (early thirties) and I are the only ones wearing N95 masks. Now that the mask mandate is over, I bet most students will ditch the masks.

      3. BritGirl*

        I know so many people with it again here, either the BA.2 Omicron variant is driving up infections or the removal of all precautions and isolation requirements is. Most immunocompromised folk I know now are basically isolating, it’s rubbish.

    3. Espeon*

      I agree. This was pre-pandemic, around October 2019. I got a bad cold/cough that lasted nearly 6 weeks. I was only sick for a few days, but had this lingering cough for over a month. After 3 days, I went back into the office because most people can’t take an entire month off work for a minor cough. After covid, perhaps wearing a mask if you have a cough like that is a good idea. But not everyone will do that and I don’t see many companies enforcing it anymore.

    4. Essentially Cheesy*

      Yes, completely agree with you on this one. Would I mask for a deathly ill coworker if needed? Yes but I am so tired of masking.

      I am not sure that someone could ever adequately protect themselves in this situation, and I would be making a very, very strong case for working from home if I were OP.

    5. Velawciraptor*

      Please tell me you at least had the courtesy to mask and socially distance while you were in the office sick. If you don’t want to infect people but feel pressured to come in, that should be the bare minimum people do for one another at this point.

    6. How About That*

      Even those of us who will not be unmasking get tired and hot under there, for goodness sake. It’s been two years! We deal with it. Be thankful you don’t have to.

      People with any respiratory infection should mask up, not just Covid. Covid is not the only nasty ailment around. And folks who come to work sick should take extra care not to infect the environment.

    7. Work bestie*

      Wholeheartedly agree and this should have been a main point of Alisons in my opinion! I work in higher ed so we have a disability resource center on campus so I know it’s different in corporate settings but cancer is covered under the ADA. You can find more about what “reasonable accommodations” would be on the JAN network which I’ve found helpful for my own situation.

  3. Warrior Princess Xena*

    Ouch.
    Personally, I’d have no problem in observing much stricter safety protocols if one of my coworkers said “hey, I’m super immuno-compromised right now and need some support”. However, your workplace sounds completely unsupportive of sick time, and I notice that you didn’t mention a WFH option at all. Neither of those sound like it’s a workplace that’s going to be overwhelmingly supportive.
    I’d probably agree with Allison that pushing for WFH if possible and an isolated space in the office if WFH isn’t possible is going to be your best bet.

    1. SportyYoda*

      I wonder if WFH would be the best option independent of coworkers; chemo drugs affect different people different ways. If I’m nauseated and vomiting 48hrs after an infusion, I would want to be somewhere I can take care of that… which might not be best for a traditional office environment. If I’m sensitive to cold, it’s easier to control my home environment than my office environment. If I need to take multiple ten minute breaks instead of one hour long break, that’s probably easier to manage at home than at an office. If I need to follow up chemo with a specific medicine, it may be easier to take at home than risk having a nosy coworker try to get involved (or injecting something in a bathroom).

      Obviously some caveats based on how functional LW is after chemo; but there are plenty of reasons WFH is the better accommodation than just “my coworkers are germ factories.”

      1. Splendid Colors*

        WFH has been an accommodation that many, many people with various disabilities have been wanting for ages because it’s so much easier to manage symptoms/pain at home.

  4. Squid*

    I really wonder if it wouldn’t behoove OP to engage their manager and HR about the ADA exploratory process – the company has more than 15 employees, which means the ADA applies to it. Asking others to mask, etc. may not be the “right” accommodation here, but it is worth the conversation. AskJAN is a good resource here, too.

  5. BA*

    First and foremost, go kick cancer’s butt!! You’ll have a lot of folks (this one included) who you don’t even know, in your corner sending you positivity and support.

    When I was undergoing treatment (both well before COVID and then again during COVID), I had a lot of good support around me and people were highly accepting of me being more sensitive to the potential illness around me. I hope your coworkers can be understanding, even if it isn’t their first choice to be.

    Depending on your work setup, and if you can’t work from home, I’d recommend staying masked yourself of course, and then having sanitizer and masks available for people as they approach your desk/cube/office…like on a chair outside your direct area. And give a nod to those items, as in, “you’re definitely going to mask up and sanitize before coming near me.” Hopefully once people realize this is a serious thing and they’re not going to be able to not follow your rules. If your manager is understanding, hopefully they can ensure the word gets out that you are immunocompromised and people should treat you with kindness and understanding when it comes to steering clear with germs.

    I sincerely hope that people get it and are willing to be understanding. And again, wishing you all the best as you go through treatment.

  6. Poster*

    Idly wondering if one could request a private office space under the ADA until no longer immunocompromised.

  7. Jen*

    I would certainly support this if a co-worker of mine was in an immunocompromised situation. However, if
    I were the one at risk, I would much prefer to WFH or myself wear a well fitted N95 mask. People are well intentioned but I worry that the definition of ‘sick’ varies by person and furthermore, people can spread a number of viral / bacterial infections without knowing they are sick.

    1. Caroline Bowman*

      Yes, this occurred to me too. With the best will in the world, people can be brewing all sorts of gross things with absolutely no idea at all, and of them all, Covid may be the least scary. As someone who will have essentially no immune system for quite a while, if you can carve out some work from home time, or at the very least keep as much distance between me and others as possible / wear an N95 / have windows very much open at all times would be best.

      And I hope that your co-workers would be fully supportive of that, but still, people are forgetful, they get lazy and busy, which is why I’d vote for some separation as much as possible, because it will be a bit of a long haul and your own health and wellbeing must be treated with absolute priority till Christmas at the very, very least.

      1. quill*

        Yes, a lot of people are carrying things asymptomatically, because their immune system is thriving. They could still pass those things to OP, whose immune system will be down for the count for quite some time. The safest course is physical separation.

    2. NYWeasel*

      Yes, I see my coworkers all the time saying things like “Yeah I’m sick but it’s not Covid do it’s fine!” as if a regular cold is no big deal. As someone who gets terrible asthma attacks after minor colds, I don’t want you coming in with sniffles either!

      1. Distracted Librarian*

        THIS. The last time a co-worker came in with a cold, I ended up with bronchitis.

      2. JamminOnMyPlanner*

        Personally, I can’t afford to stay home if I have a cold or the sniffles. I only get 10 days of combined vacation/sick pay per year. I have the kind of job that can’t be done from home.

          1. NYWeasel*

            I totally get that, but then that’s where treating it seriously can be hugely beneficial. I’m not saying you’re like this, but my coworkers say things like that when they aren’t masked up, standing over me, etc etc. If they wore a mask and were like “let me sit over here while we talk bc I have a touch of the sniffles”, it wouldn’t bother me so much. It’s the whole “I know I’ll be fine so you don’t need to worry” attitude that’s the problem.

            (Alternately the real problem is employers who think the costs of more employees getting sick is cheaper than paying for more sick days, but that discussion could take all day)

        1. Velawciraptor*

          But you can wear a mask if you have to work sick. At this point, that should be seen as a bare minimum–if you’re in public sick, wear a mask to minimize the risk of your spreading it to others.

          1. Quiet Liberal*

            Yes! Wouldn’t it be cool if wearing a mask while sick to prevent spreading an illness became a thing? Maybe one positive to come out of the pandemic.

      3. JustAnotherKate*

        OMG this. Just because it’s not Covid — you are still sick and gross and should not come in. My coworker said “my brother had the flu when I visited him and I’m not feeling well today, but if I test negative for Covid I’ll come into the office.” NO, BRO. Please do not give us the flu! (We have a flexible WFH policy and decent sick leave, so he totally could’ve avoided coming in.)

      4. Jen*

        Cold symptoms can easily last 1o days or more. Do you really expect that everyone stay home with minor sniffles?

      5. Splendid Colors*

        When I worked in the open office of a commercial real estate company, one of the brokers got colds all the time because he worked out so much his immune system was borked. Of course he passed it to his admin, who would spread it to the desks around her, and the other brokers would catch it from him too at their dude water cooler chats.

    3. A Wall*

      It’s not really everyone masks or the LW wears a respirator, it would be everyone masks around the LW and the LW also wears a respirator. If you’re just buying respirators as a consumer and not able to get ones that are exactly correctly fit-tested to you, odds are very good that you are not achieving a perfect seal and are still breathing in a decent amount of unfiltered air. I saw one recent study where folks trying to self-fit consumer respirators had notable leaks around 20% of the time, which is nothing to sneeze at (badum tss).

      If other folks around you are wearing even minimally filtering masks, then your odds of avoiding illness are still pretty good. If they’re not, then you’re still quite likely to be breathing in whatever pathogens they’re putting out into the air around you. A lot–a lot –of the things the LW needs to avoid are airborne or at least will be immediately after being exhaled out, including covid. Picture it like cigarette smoke, and imaging how far even just one person smoking inside your office would spread around.

  8. Mehitabel*

    The LW should ask for an ADA accommodation, to work from home full time, IMO. These days you can’t count on anyone to be responsible or to care in the least little bit about other peoples’ well-being when it might infringe the teeniest tiniest bit on their so-called “freedoms”. All it takes is one yahoo, and yahoos are everywhere you look anymore.

    1. Polecat*

      The OP needs to research whether their type of cancer is covered by the Ada. It’s really not the company’s role to be the ones to research that. An oncology social worker can help. When you start talking about medical information, health information, things get legal. Same for when you have to request FMLA.
      If it is covered, then the OP can enter into a discussion with her employer about reasonable accommodations. And there are a lot of rules about what the employer can and can’t do with the information that is shared about her health. For example if she’s given time off for chemo treatment, they can’t tell people that’s why she’s been given time off. If she’s given a private office as an accommodation, they can’t tell her coworkers why she’s getting that office. They aren’t even allowed to tell the coworkers that she’s technically disabled. There are a lot of privacy rules, which is a good thing. If the OP chooses to tell her coworkers her private medical information, then that’s on her.

  9. Goldenrod*

    As someone who HATES wearing a mask and is excited to take the mask off every chance I get….if I had a co-worker who made this request, I would 100% wear a mask at work.

    OP, I’m sorry you have to have chemotherapy. Wishing you all the best with your treatment and kicking cancer to the curb!!

    1. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

      Same. I remove mine outside all the time, but wear them inside because it’s not all about me.

  10. Pickle and The Bean*

    Protect yourself.
    Obtain a high quality N95 mask. Fit test it to ensure a good seal (put on the mask, put a bucket over your head, spray a saccharine mist into the bucket. Move your head around and speak a sentence. If you don’t taste the saccharine then you have a good fit.)
    Practice good hand hygiene and keep germicidal wipes on your desk in case someone touches anything on your desk. Wear long sleeves to pull over your hand when touching doorknobs etc.
    I have preemie newborn girls and don’t want to be a carrier for anything nasty.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      I second wearing a well fitting N95. Unfortunately, you can’t control others very well. People will forget, or be so firmly wrapped up in their own life that they have no space to think about others.

      N95s are good for about 40 hours of wear. But when re-using them, let them air out between uses by sticking them in a paper bag. Do not touch the actual mask when taking it off.

      Yes, in your immune compromised state you will need to do PPE like a hospital worker when in public or an office, because you can’t guarantee that everyone will get with the program and stay home.

      One time I had to go to a conference – I was working – and I had what I thought was a major allergy attack. I wore an N95 mask to keep pollen out. It turned out that I had a spring cold, but no one else around me caught it, because I masked up. This was before covid.

      One thing you could do is ask other people to mask up too if they think they might be coming down with something. While I know that the American thing of working sick won’t go away, it would be less harmful if the person who had to work sick would just wear a mask to avoid spreading it.

      A friend of mine finally finished her chemo for BC a couple months ago. She was able to go out on disability while she did so. Depending on how much it messes with you, you may want to think about that as well, if you can afford the financials.

  11. Free Meerkats*

    In addition to the ADA accommodation that has already been mentioned, the LW would be completely within their rights to require anyone in their office to be masked and use the cat squirt bottle on anyone who refuses until they mask up or leave.

    1. L-squared*

      Uh, no. Sorry, you can ask, but she can’t require it anymore than her coworkers can require her to stay home as an accommodation. Most of the US is now in a “low transmission” state where masking is no longer being recommended. I think its a choice people have

      1. Dramatic Intent to Flounce*

        The ‘low transmission’ is largely because the CDC changed how it calculated those numbers and is basing them on how likely hospitals are to be overwhelmed, because they decided it is politically preferable to say ‘COVID is over, no more masks!’ and act surprised when the next variant causes massive spikes in a few weeks than to actually try to reduce spread and protect the immunocompromised and young kids. The CDC still recommends wearing masks if you’re around immunocompromised or otherwise high-risk people (which led to people looking at those guidelines and asking ‘are they… seriously recommending that if you live with an immunocompromised person, it is more reasonable for you to mask in your own house to protect them than for there to be public mask mandates?’)

        But realistically work from home seems to be the best option by far, unless you know the building’s ventilation is VERY, VERY good, and also you can have an open window and a closed door to your private space. Airborne viruses. Delightful. I know it’s horrifically unfair to ask immunocompromised people to avoid leaving the house as much as possible because the government refuses to take actual steps to reduce transmission and protect us, but… well, I’m immunocompromised too, so I’m in this same horrifically unfair boat.

      2. DarthVelma*

        As far as I’m concerned, if LW has her own office, then it’s “her office, her rules”. When they do finally drag me back into my office, no one is coming into my personal office without a mask on. Period. If they don’t like it, they can call me or use Teams from their own office.

        1. L-squared*

          Ok, you were reading “their” office as a private office. I think that is fair then to make whatever rules you want when people are in your private space. I read “their” office as meaning the office they go to that has a bunch of other employees walking around.

        2. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          You can certainly feel that way, and even try to enforce it, if you’re in a position where it is actually practicable.

          You try and use a squirt bottle on your coworkers, and I would wager money you get bounced from your employer so fast your head spins. Coworkers are not your pets, and since they have no way of knowing what you load into your squirt bottle, or reason to trust you, I’d frankly tell my boss that I considered it assault – before COVID, I was almost blinded by a person who decided Lysol spray from six inches in my face was acceptable.

          Spraying another person with perfume, deodorizer, water, or really anything that is intended to make contact and be unpleasant, is a huge overstep in almost every professional environment.

          1. NaoNao*

            Yes, thank you!

            Many people in this thread are thinking about the rights and needs of the immunocompromised (which is not wrong!) and acting like it’s a completely 100% non-issue to be asked to wear a mask indoors for 8+ hours a day…after having done so for 2 years and counting, with multiple repeated “extensions” of “just a little while more until freedom!” and they’re deliberately ignoring and downplaying the emotional and psychological affect of such a request. The irony is that they’re saying people who don’t want to wear a mask any longer are thoughtless and insensitive, while they themselves are dismissing and minimizing the discomfort of others!

            1. Aggresuko*

              Well…realistically, the way things are going, we’re probably never going to get to mask-free life again. I know a lot of people haaaaaaaaaaaate it, but Covid’s not going away. “Just a little longer” is out the window. I’ve been sucking it up wearing one for 8+ hours a day (some days 12 hours) and well, I didn’t catch it and nobody else caught it off me. If that’s what’s needed, then that’s what you have to do, no matter how much you hate it.

            2. Love Dies*

              Wearing a mask is such a small inconvenience compared to the lives and health of coworkers I care about. I don’t love wearing one but it feels so silly to treat a face mask as an imposition considering the stakes.

              1. Splendid Colors*

                Agreed. I have already mentioned that I have immunocompromised colleagues at the shared studio space where I work 1-3 days a week. I mask up everywhere so I won’t be sick there and leak COVID if my N95 isn’t fitting right after a water break or something.

                Masking outdoors means the spring pollen isn’t giving me seasonal allergies or asthma, which is great because the only thing worse than feeling icky is feeling icky and worrying if I might have a mild case of COVID.

          2. Free Meerkats*

            If I were in this situation and you came into my private office, past the sign that would say, “Please mask up before you come in”, unmasked, I’d tell you to put on a mask. If you refused, Id grab the bottle and give you a choice, mask up, leave, or get wet.

            My office, my rules.

      3. A Wall*

        It’s “low transmission” because they changed the standards to consider the current rate of (objectively extremely high) transmission “low.” It’s BS and everyone knows it, but here we are.

        I don’t know where the agitation about a small piece of clothing comes from. Pretty sure everyone’s workplaces have rules for appropriate dress, and everyone there maintains an entire wardrobe for this purpose. I can’t imagine people digging their heels in this hard if their job started requiring only closed-toed shoes or something, and that wouldn’t be directly impacting the health and safety of your coworker who is simply asking you to help protect them.

        Like, maybe folks should look inward a little bit if someone they work with saying “please help protect me from suffering serious bodily harm while I undergo cancer treatment by wearing a single clothing item” causes them to puff up and get indignant about how they shouldn’t have to do anything if they don’t feel like it. Are we children?

  12. Margaretmary*

    This is probably something the LW is already taking into account but just in case, I’ll add that some people do not wear masks correctly. I see a lot of people with them down under the chin and so on. Of course, the LW knows her coworkers and their habits best, but I just think it’s something else to consider: even if they do wear masks out of consideration for her situation, will they all wear them properly?

    1. Monivan*

      I had a coworker who intentionally wore mesh masks that don’t actually protect anyone. Our company didn’t care or make him wear a different mask. Watch out for those malicious compliers.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        One of the guards at my apartment’s security desk sits under a CDC sign showing the acceptable styles of masks–and unacceptable valved masks and neck gaiters–WEARING A NECK GAITER UNDER HIS NOSE.

  13. Yellow*

    My workplace was very strict about masking, and now that our mandate is lifted I’d say 90% of us no longer mask. However, if I knew a coworker I sat near was immunocompromised I would 100% wear a mask if they asked me to. I think you’re going to have to talk to people about this. And if you’re not comfortable disclosing your diagnosis, I can’t see a world in which people are going to willingly mask up again for no reason.

  14. Katie*

    I had an employee who had a kidney transplant. Way before COVID we switched him to work from home through I think some FMLA policy. The official route was purposeful because my manager was awful and would not have gone with it otherwise. It worked great.

    Offices are cesspools of disease COVID or no COVID.

  15. Dust Bunny*

    If your workplace doesn’t have adequate sick time or has this attitude toward calling out, you’re not going to get people to stay home when they’re sick. Period. And that’s on your employer for not encouraging them to stay home.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Better to encourage them to mask up when sick. Sell it to management as a way to cut down on absenteeism from disease spread.

    2. Emi*

      I agree, and it’s messy to put coworkers in the position of deciding “do I risk my toxic management’s ire or do I go against this request from my coworker?” It’s so easy for me to sit here and say “any decent person would honor a request like this!” but if I was on a really tight budget and didn’t have paid sick time, or if I would be running a risk of getting fired by calling out … I actually don’t know what I would do in that situation.

  16. BlueSwimmer*

    I just went through cancer treatment myself in a workplace where not everyone is masked or vaccinated. I work in a high school and even before my state lifted mask mandates, student mask wearing was imperfect (lots of noses out, and kids taking off their masks to “hydrate” as slowly as possible). I do have a private office rather than a classroom, which has made me feel much safer. I do ask people to mask up when they come in. I also bought myself a highly-rated HEPA air purifier for my office. Maybe your employer would buy one for you? My school doesn’t have the funding for things like this but it was worth the money for my peace of mind. A private workspace would be an excellent accommodation for you under ADA and would give people an obvious visual cue about masking up for your safety. Be ready for some not to–I wear well-fitting KN95s all day and eat lunch alone in my office or outside. I got a third vaccine shot before starting radiation and the booster a couple of months after my treatment was finished. I don’t go anywhere indoors unmasked and neither does my husband, my parents, my sister, or my best friend and her family, and they are the only people I am unmasked indoors with even now.

    Best wishes to you for a treatment course that is successful and isn’t too hard to get through. Don’t be afraid to be assertive about your safety and give yourself permission to rest, rest, rest and conserve your strength for healing.

  17. Firm Believer*

    I’m a a huge believer in masks and continue to wear mine almost everywhere despite mandates being lifted. I used to internally rage when people weren’t wearing them. But… now that mandates have been lifted and recommendations have changed I think it’s really now a choice. I don’t think we can necessarily require it of people anymore. I would do whatever is in your power to keep yourself safe.

    1. Aggresuko*

      I still rage, but there is nothing I can do about it now except appreciate the people who at least keep it on indoors without eating. Once they’re given permission not to, you’re SOL.

  18. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    I agree that the best solution is to work from home if you can. Unfortunately, you can’t necessarily count on others to do the right thing in this case. Such a shame that the pandemic turned out that way.

    1. Jzilbeck*

      If I learned anything from this pandemic, it certainly was how shockingly selfish people can be, and are VERY willing to sacrifice others just so they don’t have to be inconvenienced for a second.

      1. Danish*

        Same. It’s incredibly disheartening. I was a real believer in People Are Mostly Good before the pandemic, and I feel like a naive fool.

  19. generic_username*

    I’d love to say you can fully count on your coworkers to get what you need and be vigilant about accommodating it … but if the last two years have taught us anything, a lot of people will not.

    Unfortunately. My first thought on reading this was to say to myself “well, OF COURSE people will continue to mask and avoid you when they’re sick!” but I doubt that’s actually the case for large parts of our population. LW – you should definitely try to WFH or get a space not around others, and invest in the lightest quality mask possible.

  20. The Assistant*

    Such good comments already!

    The first comment hit the nail on the head. Does the OP have to have everyone in the office know their cancer diagnosis in order for safer behavior to prevail? Some might not mind others knowing but some folks are super-private about their medical history.

    Maybe if the supervisor said, “Please be aware that we do have immuncompromised people and folks who live with immunocompromised people at home working in the office. If someone is wearing a mask, please take precautions for their and their loved one’s safety.”

    Maybe wearing a N95 is a sign to others, but would a statement like this would be effective?

    1. Random Bystander*

      To be honest, I think the generic “immunocompromised people” is going to butt up against the same issue as general mask fatigue. It might be different if they know that “Mary” is going through cancer treatment and therefore immunocompromised, but then again–no particular guarantees there. And OP certainly has the right to whatever degree of privacy/sharing info works for the OP (I say this as a cancer survivor myself).

      Best options are WFH (superior in all respects–even when you’re kind of low energy, hauling butt to chair is a lot easier when the commute is within one’s own home, and the bathroom is a *lot* closer at home than at work). Next best would be a separate office with OP in mask and some sort of filtering machine, and encouraging people to use non-direct contact (like IM or whatever is available in that office) communication. If it were my health, I wouldn’t want to depend on other people to reduce my risks when going through treatment (I had cancer during Covid, so was WFH throughout, 8mo cancer free now).

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I agree: “Mary is undergoing chemo” is going to garner a lot more effort than “there are immunocompromised people about.”

    2. Jzilbeck*

      I’ve recently been given orders to return to the office and have several coworkers who are worried for the immunocompromised people they live with (including a cancer patient). Unfortunately, we’ve been told by legal that our hands are tied in this matter; YOU can wear a mask if you choose, but legally nobody can ask others to mask up. And even when there was a mandate, you couldn’t say anything to someone who wasn’t masked up properly; “report them to your management” was all the guidance given. Sadly, I get the feeling our leadership would much rather see people resign to keep themselves safe rather than simply allowing a full time WFH option.

      1. Polecat*

        Do you live in a state that has a law against mask mandates by private companies? Because unless you do, there is no legal reason why the company can’t continue to require masks. It’s a private company. If they decided all of you needed to wear company T-shirts every day to work, they would be allowed to do that. If they decided they wanted to err on the side of caution and continue masking indoors at the company until the end of the year, they have a right to do that too.

    3. Aggresuko*

      See the “allergic to peanuts” example above. I think you’d get far better results outing yourself than keeping private and hinting, being vague, alluding to immunocompromised people, etc.

  21. mcfizzle*

    I agree with Alison – you can (and should!) ask, but I wouldn’t hold your breath that everyone would be willing to comply. I consider myself a fairly reasonable person, but I personally hate the masks (I was abused as a child so anything on my face and/or neck is a massive struggle). That being said, if I knew I have a coworker with cancer / about to start chemo, I would absolutely wear a mask and take other precautions for their sake.

    I hope your treatment goes well!!

  22. Fiddlesticks*

    I’ve tried to be as responsible as possible during 2+ years of Covid. Fully vaccinated and boosted, always wore a mask as required, refused association with people who would not follow Covid safety protocols, etc. However, I’m not going back to masking now unless required by law – I’m sorry. If someone at work has a serious health condition, I will keep six feet of distance and put on a mask if I need to be in their office/cubicle, I will wash my hands & sanitize regularly, take a different elevator and so forth, and I never have been one to come in when sick, but I’m not going to wear a mask for 8 hours a day in the workplace again unless we have another pandemic.

    The OP should be wearing an N95 full-time when at work, and requesting full-time WFH or private office accommodation for the duration of her medical treatments if the type of work allows it. I don’t want to seem
    unsympathetic to the OP; this is actually a larger issue. Any moderate to large office is always going to have employees who are immunocompromised or undergoing medical treatment, or who have children who can’t be vaccinated, or vulnerable family members at home. Asking an entire office to mask up for one person’s medical needs is not the appropriate solution for these situations.

    1. tessa*

      “I’m not going to wear a mask for 8 hours a day in the workplace again unless we have another pandemic.”

      We’re still in a pandemic. Also, the Omicron-2 variant is causing higher rates of cases and hospitalizations in Europe. Only a matter of time before that gets here.

      “Asking an entire office to mask up for one person’s medical needs is not the appropriate solution for these situations.”

      A matter of opinion, not an empirical fact. On that note, I wonder whether those who do have that opinion would be willing to be on the receiving end of their own convictions.

      1. Fiddlesticks*

        I absolutely do believe that if I were to develop a medical condition that put me into an immunocompromised state, the solution would NOT be for my entire office to have to go around wearing masks for months on end. No one ever thought of asking their coworkers to do such a thing pre-Covid, and when Covid is over there will still be lots of seasonal viruses and other infectious diseases that the immunocompromised will still have to avoid. Permanent or semi-permanent masking is not the answer.

        1. Velawciraptor*

          But there do need to be permanent changes to the cultural norms that have gotten us to this point. Perhaps not masking at all times in all situations, but certainly if you are in public while sick, masking should be standard everywhere as it is in many cultures.

          If the pandemic should have reminded us of anything, it’s that public health IS a public issue and that we, as members of a society, have certain obligations to one another.

        2. Aggresuko*

          Yeah, because most of the other office crud going around before wasn’t fatal or potentially causing lifelong disability.

          1. Loulou*

            Wait, what? Of course it was if you were severely immunocompromised, which is the topic at hand here.

    2. HigherEdAdminista*

      We are all members of a society. There is a new disease in our society that disables people and kills people, particularly those who are disabled. I don’t blame you for feeling the way you do because every government has encouraged this kind of thinking. They think it is the responsibility of those who perceive they are at risk (also interesting would be to check out the list of conditions or situations that the CDC says define someone who is high risk for COVID complications; so many more of us are on there than people would imagine!) to protect themselves so that everyone can go about their business and enjoy their lives.

      But the fact of the matter is that there is a safer way and most of us live in places where that has been abandoned by those in charge, and it is purely for economic reasons. If communities were supported and a variety of mitigation methods were put in place, we could have communities where everyone felt safer. I don’t say this as if I think we live in some fantasy where this would be easy or everyone would care, but every single person who accept the “it’s not my problem” mentality makes it that much easier for those with the most resources to shortchange those with the least.

      I don’t know that you will care about this comment, but you may be more vulnerable right now than you realize or you might love people who are more vulnerable than you realize, and I think this is a pretty disappointing stance to take that the only way you would take a precaution like this is if forced to do so by law, rather than by knowing people around you, members of your community, may still be scared and suffering.

      1. Lila*

        Thank you! As someone whose kid can’t be vaccinated and who is pregnant, the recent change in mask rules has made me feel much less safe and it feels like everyone else just shrugs and is over it. It feels very disheartening.

      2. Calliope*

        Your comment actually gets at what I think is causing a problem these days which is that actually, the vast vast majority of people who were high risk pre-vaccines are NOT still high risk. So the CDCs list is not that helpful given that.

        What we should be doing is focusing on the small number of people for whom vaccines don’t mitigate risk (or who aren’t eligible and are also high risk). That absolutely includes cancer patients going through chemo. We can much more effectively protect them if we don’t make it seem like we need to take the same precautions around a cancer patient or a transplant survivor than someone with asthma who is fully vaxxed.

    3. T.*

      This! We need to respect boundaries of other people and then each person needs to be responsible for their own safety above and beyond if need be. I don’t need the side eye for coming to work with bronchitis (6 week cough). People need to stop trying to decide who’s priorities are more important. Everyone needs to be more kind.

      1. Clumsy Ninja*

        As someone who coughs for weeks after a cold (thank you, asthma!) I hear you. That said, I think that it’s important to share at least a little of your medical history with your coworkers if that’s the case. When I’m working with someone new, like after I had bronchitis, I warned them that I had just had bronchitis and that I would be coughing as though I was dying at times, but that I wasn’t contagious and it was asthma and post-Covid lung damage. I also couldn’t stay out for six weeks for a cough, but I also religiously wore a mask through that time. Figured it was the least I could do.

    4. quill*

      We’re all sympathetic to the general fatigue, but really, public health is a public responsibility. Every single time mask mandates are shot down or the CDC drops their advice from “wear a mask” to “it’s okay to not wear a mask” infection rates go up.

      Covid is both a mass casualty event and a mass-disabling event and the very fact that every workplace is going to have someone who is currently high risk / living with someone high risk is exactly why we should have erred on the side of caution in masking to begin with. Masks are personal protective equipment. You don’t get to take your hard hat off because you’re “just crossing” the hard hat zone, or your food service gloves because you’re “just chopping lettuce.”

      More to the point: you WILL be wearing a mask 8 hours a day again at some point before the end of spring, as there’s yet another wave rising in europe and most of america has relaxed masking requirements. It will be better for your mental health to work on ways to accept it as inevitable NOW instead of declaring that you’re over it. You’ve done a lot. You’ve suffered a lot. It’s been forever. The virus DOES NOT CARE because it’s a bunch of proteins that only replicates, and murphy’s law applies in that doing everything right isn’t a guarantee.

      Instead of you vs. the fatigue of wearing masks, try to remember it’s all of us vs. the Virus From Hell.

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, that’s it. The virus doesn’t care if you’re tired of masking or you’ve given up a lot or you just want to live your life or freedumb – it just doesn’t care. And estimates of long COVID are 10 – 30% of people, even if they have a mild case. I’d rather wear a mask than have lifelong heart problems or a stroke or be unable to walk up a flight of stairs, but a surprising number of people think “I don’t legally have to wear a mask” means “I am not at risk of death or lifelong health problems”.

        1. Calliope*

          There’s good evidence that vaccines seriously reduce – possibly even eliminate – the risk of long Covid. I just don’t think exaggerating the risk helps. You’ll be more able to get people to take precautions that really matter (like wear masks around cancer patients) if you don’t act like everything is equally dangerous for everyone. That is untrue but also just encourages people to give up because we can’t live like it’s March 2022 forever.

          1. Colette*

            We don’t really understand why some people get long COVID and others don’t, nor do we have a good grasp on what affect vaccines have. It seems like they reduce the risk, but the risk is not 0. We also don’t know why some people die from it while others have mild cold symptoms.

            And we don’t know what the long term effects of having COVID are. (Think shingles years after having chicken pox for an example of long-term effects.)

            If people are sick of the pandemic – and we pretty much all are – then we should be focusing on improving ventilation, moving stuff outdoors, wearing masks, and otherwise trying to end it, rather than pretending it is no longer a problem and trying to infect the entire population.

            1. Calliope*

              I mean, yeah, it would be great if disease and viruses don’t exist and I’m all for improving ventilation and moving events outdoors when feasible. But we’re not going to get rid of Covid by any of the things you name. It is going be endemic and in our lives going forward. And expecting people as a group to not live their lives because their might be something like shingles in 30 years is not realistic. (Like 50% of the American population has already had Covid! They definitely aren’t going to wear masks forever in case of a long term risk!)

              The risk is never going to be zero. But it wasn’t zero before either – all kinds of horrible things happen to people. Covid is one of them and – dont get me wrong – I will take every shot they’ll give me and I’ll mask up during surges, etc. I will also get the shingles vaccine as soon as I can. But I’m not sorry my parents let me go to elementary school even though I eventually got chicken pox (pre vaccine). Holding out for a zero Covid future before you let people not wear masks in an office all day is not what’s realistic at this point.

              With a very vulnerable cancer patient in the office? Totally different story. But due to nebulous concerns about unlikely long Covid in the age of vaccines? No.

              Also people assessing risk differently than you doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

              1. Colette*

                “Endemic” means it’s something we always have to think about and take precautions for. The flu is endemic, and public heath is always tracking it and encouraging precautions.

                It’s true that other things are risky; COVID doesn’t reduce the risk of any of the other horrible things that can happen. We’re just adding another one, because we’re too selfish and lazy to protect each other.

                1. Calliope*

                  Yes, and I get a flu shot every year to protect immunocompromised people and also because the flu is terrible. Like i will continue to get Covid shots and take whatever precautions the public health experts recommend. But the idea that if people just wore masks, we’d eliminate Covid and it would go away is a fantasy. There have been huge mistakes in how Covid has been handled, many of them malicious. But even if it had been handled perfectly it still would have sucked and will still suck going forward and I think we need to put that in our calculus.

                  And we don’t just add to bad things that happen. I’m not sitting around worrying about the bubonic plague. But yeah, shitty and unfair things are still going to happen and accepting some risk is part of living. Not everyone else is going to warp their life to your personal risk tolerance.

              2. KoiFeeder*

                It’s not going to be like shingles. Well, firstly, shingles can still mess you up- you don’t want postherpetic neuralgia on your face. But shingles is an unusually mild post-viral syndrome.

                Think about post-polio syndrome, for a moment. It often presents as muscle weakness and atrophy, joint and spinal deformation and degradation, and otherwise a lot of the same issues that occurred in what you might call “long polio.”

                Now think about “long covid” symptoms. Cardiac, respiratory, and autonomic functions are all damaged or altered. I hope I’m wrong, I really do, but I expect that post-covid syndrome is going to kill a lot of people when it rears its head in 30 years.

                1. Calliope*

                  I mean, if that’s the case, I’m not really sure what I can do about it besides get vaccines, which I’m doing. I’m not willing to not interact with other humans without an N95 for the next 30 years, which is what it would take. Some things are just . . . life.

                2. KoiFeeder*

                  I don’t know how to say this without sounding mean, but I genuinely cannot comprehend how this doesn’t terrify you. The idea of drowning while on a respirator because my lungs are failing is nightmarish, and I’d rather wear a mask for the rest of my life than die like that.

                  I don’t think I can understand your thought process or viewpoint in a meaningful enough way to actually have a conversation with you, so I’ll break things off here.

                3. Fiddlesticks*

                  “I expect that post-covid syndrome is going to kill a lot of people when it rears its head in 30 years.”

                  There is absolutely no scientific evidence for such an assertion, and no responsible health or disease control authority has ever suggested that this is going to happen. “Long covid” is not what you are describing.

                  The virus that causes covid is entirely unrelated to the viruses that cause chickenpox and shingles, and polio, and there is no reason to think that people who have fully recovered from covid will suddenly come down with a (so far non-existent) fatal “post-covid . syndrome” 30 years from now. Please, more science and less irresponsible rumor-spreading.

              3. Goldenrod*

                “The risk is never going to be zero. But it wasn’t zero before either – all kinds of horrible things happen to people. Also people assessing risk differently than you doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

                I agree with this. I got vaccinated, but I don’t want to wear a mask forever. I’d rather take some risk and live my life. Cars kill a lot of people every day too, but I still ride in cars. Life is dangerous.

          2. quill*

            Good scientific practice is always to take the highest practical level of precaution to mitigate risk. It’s why we wear safety goggles no matter what we work on in the lab. The easiest way to enforce these precautions is to have them be long term and universal too. My perspective is that a good half of the pandemic fatigue is people being offered false hope every three months and then going back, and the general governmental messaging swinging back and forth as well. Better to say “we don’t know when we can stop wearing masks” than “it’s over – no wait, it’s not!”

            1. Colette*

              Yeah, we’d be better off saying “we’re going to be wearing masks for the foreseeable future, and wearing masks will allow us to open gyms/have restaurants at full capacity/have large public events while protecting those around us”. Instead, we’re just opening up everything and accepting that most of the population will get sick over and over again.

            2. Persephone*

              OMG so agree! I also think it adds to the problem that we’ve been told wear a mask all this time, then oops sorry, only this one type of mask has worked ALL ALONG. What??? So all along cloth/disposal masks weren’t working?

              1. Alice*

                It’s not a binary where N95s work and surgical and cloth masks have no effect. It’s a spectrum. Anything that reduces the amount of infectious aerosols floating around, and prevents droplets from spraying out, is going to have some effect. Now, if we’re both in gappy surgical masks, in a small poorly ventilated room, then the aerosols that can float out through the gaps are going to build up and possibly you’ll inhale an infectious dose.

              2. quill*

                The pandemic has really shown how many people in public health don’t know how to talk to laypeople. Masks work a little bit like sieves: a cloth mask can be compared to a large particle sieve, surgical mask to medium particle, N95 to small particle. An N95, like the small particle sieve, catches almost all of the germs. A surgical mask, less, cloth, less than that, etc.

        2. The Original K.*

          Long COVID scares the hell out of me. A coworker has it; she can’t walk without getting winded and she ran marathons before. I saw a video in which a woman was sobbing because her sense of taste is still messed up after a year; food tastes like garbage to her so she’s all but stopped eating. I don’t think nearly enough is being said about the fact that this is a mass disabling event, in addition to the million people in the US who have died.

      2. Calliope*

        At the end of the day, I suspect people will be more willing to wear a mask during spikes if they’re not expected to between spikes. Breaks matter. But also, I don’t think every workplace has someone who’s high risk post-vaccine. People throw that term around too lightly now.

        1. quill*

          Probably not every workplace, but certainly most large ones if you consider people who have to live with someone high risk or unvaccinateable… like infants. There’s definitely someone with an infant in a large enough workplace.

          1. Calliope*

            Well a large enough workplace, sure. But at a lot of workplaces you interact with a pretty small number of people. I’m all for masking in big common areas but you don’t necessarily need to be masked in every conference room meeting.

    5. different seudonym*

      this comment exemplifies my own experience with a cancer diagnosis: many people think masking is too much to ask.

  23. WorkNowPaintLater*

    If you are able to get a private office, ask for (or buy) a good air cleaner – one that handles HEPA and can filter out the smallest particles possible. Leave the door shut as much as possible, and ask anyone entering to mask up and at least sanitize their hands – put a polite sign on the door, maybe have some supplies close to the door if possible.

  24. Clean Air*

    OP, if you can’t work from home please make sure you’re wearing a well fitted N95 or KN95 mask, not a surgical mask, and look into bringing in a HEPA air purifier for your workspace if you can. Levoit is a good brand (no harmful ionizers, just HEPA filtration). You can also build your own Corsi Rosenthal box as a DIY air purifier which is a lower cost and very effective option. This will protect you better than your co-workers wearing crummy cloth masks under their noses :)

    1. JustA___*

      OP, if they won’t let you WFH, your office should pay for these things as an ADA accommodation (just like they would pay for a special chair for an ADA back injury, etc.)

    2. Ursula*

      Yes, definitely get a HEPA filter! Studies in hospitals have shown that having one running at all times, even a small portable one, massively decreases the number of bacteria and viruses in the air, including covid.

  25. tessa*

    It’s amazing to me that this question even has to be asked. I continue to be astounded at the number of people who gripe about doing their part in a pandemic to keep others safe. It’s like I am on a different planet. Me, me, me! No, I don’t wanna! My freedoms!

    Honestly…

    Best wishes for you, OP, especially on your diagnosis.

    1. Anon for this.*

      I know someone who has resumed sneezing into her hands again. It was brought up and she replied, “I am a clean person!” and that “The pandemic is over.” I know people who have gone back to not washing their hands. I witnessed a near altercation at my OB/GYN office when someone was told they had to keep wearing a mask. Their freedoms of course.

      I hate everything sometimes.

      1. The Original K.*

        I just … what is the argument against washing your hands? And sneezing into your elbow is as easy as sneezing into your hands. I don’t get people sometimes.

        1. Anon for this.*

          Same as before I guess. They think they are clean people. Why should they have to wash? That’s what the woman I referenced keeps telling her manager. Think of all the people who leave washrooms who haven’t bothered to wash their hands. There is an awful lot of literature about initiatives to try and get people to wash their hands that dates back years before Covid.

          I think back to March of 2020 and the panic that set in with people buying soap, apparently for the first time ever. Those people appear to be done with that now.

          1. Jzilbeck*

            These soap aversive people are why I’ve been carrying hand sanitizer around LONG before covid ever made it so commonplace. I’ve also seen coworkers regularly leave the bathroom without washing their hands (UGH!!!!!) which is why I’ve always kept Lysol spray at my desk…

      2. Lana Kane*

        That’s weird – sneezing into your elbow has been a thing for many years. My son is 10, and that’s how I taught him to sneeze as a toddler. It becomes second nature if you set yourself up to build that habit. But you know….effort!

      3. KoiFeeder*

        Why does she even want to sneeze into her hands? It’s one of the least clean feelings I can imagine, honestly!

        1. TechWorker*

          I mean if you are somehow right next to a sink where there are no tissues available, then sneezing into your hands AND IMMEDIATELY WASHING THEM feels less gross than sneezing into your elbow (which for a particularly bad sneeze may result in dirty clothing). But I’m guessing that’s not what they were complaining about :p and obviously in most situations you are not right by a sink and the elbow remains better.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Honestly, even if I’m right next to a sink without tissues, I’d honestly rather sneeze into my elbow and immediately wash it. I don’t know why! Maybe it’s because I have unusually sweaty elbows? ;p

      4. Huttj*

        3 months ago I saw someone get really pissed at being asked to wear a mask in accordance with hospital policy…

        This was in an Infectious Disease office! Like, of all the places to make a “don’t bend the knee” stand, hey buddy, you don’t know why I’m in the office, you don’t know what my lungs have been dealing with (fortunately not transmissable person to person, I checked). That just…felt bizarre to me.

  26. Lizianna*

    I’m pregnant, so considered high risk, but I have a position that can’t feasibly be done from home if most people are back in the office.

    I’m continuing to wear a mask, especially if I don’t know the vaccination status of the people I’m interacting with. So far, most of my team will come into my office or the conference room, see that I’m masked, and ask if I’d like them to wear a mask. I don’t expect the whole team to mask the whole time they’re in the office, but I do appreciate their sensitivity to the situation when they’re interacting with me.

    For what it’s worth, I’m still calling in remotely to larger meetings, and I wear an N95.

    The biggest issue I’ve run into is not people who aren’t sensitive to the situation when they know about, it’s that my medical conditions aren’t forefront of everyone’s mind (nor should they be), so people just forget. I am not comfortable relying on my coworkers’ judgment calls for my personal safety, not because I think they’d be intentionally malicious, but because they have different factors they’re considering when prioritizing COVID precautions.

  27. quill*

    I would STRONGLY encourage that the solution be “LW works from home” because even if your immediate colleagues somehow become super scrupulous about illness, masking, and hygiene overnight, there’s always the cases of “Waukeen thought his IBS was flaring, turns out there’s now stomach flu in the office,” and “Tangerina was sneezing in the conference room during allergy season, turns out she has a cold too!”

    Ordinarily you might not make a lot of headway with a request to work from home because you are doing chemo, but it’s hard to believe that in the third year of a pandemic a reasonable boss, or reasonable HR, wouldn’t see that as a reasonable accomodation, barring in person job duties that have physical reasons for your attendance, such as being a forklift operator or a ramen sampler.

  28. Em*

    LW here, thank you all so much for the input! I’m definitely fine with my coworkers knowing my diagnosis, so I’ll be bringing that up with my manager in the next week or two to get her read on things. I work in a setting where I don’t think WFH would be an option, but there have also been a lot of regulations passed recently in my field surrounding teleworking, so I might be able to do some of that. I also think I might be able to finagle a private office for the days I do come in, since I think it’s likely I will feel too crummy to work a full time schedule. These posts have all pretty much affirmed what I was thinking, which is that I can ask all I want for people to accommodate me, but they likely won’t be diligent enough even with the best intentions. We also do have a number of single moms with young kiddos, and I wouldn’t want them to feel like they can’t come to work if their child has a cold. I’m going to reach out to my manager and get her feelings on things and see what we can come up with. Thank you all for the well wishes, hoping this will all be a brief blip in my life that will end well!

    1. Casper Lives*

      Good luck!!! Everyone here is cheering you on :)

      I hope everything goes perfectly and you can work out a WFH or a hybrid schedule that minimizes your risk.

    2. AnonPi*

      Best of luck with everything, and I really hope at the least your management will work with you to give you the accommodations you should get.

    3. The Assistant*

      Glad you are willing to be open with colleagues and I hope that you get all the support you need.

      I’m rooting for you here on all fronts!

    4. AnotherLibrarian*

      I wish you much luck with your treatment. I think that if you are comfortable letting folks know, that will seriously increase people’s compliance. I would happily wear a mask if I knew it would help protect a coworker. Good luck.

  29. irene adler*

    All this “wear masks, wash hands, and stay home if they’re sick” seems completely reasonable.

    Not clear (to me at least): is this request of the co-workers predicated on sharing the health situation of the OP?
    I would hope folks would do the masks, washing and stay home stuff without having to reveal the situation.

    1. Lisa*

      I think it’s a bit like the difference between knowing that someone has a peanut butter allergy vs general hygiene. If I know someone has a peanut allergy in the office, I’m not bringing anything with peanut butter in, if I have peanut butter for breakfast I’m washing my hands, face and re-brushing my teeth before heading to work, and if a smeary kid hugs me I’m checking for residue. I’m not putting all that effort in if I don’t know someone in my vicinity has an allergy.

      Likewise, if I know someone is undergoing chemo I will be hyper-vigilant but it’s not a state I’m going to be in if there’s no given reason.

      1. Caroline Bowman*

        Me too. Yes of course general precautions should prevail, I think increased hand washing diligence, social distancing, general awareness of not dragging one’s sick self to share the germ love amongst one’s co-workers should be improved as a result of the chaos of the last 2 years. But knowing you have a specific immune-compromised person who works near you is similar to knowing a colleague is deathly allergic to something like peanuts and thus being absolutely scrupulous at all times versus generally quite cautious in a run-of-the-mill way.

    2. JamminOnMyPlanner*

      I’m happy to keep wearing my mask and wash my hands frequently. Unfortunately, I can’t afford to miss work every time I have a cold. I only get 10 combined sick and vacation days a year, and they don’t roll over.

      If I’m seriously ill or if I test positive for Covid (I have my government issued tests at the ready just in case!), I will of course stay home. If I have the sniffles, unfortunately, I cannot stay home.

      1. irene adler*

        See, given this situation, would management be open to allowing the OP to extra leeway to stay home when someone reports in sick (assuming there’s a way to keep OP from any exposure to begin with)?

        Optimally management would encourage folks to stay home when they are ill (and provide the sick pay to support this directive).

        1. Mf*

          Agree with this ^. Pre-pandemic, I used to work right next to a colleague who was a transplant recipient. She and I had a deal that if I was sick I would either (a) stay home or (b) notify her so she could stay home while I was in the office. She had a job that allowed for a lot of WFH so it worked out just fine.

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        And that is part of it: even if you want your co-workers to stay home if they have the sniffles, it may not be something they can do, and still keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. No matter how much they care about you, they also need to care about themselves.

        1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

          Yeah it’s not great. I’m not salaried, either, so any doctors appointments, oil changes, getting my taxes done, etc. comes out of that.

          1. Pheven*

            Except teachers have two months off in the summer and several two week long breaks during the year? So the lower PTO comes with the idea that you plan the majority of things, vacations etc during that time and use your PTO during the year for the occasional unscheduled thing that comes up.

            1. gnomic heresy*

              Except all that time gets used up in planning and curriculum research, but sure, I’ll make sure to only get covid during my summer breaks. This is why I had to bail on teaching.

      3. Smithy*

        Unlike Jammin, I do have ten sick days in addition to PTO and the ability to work remotely.

        I also have all year round allergies and when I had COVID this November, for the first 2-3 days really thought it was just allergies. So during that period of time, I did some errands that I would have never done had I believed I was genuinely ill. I just didn’t believe I was ill and only tested myself because I was about to fly and heard someone I had seen earlier in the week had just tested positive for COVID.

        The OP and/or their manager can ask – but putting aside larger workplace culture issues and the genuine concerns flagged around PTO/sick time – there are also going to be people who are sick and haven’t quite realized it. If the OP is able to get an office where they control the mask/hand sanitizer process that’s likely to be far more useful than making a broad office request of 20-25 people.

        1. MM*

          Not to mention asymptomatic infections. To do this right, you’d need everyone testing regularly regardless of symptoms and strict masking, at minimum. I just don’t think it’s feasible for OP to have the kind of protection she’ll need in the office, even *with* totally willing and committed coworkers. A dedicated and controllable space is better (depending on ventilation), but honestly in her shoes I’d prioritize getting authorization to work from home.

        2. NYC Taxi*

          I think OP would be much safer with a WFH accommodation. When I had Covid it took me a few days to realize I was sick too – I pretty much have allergies all year around and am almost always sniffly. It wasn’t until the sniffles turned into symptoms of a bad cold accompanied by a blazing headache that I got tested and immediately isolated. I didn’t have any known or obvious exposure either, so don’t know how long I was walking around with it before isolating.

          1. Smithy*

            I’m pretty sure I can pinpoint exactly when I was exposed, but in retrospect all it means is letting me know how long I really didn’t notice much wrong. I happened to also get my third shot the day after I’m fairly certain I was exposed. So any other wonkiness I assumed was a side effect of the booster shot.

            And again, this is just for COVID not to mention all of the other illnesses and issues that can be at play.

            I deeply sympathize with what the OP is going through and the desire to maintain levels of normalcy in their life in addition to disrupting their professional life and income as little as possible. But asking 20-25 people to be that mindful about their health and hygiene seems awfully optimistic as a curtesy seems awfully optimistic. Just go back to the letter last week about who does/doesn’t wash their hands after using the toilet……

        3. SportyYoda*

          This; where I live, there’s a phenomenon called “cedar fever,” which is specific allergies brought on by cedar pollen. My partner and I had gone on vacation over Christmas and needed to cut it short because his allergies were so bad. It took until we got back and he still wasn’t feeling well that it might be COVID; we both assumed he just had cedar fever. We both tested negative (albeit on an antigen test for him and a PCR for me), but I was asymptomatic; if my work didn’t require a negative COVID test, there’s a non-zero chance he could have gotten a false negative and I could have been spreading COVID (we require masks, but I can’t always be distanced appropriately from people eating and drinking). WFH really might be best for LW, especially if their office wasn’t great about masking/sick days in the first place.

          Nevertheless, LW, if you’re reading the comments, I wish you all the best.

          1. sofar*

            Yep. Texan here, can confirm. “Stay home if you have symptoms” would mean “stay home the entirety of Cedar Season,” which is months. I was testing regularly during cedar season and eventually DID test positive for COVID (right after I noticed my sense of taste was wonky). But the sniffles, coughing, sore throat and congestion stayed the same from December through February.

            I may have had COVID days before my positive test but didn’t know. And it’s not practical to test every day. So I agree with most here that LW likely needs a WFH accommodation. Relying on coworkers to not have COVID is too risky.

          2. WS*

            Rye grass season is the culprit where I live, but it’s the same thing. The last season was just before rapid tests became available and everything was hugely disrupted because kids couldn’t go to school or child care with runny noses and scratchy throats, so parents couldn’t go to work, and parents in some jobs also couldn’t attend with those symptoms…and the nearest testing centre is 50km away (except Thursdays). I think things will be better this year with tests available!

      4. Bad Memories*

        LOL Jammin on my Planner I think about Leslie Knope’s dating ‘worst case scenarios’ all the time!

    3. Let me clear my schedule for you*

      LW isn’t going to be safe in the office at all unfortunately. I went on-site yesterday and three of my co-workers on my team had bad colds. We’re only required one day a week, so why did they show up sick? My manager has repeatedly told us to reschedule our in-office days if we are not well – corporate policy at a healthcare company.

      1. Quoth the Raven*

        There was a letter a couple of years ago where the LW asked when you should stay home when you have a drawn out illness, and how (very) limited PTO or sick leave complicates it. It might not have been the case with your co-workers who had bad colds and who should have probably stayed home, but at the same time whenever I catch a cold I have a runny nose or a minor cough that lasts for more than a week or two, and when I worked in an office or I went to school I could not afford to stay home until that cleared.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          This all goes to show how bad US sick leave policies really are. I was a temp in a prior career life, so yeah, I get having no or very limited time off.

    4. Aggretsuko*

      I used to have a coworker who apparently had some kind of lung ailment he refused to disclose, but griped about in our open office. Our supervisor had the tricky job of having to say something without saying something, so he had to give a speech about not coming in sick and oh hey, look, surgical masks for the office!

      I note this was 2018 or so, but those masks did finally get used a bit years later :P

      I’m not sure if that actually did anything, though, so.

  30. HigherEdAdminista*

    OP, I am so sorry you are having to deal with this. It is really hard. My colleagues have mostly all gone back to normal with some minor precautions still being taken, and the pressure to go along is a lot. We are supposed to all meet soon and it will be an indoor, maskless meeting where food is served. I know I could wear a mask (and not eat or drink for the entire day), and no one would give me any real issues, but it will make me stand out and it certainly will be less effective than if we all ate at home and masked up around each other.

    If you can work from home, I would look into doing it, but sadly I think few people are willing to do what is needed/more comfortable for the most vulnerable and most concerned. This has been the hardest fact of the pandemic for me, that so many people seemed to care very little in the long run about anything beyond what they want, even if it costs someone else their life or freedom and all it costs them is a little inconvenience.

    1. Polecat*

      If you want to do something small but meaningful, wear are your mask unless you’re eating or drinking. So what if you stand out? If you really want to be an ally to people who are seriously ill or immunocompromised, isn’t it worth being a little bit of a sore thumb? You’re saying that it’s been hard for you during the pandemic to see how little people care about others and they don’t want to undergo even the most minor inconvenience. But then you say you won’t wear a mask because it’ll make you stand out… Isn’t standing out a minor inconvenience?

  31. Won't Get Fooled Again. Maybe.*

    That these questions even need to be asked speaks volumes about the state of humanity.

  32. Chris K.*

    What I’m reading in the Washington Post newsletters is that you’ll be adequately protected if you just wear a KN95 mask yourself; you don’t need to require other people to wear one.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      This. An N95 or KN95 that fits you well is your best protection aside from staying home.

      Asking people to wash their hands and social distance they might be willing to do, but there are too many people who just can’t stand masks.

  33. No Dumb Blonde*

    Two things. First, the only type of mask that is truly effective against Omicron is a well-fitted N95 type mask that is never removed in the presence of others. Full stop. Second, if you are immunocompromised and concerned for your own safety, then you need to consider your own risk everywhere, not just in the workplace. Can you expect every person you pass on the street or in the hallway or at the grocery store to wear a well-fitted N95 mask and to have had the common sense to stay at home if they are sick? If not, are you willing to stay at home to protect yourself? Or is the risk of entering the workplace and the wider world acceptable because you have taken all reasonable precautions to protect yourself?

    Second, yes, a workplace can and should enforce the “stay at home if you’re sick” rule. But please, let’s stop pretending that masks magically prevent the spread of a highly contagious virus when current data and common knowledge tell us otherwise. In the beginning, masks probably made good sense, but we’re two years in now. Vaccines that dramatically slash our risk of serious illness and death — especially for older and immunocompromised people — are widely available, and the Omicron variant, which now accounts for 99-100% of cases almost everywhere in the U.S., is both too contagious for masks and less deadly overall. The facts has changed; so should our policies, beliefs, and expectations of others.

  34. CancerHaverSickOfNonmaskers*

    Good luck OP, I’ve had cancer the entire pandemic and no one cares *at all* if their irresponsibility causes me to die. We couldn’t even get as far as people masking in the medical lab where people come for blood tests.

    If you’re reading this and you’ve decided to stop masking in public, yes EVEN THOUGH the mask mandate is lifted, just be aware that you are causing extreme nightmares, panic attacks, and misery for people whose lives are already at risk and have suffered immensely during the pandemic. We are preparing for our undeserved deaths because of you. You don’t have to choose the least responsible course of action just because it’s now legally available to you.

    I really can’t believe that people would do things that would cause my death because they’re “just so done”. Like…it’s literally life or death for other people, if you choose to do that? Not everyone who has cancer gets disability or gets to stay home.

    1. KoiFeeder*

      For my own sanity, I have to imagine that when people argue with me about my accommodations it’s because they don’t like me as a person. It’s horrifying to imagine that they are willing to risk me dying in a horrible, prolonged, expensive way and just don’t have any strong feelings about me. You’d think that people would be more inclined to actively prevent others from dying even when it’s a mild inconvenience to them.

      Fortunately the disability office has my back 100% and is willing to go to bat for me against the professors that are “just so done” with the pandemic and don’t want to put the effort into keeping me from dying.

    2. Dramatic Intent to Flounce*

      My deepest sympathies and empathy. We knew I was high-risk the whole time, but last December (after I got a breakthrough infection, unfortunately) I got diagnosed with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome which… significantly ups my risk factor beyond what we’d previously thought. It’s been an absolute delight watching society as a whole tell us to suck it up because it’s so unreasonable to THEM to have to stay in their homes full time and mask everywhere, but somehow it’s not a difficulty for US. (Worse, the people who ask why they have to keep masking for a small percentage of people. First, that number is a LOT higher than you think, buddy. Second, if we hadn’t eased all the COVID safety protocols so soon, maybe we could have actually controlled the spread longterm, and EVERYONE would have been safer. This was preventable, and I will probably never not be angry about that.)

    3. NaoNao*

      With all due respect, what’s the endgame here? At what stage or under what circumstances are people “allowed” to stop wearing a mask all the time in public because there’s a chance they might infect someone else with COVID or another sickness?

      Vaccinations and boosters and negative tests, low transmission and infection and hospitalization numbers and distancing/washing and ventilation protocols are not enough–what is? What is the end game, because it feels like certain groups basically don’t *want* this to be over.

      At what point are we off the hook for giving other people nightmares and panic attacks by living a normal life here?

        1. The Dude*

          Because it is not normal and I can’t believe you think it is? Do you remember what life used to be like?

      1. L-squared*

        I’m curious about this too. When I ask people on reddit and other places I get vague “as long as it takes” type answers. But, the reality is, only 2 viruses have been completely eradicated, and I don’t foresee Covid being the third anytime soon. So there is some kind of line I’d imagine everyone has for when its ok. The argument becomes where that line is. For me and others, lets call us group A, we have gotten there. For some people, lets call them group B, we haven’t gotten there yet, and I can respect their opinion. But for those same group B people, they will likely eventually get to a place where they think its “safe enough” and there will be still some people who don’t feel that way, group C. Then they’ll be calling group B heartless and all the other names that are currently being thrown around to group A.

      2. Polecat*

        Ah, the classic tell. Whenever anybody starts off with “ with all due respect“, it’s clear that actually means “eff you”.

        You know that everyone in her office has been vaccinated and gotten their boosters? Or if they are not vaccinated that they are regularly tested? How do you know that? Oh wait a minute you don’t. You know that everyone in her office is still practicing social distancing? You know that they’re being scrupulous about sanitizing their hands? Oh wait a minute you don’t know that either.

        Yes, those terrible cancer patients and immunocompromised people are delighted that hundreds of people are still dying every day from this disease. We are thrilled that long Covid is now a huge public health issue. We definitely don’t want any of this to be over because having cancer and other health issues, that’s just not enough for us. We were like…sure this is hard, but come on we really want you to screw with us, we want it to be unbelievably difficult. We wanna have two years of not being able to get our scans on time, we want our treatments to be delayed. We want our treatment protocols to be altered to reduce the amount of time we have to spend in the treatment center, even though that means changing a protocol and we don’t know what the effect of that is. We want the research into our diseases to stop for months and months so that resources can be funneled towards Covid research, potentially robbing us of a treatment that could extend our lives.

        We love this. We can’t get enough of this pandemic. You found us out. We don’t want it to end.

      3. FridayFriyay*

        It isn’t over. That’s not a matter of opinion of “certain groups” it is a scientific fact. Pandemics do not become endemic through sheer force of will or wanting. We aren’t there and won’t be for quite some time. “Low transmission” that is calculated by manipulating the data according to changed standards doesn’t actually mean low transmission or reduced risk . There are many places in the US that are classified as “low” that are still seeing case rates that exceed those experienced at nearly any other point in the pandemic. You’re talking of distancing and ventilation protocols but that has been extremely uneven in application. Sure, workplaces that have upgraded their ventilation and air filtration systems to accommodate covid may be able to reasonably drop other mitigation measures but please don’t act like that is mainstream. The endgame is for the pandemic to actually end before people start acting as if it’s over and the risk no longer exists.

      4. Girasol*

        We all want to live a normal life! It’s not fair that some people have transplants or cancer or auto-immune diseases. It’s not fair that people like me who are perfectly healthy and fully immunized have to keep taking so many precautions because someone at home is immune compromised. (I’m so tired of this!) But look at the alternative: If I quit taking precautions, and got a breakthrough case probably no worse than a cold, but killed my family member by passing it on, would I be sorry? Would you be sorry to find out that a coworker, maybe someone you didn’t even like, had died because they caught something from you when you knew that you could have taken an inconvenient precaution to save their life? It’s not about who gets to say whether you have to mask and whether that’s fair. It’s about doing right by one another.

      5. Love Dies*

        You look at a global map and see surges continuing around the world. You look at the past couple years and see waves coming and going. The US happens to be in a low transmission state now. How do you look around at this and think “the pandemic is over”?

        The answer is we don’t know yet what the endgame looks like. The harsh truth is that we will face more and more pandemics as a result of the climate crisis. So there may not be an “end” where we return to 2019, where scientists screamed warnings at a blissfully ignorant public.

        If we respond to the science, instead of our feelings, we realize that we need to live with this for a bit longer.

    4. Polecat*

      This pandemic has exposed how little people care about, well anybody but themselves, but specifically how little they care about at risk people, immunocompromised, cancer patients, the elderly, etc. etc. etc.

      The idea of people having mask fatigue or being over the pandemic is so offensive. I don’t get to have cancer fatigue, well I have cancer fatigue every day of my life, but I don’t get to just forget about it. While the country moves forward we’re still having hundreds of deaths every day.

      I have metastatic cancer so I will literally be wearing a mask until I die. I barely even notice it anymore. The fact that some people treat it like the most horrible thing they were ever asked to do is just ridiculous.

  35. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

    It could theoretically work for management to simply order everyone to do what is requested. But from what LW wrote, it seems vanishingly unlikely that management would do so.

    It seems even less likely that you (even with management support) could get the clientele to. What kind of clients are involved? Do they have to be served in person?

    This seems like an “X/Y” problem. The true problem is “how can I protect my immunocompromised self” and the Y question asked is “How can I get my coworkers to wear masks and stay home when sick?” Just because the latter doesn’t have a good answer doesn’t mean the former doesn’t.

  36. Persephone*

    I’m not diving into the mask/no-mask thing, but going straight for the working while sick thing. My workplace has always been a pain about sick time – they act like any use of it is people abusing it – never mind the fact that we get X number a year and can bank them to infinity. I’ve worked there for DECADES, so I’ve got a lot of them.

    If you miss more than 2 days in a row, on the third day you have to have a sick note from the doctor. Which means that you have to shell out the co-pay with our lousy insurance to go to a doctor – if you have a cold. If you miss more than 3 days, you have to go on FMLA, and fill out more paperwork. So what happens? People call off 2 days, come in to work on the 3rd day, make everyone else sick, then call off next day, etc. I have anxiety and medical issues, had to take off 7 days in a row (while waiting for my anxiety meds to kick in), had to go to doctors multiple times, fill out paperwork…it was a mess. For 7 days out of the 60+ that they gave me.

    When COVID hit, it got better for a brief shining moment. Oh, you’re sick? Maybe you should stay home! BUT. I and several others did end up getting COVID, and having to WORK THROUGH IT. Because we could work remotely, you see.

    Recently my medical issues have been acting up, and was told I needed to “get a handle on it” because I’d taken multiple sick days lately. Not in a row, just once a week when symptoms were bad.

    TLDR: If your workplace didn’t care if you were sick and expected you to be at work no matter what pre-COVID, they probably aren’t going to care now.

  37. immunorecovering*

    I went through chemotherapy last year and I think you are going to need to find a way to work from home or a similar accommodation. Your immune system is going to be soooooo compromised that even super mild colds could put you in the hospital.

    There’s more you’ll want to consider, that I didn’t understand until I started treatment. Depending on your chemo & treatment, the other side effects are such that you may need quick & immediate access to a bathroom, you’ll need to stay properly hydrated, and you’ll probably be eating more frequently (but less food than normal) and eating waaaaaay slower.

    That’s tough in any circumstance but, when you need to remove your mask to do many of those things, you lose the protection of an N95 and your risk is too great for that.

    My company was very not WFH friendly but, even they have allowed me to work from home until my immune system is recovered. Which, honestly, any mildly reasonable place will do because the risk to you cannot be understated.

    Please prioritize yourself here. Good luck with treatment!!!!

    1. KoiFeeder*

      Agreed with all of this. I’m not undergoing chemo, but I’m immunocompromised and monstrously thirsty all the time, and it would be very difficult to stay properly hydrated while staying safe. I don’t even want to think about eating in public and the risk involved there. WFH is absolutely the safest solution.

  38. Eagle*

    Can you imagine in 2018 asking your coworkers to wear a mask because you have cancer? What accommodations has your company previously made for employees with serious health conditions? That’s what you can expect now with the caveat that if your job can be done remotely, they will likely opt for that,

  39. different seudonym*

    this is belated, but to elaborate on comment i made above:

    many people will not mask or clean their hands to protect chemo patients. to some extent, they’re ignorant or in denial about how dangerous minor illnesses are to the immunocompromised. but they also seem to just count up all the things they do to help, and then stop when it feels like too much. so, person who ran an errand for you might be more likely to “forget” hand sanitizer. it was a very strong pattern with everyone except healthcare workers when i was in treatment– i suppose reflecting some combination of magical thinking and resentment. i recommend LW look into working from home or a leave of absence.

  40. Some dude*

    I’m wondering if you could focus on getting the best fitting, safest masks you can find and wearing those when you have to be in the office, on top of requesting that colleagues stay home when sick/wash hands/etc.? That way you’d be putting energy on what you can most control and providing yourself a reasonable amount of protection even if your colleagues aren’t the best.

  41. Jomola*

    Having gone through a year of chemo and 8 weeks of daily radiation therapy, I can tell you that you can’t make your coworkers do anything, so protect yourself. You wear a mask and use copious amounts of lysol and hand sanitizer. Wipe your desk, phone, computer keyboard down daily. Carry a disinfectant wipe and use it when opening any door or using any shared office equipment. You can make the request but your coworkers are not obligated to do this and you may think you can shame them into complying by revealing your diagnosis, but I can tell you from experience, it won’t work with everyone. So control what you can control. Don’t obsess over the one or two idiots who “forget”. The stress would be worse than your treatment. Keep your eyes and ears open for the guy who is sneezing or the woman who keeps coughing, and steer clear if you can. Good luck!

  42. June*

    I’m vaccinated and believe in masks. At work I double mask, wash my hands, and keep on eyewear. I think we can only control our own actions and not the actions of others. Good luck to you.

  43. Polecat*

    While I hope it’s not the case for you, some cancers do qualify you as disabled under the Americans with disabilities act. It’s worth checking into, even though it is for more serious cancers. Because I can guarantee you that your company and the other employees are not going to do the right thing by you just out of the goodness of their hearts.

    And I would advise you to rethink telling your coworkers about your cancer. It’s not their business. And you’re not going to want it to be their business at some point in the future and you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. You are entitled to your privacy.

    I’ve had cancer for four years and I worked for the first year. It wasn’t a good experience physically or emotionally.

    My recommendation is that you ask for an accommodation to allow you to be in an office when you come in, but that you also asked for an accommodation that allows you to work from home 2-3 days a week. You need to be careful about how you talk about this with your manager. Don’t share more information than you have to. You have cancer, you’re undergoing treatment, you plan to work throughout treatment, but you need some accommodations in order to do that. You can also talk to your oncologist and make sure that they will back you up on how important it is for you not to take risks around Covid. My oncologist says the safest thing for me to do is never leave the house again, yes she’s kidding but she really really really really really really does not want me to get Covid.

    I wish you the best with your treatment, and I hope everything works out for you so that you can keep working and feel safe doing so.

  44. Adereterial*

    I’m immunosuppressed – likely for the rest of my life – and not just to Covid. I would not ask any of my colleagues to take any unusual measures to protect me – that responsibility is mine, and mine alone. I could choose to take more stringent measures like severely limiting my social contact, but if I decide not to, that’s a risk I need to weigh myself, and any steps I’d need to take to mitigate that risk are also mine to take.

    The OP has a choice – if they wish to continue to live a more normal life rather than the safer route of limiting their contact, they need to understand and accept the risks inherent in that, and do what they can to protect themselves. It’s their responsibility, no one else’s.

  45. LMB*

    Some people are always going to go into work sick, even if they are otherwise responsible people. And they don’t care if the people around them are immunocompromised.

  46. sofar*

    My coworkers are, by and large, considerate people who wore masks to the office while we were in stage 3-5 (just dropped to stage 2 a week ago). Everyone is mostly openly pro-vaccine and pro-mask to slow the spread. But even then, we were allowed to take our masks off to eat and drink in the break areas and at our desks. I frequently eat in the break room or at my desk because I often don’t have the time to leave the office to go to a restaurant and we don’t really have outdoor areas to eat.

    LW, even if everyone is masked most of the time, folks will be eating and drinking maskless throughout the office. And you’re going to feel like you’re dodging mines all day. I hope your company gives you a WFH accommodation.

  47. BBB*

    do you really want to put the fate of your compromised health in the hands of 20-25 other people? it’s not even about your coworkers being accommodating or not it’s about being realistic.
    definitely talk to your boss about accommodations but focus more on what you can do to control your environment and exposure risk (wfh, private office, ect) and less on how to control the actions and choices of your coworkers.

  48. Canadian*

    I live in Canada where we had the free-dumb convoys. Consequently, when I see someone without a mask, my automatic assumption is, “Oh! That person must be a racist!” Just something to think about. You can choose to not wear a mask, but people can choose how to view you.

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