How people caught Covid

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

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

Catching Covid

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

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

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

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

In the months following the start of the pandemic, the lack of appropriate protective equipment (for example, high-quality masks), also made some frontline workers more vulnerable to infection. Gertrude, a care home worker asked her senior for PPE but was told that “we don’t have Covid here yet so it’s not a matter for us”.

Among those not working in public-facing jobs, some told us that particular events had been the source of their infection. Gatherings such as weddings, funerals and religious ceremonies were places where Covid spread easily, even when limited to smaller numbers.

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

Catching Covid when restrictions eased

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

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

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

Elvis expresses frustration with government measures regarding Covid.

Trying to limit passing Covid on to other people

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

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

Milembe found it difficult to isolate from her family at home

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

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

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

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