COVID-19: Assessing Your Risk, Setting Boundaries

When it comes to COVID-19, it is a virus that can affect individuals of all walks of life — regardless of age, gender, or where they live in the world. However, what we’ve also learned since living with this virus for the past 18 months is that there are certain individuals who may be at increased susceptibility for COVID-19 than others. While age is something that certainly plays a role (with those over the age of 60 being the most impacted by this virus with severe illness, hospitalization and death), we also know that individuals with certain pre-existing medical conditions are also more likely to contract COVID-19 and develop severe illness as a result — including the following:

* Those who have cancer or are receiving cancer treatment
* Chronic kidney disease
* Chronic lung disease(i.e., asthma, COPD)
* Diabetes(type 1 or type 2)
* Neurological conditions(i.e., dementia)
* Heart conditions(i.e., heart failure, coronary artery disease, hypertension)
* Liver disease
* HIV infection
* Pregnancy
* Those who are immunocompromised
* Blood disorders(i.e., sickle cell disease, thalassemia)
* Obesity
* Those who are smokers(current or in the past)

To mitigate the spread of the virus, measures were put in place early on in effort to help decrease the spread of COVID-19 — such as physical distancing guidelines, limiting or closing non-essential services (including limiting the number of people allowed inside a business), mask mandates, and more. However, with vaccines now in the mix, this has allowed many of these restrictions to be loosened, businesses to reopen, and life to go back to a certain degree of normalcy — and while some individuals may feel comfortable going back to living their lives the way they did prior to this pandemic, not everyone may feel comfortable doing so just yet. For example, a friend or family member might invite you out to eat at a restaurant while you might instead prefer ordering in; or, you may have been working remotely through the pandemic and are now being pressured by co-workers to return to in-office work; or people may ask why you’re still wearing a mask despite being fully vaccinated. In cases such as these, it may be surprising to some to learn you aren’t taking the exact same measures as them when re-introducing yourself to what’s known as a “post-pandemic” world (despite the pandemic still very much being a significant factor — particularly with numbers on the rise again due to the highly transmissible Delta variant.)

In any event, what’s comfortable for one person may not be comfortable for someone else, and it is both important to not only set your own personal boundaries — but, in turn, also be respectful of the personal boundaries that individuals may set for themselves due to their own personal risk profile — especially if they do not align with your own; also taking into account that someone may have certain comorbidities that you are not aware of, which may lead to some hesitancy in things like not wearing masks, etcetera.

For some, setting boundaries can be difficult, but it’s important to note that any decision you make for yourself is the right one as you’re doing what you need to do to not only protect yourself, but protect those around you, and you should not feel guilty about wanting to ensure your own optimal health as well as the health of others. While one’s risk of developing COVID-19 decreases if they are fully vaccinated, the fact remains that vaccines are not considered 100% effective — there is still the potential for breakthrough cases — and one’s personal risk factor still needs to be considered. When being invited to a social gathering, the likelihood is that your friends and family miss you; but as you turn them down, they may feel as though you’re trying to intentionally avoid them which could lead to hurt feelings. This is why it’s also important to have a conversation about why you’re setting personal boundaries, and find other ways to continue to prioritize those friendships by offering alternative ways of socializing — such as having regular group video chats, as keeping those social connections are important — particularly for our mental wellbeing.

Originally published at https://alighahary.ca on August 23, 2021.

Dr. Ali Ghahary is a Family Physician in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. http://www.alighahary.ca