The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Cover Your Cough

You talk about the president
Won’t stop the air pollution
Just put ya hand on ya mouth
That’ll help the solution

“Respect Yourself” – The Staples Singers

I’ve been fighting a chest cold for the few days, after finally going to the doctor about the nagging cough, that was the result of chest congestion, which was the result of sinus congestion that crept downard despite my best efforts at treating it with over-the-counter mediciations and prescribed allergy medicine.

Two prescriptions, one inhaler, and two day later I’m back in the land of the living. I decided to take my lunch break as an opportunity to get a much needed haircut, and have a working lunch at my desk afterwards. I was just about to get up from the chair when the strangest thing happened.


A woman who worked at the salon came up to me and said, “You know, just since you’ve been here I saw you do something nobody else does anymore?”

“What’s that?” I asked, hoping I hadn’t done something to offend, not knowing it was quite the opposite.

“Well, just now and a little bit earlier, you covered your mouth with your hand when you coughed.”

“Oh, yeah. Well, I’m just getting over a chest cold, and of course I don’t want to spread it around.”

“You’d be amazed how many people don’t. They just open up their mouths and caugh, and don’t try to cover it up.”

“Oh, I don’t want to get anyone else sick. Plus I’m trying to teach my kids to do the same.”

“You’re one of the few, I’m afraid. I wish more people did that.”

As I walked back to the office, I thought of the Staples Singers’ lyric quoted above and wondered, “Do people really not cover their coughs anymore?”

Do people not realize how many germs are spread by just an unguarded cough or sneeze?

I understood where this woman was coming from. As someone who works with the public on a daily basis, every customer who comes in with a cold or some other illness is someone she has to work with in close proximity. If this person sneezes or coughs without bothering to shield it, that could mean any number of potential sick days for the person doing his or her hair.

But that’s not all. It’s likely that the people who shared the waiting area got their share of germs too. And if this person has been sharing the sickness all day, then it’s likley that everyone in their vicinity on the Metro and at work got their share as well. And some of them will probably get sick behind it. That means time off of work, but also less ability to do things with family, or with what lesiure time is left over after work, family, etc. (And for some people sick time could mean time without pay.)

Living in the D.C. metro area, I’m often in close quarters with other people. On the Metro, during rush hour, it’s not unusual for us commuters to be packed in cheek-by-jowl. At work, there’s often just a cubicle wall separating us from our nearest neighbors, if that. Add daily shared trips via elevator and escalator, and it begins to seem like we’re all living and working together in one giant petri dish.

That’s why I always cover up when I sneeze or cough. Often, I’ll use my hands. But as one of the videos above pointed out, that doesn’t extactly stop the spread of germs. It just cuts down on their frequent flyer miles, since their not airborne and have to find alternate routes to new hosts. Lately, I’ll cough into my sleeve or even into my jacket if I’m wearing one.

Having been introduced to the wonders of hand sanitizer when diaper-changing became a part of my daily life, I keep a bottle on my desk at work and a small container in my messenger back for traveling. Just so in case I cough or sneeze into my hands, I can clean it up.

(Oddly enough, contrary to what’s said about kids being germ carriers, that doesn’t seem to apply to our two boys. If they do bring germs home, they must be mainly carriers, because they’re pretty healthy and both are rarely sick. I can count on one hand — with the exception of teething — the number of times we’ve kept them home with fevers.)

Maybe that last part is a bit obsessive, but the point is this: If you’re one of those people the woman at the hair cuttery was referring to “don’t do that anymore” — that is cover up your coughs and sneezes … Eeew! Please do the rest of us a favor and cover it up.

Despite what most of us were taught growing up, there are some things it’s not nice to share. Your cold, flu, etc., is one of them. You keep yours to yourself, and I’ll keep mine to myself. OK?

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