The Newly Inconvenient Common Cold

person holding thermometer
Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on

Catching a cold used to be an annoyance. In COVID times, it is particularly inconvenient. I speak from experience as the cold swept through our household last week. People complain about masks, but I’ve got to say that one advantage is that they keep colds away. Whereas the cold used to run through our house at least twice a year, I think this recent bout was the first in nearly two years. In addition to keeping COVID at bay, masks keep the cold away. Still, they aren’t perfect and the cold managed to find its way into our house and sinuses.

The main inconvenience of the common cold during COVID times is having to act perfectly healthy when out in public. These days, the slightest sniffle draws glances. A cough raises eyebrows. And a sneeze sets off all kinds of alarms. To avoid all of this, I braced myself in every public place, telling my body to shut up until I had scanned my groceries and made it out of the store. Once in the car, I could go to pieces, sneezing, coughing, eyes watering.

Sneezing in public is just a nuisance these days. If anyone is nearby I feel compelled to turn to them afterward and say something like, “Allergies!” while rolling my eyes. They inevitable smile, but what I see in their eyes is: LIAR!

The kids all had colds, too, and that means keeping them home from school for a day or two because cold symptoms are inconveniently similar to COVID symptoms. Never mind that we have all been vaccinated (the girls have had their first shot, and are awaiting their second). “It could be a breakthrough case!” a school nurse says. We kept one kid home on a Friday, sending them back to school on Monday, only to get a call from the school later that morning telling us to come pick him up, and to keep him at home until we have a negative COVID test.

We had the negative COVID test result before the next school day, but it was inconvenient to have to go an get it. (Admittedly, however, it was free, easy, there was no wait, and we had the results 12 hours after taking the test.)

The biggest inconvenience is that there is no obvious way to tell the difference between COVID and the cold without a test. Everyone wants everyone else to think they just have a cold. Everyone else believes that the sneezing person over there has COVID, not a cold, even though they themselves just sneezed, and yeah, it’s only a cold. (Or “allergies.”)

I hated having colds before the pandemic and I hate them even more now, infrequent though they may be. I look forward to the day when we have simple, over the counter home-COVID tests. The test kits should be designed with a special sticker that turns green when the test is negative. That way, I could slap the green sticker on my jacket, and head out into the world coughing and sneezing into my mask, and everyone can see that my COVID test was negative. It’s just the newly inconvenient common cold.

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One comment

  1. I came down with a cold this week and it was so unbelievably inconvenient (I am about 3 weeks post Covid booster, so it’s unlikely it was Covid).

    I had a really important disciplinary case I had to prosecute on Wednesday – I had a tickle in my throat Wednesday morning and had been sneezing the day before but I didn’t think much of it. But as the day (and the hearing) wore on, it became clear it wasn’t allergies or anything like that (but it was still early enough in the cold that my symptoms weren’t very visible). I felt SO guilty by the end of the hearing (which lasted nearly four hours). I stayed home Thursday and had to go back to the office Friday – I double-masked and avoided talking to anyone.

    feeling better today finally. pretty sure it’s a cold, as it followed the standard cold progression.


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