A lesson in how to avoid COVID-19 during spring break

'Better safe than sorry' has become this family's motto

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by Kristin Entler |

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“We could go to the beach,” my mom says as the two of us sit on her screened-in porch in Alabama. It’s spring break, and because I’m picky about who can stick me with a needle, I’m at my parents’ house to get my port flushed by my regular nurse.

The reality of what the beaches will look like this week flashes into our imaginations before my mom even finishes her sentence. Our preferred haunts along the Gulf Coast would be packed with throngs of people. The public beaches, from the sea’s edge to the sand dunes, would be full of people and their inevitable germs. The corresponding traffic would be dense through the small towns that connect these stretches of state-run beaches.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic was announced four years ago, I spent much of my life avoiding large crowds because of the damage even the common rhinovirus can do to the lungs of someone like me, who has cystic fibrosis. It could prompt a full-blown respiratory tract infection.

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A simple cold, in fact, led me to being the sickest I’ve ever been in my life. When I think about the consequences I might face from catching COVID-19, the memory of that hospitalization prompts post-traumatic stress disorder with the force of a freight truck. I remind myself that I do not consent to contracting a virus that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention flag in their biosafety guidelines as a level 3 airborne biohazard.

Airborne. Contagious via the air we breathe. The words haunt me.

We won’t be going to the beach this week. Of course, everything is probably already booked, anyway. We both know a beach trip is a pipe dream, but it’s also something we might have spontaneously done before 2020, in what my family refers to as “the before times.” And sure, the chances of catching an airborne virus outdoors is lessened, but it’s not zero. And the COVID-19 that I might catch while being outdoors would still be the same deadly, disabling, and dangerous SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Minimizing risk means not doing unnecessary things. I don’t need the beach right now. We can go in the off-season, when the water has its permanent winter chill. To me, oceans are nicer to watch than to be in, anyway.

Yet the air is fresh this day, and the sun isn’t fully over the Appalachian foothills yet. And it’s spring break! My mom and I agree: We should do something.

“What about a waterfall?” I suggest, and we set out to make an entire day of it. Dad joins in on the plan after his morning coffee.

Not so fast

When we arrive, we learn that the state park we’ve picked is partly closed for renovations. I try not to see that as a metaphor. I tell myself that some things just aren’t meant to happen. “C’est la vie.”

Trying to shrug off the lingering disappointment, I stroll on the sidewalk path that winds its way to the welcome center, hoping for a halfway decent gift shop. There is one, and there are also a history area, a corner display with educational information about local animals, and even snakes and turtles in tanks lined with pine straw. There’s also a coffee shop.

But there’s a man who’s coughing while ordering coffee, which is impossible for me not to notice. It’s a hacking cough that sounds painful. And I would know. No one except my parents and me is wearing a face mask.

When the man coughs again, my mom and I make eye contact and then a beeline for the door. In the before times, I learned that it’s called a beeline because, once they’re done collecting pollen, bees head straight back to the hive. No pit stops. No detours. No stopping by friends’ beehives to say hi. Just home.

I think about this while we wave Dad out of the museum, which now feels like an enclosure that I’m trapped in, like the box turtle in the corner. I cannot get out of there fast enough.

It isn’t until we’re safely in the car that we take off our masks. “Better safe than sorry” is our motto in our version of normal.

“Anywhere else?” Mom asks, starting the car and backing out of the parking spot.

I look at Dad, who shakes his head. “Don’t think so.”

To which Mom replies, simply, “Home, then.”

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


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