Manners in the time of Corona

With the threat of the worst global pandemic since the Spanish Flu of 1919, people are realizing, through public health education campaigns and a consideration of their own ways of life, that their behaviour when it comes to germs has to change.

The biggest, and most relatable example is the worldwide realization right now that:

“wow, I touch my face a lot.”

People are starting to be mindful of the contact they make with their face, especially in public. Furthermore, I’m finding myself very mindful of what I’m touching. I’m considering it more in an effort to kill germs that might already be waiting, for example washing the things we touch most often like our devices, doorknobs, switches and handles around the house. I’m also considering the things other people touch most while in public and avoiding contact with those things (aren’t we glad tap exists on our payment cards?). Overall, there seems to be a new set of rules for the way that we interact with the environment derived from this newfound fear of pestilence.

So, what do manners look like in a time of COVID-19?

Is it appropriate to tell someone: “dude you just touched your face like 16 times.”?

Can we go full grandma mode like Jamie “Noodles” McLennan on TSN1050’s Overdrive, telling a cashier “give me your hands” and sanitizing them to our satisfaction (probably not a great approach socially, but he’s got the spirit).

Clearly, some things that were clear no-go’s before are going to be considered much more acceptable during and in the wake of this pandemic.

Hand Washing

Hand washing has always been a no-brainer. Lord knows what sort of germs we pick up in our day to day life, so washing your hands when you get home, use the bathroom, before and after eating, has always been a well known way to reduce risks to your health. The change here is one of degree. For a little while here, let’s be obsessive germaphobes. Wash for 20-seconds at a minimum, and wash often. Oh, and pair your hand washing with a scrub down of your phone, the two go hand in hand (ugh.).

Here’s a little resource to spice up the hand washing routine:

Just type in your favourite song, and boom, you get a nice infographic so you can bring some music to your hand washing routine

(It’s a great song and you know it)

Calling People on Unhygienic Behaviour.

So your work is an essential service, or is one of the businesses or construction projects deemed “business as usual” at least for now. You’re going to make contact with others, it’s inevitable. So how much of their hygiene practice becomes your responsibility in a time like this?

If you were to notice a colleague wasn’t washing frequently, or sanitizing their workspace, do you call them on it? In the past, regardless of who’s “right”, it would have been seen as rude to comment on something like this. In a time of pandemic though, hygiene is everyones responsibility. Even if it means telling that coworker or fellow shopper that they’ve been touching their face or practicing some other germ related faux-pas, and that it’s awkward.

Just be polite, act a little uncomfortable about it, like you hate to do it but “it’s just the times, ya’know”.

Wearing a Mask

This is actually a weird one. Before, if you were wearing a surgical mask in public, I think I generally would have assumed that either your immune system was somehow compromised, you were sick, or that you were a germaphobe of a high degree. Now it’s pretty interesting though. You wouldn’t see someone wearing a medical mask and think anything except that they are taking the risk of COVID-19 very seriously.

That said, the norm shouldn’t be wearing these medical masks right now. There’s a serious shortage of these types of supplies, and people stealing them from hospitals and other health care centres are only making it worse. Unless you are sick, are somehow compromised in terms of your immune system, Officials have recommended you not wear the masks, in order that the supply manufactured to meet the excess demand worldwide reach health care professionals on the front line first.

Since we’re talking manners, it’s rude to undermine the capacity of our health care system at a time like this. It’s careless, and selfish.

In general, non-religious face covering was also seen as suspect. Those covering their faces for non faith-based reasons didn’t seem to have any reason for covering their identity, and thus we probably imposed the idea that people covering their face must be getting into trouble. As the weather gets warmer face coverings like a buff or balaclava would be seen as a little weird, but you might actually see people wearing these types of coverings, either out of ignorance of their ineffectiveness, or out of a desire to discourage them from touching their face. Either way, there’s a bit of a change in norm here.

Social Distancing

Yes, life without physical contact with other humans is just plain weird as hell. It’s a little depressing, and even for those introverted folks who generally enjoy a lot of alone time, it’s nice when socializing is at least an option.

Social distancing isn’t just having your friends over instead of congregating in public: it’s not meeting your friends in person at all. In normal everyday life, it might be seen as rude to avoid contact with your social circle. Now, let’s see it as polite to stay in, make contact virtually, and reduce the risk of transmission of the virus, not only for ourselves, but for the most vulnerable members of our society.

Is it lonely? Hell yes.

But do yourself a favour and make a point of calling an old friend, your parents, your grandparents and extended family you’ve fallen out of touch with. Even reach out to the people you see all the time.

Have a drink on a group chat, recall old times. Laugh. Talk about how you’re feeling about the whole situation. It’s healthy to connect, but for now, it’s rude to get together in the physical realm. We will beat this thing, but we have to do it by acting in the interest of the collective and ignoring our self-interested impulses.

It’s also important to literally distance yourself from those who you come into contact with on your essential trips. Remember the really rude behaviour in grade-school of basically distancing yourself from one person as if they had cooties, and they’d go to join the circle and everyone would run away (I’d be ashamed to admit to being either party in this scenario so I’ll plead the fifth). Well, we should all sort of pretend to do that to everyone. Literally stay a few metres away from everyone whenever possible. In line at the grocery store, in the aisles in the grocery store, at work if you’re not working from home, literally, as much distance as reasonable in the specific space whenever possible.

Hoarding Necessities

I’ve already discussed the Toilet Paper Dilemma at length elsewhere, so I’ll just say this:

In addition to not buying an obnoxious amount of necessities in a manner that prevents everyone from getting what they need, please consider those who can’t afford food and continue to make donations to the North Bay Food Bank. We know from past pandemics that economic hardship can be a real vulnerability, and we should help all of our neighbours in our city in any way we can.

Let’s not just look at peoples grocery carts to make sure they don’t have too much, let’s look in our neighbours bowls to make sure they have enough (figuratively of course let’s avoid close contact with people’s food).


Just don’t. I guess if you have essential business related travel for work, but even then, I can’t really imagine how much of that is necessary in the event of a pandemic.

You’ve probably seen the imbeciles on TV or online bragging that they’ve decided to follow through on their spring break in Miami travel plans, and just generally worry about the fate of our species.

They’ve been given all the information they need, they’ve been nudged in the right direction with the known closures of businesses in their destinations, and yet they still make the wrong call. Sometimes, mom and dad have to set down rules for those who aren’t yet mature enough to exercise common sense, and it’s pretty clear travel restrictions, and restrictions on businesses open coming from the government directly should be paramount in priority. The few health care practitioners I spoke to about the issue were shocked that malls have not yet been ordered to close. If there’s a way people can act contrary to what is needed, they will. Just take the option away.

Their freedom to be idiots shouldn’t impede the rest of our freedom to make it through this with minimal harm.

Even consider cancelling shorter trips by automobile, such as in-province trips. Most travel is just extremely unnecessary and allow you to act as an influential vector for the virus.

Just Don’t Do It.

The Stop and Chat

Another interesting change. In the past, as Seinfeld taught us to snub someone when you’re out and about is pretty rude. It’s a cultural practice to say hi to our familiars in public, and even, if you’re able, to stop and catch up.

Well the “stop and chat” is no more. If you’re out for a walk or jog around the block and you see a neighbour you’d normally stop to chat with, don’t! A wave is all you need to acknowledge your presence and avoid feeling like you snubbed them. It’s really, really tempting to seek out human contact when you’re stuck in your house all day, but just keep the social contact virtual for now.

So times have changed, let’s do our best to practice these new good manners during in the time of Coronavirus.


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