In the third in a series of personal perspectives, the John Snow Project talks to Matt Young*, a father of three, whose family still takes COVID-19 seriously.

We took COVID-19 seriously from day one. We had a couple of young healthy friends who got seriously ill in the first wave and who went on to develop Long COVID. We didn’t know what it was at the time, but we knew it was a serious, prolonged illness that followed their initial infection. My wife and I are self-employed, and we can’t afford anything that means we’re off sick for a long period of time. As soon as we heard N95s were effective at reducing the risk of infection, we masked up.

Matt’s children also took the virus seriously.

In early 2021, they all had friends who got quite ill, and our eldest has several friends who developed long-term problems. Some of them know Covid caused their ongoing issues, like her friends who developed Long COVID, or the other friends who now have type one diabetes. Others don’t associate their new health issues, diabetes, heart arrhythmias, ongoing fatigue and gastro issues with Covid, but there’s just too many of these poor kids suffering for it to be coincidence. And even without these long-term issues, our children have been influenced by seeing their friends fall ill so often, with all sorts. So, they have kept wearing respirator masks throughout the pandemic, and their caution is reflected in their attendance records, which are almost perfect. They’ve hardly been ill at all.

Matt and the family followed the official advice and got vaccinated.

We all had Pfizer, but I’d done some research and listened to some of the cautious scientists and medics who advised that vaccines wouldn’t prevent infection, so we kept our N95s on to see what would happen. Sure enough, after a while we started to see people getting Covid again even after vaccination, and some of them got quite ill and went on to develop Long COVID.

As mask mandates were dropped, Matt and his family noticed they were in the minority.

Maybe it was the quality of our masks, but we’d had two years of near perfect health, with no one being ill in a family of five. We thought other people might notice the same benefits from wearing masks and would continue even though the government dropped its mandate. But they didn’t, and a few weeks after the last mandate on public transport was dropped, masks became rare. We saw the impact in our social circle, with illness becoming commonplace, more frequent than before the pandemic, but while our friends and family have normalized illness, we’ve continued having great health. The kids have near perfect school attendance, haven’t missed any sports clubs and my wife and I have had no time off work.

Matt has been surprised at the fuss being made over masking.

I just don’t get it. We live in a hot part of the world and the kids manage to mask all day. They take their masks off during breaks when they’re outside, and for school lunches, which are also outside, but whenever they’re in class, they have their N95s on. It’s been difficult at times to be the odd ones out – perversely, some teachers have been weirder about it than kids – but now their friends are all understanding, in fact some of them wear masks if they’ve got big exams or something coming up they don’t want to miss, which I think shows they are instinctively making the connection that the masks work. If children can mask for long periods, why do some adults have such issues with it?

Personal experience has demonstrated the benefits of masking to the family.

I see a lot of debate about whether masks work. Here we are, almost 4 years into the pandemic, living normal lives, and we’ve avoided catching Covid in school or work. We’ve never transmitted the virus to others, which is important to us, because we know people who’ve lost loved ones to the disease, and we’re always conscious that what might be a cold for us, could be a serious disabling or lethal illness for someone else. Wearing N95s hasn’t restricted us, we dine out at restaurants that have outdoor facilities, our kids do outdoor sports, and we socialize with people outdoors. Life has been pretty normal.

Matt doesn’t understand why masks have been dropped in healthcare.

I have friends who have compromised immune systems and they tell me that their doctors now refuse to wear masks because they don’t have to. I’ve seen the debate rage over whether mask mandates should return in healthcare and I just don’t understand why there’s any argument. If you can save one single life by wearing a mask, why wouldn’t you do it? Our children have been masking for almost four years without complaint. It really is child’s play.

Matt has ongoing concerns about Long COVID.

People aren’t testing anymore, but we’re seeing friends and family develop all sorts of weird health issues after ‘colds’ and ‘flus’. Heart problems, fatigue, breathing difficulties, headaches, deafness, gallbladder issues, kidney failure – we’ve never known so many people getting so ill. Of course it’s impossible to prove they’re the result of Covid, and in truth many of them are probably the consequence of getting older, other viruses or just bad luck, but some of them will be because of Covid, and for me that’s enough reason for us to continue doing what’s worked for us so far.

Matt believes governments should be doing more to warn about the danger of Long COVID.

Scientists all over the world are saying Covid will never be like the flu, that it does too much harm to the body, but most people are out there carrying on as they did before Covid existed. Governments need to be doing more to protect their populations and they should be telling people the risks they’re taking with their health.

Matt has a message for people who want to avoid COVID-19.

It can be done. Our family is proof of that. Vaccination, N95 respirator masks when you’re in company, avoiding indoor spaces with other people without a mask, living life outside as much as possible. It can be done, and it can be done by children, which makes it all the more strange that adults complain about how it’s inevitable we’ll all get Covid.

Matt’s suggestion is in line with the latest advice from some public health agencies around the world, who note that the only way to avoid Long COVID is to avoid COVID-19 and that anyone can be vulnerable to Long COVID. Here you can find a summary of the latest international advice, detailing the agencies and governments that recommend the use of a vaccines-plus strategy, including masks and ventilation, to reduce the risks of long term complications from COVID-19.

We’d like to thank Matt for sharing his and his family’s experiences and wish them well as they continue to try to avoid catching or transmitting SARS-CoV-2.

*Matt is a pseudonym, used because he and his family have suffered abuse after previously sharing their continued caution on social media.