One of the criticisms often leveled at members of the Covid-cautious community is that they believe ‘everything is Covid.’ Critics say there is an element of alarmism or neurosis in the concerns this community has about COVID-19 because no pathogen could cause all the harms being laid at its door.

Unfortunately, the newest widely circulating pathogen in the human population uses a broadly expressed ACE2 receptor to infect cells1, meaning it can damage almost any part of the body2. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, few people believed coronaviruses could linger in the body, but members of the John Snow Project outlined their concerns in 2021 because there was extensive evidence going back decades to suggest coronaviruses could persist3,4. These concerns have since been shown to be justified, with numerous studies now demonstrating prolonged viral persistence and immune activation5-9.

The combination of a widely expressed receptor and persistent infection means the acute and long-term effects of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, can be unpredictable10.

SARS-CoV-2 has also been shown to harm the immune system in various ways11-14, many of which are common to other pathogens. This harm seems to have increased susceptibility to other pathogens such as dengue15 and strep A16,17.

We’ve previously written about government efforts to return to pre-2020 norms and how official messaging that we must all assess our own level of risk has been interpreted by most people to mean that it is safe to engage with the world in the same way one would have done in 2019 and that there will be no additional risk in doing so18.

Most people have resumed pre-pandemic behaviours, but there has been an increase in general ill-health, which can be demonstrated in rising levels of long-term illness19, disability20,21, GP appointments22, chronic absence among school pupils23-27, rising absence among teachers28 and worker shortages in a wide range of industries29. Many commentators theorize about the reasons for these phenomena, blaming a mysterious malaise among workers, indulgent or irresponsible parents, or post-lockdown laziness.

Aiding this apparent mystery is the rather bizarre way in which official figures are reported. A prominent Covid-cautious commentator pointed this out in a thread on X in relation to the UK Office of National Statistics figures on Long Covid30. The ONS analysis states, “The majority of people self-reporting long COVID experienced symptoms over two years previously,” but the way the  data is presented skews the risk towards historic Covid-19 cases by using uneven time intervals, a practice which is in breach of UK government policy on how to present time series data31. However, when the data is presented as close to correctly as the raw data allows, the risk of developing Long Covid from a COVID-19 infection seems to remain relatively constant. 

Another criticism leveled at the Covid-cautious community is that members are overstating the risk of Long Covid. High quality studies from all over the world point to the very real and significant risk of Long Covid32-34, and there is now evidence to suggest the risk of Long Covid rises with each subsequent infection35.

If anything, Long Covid prevalence is likely to be understated because of the dearth of public health information from official sources. There are still some people who are surprised they can be reinfected by SARS-CoV-2. There are others who know about the risk of reinfection but who falsely believe each subsequent infection will be milder. There are yet more who do not know each infection can carry a risk of long-term illness.

When we get into specifics, how many people know COVID-19 infection can cause headaches and migraines weeks or months later36,37? Or that it can cause fainting38,39? Nausea40? Heart attacks41,42? Cardiac complications in adults and children43,44? Embolisms45? ADHD-like symptoms46,47? Neurological issues48,49? How many people are suffering the long-term sequelae of COVID-19 infection but not drawing the causal link and instead ascribing their new conditions to bad luck or aging?

We’ve previously written about governments creating the space for antivaxx messaging to thrive by not correctly reporting the risks of COVID-19 infection29, but there are greater threats. Every time a Covid-minimizer says, “There’s nothing to worry about, look at everybody else out there living their lives, just resume your old ways,” they are undermining faith in public health measures because their reassurance is based not on the scientific evidence but on instinct, hope and, possibly, a vested interest in maintaining the status quo because they staked their professional credibility on infections being protective. Science and public health progress when we follow the evidence, not when we hold hunches and opinions in higher esteem than evidence.

The huge rise in dengue50, coupled with the evidence that dengue virus uses SARS-CoV-2 antibodies to enhance infection15 and the correlation of COVID-19 cases to dengue cases51 suggests there is an interplay between the pathogens that hasn’t been fully understood. Whooping cough is surging in the UK, with cases up 3,800% on previous years52-55, and adults who have been previously vaccinated or infected are now falling seriously ill. Similar surges have been seen in other countries, and while those who like to blame anything-but-Covid point the finger at lockdowns, which ended more than three years ago in most countries, sensible people would like to understand the interplay between COVID-19 infection and susceptibility to other pathogens.

It would only make sense to pursue ignorance if there was nothing that could be done about COVID-19, but we know that clean air policies can reduce the risk of all infections56, be they bacterial, viral or fungal. The “just get on with it” messaging of those who want people to forget about COVID-19 is a celebration of the sort of ignorance that has slowed and stalled human progress throughout history.

If there is a business case for investment in engineering and architecture that will improve human health, we need to properly understand the harms caused by COVID-19. Sweeping it under the rug, shouting down those with legitimate concerns, pretending the virus doesn’t exist, massaging data to make it appear things are safe, are all counter to this understanding.

It seems those with means have already decided their health will benefit from clean air57, and advanced ventilation and filtration systems are the latest must-have addition to high-end properties58, which suggests there is also an issue of equity involved in understanding COVID-19. The advancement of human knowledge has always empowered the general population, which is why it has often been resisted by those in power. Keep that in mind the next time someone says, “Stop worrying. Just get on with it.” They want your ignorance and incur no cost if you are harmed by being repeatedly infected by COVID-19 or any other pathogen that might be surging in its wake.

For information on how you can protect yourself from COVID-19 infection, please click here.