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8 Gross Things I Can’t Believe We Actually Did Before the Pandemic

It’s crazy how much the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we navigate public places. Whereas before I barely ever considered whether the people around me had an illness that I could contract, that is now my only thought when I’m in public. Being paranoid for long periods of time is so exhausting and probably mentally damaging. When I watch TV shows and movies, I get tense when characters are too close to each other, and I find myself momentarily wondering why they aren’t wearing masks before realizing that they live in a much healthier universe than I do. Even the people in my dreams wear masks and social distance. Is that just me?


Since it became clear around last summer that COVID-19 wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, I began thinking about how I navigated public places prior to the pandemic. To put it lightly, I am thoroughly repulsed. Here’s 8 gross things people actually did before the pandemic that I will never think of in the same way again:


  1. Most of us probably did not wash or sanitize our hands after everything we touched in public places. Door handles, restaurant tables, elevator buttons, cashiers’ hands if they gave us change—all touched daily by lots of people. The CDC recently confirmed that surface transmission of COVID-19 is highly unlikely, but it’s still other people’s germs that you’re probably spreading to your face and clothes.

  2. We touched the same public transport poles and rails that hundreds, thousands, or even millions (in NYC subways) of people touch every day. Wack! Even after the pandemic ends, I might consider bringing gloves specifically for this reason.

  3. We blew out candles on a cake and then served that saliva-covered cake to everybody. If there’s one thing I learned since 2020, it’s how many germs can be expelled from something as simple as talking. But blowing hard enough to extinguish a candle? Nope, nope, nope. Happy birthday, but I’ll buy a little cupcake just for myself, thank you.

  4. People packed themselves into elevators—metal boxes barely the length and width of an adult—like sardines. I hate the one-household-per-elevator-at-a-time rule as much as the next person (we all got places to be!) but the alternative sounds like a nightmare.

  5. We stood within 6 feet of strangers in general. Why haven’t we always adopted a 6-feet-apart rule? It seems pretty reasonable. Personal space is totally necessary regardless of the potential for disease transmission.

  6. We went to concert venues with thousands of people singing, sweating, and screaming all over each other. I used to absolutely love this vibe, but the experience will forever be marked for me as gross.

  7. We (at least Americans) didn’t wear face masks during flu season, or even just when we had a cold. When I went to Japan a few years ago, I was surprised to see a good number of people wearing face masks in public. I thought they were so courteous to consider the health of others if they suspected they might be ill, but I also thought they were being overly cautious. Little did I know! I kind of want to adopt this practice post-pandemic, but I’m scared to get stared at...

  8. People went to the grocery store, breathed all over the fresh produce on display, picked it up, and put it back with their bare hands. We’re supposed to wash fruits and veggies anyway, but that thought still freaks me out.


So basically, the pandemic made me a germaphobe. Or maybe just a people-phobe. I sincerely hope that we can all recover from this pandemic mentally as much as physically. We certainly took a lot for granted!

Amanda graduated from Emory University in May 2022 with a degree in sociology. She is still a society connoiseur, a meme lover, and human archive of random facts about snakes and astronomy. Amanda is currently job hunting, so if you know anyone looking to hire a fresh grad with great writing skills, email her ;)
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