Miss Manners: Apologizing when telling friends I exposed them to covid



Dear Miss Manners: I’m writing for clarification on the etiquette of notifying friends and colleagues about a covid-19 exposure.

I recently became infected with a very mild case. The large organization I work for has strict protocols around reporting positive test results, all of which I diligently observed.

My uncertainty surrounds notifying my friends and colleagues — outside the formal channels — that I had exposed them. I landed on text messages and phone calls, considering the matter too urgent for email.

I essentially said, “Good morning. I’ve tested positive for the coronavirus. Last week during our meeting, I probably exposed you.”

Should I have apologized? I didn’t knowingly expose them, but I do feel somewhat guilty and I am delivering bad news, so “I’m sorry” wouldn’t seem amiss. I haven’t gotten any complaints, but I do feel that this is uncharted etiquette territory to some extent.

Yes, you should apologize.

There are strange notions about apologies floating around these days. Some people do not believe they should apologize for damage they caused if they did not do it on purpose. Others, who did purposeful damage, believe that this can be instantly canceled by an apology alone.

Miss Manners presumes that you did not expose others to illness by behaving recklessly, so you should not feel guilty about the exposure itself. But you should feel bad about possibly causing suffering. You wouldn’t like it if the person who stomped on your foot merely barked, “Hey, I didn’t do it on purpose.”

[Find the latest coronavirus guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.]

Dear Miss Manners: My boyfriend sports a devilishly handsome beard. It’s somewhat long, so when we eat, I often notice crumbs or the like sticking to it.

When we’re in a private or casual public setting, I gently let him know there’s something there, usually by rubbing my own face in a way that signals he should wipe that spot on his.

During a recent outing, I refrained from doing this, as we were around some of his colleagues and it didn’t feel right to say, “Bruce, you’ve got something right there,” or to use my usual hand signal.

Later, I told him he should be a bit better about wiping his face after each bite as I can’t always point out the need in the moment. But he disagreed, saying he preferred that I point out the issue rather than let him carry on for some time before he eventually fixed it himself.

What is the correct way to go about this? Should I always find a way to alert him, regardless of whether it might result in an embarrassing moment? Or was I right to suggest he should be more diligent about wiping his face when eating?

Your suggestion was prudent, unless he never takes a bite away from your vigilant presence. And touching your own chin while he is looking seems to Miss Manners to be the ideal way of telling him without alerting others.

It is a great advantage for couples to have signal systems. Surely you would want him to let you know if you were inadvertently embarrassing yourself. Or that you thought it was time to leave the party. Or that you had already told that story to the same people.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, MissManners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.