Q: Is it OK to ask people how they got COVID-19?
A: Absolutely. When people mention they've had COVID-19 or know someone who has, the next thought is, "How did they get it?" We're dealing with a virus that has the potential to be deadly. We want — need — to know what's happening for our own edification as well to prevent spreading it to others.
However, our delivery and choice of words matter. When we're empathetic, it adds a softening that makes people feel safe, and, therefore, we're much more likely to obtain an open, honest answer. An accusatory tone makes people feel judged and is guaranteed to put them on the defense and less willing to share specific details.
Lisa Gaché, etiquette expert
A: While society has become more open and it's quite rare that any topic is taboo, inquiring how someone may have become ill is still in poor taste. Some subjects, especially this one, remain sacred and personal.
Inquiring in depth about anyone's private health issues remains in poor taste because it is considered an invasion of privacy. Think of it this way: Would you want to share extensive details about how and possibly why you caught the virus? Putting yourself in the shoes of the other person tends to allow people to err on the side of caution and civility.
It's best to skip the why and how of illness — especially COVID-19 — and stick with good wishes for a speedy recovery.
Karen Thomas, etiquette expert