Miss Manners: Apologizing when I tell friends I exposed them to Covid


Dear Mrs. Manners: I am writing for clarification on the etiquette of notifying friends and colleagues of exposure to Covid-19.

I recently contracted a very mild case. The large organization I work for has strict protocols regarding reporting positive test results, which I observed diligently.

Uncertainty surrounds me notifying my friends and colleagues – outside of official channels – that I had exposed them. I landed on text messages and phone calls, deeming the matter too urgent for email.

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

Should I apologize? I didn’t knowingly expose them, but I feel a bit guilty about delivering bad news, so “I’m sorry” wouldn’t feel wrong. I haven’t gotten any complaints, but I think this is uncharted etiquette territory to some extent.

Yes it should Apologize.

There are some strange notions about forgiveness floating around these days. Some people don’t think they should apologize for the damage they’ve caused if they didn’t do it on purpose. Others, who did intentional damage, believe that this can be instantly canceled with just an apology.

Miss Manners assumes that you did not expose others to disease by behaving recklessly, so you should not feel guilty about the exposure itself. But you should feel bad for possibly causing inconvenience. You wouldn’t like it if the person who stepped on your foot just barked, “Hey, I didn’t mean to.”

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

Dear Mrs. Manners: My friend has a devilishly handsome beard. It’s kind of long, so when we’re eating, I often notice crumbs or something 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 face in a way that means he needs to wipe that spot on his.

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

Later, I told him he should be a little better about wiping his face after each bite, since I can’t always point to the need at the moment. But he disagreed, saying he’d rather I flag the issue than let him continue for some time before finally fixing it himself.

What is the correct way to do this? Should I always find a way to let him know, regardless of whether it might lead to an embarrassing moment? Or was I right to suggest that he be more diligent about wiping his face when he eats?

Your suggestion was prudent, unless he never takes a bite of your watchful presence. And touching your own chin while he’s looking seems to Miss Manners to be the perfect way to tell him without alerting the others.

It is a great advantage for couples to have signal systems. You’d definitely want it to let you know if you inadvertently embarrass yourself. Or that you thought it was time to leave the party. Or that you had already told this story to the same people.

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

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