As I mentioned, I am currently quarantined in the guest room. I failed to mention, however, that I feel fine. The sore throat only lasted a few days. And though I have a lingering cough, it isn’t dry, and I pretty much always have a lingering cough this time of year. So I doubt I have COVID-19, but I’m quarantined just in case.
One of my Facebook friends asked what we are doing to quarantine, and I thought it would be worth a blog post, just in case other people are wondering.
Our procedure is based on three things: 1) our experience with RSV, which I told you about; 2) a first-person article I read (more about this in a moment); and 3) obsessive awareness of every single thing we touch.
The First Person Narrative
Several weeks ago, I read a first-person narrative by a woman in NYC living in a two-bedroom apartment with her husband and teenage daughter. Her husband was very sick with COVID-19 and self-isolating in the master bedroom.
She talked about their protocol. The husband never left the master suite (by the time she wrote it, he was too weak to leave, but he started quarantining with the first symptom). She never entered the room without immediately washing her hands when she left.
Their master bath held the one shower, so if she or her daughter wanted to shower, she would scrub the entire room with disinfectant first. And if he needed to use the bathroom before they finished, she had to scrub it all again before showering.
It was a powerful piece of writing. I tried to find it, so I could link to it, but she appears to have taken it down or made it private. I was disappointed by that, as I think of her often (and pray for her and her family), and wanted to know the outcome.
So, now that you know what it’s based on, here is our protocol.
First, we do everything we can to keep the virus from entering our house in the first place. No one but Mars leaves the house, and he leaves as rarely as possible. When he has to leave, he wears a mask. On his return, he immediately washes his hands and clothes and disinfects everything he has touched.
Most of what comes in from outside (groceries in paper boxes, packages, mail, etc.) gets quarantined on the front porch or the garage for 24 hours before coming in. Things that cannot be left outside (e.g. frozen food) is wiped down with disinfectant. Things in smooth surfaces like metal, glass, or plastic are quarantined for more than a day or wiped down with disinfectant. Mars has a system: a specific part of the island is the contaminated zone, and as items are wiped, they are moved to a clean spot. When he’s done, he disinfects the contaminated zone.
We do make some exceptions. For instance, a Girl Scout from our church dropped off cookies yesterday, and nobody’s going to wait 24 hours for Girl Scout cookies! So Mars took a couple of our favorites into the kitchen, opened the boxes, and slid out the plastic-enclosed cookies onto a clean part of the island. Then he got rid of the box and washed his hands and the contaminated zone before opening the plastic sleeves (wanna guess the flavors? “Plastic sleeves” is a clue).
Second, in an attempt to limit spread within our home, I never leave the guest bedroom except to walk directly across the hall to the upstairs bathroom, which no one else ever enters.
A couple of times I’ve made an exception and walked into the master closet (which I can do without entering the master bedroom or touching a doorknob due to the layout of this house). I make sure no one is in any of the spaces I’m going to enter. I cover my mouth with a cloth while I’m out, and if I have to touch anything I’m not taking back into my room, I either touch it with a clean cloth (say a washcloth, which I can pick up without having to open a cabinet) or immediately wipe it down with disinfectant.
Third, nobody comes into the guest bedroom nor even touches my door handle.
There is one exception: Mars is doing all the cooking, of course, and I depend on him for everything.
But when he brings something to me (say a drink or food), I open the door for him with my back turned away from it (to keep from breathing into the space he will be entering), and I scoot across the room. Only then does he enter the room, and just far enough to set down what he has brought on a little table right beside the door. He then goes and washes his hands while I shut the door from the inside.
Fourth, no one but Mars handles anything that comes out of my room. Girly Girl has been in charge of dishwashing for years, but for now, she’s off the hook because we don’t want to risk her handling my dishes accidentally. When Mars picks up my dirty dishes, he uses only one hand, which he is careful to touch nothing else with. That gives him a clean hand to hold the bannister as he walks downstairs and open the dishwasher, etc. He takes the dirty dishes downstairs and loads them immediately into the dishwasher (he doesn’t pick up my dirty dishes unless the dishwasher has been emptied). Then he immediately washes his hands.
My dirty clothes require a bit of wiggle room. He doesn’t touch them until they’ve sat for at least 24 hours without me touching them. But that means either I have to leave them somewhere outside my personal realm, or he has to enter my space. We’ve done it both ways, and they feel equally risky. Right now, they are piling up in my bathroom.
Fifth, we wash our hands. A LOT. For at least twenty seconds each time. This is the method we use:
Sixth, daily wipe-downs. Once a day, Mars wipes all the commonly-touched surfaces with a disinfecting wipe. Door and closet handles, light switches, faucet and toilet handles, drawer pulls (especially the silverware and trash drawers), refrigerator and freezer handles, etc. It used to be my job, and I do the same in my two rooms (though I’ll admit I’ve gotten a little sloppy since I no longer share any spaces with other people).
There are a couple of things we do to stay connected. Once a day or so, Mars brings a wooden chair and sits a few feet away from my bedroom door. I open the door and sit a few feet back from it, and we can chat and also see each other.
We’ve also had a couple of social distancing “date nights” where we watch The Amazing Mrs. Maisel (which we both love) together. If I sit just inside my door and a little to the side, I can see out and into the upstairs family room where the TV is. Mars watches the TV, and I watch on my computer, and we do a count-to-three when we start, so we are in the same place on the show’s stream. I can see Mars on the couch and hear his laughter, and he can see me. It’s been astonishingly comforting.
Otherwise, we text or Facebook message, and that’s primarily what I do with the kids also, though Girly Girly occasionally stands a few feet outside my door just to say hi and ask how many days are left before she can give me a hug. She’s OK with the limitations, but being able to count down the days is reassuring for her.
Keep in mind: we don’t think I have COVID-19. If we did, I’d never sit at all near the open bedroom door.
Also, the dog goes in and out, more or less at will. She pretty much always prefers to be with me, but Mars carries her downstairs three times a day to go to the bathroom, and always washes his hands the moment he puts her down.
From what I’ve read, the Corona virus doesn’t like temps over 70-degrees (F), so I don’t think it would live long on her fur. And she would be miserable shut away from me, but if I were confirmed with COVID, that’s what we would do.
I’ve always been a big believer in “reasonable risk, reasonable precaution.” I take reasonable precautions, understanding I cannot prevent all bad outcomes.
For my family, this protocol is a reasonable precaution, especially since several of us (including me) are in high-risk groups for COVID-19. And I could not live with myself if someone in my family got seriously ill because I wasn’t willing to sequester for two weeks.
Remember the story I mentioned, about the woman in NYC whose husband was sick? There was one passage that really resonated with me. She talked about going into his bedroom (a big no-no!) late one night, when he was sleeping. She put her hand on his hip, with the blanket between them, just to connect.
That image stuck with me: her needing connection badly enough to take the risk of touching him through a blanket. Late at night as I’m lying in my lonely bed, trying to fall asleep, I often long for Mars to sneak just to touch me through the blanket. I miss touch so badly. That’s my primary love language, after all.
But in the very next breath, I am immensely grateful to know that he won’t.