As the pandemic gets worse, for those out there that are interested in others’ practices, I want to share my routines that have kept me and my apartment-mate safe. I don’t mean to do this to lecture anyone on what they should be doing, and I also don’t need to provide a list of evidence-based medicine that even getting mild COVID is a really risky thing to do. What happened earlier this week is that I had an open, and honest conversation with someone that felt alone in their view about remaining diligent. They felt pressured by friends and family to travel for holidays, and to the point of reaching extreme mental distress to have to choose between their own well-being and their reputation with friends and family. We found that talking about our behaviors and precautions was cathartic. Because indeed, for some of us, consistency is the logical thing to do, and seeing people change behavior when there is still no cure for this disease or even a complete picture of the long-term consequences is irrational. This post is for people like this, or perhaps for people that (for whatever reason) have decided to remain or further become diligent about doing whatever it takes to avoid infection for as long as possible. This post is also for the people that feel like they are alone while everyone else has decided that the pandemic is over. And it’s not black and white - if you’ve already been infected, avoiding your second infection is just as important. And if you are already reading this skeptically and want to lash out with something critical to say to me, please stop reading. This is my personal blog to express my thoughts, and you simply don’t have to read it.
Finally, I am not forcing an ideology on anyone, but I do believe it’s part of my responsibility during a pandemic to do all in my power to avoid infection, not just for myself, but for the most vulnerable populations. I do it for my future self, so she can go on hard runs and have her full functioning lungs and heart. I’m not one to give in to some peer-pressure to “return to normal” because I can accept that there is a new normal, and my focus is to live my best life in it. I have not changed my behavior since it changed in March of 2020 at the start of the pandemic, and if anything I have adopted more rigorous protocol as I’ve seen the virus become more contagious and more variants emerge. I don’t trust others, and I don’t have confidence in our public health policy. Why do I have this perspective? I’ve had chronic illness, and I know how devastating it is for enjoying the very basics of life. Before you’ve had any kind of health issue, you really don’t know how bad it can get. I will do everything in my power to avoid that.
Masking and Goggles
I’ll first start by saying I wore masks long before the pandemic. I’m extremely allergic to pollen, dust, grass, animals “nature!” so going outside for a run everyday wasn’t even something I could do. When I moved to where I live now and had a bad allergic reaction one early day in the spring, I lived for about a year not going outside at all. I ran small loops in an underground parking garage. Yes, probably not many people could tolerate this, but in absence of having said allergic reactions, I was happy. I have high tolerance for doing things that are not pleasant because feeling healthy feels amazing. When I got a respirator about a year in it was life changing! I remember the first day going outside and seeing the sun, and I practically shirked back like a vampire. Now I don’t go anywhere without wearing my respirator, and yes, even outside when I’m exercising. Since about 2021 I’ve also been wearing full coverage goggles, which go around my head with a strap and also cover the edges around my eyes. They sometimes fog up in the winter, but it’s a small inconvenience for protecting my eyes from allergens and potentially aerosols with virus in the air. People give me looks, and often even shake their head or make sarcastic comments under their breath. But I’d be wearing this superhero attire even without a pandemic, and those people can go lick a lizard. My apartment-mate also wears the same mask and goggles because he has also learned to appreciate going for runs without breathing in car fumes, or getting dust in his eyes. If someone wants to judge us for how we dress when we go outside, well that says more about them than it says about us.
Or actually, this should be titled not going places. When the pandemic started I stopped going to our apartment gym. This was a loss because it gave me a place to go (I work fully remote), and I enjoy lifting weights. However, this was fixed by using a treadmill in the apartment, and getting more weights and mats to do exercises there too. In terms of going to stores, I can count on one hand the number of buildings I’ve physically entered in the last 2.5 years, and it’s just a handful. I’ve gone in a pharmacy for each vaccine (N=3, and 2 unique places at less busy times of day), and actually for my flu shots my provider was willing to come outside to give them to me (not anymore, but it was nice when it lasted). I also needed to go to a small clinic to get drug tested for my employment, and I double masked and wore goggles and that experience was mostly just gross. I have not stepped foot into any grocery store or similar, because the experience of shopping is not worth even a tiny risk of infection. Actually, this has given me new perspective about shopping and stores in general. When we stepped once into a fairly commercial pharmacy for a vaccine, I felt surrounded by crap. Yes, that’s right. I finally saw all of the aisles filled with beauty products and knick knacks as what they truly are - stuff I don’t need. Stuff that is reflective of the overly materialistic nature of our society. I won’t go into a rant on this - but seeing all the unnecessary stuff that undoubtably will go into a landfill somewhere gave me a sense of sadness. Will I never enjoy going into a store again if the pandemic ever ends? I doubt it - I get happiness from colors and holidays, and likely will again become immune to this amount of stuff. But for now this perspective that I’ve adopted makes it easy to ignore and forget about it.
Finally, at one point when the levels of COVID went down (and people were still masking) after the first year, we did curbside pickup of cookies, bagels, or food a few times. We stopped after the final time, and being forced to go into the store to ask about the order. Again, an order of bagels is not worth the risk. I do miss going to Trader Joe’s, but I’ve actually been really happy without going. This is another thing I discovered I didn’t need. It’s amazing how that works - we have all these “conditions for happiness” that are just totally wrong. For me, so far we’ve hit going to my apartment gym, and going to Trader Joe’s. In the same thread, I’ve found as these kinds of consumerist experiences go down, I’ve increased my experiences in the outside world. We go on more walk / bike and running adventures than we did previously, all exciting and feeling like adventurers to uncharted lands. I would venture to say my life is much richer with these adventures, but likely they have been afforded because I moved to a beautiful state, and I’d probably equally have them pandemic or not. But that’s another thing to think about, I think. It’s a good strategy to live where you want to be all the time, because then you never have to leave or “get away.”
I don’t have the luxury of living in a house. I live in a relatively small (by average standards) apartment - just a little over 600 square feet, with an entrance a bit into a building and down the hallway. Thankfully we have our own air system, however air can still come under the door, potentially, or into the apartment when we open the door. With respect to this vulnerability, we have a HEPA filter especially designed to go at the bottom of the door, and when going in and out we open it only as far as it needs to go, and only as long as we need to step through. We listen before going out for anyone else in the hallway and give them time to go by, and then a few minutes for the air to settle. We are also lucky to live near the end of a hallway so traffic is light, and I think our neighbor beyond us is a nurse and taking precautions about still masking. We also have a sign on our door that is fairly assertive to anyone that stops by about our masking requirement and having people in the apartment. This is mostly for a delivery person - if they see it they are encouraged to leave the item and not try to knock to interact with us.
For food deliveries, we used to be able to give them a code to enter our building, but as the building has updated their door entryways, the codes aren’t super reliable and we found my apartment-mate would need to go down to pick up the groceries (note he is large and burly and much more apt to picking up a laundry basket of groceries, and it’s also safer for him to go because of size and gender). As a result, as a standard we tell them in the delivery note to call us, and then he goes to meet them outside. At first he would go masked and goggled and maintain 6+ feet, but at some point we realized we could just tell the person to leave them at a door, and then get down there quickly to collect them in the basket With this protocol, any small interaction with another person (even 6+ feet away) wouldn’t be necessary. People just aren’t masking anymore, and many people are working through COVID, whether they are aware they have it or not. So it’s really just safer not to get near to anyone to interact with, even if it’s a socially distanced, under a minute grocery delivery. :)
Finally, let’s talk about poop. I’m a bit (well, very) anxious about unknowns, so after reading about an abandoned apartment building where COVID was found coming through the pipes via a toilet flush, we always keep the toilet closed (as people should anyway!) but we also have covers for sinks and drains when not in use. I have to nag my apartment-mate a bit about remembering to cover them. Maybe a little extreme? Sure. But I don’t know how the pipes work here, so it doesn’t hurt to take the precaution. I do think it’s a fair one, because our apartment building (on the lower floors) has had a few instances of people smelling sewer gas in their apartments, and you know what that means. I think our shower area smelled “off” just once before I got the covers. I think this is a hint that the plumbing is probably not perfect, and I’d rather use the covers just to have confidence of not smelling something nasty. The COVID benefits are just an added bonus!
I am lucky to live with someone that is hypersensitive to tiny fragments of anything on the floor, so the floor is cleaned a few times a week with a vacuum that has water and often with windex and paper towels for the area around the door. Obviously, we do not wear shoes beyond the entrance to the apartment, where we keep them on a mat. When we come back to the apartment after going outside, all running gear (mask, goggles, hats, gloves, etc.) is immediately washed, and our clothes are immediately put into the laundry, and each of us showers. Even if one of us goes to get the mail, we shower after. Speaking of mail and packages, we only go there when it’s absolutely empty, and come back home if there are people. Anything that enters the apartment in terms of material good is considered quarantined until it is properly cleaned. For groceries we fetch them from the outside (in a laundry basket) and then carefully take things out, wash them in the sink, or with alcohol if they aren’t able to be covered in water, and then we put them away. Boxes are stacked up and moved to a corner by the door to be taken out. Everything down to individual avocados is washed with soap and water. For non urgent mail we just let it sit in a special “quarantine” area for a while (5 days to 2 weeks) until we remember it, and then open to read and shred / dispose of the junk, and immediately wash our hands. Oh yes, and I almost forgot! As soon as monkeypox started to be a thing (yay) we wear gloves to get the mail and packages, and also groceries from outside. I actually got a couple of boxes at the beginning of the pandemic to open doors when I went down into the garage to run. Someone in my family scolded me for taking “valuable health care PPE” and that was, well disappointing. It’s not like I was hoarding it - I ordered a unit with a few boxes. Finally, to clean the air, aside from our central AIR with the highest quality filter we can get, we have a massive Honeywell air filter that runs 24/7 and 3-4 smaller units around the apartment to cover missing spots. Since I am dealthy allergic to pollen, we also have a massive industrial size filter that actually covers our window to the outside. We change all our filters about once every 2 months. Our apartment, surface-wise, is very clean! This doesn’t mean it’s not comfortable. I am not a neat freak, and I hate being in houses where you’ll get tar and feathered for gasp leaving a cup on the table! Or socks on the floor! The horror!
I don’t have a car, so this is a weak spot. I have an account with a “grab a car” service as a backup, and also have an emergency bag packed with a warm tent and sleeping bags because frankly I’d rather sleep in the woods than risk going in a nasty hotel. I didn’t like hotels before the pandemic, and that hasn’t changed. If it’s not snowing or icy I have a bike that can take large bags on the back. If we have small fire evacuations it’s likely not to be more than a day or two being away, so I’m prepared for something like that. If we were to have our apartment burn down we would have bigger problems - probably would just use our phones to find a lease somewhere, bike there, and re-order the basics for our lives from the internet. That’s probably a bonus - we don’t have that much stuff that couldn’t easily be replaced. I mention evacuation planning in my list of COVID precautions because generally we have to be prepared for an emergency, whatever that means in the area we live. Generally emergency can mean many people crowding to get out, and that wouldn’t be great for COVID exposure.
I don’t go near other people, if that isn’t already obvious. At this point nobody else is masked, and this makes it especially important. I don’t care if they give me weird looks when I run across the road or go way off of a running path. At this point I just assume everyone has COVID and they are a risk to me, and won’t take precautions to protect me or anyone else. I believe that people are selfish. For example, if someone tests positive with a sniffly nose before a flight and they really want to go home? Do you really think they are going to delay their flight and pay money for a hotel to quarantine for others’ benefit? Nah bro. They are going to get on that plane. There’s a good chance they won’t bother masking. Someone is going to be sitting next to them, or near to them, expecting the people around them to not fly if sick. It’s every man for himself. I think that’s the saddest thing about this pandemic - that I’ve realized I can’t trust anyone. I think before I had a sense that I could, for the most part. For the twice that we’ve been required to have maintenance people come into the apartment, we have made it very clear that an N-95 is required. More recently we’ve upped that, and we provide the visitor with an N-99. We have often cleaned out areas and then done massive cleaning again (of the air too) after, and even covered cloths or clothing with tarps. We will ask for just one person to enter and not 2-3. We will figure out the extent to which we can do the work or checks ourselves. We will ourselves be masked for the brief entrance and then for several hours after as the air clears.
But you know what? I need people too. I’ve just found fulfillment in more creative ways. I host a podcast and regularly have interesting interview sessions with complete strangers. I use my chat and networks extensively - sometimes I complain about having Slack, Mattermost, Teams, LinkedIn, Twitter, email, Google Chat, Zoom, Webex, Facebook, and (now) Mastadon, but I’m fairly good at multi-tasking or managing multiple things and I enjoy the interactions. Importantly, I’d advise to keep notifications off and check them on your own time, because notifications can be distracting. I enjoy writing about my software (or like now my thoughts on a topic) to share with others. In a pandemic I don’t feel that I need to socialize less, but rather just differently. By way of maintaining a diverse set of connections, along with feeling like I have a network of friends, it never really gets bored or lonely. If you feel bored or lonely, it might make sense to open up your life experiences to find ways to regularly interact with others. It’s fun! Being social isn’t just about hanging out, restaurants, or drinking, at least for me it never was.
What I’ve learned in this pandemic is that I need much fewer things or experiences to be happy. No, I don’t need that big fancy apartment gym. I also don’t need regular trips to the grocery store, nor do I need to travel. For what one might consider a fundamental human need, I find other ways to fulfill it. I reach out to more people via social networks, or have meetings just to catch up and chat. I’ll host games or events for fun. I might make a silly, funny video, just because it gives me joy to share it, and maybe gives others joy to see it. I don’t take myself too seriously and I try to maximize having fun. I may not go to conferences, but I watch the videos online after the fact and reach out to the speakers with questions. I don’t really feel like I’m missing out on anything. If anything, I’m the happiest I’ve been since I turned 20 and things started sucking.
And that’s about it! I know I’m privileged to work fully remote and I am not forced into a job to interact with people. If this is someone’s reality, I hope they can find ways to be safe too. I also will state that I very strategically figured out this kind of freedom was what I wanted, as far back as 2009, and have been carefully working toward it. If you want to judge me, that’s fine. I have a manager that has asked me several times “When is the pandemic going to be over for you” as if it’s all in my head. I’m fairly sure I’m right about this one, and as each new study comes out, I’m more confident in my choices. I’ll do whatever it takes to protect the one body and sets of organs that I have been gifted with. If I do get it someday, it will be an accident. I want to delay this as long as possible and know that I did everything in my power to avoid it. Sorry, but there is no family event, wedding, or “go out to eat social thing!” that would be worth risking my health. And if you want to judge me, that’s totally OK. I do me, and you do you! But if you do get COVID, and we don’t understand the long term implications or even if it can be spread in some strange way years after (e.g., if virus can live dormant somewhere and re-activate and we don’t know that yet) don’t be offended if I don’t want to hang out with you. At the end of the day, I’m a seflish entity too. I can’t choose for others, but I can choose for myself, and I always choose being conservative and safe.
I hope that this post might hit one person that was starting to feel nutty that they are “the only one left” being careful. You are not alone.
Stay healthy, friends!
Sochat, Vanessa. "COVID Precautions." @vsoch (blog), 04 Nov 2022, https://vsoch.github.io/2022/covid-precautions/ (accessed 28 Nov 22).