More than two weeks have elapsed since I last visited a grocery, an office, a sporting event, or any other indoor public space. I also haven’t gotten into a car with anyone, and I won’t ride on any buses or airplanes for the foreseeable future. When I began my self-isolation, I didn’t tell anyone about my choice, since I didn’t want to be mocked. But at this point, the mockers have mostly vanished and millions of people are hurrying to adapt to the same choices I’ve made.
I decided more than two weeks ago to go into “self-quarantine” against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. I want to tell you about my experience so far—it’s certainly not wonderful, but there aren’t any true hardships—and hopefully I can convince you to take similar precautions.
My primary goal for 2020 is to avoid catching the virus, and to remain uninfected until a reliable vaccine is released in 2021. I’m taking strict measures partly for my own safety, but primarily because I don’t want to infect strangers and people I care about.
How We Got Into this Mess
Even under outstanding leadership, the United States would have had a hard time keeping its people safe during this pandemic. United States officials have made at least two blunders that have essentially guaranteed disaster:
- Foreign Policy reports: “In 2018, the Trump administration fired the government’s entire pandemic response chain of command, including the White House management infrastructure.”
- The CDC’s own tests were inaccurate, are still only available in tiny numbers, and require days to deliver results. This lack of testing has allowed the virus to silently spread in the United States. Now that third party tests are widely available, expect a huge jump in the number of Americans identified as infected. Yet even now, there are still plenty of Americans who can’t access tests. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on March 12: “The idea of anybody getting [easy access to testing] the way people in other countries are doing it, we’re not set up for that. Do I think we should be? Yes. But we’re not,”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says that New Yorkers will see COVID-19 taking the “the same trajectory that you saw in China, South Korea and Italy…”.
If Italy’s future is likely our own within the next few weeks, the implications are chilling. All of Italy is now shut down. But it didn’t happen soon enough to curtail the disease’s spread. Italy’s hospitals are so overwhelmed that there are not enough respirators for everyone who needs one. Doctors are literally forced to choose who will live and who will die.
The Italians and South Koreans have done a vastly better job of preparing than have Trump and the CDC. As I write this, South Korea still tests more people in one day than the United States has done to date.
Don’t Count on Government to Keep You Safe
Americans need to face facts. The government has botched all efforts to properly protect its citizens. That said, we don’t have time to focus on blaming people—instead we must move forward as quickly and productively as possible.
The only hope we have in America to minimize this disaster is to take a bottom-up rather than a top-down approach. That is, rather than wait for the government to come to our rescue, we each must take personal responsibility to avoid infection. The best way—perhaps the only way—is to isolate yourself (ideally with other uninfected people), with each person in your group taking rigorous precautions against going out in public.
What will this accomplish? It’ll keep you safe, but more importantly it’ll help “flatten the curve”—which I think is the single most important concept we each must understand, so please click the preceding link. If you ultimately become infected, it’s far better for you and for society if it happens in September than if it happens next week. So every step you can take to reduce your exposure to the virus, and to at least delay contracting the virus, is vitally important.
Tips for Self-Isolating
I’ve been able to cut out virtually all risks of infection but one: my Sunday morning visits to the local outdoor farmer’s market to buy my week’s fresh vegetables. As I approach the market, I put on an N-95 mask (I had a feeling that the virus would become widespread, so I picked up a box of masks at the local Home Depot, distributing many to friends and loved ones over the past week or two.) I’m all business when I shop, and try to finish as quickly as possible. When I return home from the Sunday market I throw my clothes into the washing machine as soon as I walk in the door. I take a long shower, making sure to thoroughly wash my hair.
As long as I keep living like I do, I expect my chance of catching the virus is less than 1 percent. Here are some of the things you want to avoid doing:
- Handshakes, hugging, kissing
- Entering indoor public spaces. The virus from an infected person can spread over many meters and linger in the air.
- Sharing rides in automobiles, as well as riding buses, trains, and flying on airplanes.
And as you doubtless already know, thorough hand-washing is vital anytime you return to the house. It’s likewise important to wash hands anytime you receive mail or package deliveries.
Troublingly, apartment buildings likely allow sufficient airflow between units to spread the virus. If you live in an apartment building, strongly consider finding more isolated living quarters.
If I had to describe my overall experience, I’d say it’s like being under house arrest with the allowance of a long daily walk. I’m lucky enough to have some sprawling foothills nearby, and I am able to clear my head regularly with a four hour hike. My XBox is also getting more use than usual, and “Sunset Overdrive” is one of the most marvelous titles in video game history. Now would be a good time to finally read Infinite Jest or War and Peace.
The Challenges of Minimizing Risk
Certainly, not everyone is in the position I’m in. Given that many people don’t even have a $500 cushion for emergencies, there are certainly millions of Americans who have no way to self-isolate while still having sufficient income to buy food and pay rent. If you need help, don’t be too proud to ask your loved ones.
Remember that desperate times call for desperate measures. The word “home” may best be defined as the place where they always have to take you back. Whether you like it or not, this may be the time you need to go back to live with our parents or move in with your children. Alternately, it may be time to invite them to live with you. Yeah, I know that the prospect of this may seem far more of an ordeal than becoming infected with COVID-19, but if that’s what it takes to avoid infection it’s the right choice.
Many people have jobs that will shut down their offices in the next week or two, and ask employees to work from home. But by the time things shut down, you might already be exposed to the virus. There’s never been a better time than now than to call in sick or burn some vacation days.
If you haven’t started prepping yet, start now. You don’t want to risk infection by making needless trips to the grocery store. Try to acquire a couple months’ worth of nutritious and imperishable food. My prepping guide offers solid advice to take care of this need.
Family and Friends
One of the most difficult parts of self-isolation will be educating family members who don’t yet understand the danger of going out. Your family may not yet comprehend the magnitude of the risk, so you might find yourself needing to frame things in stark terms such as: “Would you be able to live with yourself if, because you went to book club, you brought home the virus and it killed dad?”
And don’t forget that many people are simply incapable of understanding the risks of what we’re facing. No matter how clear and how patient you are, you’d have more luck explaining Finnegan’s Wake to a golden retriever. Gallingly, most of these people will become infected, suffer minor cases, and be happily oblivious in regard to the number of people they’ve infected—all while mocking you for having overreacted.
Gear Up for the Long Game
Know that we’re in for a marathon and not a sprint. Everything will not be back to normal by May or June. Even by mid-summer, we’re still probably going to be much closer to the beginning than to the end.
It’s far too late to contain and stamp out COVID-19. But we can each do our part to slow its spread, and thereby minimize the number of people who need respirators to survive when no more respirators are available. The sacrifices are certainly inconvenient, but I’m doing everything I can to keep from contracting and spreading the infection. Are you?
The most important first step you can take is to secure a food supply for the next couple of months so you won’t need to risk going out to do your food shopping. Please read my Prepping Guide for complete information.