living with someone who is being reckless about COVID
March 16, 2020 1:51 PM   Subscribe

My partner is unconcerned about COVID and is essentially going about business as usual. We live in a community with active clusters of infection, and there are several confirmed cases at our (very large) workplace.

Partner has something like a cold: sniffles, low fever, sore throat, body aches. Partner is still going to stores, inviting people over to socialize/have playdates with our kid, eating out, visiting their elderly, immunocompromised (COPD and chemotherapy) parents. Elderly parents are also laissez faire, still going out to movies and restaurants in our community.

They have always been laissez faire about handwashing, and continue to be. They are a healthcare professional (working from home, presently - no risk to patients, but I think they should know better), and we both work at a hospital with several confirmed cases.

They think my seriousness about social distancing and making sure we have a few weeks of meds and supplies is over-the-top. They got quite irritated at me last night when I suggested that I should consider not going to work at the hospital because I had been near them with their cold symptoms (although I have no symptoms personally).

I'm quite shocked by their behaviour because they don't usually put themselves before others, and are generally quite ethical and community-minded. I wonder if they actually are just having trouble processing the magnitude of what's going on. They're an exceptionally kind person - that's what attracted me to them in the first place.
posted by unstrungharp to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
It's unclear what the actual question here is. Are you looking for advice on how to manage this, what the cause of your partner's behavior is, or something else?
posted by jzb at 1:56 PM on March 16

Sorry. Question is basically how to talk to them, relate to them, and keep people I care about safe. Or any insight into why they’re suddenly behaving without regard for others.
posted by unstrungharp at 2:00 PM on March 16

I'm starting to see that when something scares someone so much or overwhelms their rational brain, they retreat into basically childlike behavior. Doing the opposite of what they're told, flouting the rules, needing to be in charge.

The fact is that our 24/7 media DOES often hype things way out of proportion. They're not right now! It's clearly the crisis that we have been warned of. Do you think perhaps they initially saw it as overblown but when the realization came that it wasn't, they went deeper into the denial side?

I would express how you feel and ask open ended questions about how they feel. Do not try to throw facts at their face. That isn't how you get someone to think critically when they're in full rejection mode. Find a common ground of emotions and I think you'll be able to have a productive conversation.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:06 PM on March 16 [16 favorites]

Maybe get them to read this article about "patient 31" and the spread of coronavirus in South Korea?
posted by ProtoStar at 2:13 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]

My experience has been that when people have some part of their life in which they are deeply invested in some mission or piece of service that they do, they are extremely resistant to the measures which prevent them from engaging in that service. It is not any kind of exaggeration to say that it pains them to cut this kind of closeness out of their lives. They may even say that if it's a choice between contracting COVID-19 and not, they'll take the COVID-19.

I have been trying to lead the edge on calling out the severity of this and the need to take what seem like extreme measures. My expectation is that I can go to sleep at night knowing that I said something that was necessary; my expectation is not that they will suddenly have a light go off in front of me and say, "You know what, you're right and I was wrong." People just don't want to do that, they'd rather change their mind in some face-saving matter.

Authority figures can be a GREAT way for people to save face as they change their minds. I have seen this play out for a bunch of people I know. If authorities in your area (whether that's the mayor or the manager of your local yoga gym) have taken insufficient steps, lobby them! Tell them why you're worried.

As far as your partner goes... well, I doubt any of us will understand as well as you do. If they are exceptionally kind, then the prospect of cutting off contact probably hurts them deeply. In your position, all you can do is take responsibility for your own actions, and make it clear that you are not going supporting them in any way in endangering others, and will take steps to ensure that you yourself will not endanger others. Unless you do that as a cudgel to make your partner do what you want, then you are absolutely in your rights to do that.

You could also find ways to make this easier for them if they don't see how they can live with these restrictions. I'm bad at managing a social calendar, but I'm good at computers, so I've been helping out by setting up video conferences and the like.
posted by billjings at 2:13 PM on March 16 [6 favorites]

For keeping others safe, make sure that everyone invited over is aware that Partner has been having cold symptoms. Then at least they can make their own fully informed risk assessments.
posted by yeahlikethat at 2:34 PM on March 16 [21 favorites]

In case you haven't seen it, check this thread out for differences in how partners are behaving (for solace if anything):
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 2:34 PM on March 16

Can you take the approach of "This is truly important to me. Please humor me" ?
posted by trig at 2:35 PM on March 16 [12 favorites]

If they haven't been paying attention, I'd ask them to read a few well-picked articles about it ("because it's important to me"), like this Washington Post article (with impressive graphics) about flattening the curve, or this NYT article about how interventions are powerful but lose efficacy the longer we wait to put them in action. I'd say

Appeal to their kindness, their care for the community; frame it as a community and family preserving action; and ask them to read those articles.

If they have been paying attention and are still in denial, I'd start thinking about what kinds of fears/resistances might be at play, and start trying to find ways to help your partner get more emotionally resourced so they can come to terms with reality.
posted by hungrytiger at 2:59 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]

If you think "shock and awe" might help, Iran didn't do social distancing and are currently digging mass graves.
posted by BungaDunga at 4:35 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]

This article by risk communication specialists helped me figure out my (initial) under-reaction
Strange COVID-19 Bedfellows: Gnawing Anxiety and Under-Reaction
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:49 PM on March 16 [7 favorites]

currently digging mass graves

So, mass graves are mass graves, but Iran is a Muslim country, and my understanding is burying the dead quickly (<24 hours after death), without embalming or a casket, would still be imperative under non-pandemic circumstances. I wonder how much of the somewhat breathless reporting around Iran's MASS GRAVES is sensationalism due to anti-Iranian sentiment, cultural misunderstanding and misapprehension, or a bit of both.
posted by pullayup at 5:07 PM on March 16 [16 favorites]

From the Guardian: An expert guide to social distancing – and what to do if friends and family aren't onboard (Mar. 16, 2020)

On the other hand, things are changing rapidly, and if people will not voluntarily take precautions, it does seem possible that there will be additional restrictions imposed soon in the US, beyond the guidelines announced today by Trump, similar to what has happened in San Francisco and five other Bay area counties, Maryland, and New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, Switzerland, Spain and Italy, as well as what appears to be about to happen in France and the UK. As noted by epidemiologist Bill Hanage in the Guardian:
This virus is capable of shutting down countries. You should not want to be the next after Wuhan, Iran, Italy or Spain. In those places, the healthcare systems have broken down. In Italy, the choices of whom to save and whom to allow to die are real. You should instead look to the example of South Korea, which, through a combination of intense surveillance and social distancing, appears to have gained some semblance of control over the virus. We can learn from South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, all of which have so far done a good job mitigating the worst outcomes despite having reported cases early in the pandemic, and in the case of South Korea, suffering a substantial outbreak.
And with regard to your suggestion to not go to work after being exposed to your partner's symptoms, I posted some links to articles about the risk of transmission without symptoms in a previous AskMe.
posted by katra at 5:51 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]

If at any point this partner is NOT working from home (i.e. going in to the hospital), please inform their manager(s) of their illness. I think you have an ethical obligation to do so, especially as a fellow healthcare worker.

I'm sorry you have to deal with this. I'm infuriated on your behalf and on behalf of everyone who has socialized with them.
posted by purple_bird at 3:43 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]

Well you could be very blunt to him and his parents.

"You know if you get a severe case of this, I won't be allowed to visit you in the hospital, and if you die i can't be there to say goodbye. And if you give it to me or our child the same could happen to us."

"What is the status of your will and life insurance information? Do you have funeral preferences written down? You should probably keep that somewhere easy to find."

"If we were both to die, who should raise our child? We should probably prepare for that just in case."

I mean, that's very blunt and cold especially if you can be completely matter of fact about it. They'll be angry. But it's also fair if the three of them are going to act so irresponsibly. They aren't just endangering themselves but you, your child and everyone they come in contact with.

Also I would absolutely put an end to playdates no matter what your partner says. Veto them.

Caveat: make sure your child isn't able to hear any such discussion.
posted by emjaybee at 9:33 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]

What Do You Tell Someone Who Still Won’t Stay Home? (Joe Pinsker, Atlantic, Mar. 19, 2020)
A guide to convincing your loved ones to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously
posted by katra at 11:41 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]

Remind them that the current situation in Italy was probably started by 1-2 two people who didn't think they were 'that sick' and didn't need to self-isolate, and that at least 2500 people are dead now because of decisions like that?

Or tell them this: I have the EXACT same symptoms as your partner right now, and have had for at least a week. Achey, a bit of a sore throat, sniffles etc. Nothing too bad, manageable, I feel mostly ok. The headaches are a bit weird.

Guess what else I have? Potential COVID-19 connection from a European tourist, all the way here in Australia. Guess how many people removed I was from the person that I suspect gave it to me? Four people removed. I never even met the presumed carrier.

They came here before things got crazy, about six or so weeks ago. They were 100% asymptomatic by the way-- and still are. They are totally fine. That's why they were cleared to travel. Back then the news said stay away with people from symptoms, and this person had none. No fever, nothing. But after they got here, the family this person was staying with here got a 'mild cold' approx two weeks after this person first came. Then two people who met the tourist also soon got a 'cold' in the same time frame. These people mixed it to my family. They went to the doctor (this was just before the hotlines) who said their symptoms were 'too mild' to be concerning. For the same reason they were rejected for the swab test for COVID-19.

While people called us paranoid, my family thought it was weird everyone indirect contact with this tourist had gotten sick, and we theorized maybe asymptomatic carriers were indeed a thing, so we decided to self isolate a few weeks ago, before all the social distancing measures in place. Guess what? now we know asymptomatic carriers are a thing! And the country and region the tourist is from is extremely high risk now. Who knows how many people they infected because they were asymptomatic. Who knows if any of those exposures resulted in someone's death. I'm sure it did.

Though I self-isolated quickly, I still wonder if I am responsible for someone's death prior to knowing the virus could also present with 'mild' symptoms, or 'just a cold'. It pains me to think I could indirectly have spread it to someone who it may have killed. Someone's family member. Their grandma or grandfather. And in such a cruel way, too-- dying alone and isolated and in pain. All because of ignorance.

I mean I don't have proof I have it-- I don't meet the criteria for testing in Australia because I don't have fever or respiratory problems nor actual direct access to any recent travelers-- the person was 4 people removed from me. The other people who got sick got better so they won't test them for antibodies after the fact. Doesn't mean it's not COVID-19 though. They said to assume it is. So we are.

And maybe it isn't Coronavirus. Maybe your partner thinks it isn't.

But even if isn't. Say it's not that bad. Say it's just a 'mild flu' -- it still should be contained! I could still kill the elderly and/or the immunocompromised with it! And so could your partner. As a healthcare professional they should know that diseases present differently in different people and lack of severity of symptoms doesn't mean the disease itself isn't severe. That's not how it works. Moreover, even if it is the common cold or whatever, it can still weaken someones immune system enough that if they were THEN exposed to COVID-19 they might die. So like, anything that could weaken anyone elses immune system is a big deal right now. And even the common cold can do that.

Anyway I am kinda waffling a bunch sorry. I'm not sure if that will help. But yeah, your partner is being really reckless with their health and the health of others.

If that won't sway them, the World Corona Simulator seems to help put it in perspective in a really helpful way.
posted by Dimes at 1:23 PM on March 22

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