Should we stay or should we go?
March 24, 2020 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Another covid-19 shelter/travel question.

Mr. Dash and I are in Left Coast City, where we've been for ~6 months. The previous plan was to leave here at the end of May, spend some time traveling, then migrate back to our home in Small East Coast City. That plan is out the window, of course. My basic question is: when should we beeline home?

We're in a highrise here, in a 1BR apartment. It has grocery store on ground floor, and we're well enough stocked. We've been isolating for >2 weeks now, and have only left the apartment once in the last week. We deploy soap and ethanol appropriately.

We're healthy now. Mr. Dash is healthy generally. I'm mildly immunocompromised, asthmatic, and have some lung damage already.

We have to get home eventually. Home is much bigger and has all our things (home gym, instruments, tv, books, etc), and we'd be able to get outside for walks in our neighborhood at least, which is a big thing.

But there's 45 hours of driving between here and there. Lots of gas station stops at the minimum. Not sure about motel options. Not sure whether we could borrow camping things, but maybe. The car would be too packed to sleep in. We have gloves and a few leftover masks from fire season.

Other minor factors include the extra rent we'd spend if we stayed longer here (we can afford, but); displacing our housesitter (but her family is 3 houses away); logistics of disposing of / donating some stuff we bought to live in the apartment here, and returning the rental furniture.

My take from reading sources like the Imperial College report, and Pueyo (I'm a quantitative scientist) is that the virus is spreading silently, untested in the vast majority and unquantified, and that reality (read: overwhelmed hospitals and lots of death) hasn't hit ... yet, but it will by next week or so. I expect the shit will hit the fan and things will stay bad for months.

My gut says to go now, or we're here for several more months, July or August maybe before it's feasible to travel. Mr. Dash wants to stay here, not risk travel, which he thinks is more dangerous right now.

ok, that's the factors, so when would you go?
posted by Dashy to Travel & Transportation (37 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
No. Everyone needs to stay where they are. Especially if moving back into your other home will displace your house sitter.

This isn't about whether or not you get the virus. You will have to interact with people and things as you move across the country, which means that you will likely spread the virus around unknowingly. Whether or not you get the viruses is immaterial. Every choice we make right now needs to be for the collective good, not for our individual desires.
posted by k8lin at 10:41 AM on March 24, 2020 [22 favorites]

Is home also an apartment?
posted by corb at 10:51 AM on March 24, 2020

Home is a house in a suburb neighborhood. And yes, collective good is also a factor here.
posted by Dashy at 10:54 AM on March 24, 2020

We are in a similar boat, but we would fly, not drive. Complicating factors: home is empty with a cat, so we are losing money on cat sitting and our mortgage in addition to our rent here (since our cat-sitting tenant has left earlier than planned), but we have a baby so flying is scaring me. We are staying for now, but I really really want to go back.

Any reason you can’t fly?
posted by redlines at 11:12 AM on March 24, 2020

We have a years' worth of stuff with us (original plan), and our cat, and our car with us. So, not a plane trip.

We have to go back eventually, and I don't think the general risk, to us or to others, will decrease in anything less than six months minimum. It's a matter of when we go. That's what I'm looking for input on.
posted by Dashy at 11:18 AM on March 24, 2020

The sun had barely risen Monday when U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams took to the airwaves. “I want America to understand: This week, it’s going to get bad,” he said on NBC’s “Today.” (WaPo) "Health experts have not been overreacting. Models from Imperial College London and others suggest that up to 2.2 million Americans could die within a year without sufficient efforts to “flatten the curve.” [...] President Trump needs to immediately order the closing of all schools and nonessential businesses and impose a shelter-in-place policy for the entire country. (Ezekiel J. Emanuel, NYT Opinion) “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the US. So it does have that potential [to become the centre of the pandemic],” the WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said. (Guardian) “It is way too early to even consider rolling back any guidelines," said Howard Koh, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and former top Obama administration public health official. “With cases and deaths rising by the day, the country must double down, not lighten up, on social distancing and related measures.” (Politico)

“Some of the early cases in Northern Italy were associated with small towns, and people thought, ‘Oh, it’s just in the small towns.’ But then you suddenly find cases emerging from Milan Fashion Week and spreading internationally,” Dr. [William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard] said. “Everywhere you think the virus is, it’s ahead of you." (NYT)
posted by katra at 11:21 AM on March 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

Stay now. Evaluate when the number of cases are falling or zero, and if cases hit those numbers you can decide to go. Then there will be another curve. If they never flatten then around July or August you could probably minimize some of the risk by camping on your way back.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:01 PM on March 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Given that you have a house (easier and safer to self isolate in) I would go now. Right now. Start packing the car. At the first gas station you stop at I would purchase containers of fuel to make it easier for you to avoid gas stations. I would make PB&Js and not stop anywhere to eat. Buy camping gear or sleep in the car. It’s not too cramped- just too cramped to do so comfortably. These are not comfortable times. If there are two of you who are drivers I would have one sleep while the other one drives. It is going to get much more serious very fast. Go home where you are far safer than an apartment building where people must pass each other.
posted by corb at 12:01 PM on March 24, 2020 [7 favorites]

If you're going to go home (please don't, honestly) I really think that you need to figure out exactly what will happen with your house sitter. Please don't assume that they will just be able to move in with their family. Displacing another person is not a minor factor.
posted by k8lin at 12:18 PM on March 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

If it were me, I would go immediately for the same reasons as corb states, driving through the night as much as possible, trading sleeping shifts, and not leaving the car except for gas and stretch breaks.
posted by anderjen at 12:19 PM on March 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

I wouldn’t go now. Things are changing so quickly. Hotels are closing. If you are safe where you are, stay there. You can’t run outrun this; it’s already too late. What if your car breaks down along the way? Or you get a flat you can’t change? I just heard the Portland mayor saying we are expecting the virus to peal in the first two weeks in April. That means it’s everywhere now. Now is not the time to increase your exposure.

We will all know a lot more by the end of May. I understand your question and the stress. But I wouldn’t presume that late May won’t be an option and thus you are forced to go now. Please stay where you are.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:20 PM on March 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

At the first gas station you stop at I would purchase containers of fuel to make it easier for you to avoid gas stations

This is really a bad idea. The risk of getting incinerated after even a moderate car crash while doing this is much higher than the risk of dying from COVID-19 after stepping out of the car to pump gas every ~300 miles. And unless you literally get a UHaul and fill it with enough gasoline to probably make it illegal to even be on the road, you'll have to stop a bunch during your 45 hours of driving anyway.
posted by sideshow at 12:28 PM on March 24, 2020 [12 favorites]

I would go. I would go now. And I would drive the whole 48 hours, in shifts.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:38 PM on March 24, 2020 [7 favorites]

Is the house sitter sheltering-in-place and healthy? Can house sitter stay with you when you get back? Because now is a bad time to find a new home and making poeple homeless is not okay. If the house sitter is able to stay, you're talking about 2+ days of straight driving, bringing most food and stopping only for gas, bathroom, coffee, exercise. If your car gets 30 mpg, you'll need @ 80 gal.(@2300 miles?). No, you won't be able to fill up and take 65 gallons with you. A couple gallons in an appropriate container is wise, some places may be closed.

By traveling, you increase the chance of infection by an unknown amount, still probably not large. But you would likely be traveling in May otherwise. I have no math for that. There's a slight possibility that one of both of you is infected. You could be ill and stuck in a random town in Kansas or wherever, with very limited options. And you have to think about the possibility that house sitter will become ill while you are in transit. The other risk is that you are in a car accident and wind up in a hospital ER.

I suspect you crave home. Makes sense. If you decide to go, when you get home Stay Home for 14 days. Lots of people are coming from New York to their 2nd homes in Maine (or Long Island) and skeeving people out. Bring food and supplies, unpack essentials from the car, stay in.
posted by theora55 at 12:47 PM on March 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Truckers brave coronavirus outbreak to deliver goods: 'If we stop, the world stops' (USA Today, Mar. 22, 2020)
Restrictions on which businesses can remain open have also made their jobs more difficult, forcing some truck drivers to cook for themselves in their trucks as restaurants across the nation shutdown. In other cases, it has left them without a place to wash their hands or to park and sleep at night. Dozens of rest stops were closed, for example, in Pennsylvania, Texas, Nebraska and Michigan this week because of efforts to slow down the coronavirus.
Oregon state parks campgrounds begin closing down due to coronavirus (MSN, Mar. 23, 2020)
In an unprecedented move, Oregon will close all of its state parks and campgrounds beginning Monday due to concerns of the coronavirus pandemic. [...] anyone planning to visit a state park should check its website before hitting the road to check for closures, which could occur with little notice. [...] California has temporarily closed all of the campgrounds in its state parks system to support efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, officials said in a news release.
These US national parks are closed because of coronavirus (CNN, Mar. 17, 2020) "Additional closures are listed on this page of active alerts, along with facility closures in some parks that remain open. [...] Upcoming status updates will be posted by individual parks."

How to deal with people who carelessly risk infecting others (Jennifer Rubin, WaPo Opinion)
To address the problem of reckless, bad actors, some states may use police to enforce their stay-at-home orders. However, aside from the threat of fine or imprisonment, those risking others’ lives should be aware of potential civil liability. [...] These are issues that will work themselves out in courts around the country as we watch covid-19 spread. There will be some reckless and cavalier actors who, despite the plethora of public knowledge, choose to expose others to risks. Nevertheless, the very real potential for legal liability — if not the moral obligation to avoid risking others’ health — should put reckless actors on notice. If you think you have the disease, if you are concerned enough for your own well-being to be tested or if you provide service for others, you had better show extreme care when others are at risk.
posted by katra at 12:49 PM on March 24, 2020

Yeah to be clear; you’ll have to hit gas stations. I’m suggesting to carry enough fuel that you’ll be able to avoid high traffic gas stations if you need to. 1 or 2 regular size will be enough and lots of people drive with that when getting gas for their mowers, etc.
posted by corb at 1:11 PM on March 24, 2020

We have a years' worth of stuff with us (original plan), and our cat, and our car with us. So, not a plane trip.

That doesn’t follow. Your cat can fly, your car can stay (you’re not going anywhere once you get home) and everything you can’t put in your luggage can stay in the car.

It’s an option.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:18 PM on March 24, 2020 [6 favorites]

We're in a kind of similar boat. We have a house on the other side of the country that we had absolutely not planned to leave without returning for multiple months. However, we have chosen to stay where we are until this lets up, and deal with the consequences of not visiting that home or having access to that stuff for (maybe substantially) longer than we expected. I'm not happy about it, but it feels like the right choice.
posted by primethyme at 1:46 PM on March 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

It might be longer than July or August. Nobody really knows. If this is not a place you can stay indefinitely then I would go back ASAP while you still can.
posted by schroedinger at 1:56 PM on March 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

Mr. Dash wants to stay here, not risk travel, which he thinks is more dangerous right now.

Mr. Dash is right.

You're healthy, you have food, you have soap and water, and you have a place to stay.

If you leave this place to drive home, you are going to encounter somebody who has chosen not to or who cannot socially distance themselves and who either has COVID-19 or has been exposed to it.

Or you are going to be tired during a rest stop and you are going to touch an inadequately sanitized surface.

And if you get sick, you are going to wind up at the mercy of a health care system that was stressed before COVID-19 and is now at the breaking point.

Ten days ago AskMe rose up, almost as one, and said, "Stay home," when dubious_dude, a retail clerk in D.C., asked whether he should go visit family on the other side of the country.

dubious_dude is a MeFite who rarely has more than a week off at a time, but his employer had rightly granted him two paid weeks off to avoid COVID-19 infection, and he misses his family.

People said things like:

"The prospect of getting sick en route, in an unfamiliar place, during a pandemic, doesn't seem fun."

"No. It is your civic duty to stay where you are. All of us who can do that must do that. There are people who must travel for lifesaving reasons. The rest of us need to stay home. Right now."

"This is one of those times where we all have to make sacrifices in order to take care of one another. Please stay home and take care."
posted by virago at 2:26 PM on March 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

I agree with leaving immediately to where you're safer and can hunker down better. You're not going to a party or anything foolish like that. You're not symptomatic. You'll travel responsibly. The current public health efforts are about cutting back on contact as much as reasonably possible. This is a extraordinary situation for you.

It's going to get worse before it gets better. Assuming you can travel safely in July or August is a big gamble. It might be into next year before people feel more comfortable moving around than they do right now.

I don't think we can worry so much about second-order effects. Maybe you'll infect someone at a gas station on the road. Or maybe you'll infect someone in a couple weeks because of your close quarters apartment living that you wouldn't if you were in your spacious suburban home. Weigh touching half a dozen gas pump handles against touching public doorknobs and elevator buttons in your apartment building many times over the next several months. There are all sorts of what-ifs we can run. Do the best you can with what you know now.

For your house sitter, it's nice that you're thinking of them but do you really feel you owe them your house? Maybe you do, but if so, that would be extremely generous. Letting them use a spare room or your couch for the duration if their family situation doesn't allow them to go back would be the decent thing to do.
posted by bright flowers at 2:47 PM on March 24, 2020 [6 favorites]

Also I think what we're discussing here is significantly different than avoiding a short trip to see family or to go to a national park. That sort of travel increases transmission purely for some form of enjoyment and leaves you right back where you started. What you're proposing is a one-time risky move that will leave you better positioned permanently.
posted by bright flowers at 2:56 PM on March 24, 2020 [7 favorites]

My jaw is hitting the floor here.

You're not going to a party or anything foolish like that.

It doesn't matter whether you or I think that OP's reasons for leaving are sound or frivolous.

They're embarking on a 45-hour drive, and their point of departure is the Left Coast, a virus hot spot, where everybody in all three states – California, Oregon, and Washington – has been told to stay at home.

OP's own health picture should also be taken into consideration. They describe their partner as "generally healthy" but say they themselves are "mildly immunocompromised, asthmatic and have some lung damage already."

Also I think what we're discussing here is significantly different than avoiding a short trip to see family or to go to a national park.

Indeed it is. Carefully planned and carried out short trips that don't require stopping for gas or food are actually OK, according to the experts in epidemiology and infectious diseases who recently talked to The New York Times:
Be sure to know your state’s rules and if you want to travel out of state, those of your destination and any states you must travel through. ...

“Traveling longer distances by car is not advisable right now, unless it is of a more urgent nature,” said Rachel Patzer, an epidemiologist and director of health services research at Emory University School of Medicine. “If it is far enough that it requires you to refuel or stop for food, this may be more difficult to practice social distancing and could put you or others at risk.”

Moreover, she said, “If you got sick and were far away from home it may be important for you to know where to go to get care, which may be more difficult if you are on the road traveling.”
Here's a link to the whole Times article:
With the Coronavirus Restrictions, Can I Travel By Car? (Emily Palmer, March 21)
posted by virago at 3:35 PM on March 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

This is going to sound harsh because it is. But you know, you’re not special. You’re not more important than everyone else. Your need to live in a bigger house and go for nice walks in a different location doesn’t trump every other single person’s health that you’ll be in contact with over that 45 hour journey. Plus their families. And trust me, that’s a lot.

Everyone who asks questions about what they can or can’t do seems to think their situation is special but it really isn’t. It’s pretty simple. If you have a short journey that doesn’t require you to step out of the car, by all means go for it. But as soon as you’ll be in contact with other people, touching things like gas pumps and using restrooms, for the love of god, stay home. I know, it sucks. I sympathise for you. But the people I sympathise most with are the ones who have no choice but to risk their health and be out there anyway. The least we can do is try and look after them.
posted by Jubey at 3:50 PM on March 24, 2020 [8 favorites]

Let me rephrase my recent comment:

I misspoke when I wrote:

Carefully planned and carried out short trips that don't require stopping for gas or food are actually OK, according to the experts ...

But they are safer than long trips.
posted by virago at 4:06 PM on March 24, 2020

This is a want not a need. None of us get to have wants right now. Stay where you are.

One estimate states that 1 person would be responsible for 59,000 infections over 10 cycles. If either of you is already infected, would you want to be responsible for that?
posted by Automocar at 4:11 PM on March 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm assuming OP would travel the way corb wrote above. They get in the car with some PB&Js, sleep in the car or in a tent they pitch in an isolated field, and go to the bathroom on the side of the road. When they get to their house they should quarantine for two weeks.

The downside is they've touched and breathed on a handful of gas pumps across the country, also considering they can use masks and hand sanitizer when leaving their car. The upside is everyone in their former location is safer, they personally are safer in their more isolated house, and they won't need to worry about finding themselves having to move later when things may be much worse.

Anyone who isn't ordering fifty pound bags of rice and beans and intending to literally stay in their living quarters for the next year will break self-isolation many times for far more trivial reasons than OP is proposing here. You'd put more people at risk ordering a pizza delivery than OP would at one of their quick gas stops.
posted by bright flowers at 5:14 PM on March 24, 2020 [7 favorites]

They'd also save some money. Would it change the ethical calculus here if they donated some of that saved money to coronavirus causes? How many donated masks and bottles of hand sanitizer is this trip worth? I'm not saying they need to do this, but I think we need to consider this in terms of quantified risk and not absolutes.
posted by bright flowers at 5:24 PM on March 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

OP, you seem obviously stressed, and I am sorry. There is an important point above about how the entire West Coast is locked down - you won't even be able to return the rental furniture, because it is not an 'essential' business. This is a small example of how it is, unfortunately, too late to go. The stay-at-home orders (Politico) have been issued because of the immediate and imminent threat that exists for you and the public.
States hardest hit by the virus have implemented broad mandatory quarantine orders, also referred to as “shelter in place” or “stay at home” policies. Though the policies vary between states, residents are generally instructed to stay at home unless going out for essential activities, such as grocery shopping.
These governments are telling you it is too late to travel across the country, and the risk is too great, and it is getting worse (Guardian). As I noted above, truckers are making these trips, but finding that facilities are closed and the risk increased because of it, but their work is essential, so they are taking that increased risk to provide an essential service. You have several high-risk (CDC) conditions, including asthma (CDC), and you are currently advised by the CDC to "stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed."
posted by katra at 7:04 PM on March 24, 2020 [7 favorites]

Go, go now. Be at your home. This may be months.
Use gloves/sanitizer on gas pump handles.
Bring all your food and water. Use contactless cards or gloves/sanitizer.
Don't touch anything. Leave no trace.
Drive straight through. Take turns napping.

Then, once home, you can help neighbors and strengthen community.
That extra rent you would have paid, offer it to the housesitter if they need help.

It's musical chairs, and the music just stopped. Hard times ahead.
You have a home. Be in it.
Once in your place of strength, draw friends, family, community close, and help each other.
posted by dum spiro spero at 10:47 PM on March 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Send your stuff ahead by UPS, and drive with the cat and lots of soft sleeping things.
posted by dum spiro spero at 10:53 PM on March 24, 2020

dum spiro spero: Drive straight through. Take turns napping. ... Drive with the cat.

Driving across country with a cat in the car would be difficult under the best of circumstances.

Doing a straight-through, sleep-deprived drive with a cat in the car would be hazardous, to both the driver and anyone else on the road.

(I have a cat. And I love him! But his presence in the car is not conducive to peaceful driving.)

Doing a straight-through, sleep-deprived drive with a cat in the car during a pandemic would not be the responsible choice, for so many reasons that I and others have already outlined above.

The time to leave was a month ago. The thing to do now is stay put.
posted by virago at 1:49 AM on March 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

The rental furniture can be sorted out remotely, or just left sitting in the apartment for as long as needed. The situation is too serious to be worried about that. Similarly, you can put the cat into a carrier for the entire trip or, failing that, any hard container with holes in it. This page suggests two laundry baskets tied together.

OP, this is obviously a very difficult decision. I wish you the best of luck, no matter what you choose.
posted by bright flowers at 8:50 AM on March 25, 2020

On Recklessness and the Coronavirus (Sharma Shields, NYT Opinion)
What it’s like to be immunocompromised during a pandemic.
When the news came of school closures, my husband’s concern spilled over. He told me, gravely, “I don’t think you should go to work.” [...] Usually I’m the one stuck in an anxiety spiral and he’s the one who guides me out of it. This role reversal meant one thing: that what he asked of me was sensible, necessary, even, but I bucked against it, scowling. [...] At 41, I’m healthy, strong and immunocompromised.

[...] I went to the bookstore keenly aware of my vulnerability. Still, I opened the shop with eagerness, grateful to be out of the house, to be making a paycheck, to be useful. My cheerfulness waned, however, customers streamed through the door to stock up on books in the face of isolation. [...] I’d like to say my recklessness stopped with the cessation of work, but it did not. [...]

My family is now carefully following the stay at home order. Even with all of this fear and uncertainty — perhaps because of it — every moment with my children feels like a gift. Maybe, like me, you’ve felt an urge to rebel, to minimize, to experience it all at once however awful it might be. But the only way to regain a sense of control is to protect one another. Our brief time together on this planet is worth the extra caution.
posted by katra at 10:30 AM on March 25, 2020

[Couple comments deleted. Please don't refer to people as a disease; I get the frustration where that comes from but it's a form of rhetoric better avoided.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:07 PM on March 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

A useful idea for anyone in a similar situation: we're looking at renting an RV for the trip, and probably shipping the car. That would help us isolate on the road, no stops aside from gas.

We've not left yet, and because our home city is essentially a further suburb on NYC, we're 99% staying here, as disease stats are two orders of magnitude lesser here. But we'll have to go eventually, because we're spending well upwards of $5k a month to be here, and while we can afford some extra time, an extra year is ... as MF says, "not possible".
posted by Dashy at 3:32 PM on April 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Turns out, in the failed state of Amerika, we should have just gone.
posted by Dashy at 4:11 PM on May 5, 2020 [3 favorites]

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