Living in purgatory, covid-19 edition
May 4, 2020 8:00 PM   Subscribe

I had always expected that the coronavirus situation would get worse before it got better. Now that is more clear. I am in the USA, where most states are opening up before seeing a decline in cases. And news sources are saying that we can expect, at best, a “slow burn” of more cases for a few years. So how do we live like this?

What are reasonable precautions to live under for a few years? What are good guidelines?

My county seems to have plateaued. My sister and my dad live in the same town I do. He is 80 years old. I expect they are still seeing each other. They are being prudent now, but who knows what they will do as restrictions loosen. Should I see them again? Under what conditions?

My 90-year-old mother-in-law lives in the independent level of a continuing-care retirement community about eight hours away, in a state with more cases. Visitors haven’t been allowed for a while, which is sensible. But my wife is worried she will never get to see her mother again.

I might be able to work from home indefinitely. But I worry that my wife will not. Even if she gets unemployment, that will run out at some point, and options for other jobs are limited.

I am politically active and also had hoped to volunteer with direct services to help people. But my wife has high risk factors, and it seems like the risk of infection will just increase.

How can prudent people best live our lives in the next few years? Without going stir-crazy, etc.
posted by NotLost to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I think the answer is really "it's still too soon to say what the 'new normal' will be." I am reading you looking for answers, and I think the upsetting thing is, nobody has them yet. I don't know when we'll have them. There's still lots we don't know about the virus, and lots of research being done. We don't know how transmission is going to act for the northern-hemisphere summer, nor next winter (though we can make guesses, and I personally suspect stuff is going to get pretty bad in the US).
posted by Alterscape at 8:35 PM on May 4, 2020 [11 favorites]

Yeah, that's the thing - "normal" these days in the US changes from week to week, day to day. I wish I knew the answer to "how do we live like this", but the only answer is, like the AA creed says, one day at a time. Planning is kinda pointless, because who knows what life will be like in a month, but what I would suggest is save as much money as you can, and don't do anything without thinking of its ramifications first.

I know that's hopelessly vague, but here we are, living in hopelessly vague times. There's no good answer at the moment. Just make sure you and yours wear masks, don't take unnecessary risks in public, and understand that there's no one right answer here. Protect yourselves, which protects others, and that's all you can do.

I wish I had a better answer, but I'm not sure there is one.
posted by pdb at 8:52 PM on May 4, 2020 [8 favorites]

To what extent do you have control over your bubble (NZ Heath Dept advice). We've just come out of a near-Wuhan level and are (hopefully) moving to a level where more things become possible, but we're all going to bubble for years/until vaccine.

A number of families here are self-isolating and then merging bubbles for exactly the reasons you are asking. Nothing easy.

Nothing normal about it and I wish the pols would stop using the word - this will never be normal.

Just maybe we might eliminate Covid (low cases, in a geographic area, all cases trackable in specified timeframe), and then eradicate this thing, BUT then we will be one big bubble and it all becomes like 14th C Venice. Estimates are this would directly kill ~1500 people or more here which would destroy our health system.
posted by unearthed at 9:06 PM on May 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

[One deleted. If you'd like to discuss your general feelings or vent about Covid-19 and government (for example), please post in one of the Covid threads in Metafilter or in Metatalk. Here in Ask Metafilter, let's try to stick to the questions asked and answer them as well as we can. OP has asked What are reasonable precautions to live under for a few years? What are good guidelines? and How can prudent people best live our lives in the next few years?]
posted by taz (staff) at 4:20 AM on May 5, 2020 [6 favorites]

It is worth looking at some of the well-thought-out, science-based recovery plans that some states in the US and a number of countries are starting to implement. Washington State and New York State just released new phased reopening plans, for example, as have a number of other states; some countries in Asia and Europe are quite a bit further ahead.

Basically, these kinds of plans foresee a world where various metrics are monitored (eg, rates of new infections, hospital capacity, etc) and restrictions are loosened or tightened at the local level (ie, at the county or municipality) based on what the outcomes are looking like. Ideally they are combined with vigorous testing and contact tracing, but that capacity isn't here yet and won't be for quite some time, given the inept federal response.

The big question that no one can answer precisely yet is what will happen when you have some states doing this and other states saying "hell with science" and just plain reopening, since travel between states will continue to be open. (Other than maybe Alaska and Hawaii, no US state is in a position to try to create a "bubble" like Australia and New Zealand are discussing.)

And in the end, what will really drive the tightening or loosening of the restrictions is going to be both people's limits on accepting continued restrictions and the timeline to the eventual discovery of either an effective treatment or a vaccine.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:22 AM on May 5, 2020 [7 favorites]

So, this isn't exactly an answer to your question because I don't think there are good answers, but here is what I would advise: for every in-person interaction your normal life requires, figure out your best alternative that lets you avoid it, and roughly how much money that will cost you; look for ways to cut your own expenses that make more such alternatives possible; and find some leaders whose wisdom you can depend on to help you decide how much financial and other loss is reasonable to sustain given the size of the risks you and your loved ones face.

My own state, Wisconsin, has what looks to me (a layperson) like a reasonable set of guidelines for judging how much and when to relax restrictions on daily life. However, we also have a very right-wing legislature and state supreme court that may wind up striking down our current stay-at-home order (the court is hearing arguments today, I believe). This is unfortunate, because one of the best things about government regulations (as I think conference planners casting a baleful eye on summer 2020 will tell you) is that they provide financial cover for backing out of obligations that have become unsafe. In my personal life, the biggie is childcare. Right now my employer is allowing me to WFH without proof of third-party childcare because what is anybody going to do right now, really? But in summer, if things are open again, I have to think about my risk tolerance for summer camp, and how they compare to the risk of hiring a nanny, and whether I can convince my employer to keep those WFH restrictions relaxed or not, and if not, whether I'm willing to quit work over it. Coming up with a family decision tree for this matter is probably on my household's docket for the next two to three weeks.

Personally, it is helping my sanity to think of "normal life" as an interlocking set of first-order approximations to the question, "How can my household and I get our needs met?" COVID-19 means that we have to go back to the drawing board and think about what those needs are specifically, which normal paths to them are effectively blocked, and what other means we have of meeting the needs.
posted by eirias at 8:58 AM on May 5, 2020 [5 favorites]

Be kind to yourself. Nobody is dealing with this well. I want to focus on the last part of your question about engaging politically. I know that there are ways that allow you to do work phone banking for candidates. The solution to our anxiety might come in the form of the next election. What could a different leader bring to bear? I think that your energy spent in that positive direction will bring as much purpose/hope to your life. There could be so much energy going toward this problem...if...there was a level of competency in place. Maybe I'm overly optimistic but I think about how things could be. Small steps start long journeys.

I am in Illinois. You realize that people cross state lines all the time to do stuff. There will be trepidation around much of this until we have some level of understanding of the virus and of course, testing. My grandmother passed away in December. The care facility that she was in has had Covid-19 fatalities. I am lucky that my family did not have to deal with the situation that many are faced with currently. I empathize with your wife.

A comment above talked about really taking a hard look at how you want to live and what matters. Couldn't agree more. There are many tough questions. It is like we are living the "trolly problem" in an ethics class. No good choices but at least choices.

I wish you well.
posted by zerobyproxy at 2:00 PM on May 5, 2020

Thanks for asking this. I'm mid-60s and have asthma, so I am being Very Cautious, have left my neighborhood to pick up a grocery order or do no-contact tasks. I am considering early morning grocery shopping grocery shopping because there's a store with flour and hand sanitizer, and because I'm getting a bit stir-crazy. A local library opened and it would be so nice to be around humans, but I'm not making plans, just considering. Most stores clean overnight, so being able to shop 1st thing seems safe-ish in my area with lower population density and low-ish Covid-19 density. I do go outside to walk and garden. Other than shopping during special at-risk times, I'm not planning to Go Out and have contact for now.

Mother's Day has been fraught anyway, but this year's gonna be esp. so. But living is a thing I prefer.
posted by theora55 at 4:45 PM on May 5, 2020

I think there are things we are going to have to be careful about to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy, but the difference is that, moving ahead, we won't see everyone mostly working together to do so. So things might begin to re-open, but that will be before it's "safe" for everyone to be out and about. So some people will be going to open air restaurants (for example) while others will continue to be more isolated. This in a way is like now, where people are making different choices based on their perception of risk.

To expand: I have a friend who isn't immunocompromised as far as I know but who has only left his small apartment once a week for the past several weeks; I don't mean he hasn't left his building, but he rarely leaves his apartment to fetch his email. He told me a few weeks ago he had run out of frozen veggies but didn't want to risk leaving his apartment even to get groceries delivered. I'm also friends with a family who only gets groceries delivered but who also drives an hour or two on the weekend to go hiking.

You raise some good questions about older parents. My parents are in their 80s and I am realizing I might not see them again in person for a hug.

I think one of the hardest parts of all this is that we don't know and we can't predict. Like, it would somehow be easier if we could say, if you just keep inside for X amount of months, then we'll have a vaccine, and Y months after that you can go out again. But we have to know that there isn't an answer and to a large extent we are going to get to the point where we have to make individual choices. Some people might be out and about more and stay healthy, but that doesn't mean it will be healthy for all of us to make that choice.

I am thinking that, between the virus itself and the economic impact, we are looking at maybe two years at least of disruption. That's based on how long it seems like it might take for a vaccine.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:05 PM on May 5, 2020

Regarding visiting high-risk relatives, remember that as long as they are sound of mind, they have some agency in the decision too. Don't put it all on yourself. Your obligation is to be honest about the amount of contact you've had in the prior two weeks, and they can decide how much of a risk they want to take on.
posted by sdrawkcaSSAb at 7:16 AM on May 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the answers. I marked as best answers responses that were most helpful about ideas for making decisions.

The thoughts about the multiple-household "bubble" and quarantining to meet elderly family members, and that they can make decisions, too, were all especially helpful.

Good luck, everyone.
posted by NotLost at 10:55 PM on May 6, 2020

Here's another tool for assessing risk. Please take with appropriate grains of salt as this is well out of my area, but the lab behind it appears to have relevant expertise. The other day I saw a static version of this plot based on national-level data, and I found it really helpful as an approach for thinking about the problem. I am delighted to see a state-level, dynamic version, even as I know that both of those features are bound to make the data less reliable; the tradeoff between reliability and relevance right now is both harsh and unavoidable, I fear.
posted by eirias at 5:43 AM on May 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

Eirias, that tool looks very promising! But I haven't quite figured it out yet.
posted by NotLost at 9:49 PM on May 7, 2020

Now the Washington Post has some answers from experts.
posted by NotLost at 10:16 AM on May 17, 2020

Here is more guidance via the Washington Post.
posted by NotLost at 9:18 PM on May 24, 2020

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