Is it time for my housekeeper to return
May 12, 2020 8:02 AM   Subscribe

I live in Los Angeles. I live alone and work remotely. I have been following local guidance and have been sheltering in place since March 6, 2020. I have a housekeeper (she brings a helper) who I have asked not to come since mid-March. I have continued to pay her. Now that we are contemplating opening up businesses and offices by late May, is it time for her to come back safely? I would be gone during the time she is here, and she could wear a mask and gloves. I could also do another quick disinfecting of the commonly touched (counters, door knobs, etc.) after she leaves. Is this safe?
posted by parkerposey to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think the real determining factor is how she gets there. Does she have a car, or would she be using public transit? I know everyone drives in LA, but I have a good friend who's never had a license and gets around exclusively on buses. If she drives, it sounds like you are able to do this safely. If not, I'd be hesitant to ask her to brave the bus.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:36 AM on May 12, 2020 [9 favorites]

I'd be fine with it. If you believe the IHME model, there are roughly 10,257 cases of COVID-19 in CA right now. So, there's a less than 0.026% chance your housekeeper (individually) is infected. I say less than because I hope she will not work if demonstrating obvious symptoms.

COVID-19 doesn't even last very long on most non-permeable surfaces (3-4 hours). If you want to be really careful, simply wait a bit after she leaves and then sanitize your stainless steel appliances.
posted by saeculorum at 8:38 AM on May 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think saeculorum's is reading the graph wrong. 13,000 new cases were reported last week in California. Considering the HUGE percentage of those with Covid are asymptomatic carriers, and that 3000 are in the hospital now California with it (and a fairly small percentage needs to be hospitalized) we know the numbers are larger.
posted by ReluctantViking at 8:57 AM on May 12, 2020 [9 favorites]

How long Covid lives on surfaces:

Examples: doorknobs, jewelry, silverware
5 days

Examples: furniture, decking
4 days
posted by ReluctantViking at 8:58 AM on May 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

Does she feel it's safe to come back? She knows all the things she needs to do before coming to your place, and some of those steps might put her in danger.
posted by scruss at 8:59 AM on May 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

I asked mine whether she wants to come, and offered to give her masks and gloves if she doesn't have her own. She has her own car.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:19 AM on May 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

I am in NY. I have been sheltering since March 14th. I have not gone out except for a few trips to the grocery store. I have two sisters who come in every two weeks to clean. I offered, actually insisted, they take their pay and not clean. They refused. I do not speak a lot of Spanish and Google translate was cumbersome. She wanted/needed the pay but would not accept pay for no work.

Long story short, I gave in and let them clean. They use gloves and wear a mask. I am not home for the three hours they usually take. I go for a long drive and park and eat a pb&j sammie while working on my phone. When I return, I wipe down the kitchen counters, all the door knobs and the stairs handrail.

I don't see a problem or much difference in terms of exposure than going to a store. They clean with soap and disinfectant. The big risk is their breathing. I am not here for that and they wear masks. If you are a high risk category, I would avoid it. Otherwise, take precautions and let them clean.
posted by AugustWest at 9:28 AM on May 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

For me the helper is the real issue. Presumably they travel together, no? That basically doubles the risk. Any way you could have just one do the cleaning?

But even with just one additional person in the space, I wouldn't do it now. (We're basically in the same situation you are.) To be safe for her and for you, you'd have to leave before she gets there, sanitize high-contact surfaces, ventilate the house for some period of time, she cleans, ventilate the house again. What constitutes a reasonable period of time is hard to know. The studies about surfaces show that there is some viable virus after a pretty long period of time, but being able to grow in an ideal viral medium is quite different from getting into your body and growing there. There is some evidence of indirect transmission between people not in the same place at the same time, but not much, in my opinion.

Still, is it worth the risk to both parties? I don't think I'd be able to enjoy my clean house in the scenario you're describing. If in a month we're in a regime where most new cases are detected by testing, most detected cases are contact traced, and most contacts are quarantined, that's a whole other thing. But right now we don't even have enough tests to do even the first part.
posted by wnissen at 9:43 AM on May 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

I wouldn't be worried about the risks to myself so much, but I don't think in your shoes I'd be comfortable being an additional potential link in a chain of transmission involving someone going back and forth among several households, for something non-essential. (This assumes the cleaning is non-essential, though nice to have; if you, for example, have disability issues that make it difficult for you to keep your place sufficiently sanitary, then the outside help is probably essential.)

If you can hold off at least a few more weeks, to see how the numbers near you look in a month or so when the results of lifted restrictions start to make themselves known, and where testing and tracing capabilities in your area are at that point, I would do that and then re-assess.
posted by Stacey at 9:57 AM on May 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

Ack, Stacey, you're right about the disability. I should amend my answer to say that if you have health reasons (for and against) that change the balance of risk vs. benefit, those should absolutely enter into it. The absolute risk, in my personal opinion, is probably less than a big trip to the grocery store, so adapt to your personal circumstances.
posted by wnissen at 10:14 AM on May 12, 2020

My situation is different, in that I live in Atlanta, and our government here is absolutely trying to kill us all, but I've also been sheltering in place since mid-March, and I 100% am not having my cleaners back in May. It's astronomically more risk, IMO, than me continuing to stay here in my condo and get my groceries delivered, leaving the house only rarely. If you feel like it's about the same for you, I guess that's okay, but I am not catching Covid because I hate cleaning my bathroom.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:34 AM on May 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

Thanks, I'm convinced to give it another month before having her back, and seeing where we are at that time.
posted by parkerposey at 11:24 AM on May 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

For whatever it's worth, it sounds like you won't have to make the decision since the stay-at-home order is likely to be extended to August.
posted by saeculorum at 1:55 PM on May 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Piling on with the not yet. A major difference between going grocery shopping and having people enter your home to work is that grocery shopping is ~an hour where and when you know you are (or are not) being careful. Even if you phrase it as a "you may return if you feel comfortable" the employee-employer power imbalance is such that these folks would have a hard time telling you no. Moreover, employees without paid sick leave generally do not have an incentive to stay home when they are not feeling well. Thus, you will keep yourself and your community healthiest and safest by continuing to pay the house cleaners to stay on retainer.
posted by oceano at 5:53 PM on May 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

I’ve been thinking about this myself lately. In fact I was thinking about it in line at the grocery store yesterday when the woman in front of me lifted up her mask so she could sneeze. When I was done sprinting I thought: “How well do I really know my housecleaner?”
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:04 PM on May 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

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