How to isolate from a housemate?
September 11, 2020 11:33 AM   Subscribe

I've been interested in taking COVID precautions since March, very seldom leaving my house for necessities like Rx and working from home since about April. My S.O. has been working outside of the house in a public facing position with only recently mandated masking, and has recently left for a road trip with 6 other people that I could not talk him out of. What can I do to protect myself without irreparably hurting his feelings? I feel like I should isolate from him for at least 14 days upon his return.

This has upset me because I thought we were closer to the same page on this issue. I know psychologically it's difficult for people to differentiate between being required to endanger yourself for money but not being free to do so for leisure. He believes that it's just as dangerous to go to work as it is to go on this trip but I feel like the series of environments he will put himself in is riskier because he will be traveling in a truck with strangers and sharing an Air B&B house. I have said I may have to stay clear of him for 2 weeks, and he doesn't appear to take it seriously. During this time I would ideally sleep in a separate room and use a separate restroom, but our kitchen and my workspace are in common areas. He will still likely expect me to prepare his meals. How do I handle this if he doesn't take compliance seriously? Am I going too far? I am relatively young and not in an "at risk" category but am concerned about lasting health compromises like myocarditis and fatigue, as well as the unpredictability of what may happen if I catch it. If any of you have CDC instructions on a situation like this, and/or advice on how to navigate this socially it would definitely help.
posted by Selena777 to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry you're navigating this sort of thing right now. Finding out you're on different pages from your SO is hard in a typical situation, never mind finding out during this mess of 2020.

A partial answer:

A relative of mine had COVID early on in all this, and managed to not infect the 3 other family members he lives with. It helps that him and his wife are experienced medical professionals but they didn't have to set up any sort of hospital grade isolation room. Instead they focused on key things:
  • Separate sleeping rooms (which is where he was basically all the time)
  • Masks on everyone when possible, or just on caregivers when he was in the midst of the worst of it
  • Wiping down surfaces like railings, toilets, faucets, etc, after he used them.
  • Lots of handwashing with soap
This didn't exist at the time but the CDC's Living in Shared Housing guidelines should be a good starting point.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 11:43 AM on September 11, 2020 [12 favorites]

I am not exactly sure how you are going to navigate this, but there was a NY Times opinion piece recently that discussed this broader issue. It isn't "I can go to work so I should also be able to go on a road trip," it's "I am giving up going on a road trip so I can go to work." I can't believe I just typed that, but this is where we are. You can do one or the other; you can't do both.

Maybe give him the article to read as a start? I am fully behind you on your two week plan, by the way. If he still doesn't understand this and you can't get on the same page, I think you're going to have to have a lot more discussions. There's an underlying disconnect that might not bode well for your future.

If he suggests getting tested as soon as he gets home, that's a start, but an immediate test right after risky behavior might not be the "I'm safe" card some people think it is. Maybe you can figure out something along the lines of isolating for four days, have him take a test, isolate until he gets results back?
posted by queensissy at 11:48 AM on September 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

I think you should for sure read the excellent articles linked in the answers above, and open a dialogue with your partner.

However, opening a dialogue does not mean opening a debate. If you want to quarantine from a high-risk partner during a pandemic, this is 1000% a boundary that you get to set, firmly, kindly, and without negotiations. You are not quarantining in order to hurt or shame him - you're doing it to protect your health.

It doesn't matter whether he "takes you seriously," because you've made a decision to protect your health.

It doesn't matter if he "expects" you to cook, because you've made a decision to protect your health (and presumably this grown adult is capable of feeding himself, or hitting up Doordash, and will not expire of hunger).

You don't need to convince him. You just need him to be polite (and ideally, compassionate) about your right to make personal health decisions. This is the bare minimum that we should expect from our partners.

Hopefully you can talk it out and get to a place of mutual respect, even if you don't agree with one another's choices.
posted by toastedcheese at 12:12 PM on September 11, 2020 [58 favorites]

My partner and I are isolating: working from home and getting everything delivered. However last week I had to spend time with someone else for a couple of hours. After I got back home I went to the spare bedroom (which has an attached bathroom) and my partner stayed in the bedroom. For kitchen use we coordinated through text messages.

Four days after the possible exposure I got a covid test; got the results in 48 hours. Yay, clear! (It sucked not seeing the other person for 6 days but that's a small price.)

(On preview: exactly what queensissy said.)
posted by phliar at 12:12 PM on September 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you want to quarantine from a high-risk partner during a pandemic, this is 1000% a boundary that you get to set, firmly, kindly, and without negotiations. You are not quarantining in order to hurt or shame him - you're doing it to protect your health.

Quoted for truth.

He will still likely expect me to prepare his meals. How do I handle this if he doesn't take compliance seriously? Am I going too far?

As toastedcheese said so well, you don't need to convince him, he just needs to be polite. Just tell him your terms and then follow through on his return from his trip. Your partner is an adult; you cannot dictate his choices. He can disagree with your choices just as you disagree with his, but he doesn't get to demand that you cook for him or behave in ways that you believe threaten your health. This is challenging stuff. Don't give in, and good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 1:20 PM on September 11, 2020 [12 favorites]

What can I do to protect myself without irreparably hurting his feelings?

I would start by flipping this, because he is disregarding your safety against your consent. What does he need to do to not irreparably hurt your feelings, in addition to not putting your literal life at risk? His expectation that you prepare his meals is not comparable to your need for him to take this situation seriously - he can handle figuring out two weeks worth of meals much better than either of you will handle death or permanent disability.
posted by bile and syntax at 2:24 PM on September 11, 2020 [28 favorites]

He will still likely expect me to prepare his meals.

My very first thought was....tough titties. Too bad. But to be more gracious, if you actually do enjoy cooking, cook. Make him stay out of the kitchen as much as possible, and wipe everything down a few times a day. Cook and leave food out for him, take yours back to your room or send him off to eat his. Eat outside if you want to be together. I think he can also wipe down the kitchen for you so you can do your cooking, and he can go without your company at meals for a couple of weeks if you deem it to be necessary. That is what quarantine is. He knows what quarantine is, don't let him make you feel guilty. Don't feel guilty about any of this or denying him your company. He chose what he chose. To answer your question, no, I do not think you are going "too far". Take care of you.
posted by the webmistress at 2:57 PM on September 11, 2020 [10 favorites]

He will still likely expect me to prepare his meals.

While I typically find it an unreasonable expectation to expect a partner to prepare all of one's meals, this does make it easier in some ways. You say the kitchen is in a common area but do they actually need to go in there if you are making all the meals? -- Tell them you will make their meals ONLY if they do not enter the kitchen at all. They can keep a few snacks in their room if they want food when you aren't available to get it for them.

For general precautions, keep in mind that ventilation is important. Think about how the airflow in your living space goes.

Ultimately if you have a partner that has very different boundaries than you around covid exposure and isn't willing to work on a way you can both live in the same space, you need to consider how this person is treating you and what you want your future to look like. Of course the idea of making changes is not easy when you live together.

People don't generally plan a trip with 6 other people and and AirBnB reservation by accident. (I don't know how he's ended up planning a trip with 6 strangers sharing a truck, but presumably some planning went into it). It's not like he's just slipped up here and done this by mistake.
posted by yohko at 3:04 PM on September 11, 2020 [7 favorites]

Lots of good advice on the practical "hows" here...assuming he honors your boundaries when he returns. Personally, I think his decision to go forward with this trip is worrisome given that (it sounds like) you've been explicit about your feelings on the issue. Deciding to go anyway and putting you in the position of being helpless to possible exposure he may encounter in the process is a pretty direct prioritization of his wants being prioritized over and at the expense of yours. Do you think he will cooperate upon his return? Has he indicated any willingness to adjust for you when he comes back? Ultimately the proper way to quarantine will be extremely restrictive for him, and if he doesn't want to play by the rules now, it's not unreasonable to think he may balk at going out of his way when he gets back, or at least not be very strict about it, which is a recipe for both possible exposure for you and conflict between you both if you become quarantine police.

The hard part about setting boundaries is there is no guarantee that the other party will honor them. Generally the best way to approach setting a boundary is to have a recourse option that works for you if an agreement cannot be found between you i.e. for me to be ok when you come back, I need you to do X (quarantine away for 2 weeks/sleep in the office/etc). If you cannot do X for any reason, I will have to do Y (stay with a friend, get an airbnb, etc).

This is a wild time, and your situation is not unusual. A lot of couples are having disagreements about their boundaries, and many of us are learning, for better or for worse, just how willing or unwilling partners are to accommodate differing risk tolerance.
posted by amycup at 3:54 PM on September 11, 2020 [7 favorites]

Depending on where you are, a precautionary covid test could be very easy to get.
posted by billjings at 4:03 PM on September 11, 2020

I think your first priority has to be protecting yourself. Full stop. Your health and the health of other people are more important than how your SO feels about being held accountable for his risky behavior.

And you are right that this is extremely risky behavior: he's violating just about every single health recommendation by traveling with strangers across a geographic area, spending lots of time in close proximity to those strangers, and then dispersing back to their home communities. Most of the spread that is happening in the US at this point is from infected people doing exactly what your SO is doing which then creates "superspreader events" that go on to infect a wide radius of people.

Your SO isn't just being an asshole to you -- he's being an asshole to anyone else he encounters in his life and might spread COVID to, including his family, co-workers, and the vulnerable strangers who may have to visit his workplace. So, in my opinion, he is so far out of line by endangering other people for his own pleasure that I don't give any shits about how he feels. However, I recognize that you want to protect yourself while not insulting or inflaming a person you love. I just want to point out that his behavior is pretty insulting, inflammatory, and careless and his feelings may not be due as much consideration as he's expecting.

You've been consistent in that your goal has been to protect yourself and him from COVID. He has chosen to take this trip that makes you both very vulnerable to COVID. One way to present this may be to say that the consequence of your partner choosing to go on this road trip are that you will need to wear a mask in your home, sleep in a separate bedroom, and avoid contact with him (including preparing his food) until he can get a COVID test 5 - 7 days after he returns (+ however long it takes to get the results). That's the most protection you could get given the circumstances that you describe. Alternatively, he could go stay somewhere else or you could go stay somewhere else.

But it sounds like he is expecting to come home and have everything be exactly as it was and I can't overstate how nutty that is. You are not going too far to protect your health. You are also doing the right thing by trying to make sure that any infection stops with him.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 5:07 PM on September 11, 2020 [14 favorites]

In case you make testing a part of your plan, please note the likelihood of a false negative. False negative results (a test that says you don’t have the virus when you actually do have the virus) have extremely high likelihoods.

For PCR nasal and throat swab tests: The reported rate of false negatives is as high as 37%.
For Antigen nasal and throat swab tests: The reported rate of false negative results is as high as 50%.
Source: Harvard Health Publishing

In my opinion, based on these rates, a single negative test result is not very helpful. I found this source through the Harvard Health Center Resource Guide, which is a great resource that has a lot of info that may help you assess and manage this situation. Based on what I've learned from those sources, I think Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug's outline seems like a worthy plan to consider.

I don't think that you are going too far to want to isolate. It is wise to be extremely cautious, as this is an extreme time with dire consequences for many. On behalf of myself, and on behalf of many of my friends who are at high medical risk and unable to isolate and protect themselves, thank you for considering these things!

I hope this helps and best of luck. I feel for you. This sounds like a really tough situation.
posted by sweetjane at 5:46 PM on September 11, 2020 [7 favorites]

Honestly, since it doesn't seem that he's taking this seriously enough, if it were me, I'd find a nice, sterile Air BnB or somewhere else to stay, go sterilize it again a few times in my hazmat outfit, and move out for two weeks. He can cook for himself. Or, if you want to be especially nice, make him some frozen foods - soup, lasanga, cacciatore - before you go.

I'm sorry, OP. FWIW, I don't think you're overreacting at all. This is a global pandemic with no vaccine.
posted by dancing_angel at 11:45 PM on September 11, 2020 [8 favorites]

This is hard because it’s about so much more than potential COVID risk. It’s interesting to me that you describe him as your “housemate” in the subject line but then “S.O.” in your question itself.

I don’t think a road trip is completely awful right now because that’s what I’m doing out of necessity since I can’t return home, although I’m doing it alone, always wearing a mask & generally avoiding people. Being around six people would be way too much for me. Until I return to my country of residence, I will be camping on my parents’ front lawn & staying at least 6ft away out of respect to their very valid COVID concerns.

In other words, I’m somewhere in between you and your partner in your approaches to things. But I think your concerns are absolutely valid. To me, this ultimately less about specific precautions and more about confronting the resort that your housemate/SO is being extremely selfish and entitled. Is it COVID making him desperate or is it just him being his usual asshole self? I don’t know. You know in your gut.

Also, no adult should expect another adult to prepare their meals for them unless there’s some sort of mutually-agreed upon arrangement, a chore contract that both parties agree to and uphold. He’s not holding up his end of things, and I’m pissed off for your sake.

I have been in your shoes and I’m so glad to be on my own. In fact, it’s a great time to be single! Regardless, whatever you decide, you have the right to set your own boundaries here. Perhaps he won’t understand and it may end things but, if that’s how he reacts, then chances are you’re better off without him anyway. Just something else to consider!
posted by smorgasbord at 1:30 AM on September 12, 2020 [6 favorites]

He believes that it's just as dangerous to go to work as it is to go on this trip but I feel like the series of environments he will put himself in is riskier

Let's assume for the moment that he's correct about this, that it is equally as dangerous... This would still mean that's he's doubling the danger you are exposed to, because it's an entirely different set of people than at work.

Personally I would not want to stay in a relationship with someone who wanted to put me in danger so they could go on vacation. I would end things, even if that.meant I had to live in a tent in someone's backyard.

Really, if his feelings are going to be hurt less by you following precautions after his return than if you were to break up with him (or became infected), he should be very grateful -- or, if you feel his feelings wouldn't be hurt by causing you to contract a serious illnes, or if you are terrified of his feelings being hurt so much that you fear what would happen, you should be working on a plan to leave thus relationship. You might not want to announce that in advance.. Sometimes it's easier to do if your SO is out of town at the time.
posted by yohko at 4:32 PM on September 13, 2020

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