How to cope with the aftermath of a traumatizing move
November 30, 2020 1:59 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I have moved back into our home this weekend, in a busy US coastal city that is experiencing a Covid surge like the rest of the country. Our movers were pretty unprofessional and did not wear masks correctly for the entire move and I am now feeling really uncomfortable and unsafe afterward and I don't know what to do.

We were currently living just down the road, in an apartment for the last 9 months. We had been living overseas and came home to the US just as the pandemic was kicking off, and didn't want to kick our tenants out of the house during such a tumultuous time, so we rented a place. It was expensive, but secure and a perfectly good spot to ride the pandemic out, so I was fine with it. Then our tenants wound up finding a home to buy somewhat unexpectedly, so we decided to break our lease and move back in this month.

I didn't really feel great about moving in the middle of the pandemic. The international move at the dawn of it was so intense and harrowing that I nearly lost my mind. My husband really wanted to be home, though, and it did make the most sense, financially. Neither one of us wanted to have new tenants and we certainly didn't want to leave the place vacant.

The move from overseas was so awful and hard on me that my husband volunteered to handle the movers and the details with the move. I handled all of the move-out stuff on my end and paid all of the lease-breaking fees while he paid the movers, and it worked out fine and fair.

The problem is that the movers we got were absolutely terrible. Our city is pretty liberal and with decent compliance on the mask mandate, but rates are skyrocketing and we see pandemic fatigue left and right here, too. This moving company did an absolutely garbage job of Covid compliance. I stayed away during the move, hiding with our cats in the basement while they moved at our apartment, and then going on a drive around the city for a few hours while they moved us into our house. But my husband, who had told me that they were looking nice and compliant, all in masks and gloves, mentioned off hand that they weren't always wearing masks in the apartment, but that he told the foreman they HAD to wear them in our house. I know my husband wore his mask the whole time and kept all of the windows open and was outside of the apartment most of the time, but I just feel like he absolutely failed to keep us safe.

I was leaving as the movers were getting to the house and I saw that all of the movers were not wearing masks until they got to our door, when they all put their masks on but without covering their noses. We have a doorbell cam and I could see on it that they never put their masks on completely. They all just spent hours in and out of our house with their masks all pulled under their noses, breathing over everything we own. I am furious, and I told my husband as much, but he never refused to let them in the house without putting their masks fully on.

Now our house is stacked high with boxes. There is no way for me to clean all of these boxes off or do a deep clean on our things fully. I feel like every box I open is contaminated and I don't know if I'm being insane or not. I don't feel safe here in the house and I feel like my husband completely failed to protect himself and therefore, me. As we are unpacking he continues to tell me stories about something that happened during the move that make me realize he wasn't always staying away from them when they didn't have their masks fully on, for example. I just feel like I can't trust that he was being careful.

When I got home he seemed overwhelmed and like he wanted to cry. I know that he probably didn't feel comfortable asking the movers, who were gruff (which I also understand, this is a very shitty job to have in a pandemic). I can't go back in time and undo what's been done, I can only clean things off as best I can, take heart in knowing that my husband wore his mask and that he stayed away from the movers as much as he could.

I also don't know if I am being overly cautious or if my standards are too high. We had a similar situation when we were moving back to the US earlier this year: he was in charge of booking the hotel we would stay in for a few days between our move out from our flat and our flight home to the US. He chose a very cheap hotel that was extremely uncomfortable and not very clean. We are not broke at all, and he often prioritizes a good deal over our comfort and safety. We were both raised in hard times and have had to endure a lot in our youths due to poverty. I know how to have a stiff upper lip. But we aren't those poor kids anymore, we are well compensated professionals and we can afford to pay a premium to be healthy and safe - we are blessed and lucky to have this ability. I don't think I am being a princess, but I feel like he feels that I am. He always apologizes later but it is too late now. I know I need to talk to him about it because I am just completely overwhelmed with my hurt feelings and feelings of lack of safety and this is no way to live. But I don't know how to move ahead in a way that is fair or even what to ask for in this situation.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Your feelings are valid but you are also overestimating the danger of touching things that have been breathed on. This sounds like a combination of moving stress and long-standing frustration with your husband’s lower safety threshold. Those are both things you have the right to be pissed about, but I don’t think you need to feel afraid of opening those boxes.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:13 PM on November 30, 2020 [85 favorites]

What if you stayed in a nice hotel now for 2-3 days? I don't know if the boxes or your contents pose much of a risk but if you left them alone for a couple of days then they should pose even less of one.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:15 PM on November 30, 2020 [26 favorites]

I'm so sorry. This is awful, to feel so unsafe in your own home, then add a safety mismatch with your spouse on top of it. Added to the regular stress of moving. Oi.

Since you'll have to wait for a bit to see whether you actually got covid from the move, how do you feel about saying "Once we know we're in the clear, I'm going to need us to talk about how that went" -- so, to table the issue until you're not adding am-i-sick stress to marital stress? That time might let you drill down on what you want, and what you really need to say, in the meantime, and same for your husband.

As far as home safety, one thing you can do is use gloves to open each box, then tape them open. If there's virus, it's likely concentrated on the outside, so taping the boxes open would fold that side away from you so you could more safely unpack.
posted by Dashy at 2:17 PM on November 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

i feel you on the unexpectedly emotional reaction to being let down by a loved one when it comes to your own bodily safety and that of your family (including the person who let you down). this is maybe different from him picking a hotel that was not up to your standards when you moved back, but i think in either case the lesson is that for you to be comfortable you now know you have to ask more detailed questions than before. i think you need to believe him that in the moment when he was there with the movers he knows he should have behaved differently, and acknowledge that that ship has sailed. the only practical advice i have is for you not to worry excessively about the boxes they left behind, "deep cleaning" is security theater and your exposure risk from the items they handled is not great.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 2:19 PM on November 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

The current research is that the virus does not survive well on surfaces. There is no need to clean or disinfect your boxes--seriously, even if you licked them you would probably be fine. The current evidence is that the virus is spread primarily though respiratory droplets and airborne - you have to breathe the air the infected person is breathing. You won't get it from touching something they breathed on.

As far as home safety, one thing you can do is use gloves to open each box, then tape them open. If there's virus, it's likely concentrated on the outside, so taping the boxes open would fold that side away from you so you could more safely unpack.

Even this is overkill, but if it makes you feel better, it wouldn't be hard to do.
posted by epanalepsis at 2:19 PM on November 30, 2020 [37 favorites]

Assuming some/all of the movers were infected, the science still seems to be unclear as to how much danger you'd be from fomite transmission. But I totally understand the anxiety, and perhaps more importantly what this whole experience has meant to the relationship between you and your husband. Since it sounds like you have the financial means, perhaps consider taking something like 5-7 days and staying a nice hotel. The science on viability of coronavirus suggests that you'd be thoroughly safe after that period (and even though it's probably overkill, it just might make you feel better, which is sort of the point). I would suggest maybe tabling the necessary conversation about the handling of the whole situation until you're moved back home, just try to relax and enjoy a fancy hotel stay-cation for a few days.
posted by kanuck at 2:23 PM on November 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

Ugh, that sounds so stressful. I agree that the biggest risk was from the virus in the air, not on surfaces (especially the cardboard boxes- did you pack what's inside or did they?). It's ultimately the movers' fault that they weren't careful around your husband...I would blame them more than him, personally. I'm sure he's also feeling overwhelmed. I personally try to be really careful with all things COVID related, but I also make mistakes- I'm sure everyone does. You'll both have a better chance of staying well if you can try to let go of some of the stress and forgive him.
posted by pinochiette at 2:24 PM on November 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

As someone who also recently moved during COVID:

It sounds like this has been an incredibly stressful and overwhelming time for you both.

At the same time, it sounds like your frustrations and disappointment of your partner might be performing as a conduit for other stress and fear energy: That you're expressing other real fears that are abstract and nebulous and real through this specific, concrete context.

Take a bit to rest and breathe before you communicate. Moving is incredibly stressful no matter what. Clear out a pocket of space and make a small cozy area that you can both use to ground yourself. Take some time to draw a bath, make a cup of tea, have a nice dinner together, what have you. See how you both feel after that.
posted by suedehead at 2:24 PM on November 30, 2020 [19 favorites]

you buried the lede here.

He chose a very cheap hotel that was extremely uncomfortable and not very clean. We are not broke at all, and he often prioritizes a good deal over our comfort and safety.

this is a huge issue and one you need to work on directly. A therapist could help guide the conversation. You should by all means prioritize this; I have seen more than one marriage dash on the rocks of one partner's slide towards inappropriate and harmful stinginess.

Luckily, this has nothing to do with your covid concerns. You can't get sick from those boxes, as far as any studies have been done on fomite transmission. And as far as the movers, it wasn't really in your husband's control to adjust masks on the guys' faces. He did what he could do there - opening the windows - and that's about all that could be done, even by someone who wanted to throw money at the problem. Movers gonna move.

My advice to you is to separate your two issues because your overreaction on the possibility of getting sick from boxes is clouding your very legitimate problem with his cheapness.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:25 PM on November 30, 2020 [32 favorites]

You poor thing. This could absolutely be me.

So with the boxes: Leaving aside the new research that suggests fomite transmission is very rare, the virus doesn't live long on cardboard. If the boxes have been sitting for 24 hours, the cardboard is clean. If the boxes have plastic tape, get a rag or some paper towels soaked in bleach mixture and wipe down the tape on each box as you open it.

The virus doesn't live long on cloth. Any cloth in the boxes is clean. So is any paper.

The virus doesn't live long on bumpy or porous surfaces. It is not living on your walls or carpet. You can wipe down any taps or door handles that worry you.

Did you pack the boxes yourself? If you did, then everything in the boxes is clean. The virus can't go through the box.

Anything that you're worried about - let it sit for a couple more days and you won't need to clean it.

The other thing: it looks as though virus in saliva actually denatures much faster than virus in lab media. This is why they have trouble culturing virus from hospital surfaces even when there's a lot present, while it's easy to culture when it's in media. So while it might survive on metal for a few days in the lab, it will dry up and die in hours when it's in human saliva.

The movers were also handling many, many things - this is actually good, because even if they were infectious and even if there were virus on their hands, there could only be a tiny, tiny amount on any given thing, and since most of those things were cardboard or other porous material, most of the virus was dead right away.

There's so much other good advice in this thread about other issues, but I can assure you that you do not have to worry about virus being on your stuff. You would only have to worry if there were a lot of virus in saliva deposited fairly recently, and there isn't.
posted by Frowner at 2:32 PM on November 30, 2020 [12 favorites]

Hey so I moved in June. It was a blazing hot day and the heaviest work was leaving a stuffy apartment with no AC. Then it downpoured for several hours so I couldn't keep windows open. I started out wearing a mask, so did my movers, but it took so long and the day was so miserable, by the end of it none of us were being our best self protectors. On top of that, I rented crates instead of using boxes, who knows who touched them before I put my stuff in them! There are certain things that just end up happening because of stress, expedience, convienience, and practicality. You can only do so much. Sounds to me like you did the best you could.

Me? I got sick about 2 weeks after my move. I KNOW, RIGHT? Not with covid, though--I got tested. I think I just got regular old sick, and the tremendous amount of stress buying my home, packing, and moving during a pandemic and period of widespread protest certainly didn't help.

Please be kind to yourself. Get yourself settled in as much as you can, hit your surfaces with hot, soapy water, and forgive yourself the stresses of the move. It's over now. Address the bigger conversations with your husband at a calmer, neutral time.
posted by phunniemee at 2:34 PM on November 30, 2020 [7 favorites]

I'm so sorry. I've moved internationally and across country in non-COVID times and had an incredible struggle with my mental health both times. It's a really hard thing to do, and it's okay that you're anxious and afraid.

I want to echo everyone else that it's very unlikely that you'll contract the virus from the boxes. Have you aired your house out? (I know this may be...not ideal, depending on where you live and the current temperatures.) Would it help you feel better to conduct some kind of special cleaning/cleansing? I'm thinking maybe if you took a warm bath, or went around and washed all the door thresholds and windows. A true deep clean is a lot to ask of yourself, but you've been through a really hard thing! Sometimes something special and symbolic can help you ground and calm.

(I'd also second maybe spending a few days in a very nice hotel, maybe one that takes cats too? I spent my first night after my cross-country move in a hotel and frankly I should have booked a week there, just to have someplace comfortable and quiet and calm to retreat to. I really recommend considering if this might be something that will help you to calm and be easy with yourself.)
posted by kalimac at 2:39 PM on November 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

Take a deep breath. And another. And another. You sound really overwhelmed and I'm so sorry you're so stressed. I do think a lot of this is your anxiety and upset with your husband rather than the reality of covid risks, you sound like you're up to 11.

Let's break it down a little and walk you through some of your concerns.

The air
For the masks/airborne concerns, open all the windows and doors for an hour or two to let the air be replaced and you'll be good. The graphics of a living room, classroom and bar in this article will give you a good idea how much difference ventilation makes in slashing the risk - it makes a huge difference. And that's aside from the fact that the guys have been gone a while now. Those graphics are about being in the space at the same time as other people. (And on rereading I see they had the windows open while they worked which makes it even less likely that the air was ever contaminated, let alone still contaminated a day or two later. And bear in mind that those graphics are about instances where someone definitely had covid, you don't know that any of the movers had it).

The surfaces
Touch on surfaces is now not considered to be a significant source of transferring covid* so your boxes and belongings are low-risk. If you want to be abundantly cautious, open a box, wash your hands, take stuff out of the box and put it away. Fold the empty box and take it outside, wash your hands again. Wear a mask as you unpack to discourage yourself from touching your mouth.

*See: This piece in the Lancet titled Exaggerated risk of transmission of Covid-19 by fomites, which concludes: "The chance of transmission through inanimate surfaces is very small, and only in instances where an infected person coughs or sneezes on the surface, and someone else touches that surface soon after the cough or sneeze (within 1–2 h)."

Your husband (Part I)
It is possible that he caught something from the movers if they were unmasked, so you could consider going through whatever is recommended in your locality for that eventuality and give yourselves both time to be sure you're free of symptoms. (Use separate rooms, keep windows open if you can, use separate bathrooms if you can and separate towels if that's not possible. Wash your hands frequently etc.) These are just sensible precautions, they don't mean he's definitely got the plague - you don't even know if any of the movers had it, so it's not even that he's had a confirmed contact.

Your husband (Part II)
Your whole last paragraph is a whole other issue from covid safety and maybe not so easily solved. Probably only you know whether broaching this with him now will escalate or deescalate for you/him, but certainly it sounds like some couples counselling once the move is over would be helpful.
posted by penguin pie at 2:43 PM on November 30, 2020 [19 favorites]

I would also just add that, if you can find it in you, it might make things easier on both of you if you can dig deep and find some compassion for your husband right now. The final bit of the move was too stressful for you to bear yourself - turns out it was too stressful for him to bear too, and he did his best because he had no choice, but it was imperfect. He came home "overwhelmed and like he wanted to cry," because it was such a stressful day. I can be a bit of a control freak at work, but I try and remind myself that if I delegate something to someone else, I should then accept the way that they do it (otherwise I should have just done it myself - but realistically it is usually a better idea for me to delegate and accept the imperfect result than cling onto everything).

It sounds like there are underlying issues where you feel he's routinely casual with your safety and comfort, that have made this a trigger for you. But in this instance it sounds more like you've both just had to do something maddeningly stressful and both had a hard time of it in different ways and he did his best in managing a day which you admit yourself was always going to be intensely difficult to manage.
posted by penguin pie at 3:00 PM on November 30, 2020 [22 favorites]

I'm not seeing what the 'traumatizing' part is.
You completely absented yourself from the moving process, but also want to complain about how it wasn't handled to your standards.
Give your husband a break, and in the future be proactive and express your expectations more clearly.
posted by mdrew at 4:41 PM on November 30, 2020 [22 favorites]

I also don't know if I am being overly cautious...

I think "inappropriately fearful" describes you better than "overly cautious" in this situation. Of course your feelings are fully legitimate for the simple fact that you are feeling them, but from what you've written above I would say that you have greatly overestimated the extent to which any of what you have described would put you in danger, and you seem to be holding on to thinking about transmission of the virus that is quite outdated. Others have explained as to the likelihood of transmission from surfaces, but suffice it to say that the risk, while not zero, is vanishingly small -- especially if the windows were open. I agree that wearing masks below the nose is not ideal, but someone who is not coughing or sneezing seems unlikely to be shedding a lot of droplets through his nose. I'd rate the risk as more substantial from a single visit to a grocery store, for example. Was the move 100% safe? Of course not. Neither would it have been if the movers had done everything you wanted them to do.

You might consider giving your husband a break on this one. He was put in a pretty bad situation and did the best he could. Antagonizing the workers who are bringing your belongings into your house by policing their mask compliance, refusing them entry unless their masks fully cover their noses and kicking them out if they stick their noses out while in the house is really asking an awful lot. Not for nothing, but having done some strenuous work in a mask, it really is the rare situation in which being able to breathe air directly through your nose does make a pretty big difference. Piss off the workers enough, of course, and they might just dump your stuff on the lawn and drive away. Or, who knows, they might decide to go in harder, take their masks off all the way and tell your husband to shut up or carry in his own damn boxes. These are all things your husband had to take into consideration, not to mention balancing all that against the level of conflict he would be comfortable instigating as a solitary person who was not in a position of power. Sometimes the person with boots on the ground has to use their judgment to make decisions, and it's not particularly fair for someone who wasn't there in that situation to question those decisions. I'm not sure very many people would have done the amount of policing and enforcing you seemed to expect. If anything, given how fearful you seem, I would think a primary role for your husband, beyond ensuring reasonably enforceable compliance by the workers according to his best assessment of the situation at the time, would be to act as a buffer and not tell you any details that might ramp up your fear for really no good reason.

Also, this move doesn't seem particularly well planned with respect to managing your anxiety, which is something you should have considered and planned out when deciding how the move would proceed rather than expecting someone else to be largely responsible for managing that for you. I mean, why couldn't the movers have taken your stuff into the house while the two of you stayed someplace else where you felt comfortable for several days? By the time you returned and began unpacking, it would have been safe to go in and unpack even if someone who was actively infected had been coughing all over the boxes. I know some of this sounds harsh, and I don't mean to be that way, but this really strikes me as a situation in which you needed to be the one policing the movers if you wanted it done 100% the way you wanted it done.
posted by slkinsey at 5:02 PM on November 30, 2020 [23 favorites]

I nth that just let things sit for a few days, get a hotel, touch as little stuff as possible.

However, your husband...Let me put it to you this way: even Miss Manners has straight up said there's no point in telling someone to put their mask on because people are Just Not Listening on that topic. Hell, people are literally being murdered for asking someone to put a mask on. You're presuming that just because your husband's a man, other men are going to listen to him about putting one on. Your husband probably couldn't force them to put masks on whether he asked or not, and right now it's a horribly touchy subject. Hell, I'd bet he was scared to. Much as I haaaaaaaaaaaate the idea of a bunch of unmasked guys running around your house, I doubt there was much that could have been done about if if the movers didn't wanna.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:49 PM on November 30, 2020 [9 favorites]

I agree that your husband's exposure, and the movers going in and out of the house where you were going to stay (and breathing a lot, probably), are the most problematic parts of this -- I'd still be cautious about the boxes and surfaces, of course.

Go to a hotel that you pick out (or a motel or long-term stay place where the rooms/suites all open to the outside, so you don't have to take a common elevator or common hallways to get in), take a minimum of your stuff/clothes, and stay there for a couple of weeks while your husband maybe stays in a different room or even at the house. Quarantine apart for a short time.

Send him lots of loving supportive messages, have a few positive and loving video calls, making _sure_ he knows that you know he did the best he could, but that you are also doing the best you can -- you are able to do this (finding a room, staying there) because he put so much work into the move, and he deserves a little time without worrying about you on top of everything else.

And volunteer and/or contribute in other ways to help those who don't have the ability to keep safe on their own. By helping others, we are helping keep everyone safe.
posted by amtho at 5:49 PM on November 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

The virus only lives for 72 hours on most surfaces so go to a hotel for 3 days.

I don't think you're actually at much risk but your anxiety will be significantly improved if you take a few days off to rest before going back to tackle unpacking.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:48 PM on November 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

OP probably knows this but for other people I want to mention asymptomatic transmission, which is so significant that it means coughing is not necessary to transmit the virus, and to reinforce that the husband carrying the virus having caught it from the movers is the biggest risk here, to my informed knowledge.

Good luck OP - I like the hotel idea and I hope things go okay for you, and that no one has the virus, of course.
posted by lokta at 11:16 AM on December 1, 2020

OP probably knows this but for other people I want to mention asymptomatic transmission, which is so significant that it means coughing is not necessary to transmit the virus

Do you have a cite for that, lokta?

My understanding is that asymptomatic transmission is LESS likely than transmission from symptomatic people, not more (See this article).
posted by penguin pie at 11:42 AM on December 1, 2020

As people have explained, by the time you come to open them the boxes will be fine. Leave them a few days more, and they will be even more fine.

It is possible (although not very very likely) that your husband could have contracted Covid from the movers. If that is causing you concern, you could move out of the house into a hotel room for 2 weeks, and follow testing/quarantine guidelines. I think that is an overabundance of caution but it's not impossibly unreasonable.

You sound very anxious, which is no surprise since moving is very stressful, and Covid is stressful, and cocooning at home feels like the only thing we can really safely do and you don't feel like you have a safe cocoon. What else usually helps relieve your anxiety, and can you do any of that right now? Can you phone a friend, can you immerse yourself in a book or a film, do you meditate or do yoga or journal?
posted by plonkee at 12:25 PM on December 1, 2020

My understanding is that asymptomatic transmission is LESS likely than transmission from symptomatic people

Right. The primary mechanisms for ejecting droplets into the atmosphere are still the same, which is to say that coughing, sneezing, singing and speaking are the main culprits, in roughly decreasing levels of severity. Breathing through an uncovered or partially covered nose undoubtedly spreads more droplets than breathing through a covered nose -- although neither is zero -- but it is orders of magnitude less likely to spread droplets to any degree of significance compared to the main culprits.

In any event, the main culprits remain the main culprits regardless of whether one is symptomatic or asymptomatic. Because asymptomatic people are less likely to cough or sneeze compared to those with symptoms, they are less likely to spread droplets that transmit the virus to others.

Again, none of the foregoing is a reason to relax compliance with current guidance, but it should reassure someone who has had to be in proximity with an unmasked or partially masked person of unknown COVID status who doesn't cough, sneeze or exhibit any other telltale symptoms that would suggest an active and symptomatic infection.
posted by slkinsey at 8:08 AM on December 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

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