Living In Fear Of The Rona

March 24, 2020 2:44 p.m.

By now a significant number of us have experienced the self-imposed hardship and uncertainty of being sick but unsure if it’s the rona. TPM Reader DS writes in from Seattle:

Hi Josh. I was just reading your piece about testing, and thought to contribute a personal anecdote about what widespread testing would mean for people and families with relatively mild cases.

We are a family of four in Seattle, Washington, with 10- and 6-year-old boys. A week ago on March 17, my wife came down with a cough and body aches, and by morning also had a low fever. We separated my wife from everyone else immediately. Her fever disappeared and aches subsided after about two days, but she’s kept coughing. She spoke to a Dr on the second day, and was told that her symptoms weren’t serious enough for a test, and they were needed for health care workers and more serious cases. I cared for her wearing a mask and being fanatical about hand washing and not touching my face ever.

Two days after she came down with symptoms, both of our boys developed a cough and low fever. Now obviously there’s a high chance I’d already been exposed, but I was not yet showing symptoms, and we decided I needed to act as if I hadn’t been exposed yet. After all, their cases did not yet seem too serious, but I have occasional asthma, and maybe it could be much worse for me. It was immediately clear that it would be impossible to care for the kids properly without them constantly coughing on me, so we decided to invert our isolation. She and the boys would mix, but I had a separate bedroom and small office no else was allowed into. Additionally, I was the only one allowed to use the kitchen, so that I’d stand some chance of keeping things uncontaminated. I spent the next few days doing my amateur best to take care of everyone while trying to stay protected. I wore a mask at all times outside of my rooms, I constantly disinfected surfaces and handles and light switches, I washed my hands dozens of times a day, I prepared everyone’s meals and then prepared and ate my own food separately.

Naturally, this is highly stressful.

Each of them experienced a dip at the 4-5 day mark where fevers came back, cough worsened a bit, and two of them had bad headaches, but overall they are improving now, and no one has had breathing difficulties thank god. As my wife has improved, it’s now clear that she’s well enough to take care of the kids, and so now I’m the one mostly in isolation. My wife has run of the kitchen to care for the kids, and I’ve separated out a rice cooker and a variety of dry goods to get me through for a while without needing to mix with them. How long does this have to last? It’d end now if we knew this wasn’t coronavirus. If it is coronavirus, there’s a non-peer-reviewed study from England suggesting people can remain infectious up to 10 days after first symptoms, which would mean 6 more days of this at least based on the kids’ symptoms, assuming everyone continues to improve. That’s a stressful long time to remain separated from your family in your own home. Take it one step further: let’s say they do have it, and I break isolation a little bit too early. My personal isolation from others now needs to extend several weeks from that point, in case I myself develop symptoms. In Washington we’re doing that now anyway, but still.

Now project some form of this ordeal into every home in which someone suspects they have coronavirus but can’t find out for sure. Unbelievably stressful and disruptive to family life, unless you’re willing to just accept that everyone within a given household will become infected and everyone is willing to roll the dice. If we had the testing to know that this was coronavirus, this would be difficult and scary but we could be confident we were doing the necessary right thing. But maybe it’s not coronavirus, and this stressful exercise is just a preview of what’ll happen again should one of us actually get it. Indeed, what we’ll feel compelled to go through when any of us get sick with anything similar until widespread testing is available! We are currently hoping that eventual serological testing will answer the question for us. Until then, on the other side of this, we still need to behave as if none of us have yet been exposed, and we remain just as paralyzed as everyone else.

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