Don and Frantzie Couch, Lawton, made the decision to quarantine in their home in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was new in the U.S. and even some experts were predicting it would last only a few months.
Those months stretched into the better part of a year, as the Couches adjusted their lifestyles to keep themselves safe from a virus that doctors say is especially dangerous for the older population and those with existing health conditions. After talking to The Lawton Constitution in March to explain their decision, Don and Frantzie — among those Comanche County residents who received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 4 — explained how life in 2020, the Age of COVID-19, has progressed. As befitting safety protocols, the couple conducted the interview via e-mail, as they did their first one.
1. Your initial commitment to self quarantining was two months. When did you realize you were going to be confined to your house for much longer than that? What was your reaction when you reached that realization?
Don: From the start, the danger of infection would take its own time passing away. Hopefully, it will be gone by summer. It is tragic that many people have had to bear the hardships and tragedies of the pandemic. We have not and we will wait for the “all clear” signal.
Frantzie: Awareness of the statistics convinced me early on that this was going to be a longer haul than just a couple of months. We were so convinced of the importance of quarantine — to us and to our family, friends, and community — that it didn’t really change my attitude when I realized that it would be many months. I still feel that way, even looking at a year or more of isolation and precautions.
2. Did you quarantine completely, or did you make modifications (going outside for short periods of time early in the morning for trips to the store, for example)? If so, how long into quarantine were you before you began easing up a little?
Don: We adjusted quickly to quarantine. Little has changed since. Grocery shopping involves weekly trips to pick up online orders. I walk around the neighborhood for exercise. Dental and medical appointments have been minimal.
Frantzie: Online grocery shopping took a little getting used to, but it’s been our lifeline. It’s also made me realize how little we really need to buy to have a comfortable life. We are lucky not to have to choose whether to go to a workplace, and to be able to do all our financial chores either online or by mail. I’m more comfortable than Don is about making a quick trip into an alternative grocery store for something that Walmart is out of. I won’t gloss over the fact that I’ve gone into the liquor store a few times. I’ve gone to a few organizational meetings (Lawton Public Library board, Arts for All board) when I knew that people would be wearing masks and maintaining social distance. But I feel we’ve come very close to a true quarantine.
3. I know Don said Frantzie is a more social creature than he is, so: how did you guys do? Realistically, how do you quarantine for any length of time, let alone months, without going crazy?
Don: For me, there has been minimal hardship.
Frantzie: I’ve been surprisingly comfortable with the lack of social interaction. I think my “Inner Introvert” has taken control. A real social outing for me was going to the health department for our vaccinations on Monday (Jan. 4), even with masks and without hugs. I saw and spoke with more people during that hour than I had been around since March 9. Having time for reading is some compensation for time with friends. I’ve read Robert Caro’s 4-volume biography of LBJ, a few novels, and I’ve started Barack Obama’s memoir, “A Promised Land.” Having Don as my companion in quarantine has been helpful. Don’s cousin Steve was with us through the end of September, when he went back home to Pennsylvania. So far we’ve avoided cabin fever.
4. Were you unique in your decision to quarantine, or do you know others who took the same route?
Don: Some of our friends are being careful, some aren’t.
Frantzie: I think the definition of “quarantine” varies among our friends. But most of them are at least being careful, and many are committed to near isolation for the duration of the pandemic.
5. Now that the vaccine has provided “light at the end of the tunnel,” how do you prepare to resume your life as it was before COVID-19? Will you go back to all normal activities, or will there be permanent changes in your routine?
Don: We got the first of two shots on the first day available. We will suspend most normal activities until we see how careful we need to be, even after our second shots. After that, we will probably shop in stores and eat out occasionally.
Frantzie: I see months of caution on the other side of the “light at the end of the tunnel.” I won’t feel comfortable going out in public until the vaccination rate is high and the incidence of virus cases is very low. I’m committed to wearing a mask and avoiding physical contact for as long as we need to. We didn’t go through so many months of quarantine only to start taking risks because we’re tired of being cautious.