Frantzie and Don Couch have made the decision to self-quarantine, after evaluating the risk that COVID-19 could pose to their health.
The Lawton couple made the decision thoughtfully, committing to an isolated lifestyle for two months while also acknowledging they may have to extend that quarantine depending on what happens between now and then. Frantzie and Don agreed to answer questions about their decision and what it will mean for them, conducting the “interview” in keeping with their quarantine and decision to strictly limit contact with others — by email.
Following are their observations:
What was your reason? How difficult was it to reach that decision? Why two months?
Don: We assessed the situation about half a day before it became obvious to everyone in the U.S. that viral infection would be widespread and highly dangerous to us, especially because of our advanced age. We immediately decided to self-quarantine for as long as necessary to avoid undue risk of exposure. Our reasoning was that, considering our risk and our ability to manage exposure, it would be foolish to take half measures.
Frantzie: I had to think about what isolation would mean, and whether I was willing to commit to it. We’re in our 70s, and considering the heightened risk for our age, it didn’t take me long to accept that there was no other reasonable and responsible choice for us. Being retired, we don’t have to decide whether we should go to the office, and we’re fortunate not to depend on an employer for a paycheck.
Being contagious for up to two weeks before you develop symptoms means you can have the virus and spread it without knowing it. “Stay at home if you’re sick” is too late. “Two months” is perhaps a way of seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. We recognize that it could be much longer than that before the active threat subsides, and we’re in it for the long haul.
How does this work? For example, how do you get food to eat? Pay bills? Will you have to make allowances for things like doctor’s visits? What will you do to fill your time?
Don: Doing this is not a great hardship, considering the risk. We are retired. We already conduct much of our household business online, we get entertainment and news online, and Lawton city services are available without need for human contact. Our retirement checks are direct deposit. We pay bills online. We found that we can order groceries weekly and pick them up without going into a store. We rarely eat out so we stopped entirely. Frantzie cooks evenings. Curtailing travel is easy for us. We read books and online newspapers. We also order just about every purchase other than groceries online and get it delivered to our doorstep. We have email, phone, voicemail, and text message contact with friends and relations. Nonessential health services are postponed. We can walk around the neighborhood without coming into contact with others.
Frantzie: Of course, even the pickup service is a slight risk because the merchandise has been handled by many other people, and the employee who brings our order to the car could be transmitting the virus without knowing it. I use wipes on the trunk door, on the steering wheel, and on my hands after signing on the employee’s cell phone screen. We regret not being able to support local businesses, but I definitely won’t order take-out meals. We never ate out much anyway. I’ve been cooking a lot. We would use a drive-thru at the pharmacy, but even that carries a slight risk.
I had a dental cleaning scheduled for this last week and re-scheduled it for May. Brush, brush, brush those pearly whites! We shouldn’t need to go to the doctor’s office for anything non-essential.
Filling time seems to be no problem. There’s that stack of unread books on my bedside table, and now there’s time to read long-form articles online. And streaming services for films and TV series, since we haven’t had cable or satellite for several years. That’s not social interaction, but it’s very comforting to know that we can do those things without increasing our risk. We haven’t resorted to 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzles yet, but I’m looking at the backgammon set and an unopened pack of cards. We’re not desperate yet.
What are your options for socializing? I know there are two of you, but most of us are social animals and need the social interaction that comes with talking and being with others. How do you overcome that?
Don: A visiting cousin is in lockdown with us, which provides added human contact. Don has been a typical technologist with low social need. Isolation is harder on Frantzie, but bearable.
Frantzie: Social media and email help a lot.
Is allowing someone to come into your home an option: for example, visiting family members? How about coming to your door: for example, would you order takeout food or sign for a package?
Don: Entry to our home is emergency only. We order no takeout. The need to sign for packages is rare and can be managed with disposable gloves.
Frantzie: A cousin from Pennsylvania comes to stay with us several weeks every winter, and he’s been with us since mid-February. He’s bought in to the self-isolation, and he’ll be with us as long as it takes for the virus threat to subside. But no other family members will be allowed in the house. No friends or service people, either. Our kids are OK with that and are relieved to know that their parents are taking care of themselves.
Realistically, can you two maintain a quarantine for two months? Can you go longer than that, if the situation warrants it?
Don: We are thankful to be comfortably situated. Many are not so lucky. We like to be with family and friends, but can forgo the pleasure out of necessity. Not sure how long we can last. So far so good.
Frantzie: I think two months will be no problem. Longer than that might be problematic, especially if the grocery and home supply distribution chain doesn’t keep up with demand. I have a well-stocked pantry, but after even a few weeks I’d be out of items I rely on if I couldn’t re-stock. But we’re committed to the long haul, however long it takes.
What has been the reaction of family and friends to your decision? Do you know others who are doing the same thing?
Don: Most reaction has been positive. Some of our friends, especially our older friends, also are avoiding contact with others.
Frantzie: Our kids are glad to know that their parents are taking care of themselves. I had sent out an email to family and friends to explain what we are doing and why, and some friends let me know that what I wrote encouraged them to do the same thing. A few friends and acquaintances don’t seem to be taking the need for staying at home seriously. I hope they catch on to the long-term positive effects of a strict isolation policy before it’s too late for them and for the entire population. It’s not just about ourselves — it’s about everyone else, too.
How has it gone so far? Any problems that you hadn’t anticipated?
Don: We are learning as we go. So far, no big problems after two weeks.
Frantzie: So far, it’s been easy, with no problems beyond deciding what to fix for dinner every night. We haven’t gotten on each others’ nerves any more than usual. I think being in agreement about the importance of self-isolation has been positive.