I started this blog a year ago with the intent to start writing posts such as “How to Read Your Water Quality Report” and “What Cleaning Products Are Really Safe.” I never thought my first post would be this.
Recently my 6-year old was diagnosed with COVID. We had been doing all the right things: staying at home, social distancing, utilizing curbside and delivery options, and wearing masks. My children hadn’t been in public since we were asked to stay home (long before we were told we had to). Ironically, I had spent the past two months sewing over 1,500 free masks for anyone in my community who asked.
Once my son was diagnosed, I decided to be honest, open, and transparent about our situation in the hopes that we could help others. It’s terrifying to put yourself out there, but we decided to be brave. For anyone who wanted to show us love and support, pray for us, or lift us up in positive thoughts and good vibes, my transparency allowed me to communicate specific needs. And for anyone who just wanted gossip and judge, at least I knew they were getting information directly from the source – me.
Recently I had to run through everything we had learned so far on a phone call with another friend in a similar situation, and I decided to write it down in the hopes it could help others. I hope you never have a reason to need this advice but if you do, here is what we have learned:
1. “THE” phone call and the phone calls that followed: When we got the phone call from our loved one telling us that they had tested positive and that we’d been exposed, my heart sank. Not only was I worried for our loved one and for my own family, but between our exposure and that phone call, we’d unknowingly exposed others, and I was worried for them. Luckily, we had been trying to do all the right things and our contact tracing was limited to a handful of families. Making phone calls to your contact traces is hard, but you HAVE to do it. And you need to do it quickly. Be thorough and be honest. It’s up to you to stop the spread and that starts with letting others know. You don’t have to be public about it; there are ways to do this very privately. Thankfully, all of our contact traces who were tested received negative results.
2. Take a breath and make a plan: Call your doctor and figure out when, where, and how you can be tested, if you need to be. We had close contact with our positive loved one and therefore, we had to be tested. My husband and I had to be tested separately from our children. Waiting for results is excruciating, but while you’re waiting, you need to start making plans. What does your quarantine look like if only one family member in the house is sick? What if someone gets sick later? What if you are all sick? Go through all the options and make a Plan B, C, D, and E. Talk with your health care provider about this plan.
3. Don’t blame yourself: Several of my friends who are reading this are nodding their heads right now and thinking I should be taking my own advice on this topic (which was their advice to begin with). For those in the back that need to hear it again (including myself): do not blame yourself. When your child is affected, the blame, the shame, and the fear are all exacerbated. On the night we learned of my son’s diagnosis, I laid in the floor of my bedroom, wailing and crying to my priest about what a bad person and mother I was and how this was all my fault. But it wasn’t my fault and it won’t be yours. This is the fault of the virus, so do not blame yourself.
4. Assemble your team and accept their help: I will raise my hand, sign up, and volunteer to help anyone and everyone, but I rarely accept help for myself. On the first day of our quarantine, I was still in my feelings, still trying to work through not blaming myself. I didn’t sleep much the night before and I woke up early, before the sun was even up. I wasn’t hungry and my mind was racing. When I asked my kids what they wanted for breakfast, I realized it was after lunch. (Luckily my husband had already fed them, twice). When my church asked if they could send us meals, I tried something new and said yes. I cannot even begin to describe what a blessing this has been, even though I told them just to do meals for the kids. I have a delivery service subscription, so getting groceries was not a problem, but getting some cleaning supplies and other necessities that have been removed from delivery/pickup at the chain stores presented an issue. Most of our extended family had been affected and were quarantining themselves. I activated my mom and dad, who live in different cities from us. My mom, my dad, my brother- and sister-in-law all picked up online orders for us and/or braved the stores. We are lucky that we do have family close by and we have an army of friends and a great church. But what if you don’t have these luxuries? I’ve lived in a major metropolitan area before and my circle has not been so large. Reach out and I promise you’ll be surprised at people’s kindness. A few texts to my neighbors and they offered to run errands and help us in any way they could. If you are alone, I encourage you to reach out. Look up volunteer groups, churches, or post online. Be brave. If you need help, please find it.
5. Clean and disinfect, and get creative:Anytime someone texts and says they are going to the store and asks if we need anything, my standard response is, “Yes, the unicorn of quarantine: aerosol spray disinfection cleaner.” This stuff is in high demand and scarcely, if ever, on the shelves. You need to clean, and you may not find the supplies you need, so you’re going to have to get creative. I found a gallon jug of a disinfection cleaner that could be used in a fine mist sprayer to disinfect like an aerosol spray. As an environmental engineer, I know and make sure all cleaners we use are registered on the US EPA’s List N to fight Coronavirus (https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2-covid-19). There are links on the List N page that will show you how to look up the cleaners you already have and a link to the CDC website that will provide instructions on how to clean and disinfect with those cleaners. Remember, cleaning and disinfection are two separate processes. You need to do both. I spent a lot of time cleaning the first few days and wore myself out. Don’t make my mistake. You are probably going to want to sanitize your entire house, and trust me, you will have time for that. You’ll have 14 days. Make a schedule and do one or two rooms a day. If that’s too much, do one task per day. Cleaning is a good way to get out some of your anxiety – at least, it was for me.
6. Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands regularly and then some. Use hand sanitizer. When the positive person leaves their quarantine area within the house, they should wear a mask and limit touching anything. When another family member interacts with the positive person, they should both wear masks and try to maintain 6 feet of distance. Cover your coughs and sneezes.
7. Do your laundry (daily): Get on a bedding rotation during quarantine. For our house, it’s every other day that each person gets clean sheets during our family quarantine. My son and husband’s beds are laundered one day; my daughter’s and my beds are the laundered the next day. Be careful not to shake the laundry and wear a mask when you place it in the washer. Wash your hands immediately after handling laundry and wipe down your touch surfaces on your washer. We have a sanitize cycle on our machine. We wash our laundry on that cycle with hot water, an extra rinse, and an oxygenated laundry additive. Also, leave no dirty clothes in the hamper. On Day One and Two of our quarantine, I did ALL the laundry. Once all the laundry was done, there is no dirty laundry left in the house overnight. Each evening, I gather everyone’s laundry, including pajamas from the night before, clothes we wore that day, and any towels we used and I wash them. We don’t reuse any towels or clothing during quarantine. Whereas, I might have worn pajamas two nights in a row and I would hang my towel up and use it for two or three days when we were not in quarantine, during this time, I wash all clothing and towels daily.
8. Use disposables: Just like your laundry, get all your dishes done and put them away. Then only use disposables if you can for the two weeks you are confined to your house. That includes paper plates, paper bowls, straws (unfortunately), disposable flatware and cups. If you’re like me and are concerned about the environment, remember this is only for two weeks and you can always buy items that are made with recycled materials. We have small children who require lids on their cups. We bought disposable coffee cups with lids and wrote names in Sharpies on the outside so we’d know which cup belonged to whom and on what day it was used. I have boys in my home; they will use the same cup for days. We had to start writing names and dates on those things and ensuring they are thrown away each day.
9. Take the trash out (daily): Put a liner in all your trashcans, including the ones you may not have used a liner in previously (like bathroom trashcans). Remove all trash from the house daily and replace all liners. Wash your hands and wipe down trashcans and high touch surfaces after this process.
10. Change your toothbrush (daily): We are big fans of electric and sonic toothbrushes in our house. Whenever we are sick, we switch out the heads. While I was cleaning, I looked at my toothbrush and thought, “What if COVID is hiding there?” This may not have been a rational thought and it was not based in science, but I decided then and there that we would use a new disposable toothbrush every day. I placed an online order and my mom picked it up. Each day, everyone in the house gets a new disposable toothbrush. For the kids, it allows a visual, tangible way for them to see how many days are left (trust me, when you are truly stuck inside with worry and fear, 14 days is a very long time). Each day they could see that we were six toothbrushes away from being together again, and that helped tremendously. We also used mouthwash and those little disposable bathroom cups like they have at the dentist’s office.
11. Spray your air vents: Again, not based in science, but this is wisdom from my dad. Each day we opened up the air return vents (just the metal grate, leaving the filter in place) and sprayed the outside of the filter with disinfection cleaner. We did not soak it but we sprayed it the same as we have sprayed down our couch or pillows that can’t be washed. You may want to talk to your HVAC service provider about this before you do it, but we have chosen to do this. We plan to change all filters when our quarantine is over.
12. Fresh air and sunshine are your friends:We have been told by multiple doctors that we need sunshine and fresh air and spending time outside on our property is a perfectly safe activity. We are lucky that my son’s room has two wonderful windows that face our street. He opens his windows every day and gets fresh air. Sometimes his friends drive by and yell for him to come to the window so they can talk from a very safe distance from street to window (about 50+ feet). He also goes outside every day. Lately he has felt good enough to run through the sprinklers in our yard. Fresh air and sunshine are good for the soul and you don’t need a medical professional to tell you that.
13. Take your multivitamin: It can’t hurt. Obviously talk to your medical professional about this as well. We take ours, whether it works or not.
14. Connect with others: True quarantine is lonely. It is far lonelier than the isolation and distancing we’ve all been practicing. Reach out to your friends and ask them to check on you. I am beyond blessed to be surrounded by friends, family, neighbors, and a church willing to love on us. But as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve lived in a major metropolitan area before, where/when I didn’t have this luxury. Even if you are isolated in another city, connect via face to face phone calls, video conferencing, and social media. Ask someone to check on you every day. If you feel uncomfortable doing that, then set an alarm on your phone and text someone you know every day. You don’t have to lead with, “I’m sick and need someone to care about me.” Instead, you could say, “Hey, I’ve got 14 days of downtime and it has blessed me with time to reconnect with friends I don’t always get to talk to.” If someone called or texted me with something like that, I would love to hear from them, and I’d certainly start checking on them for the remainder of the quarantine. You are not alone.
Again, I hope you never need this list, but if you do, I hope it helps you. You are strong and you will get through this. I believe in you and I am praying for you. Love love.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. I make no endorsements and neither does this post. This post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be viewed or taken as medical advice. Please refer to your own medical provider for medical advice.