Quarantine Day 60: How Coronavirus is Changing My Behavior

Social distancing while waiting to enter Trader Joes
Customers practice social distancing while waiting to get into Trader Joes. Photo by Barry Dale Gilfry on Flikr.

We’ve been under our self-imposed lockdown for two months now, and except for one trip to Sam’s Club and a weekly sojourn to the post office box to pick up our mail, we’ve taken social distancing to an extreme.

My iPhone tells me that my screen time is up 80 percent since we’ve been quarantining at home and my average steps are down a couple thousand per day.  My average phone screen time before the coronavirus pandemic was about an hour, sometimes dipping as low as 46 minutes, so 80 percent isn’t that much.  (I blame Twitter!)  Unfortunately, I don’t have anyone to blame for the fewer steps, despite our regular walks.  I’m getting in more stair climbs, hitting nine already today, but I’m definitely sitting on my butt more than I used to. 

Reopening and Social Distancing

Some local stores are reopening but getting back to business is reportedly going slowly. We have not yet been out and I don’t think we see a pressing need.  We may make a trip to Costco in the next week or so. I need to visit the Sherwin Williams paint store at some point so I can continue checking items off my wife’s Honey Do list.  As long as I don’t go too early in the morning when the painting contractors stop by on their way to work, I don’t expect that will be too crowded.

I’ve done a good deal of reading and research and this article by Eris S Bromage, PhD, an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth is one that has helped shape my personal beliefs about how and under what conditions one is likely to become infected with coronavirus.  Her article concurs with much that I have read elsewhere and also does not contradict common sense. 

If I had to summarize her point, I would use this quote: “Being in an enclosed space, sharing the same air for a prolonged period increases your chances of exposure and infection.”  I strongly recommend that you read it before you go to work in an office, eat in a restaurant, fly on a plane or go to an event.

My Dos and Don’ts as Things Reopen

Based in part on the above referenced article as well as other articles that have influenced me, here is my personal list of what we will do and not do as things are reopen:

  1. Do continue to wash your hands.  Surfaces are dangerous because they can transfer viral particles to your mouth, eyes or nose via your hands, but you are probably in greater danger of catching COVID-19 from aerosolized particles from a sneeze, cough, shout, or even speech and mouth-breathing.
  2. Do practice social distancing – it works. In fact, distance is critical in reducing the spread.
  3. Do whatever you can to minimize the duration of your exposure to potential carriers because the length of time of exposure is also important.  As the article states, successful infection = Exposure to Virus x Time
  4. Don’t worry about the person who passes you on the hiking trail or comes down the aisle in the opposite direction at the grocery store.  These brief interactions are probably relatively safe.
  5. Do worry about places where you spend concentrated periods of time in close quarters with one or more people.  Avoid crowded work environments, restaurants, and church.
  6. Do try to be upwind of potential carriers.  Ventilation is important because it can carry the aerosolized particles either away from you or towards you, decreasing or increasing your exposure.  This is why you are less likely to catch coronavirus among people outdoors than people indoors.  That said, it’s probably safer to be at the beach than at a baseball stadium.
  7. Do outdoor activities, especially as the weather warms.  In addition to the greater “ventilation” being outdoors provides, heat and sunlight are also believed to reduce the viral load or inactivate the virus.
  8. Do work from home and continue to do online meetings as much as possible.
  9. Don’t go to conferences, seminars, trade shows, or large meetings.
  10. Don’t plan on flying on an airplane for the next several months.
  11. Do avoid places where people sing, shout, or do anything to increase their respiratory rate.  This includes sporting events, choir practice, etc. That roar of the crowd increases the number of potential viral particles in the air, as does singing.
  12. Don’t go to events where you spend time with people, like birthday celebrations, weddings, funerals, etc.  I could see going to a graveside service if you spread out, but two hours of visitation before and a wake afterwards is still too dangerous.

More Social Distancing, Please

We – meaning my wife and I – are going to continue to practice social distancing for the immediate future.  While we may do more takeout and make a brief shopping trip, we are not going to sit down at a restaurant. Theaters, sporting events, and family celebrations are also out.  Our kids – one of whom is an essential worker – are both out and about more than we are, so we’re going to keep our distance from them for a while and from my aged father for even longer.

Our church has said it will continue to conduct all services via Zoom through the end of June and will then reevaluate.  They have already said there may not be any singing until next year. Hard to imagine church without singing, but there you go.

In the post earlier today, I wrote that there is a debate between “We won’t be normal until there’s a vaccine,” and those that think “There may never be a vaccine so we need to reopen and get back to normal now.”  I lean towards the latter, but our behavior during the reopen period may be different than yours, and that’s the way it should be.

You can read more of our quarantine diary. Entries are listed here in chronological order.

Main image by Barry Dale Filfry on Flikr. Used under CC BY-SA 2.0.