Shelter At Home
What it is like to follow a “shelter at home” order when you have a weak immune system caused by disabilities
Many changes have been made as a response to dealing with COVID-19. Most of them involve things people can do to avoid catching — and spreading — the virus. My state has ordered (almost) everyone to “shelter at home”.
The result has caused changes that I would not have guessed would become “the new normal” in 2020.
On March 18, 2020, the county I live in issued a “Shelter at Home” order. The goal was to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a virus that has no cure and is especially contagious. Requiring people to stay home (with the exception of people who provide essential services) makes sense.
The very next day, the Governor of the State of California, Gavin Newsom, issued a “Stay home except for essential needs” executive order. It is in place “until further notice”, and is a statewide order.
Essential services will remain open, including: gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores, food banks, convenience stores, take-out and delivery restaurants, banks, laundromats, and essential state and local government functions.
The smaller farmers’ markets in my county are allowed to continue, so long as everyone stays at least six feet away from each other the entire time. My county has the largest farmers’ market in the United States, which happens on Thursday night — unless it rains. It has been canceled. There is no easy way to ensure a crowd that large can do effective “social distancing”.
Californians can still go to the pharmacy to pick up their medication, and are allowed to grocery shop while keeping a careful distance from the other shoppers. Eye exams, teeth cleaning, and elective procedures are required to be rescheduled until… some day in the future when we are no longer required to “shelter at home”.
I was supposed to have a teeth cleaning this month. Unfortunately, a few days before I was supposed to go, I developed two out of the three symptoms of COVID-19. I was having some difficulty breathing, and had developed a dry cough. There was no fever.
This put me in the position of trying to guess if these symptoms were allergies, or COVID-19. There is some overlap between the two. This is not a game that I, a person with a weak immune system, wanted to play.
The pollen count got too high for me to handle around the end of January. I’ve barely left the house since. This is not unusual for me during what I have come to think of as “allergy season”.
So far, I have gone outside to:
- Bring my mail-in-ballot to the County Clerk’s office. My husband and I prefer doing it that rather than dropping them into the mail and hoping they get where they need to go. We then got breakfast at a local restaurant.
- I went to my acupuncturist’s office for an appointment.
- I walked a couple of blocks with my husband to a restaurant so he could pick up a take-out order. This was before “shelter at home” went into effect, so we were able to sit in the restaurant while waiting for his food. I’m allergic to everything this restaurant serves.
- I went to the DMV to replace my soon-to-expire driver’s license with a Real ID. Doing so required me to put my thumb on a tiny scanner several times. NO ONE WAS WASHING THE SCANNERS. I suspect this pushed my immune system into more distress than typical.
First, I called my doctor’s office, at what I refer to as “the clinic for the poor people.” The receptionist sounded a bit tired, and extremely nervous about the virus.
“Oh my god!”, she said. “I’ve never seen anything like this! It’s like a movie.”
She told me some of her relatives had COVID-19 and were at home watching movies about pandemics. She told them she didn’t want to know how those movies ended.
We decided that, since I didn’t have a fever, I could just wait and see what happens. I remember telling the receptionist that I didn’t want to take away a test from someone who is worse off then I am. At the time, it was clear that there was a severe shortage of tests.
Next, I called my dentist’s office. The receptionist sounded absolutely exhausted. I asked her if she was ok, and she insisted she was. Our conversation went as follows:
“I have two out of three symptoms of COVID-19. Do you still want me to come in for my appointment in a few days?”
We rescheduled. It is unclear to me if that appointment will happen, considering we don’t know how long “shelter at home” will last. Since then, my dentist’s office sent me an email to let me know they have closed. The dentist might or might not be able to treat dental emergencies, on a case by case basis.
My husband and I are lucky, in a way, because we both work from home. I started working as a freelance writer in 2010, and he began working from home some time before that. So far, our income has been stable.
Both of us are disabled. He is legally blind (which cannot be cured). I have tons of allergies and fibromyalgia (neither of which have a cure). Working from home is our “normal” and pretty much the only way we can maintain a job.
Today, all across the country, people are working from home. This amazes me, because for years, the “go-to” for businesses was to insist that employees could not work from home. It was too complicated to manage; way too difficult to set up; employees would still have to commute to the office for in-person meetings.
We now know that that all of those excuses were lies. The shift from the idea that everyone must be in the office, to everyone must work from home, went lightning quick (especially for the huge tech companies).
I believe that working from home will become the new normal, whenever “shelter at home” ends. It has been said that anything a person does for 30 days in a row becomes a habit. The longer people work from home, the more they become used to it. My hope is that working from home will become a common option for people who have disabilities.
Because my husband and I are both disabled, neither of us can drive anymore. He never could, and I lost the ability several years ago when fibromyalgia stole my ability to move my body fluidly and quickly enough to be a safe driver. I move too slowly now to see if there’s a car in the other lane, and lack the grip strength to turn the wheel.
Renewing my driver’s license seemed easier than switching to a State ID, in part because I have yet to qualify for Social Security Disability. Having a driver’s license doesn’t mean I am required to drive, after all.
There is a grocery store within walking distance — which also is near a bus stop. I cannot reliably go there, due to my chronic illnesses.
Eventually, my husband and I switched to having groceries delivered. At first, that felt like I was giving up, letting my chronic illnesses “win”. Over time, I realized just how helpful grocery delivery was for people like us.
But now, in the time of COVID-19, grocery delivery itself has become unreliable. We had one successful order from a store that has plenty of gluten-free foods that are safe for me to eat.
The next order was delayed, and the delivery person was unable to find all the things on our list. The store had no toilet paper, and most of the gluten-free stuff was out of stock.
The order after that never happened. The website allowed us to pick items from the few things that were still in stock. But, it refused to allow us to select a time when we wanted the food delivery to arrive.
My husband has gone outside to get whatever groceries were available. We have plenty of toilet paper, for now. It is unclear if the gluten-free foods will return. We’ve been buying more fruits and veggies than usual, in part because some of them are safe for me to eat and all of them are gluten-free.
Many of the local restaurants are overjoyed to take an order and deliver it to our home. This might be the only thing keeping some of them in business. One restaurant now allows people to have both food and beer delivered. That didn’t happen before COVID-19.
For me, “shelter at home” is normal. I end up stuck inside for a few months every spring when the pollen is too high for me to physically handle. The same thing happens in the fall when ragweed pollen is ever-present. There are also days when my fibromyalgia decides to act up and cause me a whole lot of pain.
A friend on social media pointed out that choosing to stay inside, and being required to stay inside, are two different things. This is one situation where I think healthy people are having a harder time coping with the world than I am.
I’m having conflicting emotions about “shelter in place”. I’m more frightened than typical about going outside now, worried that my already weak immune system will make me a big target for the virus. But, I’m starting to miss little things like playing Pokémon GO, and being able to eat in one of the few restaurants that serves food that I’m not allergic to.
Welcome to my world. All of you have to live like me now.