How One Family Dealt With Self-quarantine
Twenty-two years into a law enforcement career, I’ve seen some strange occurrences and often lamented the “luck” of the draw. The terrible wheel of chance sometimes presented the worst calls when I was on shift.
Now, in the latter part of my professional experience, I’ve taken to a suit and tie and banging on a keyboard as an investigator.
While I sometimes miss those crazy moments of misfortune out on the road, I was all too happy to let things break my way for once when the coronavirus came over the horizon. I had no idea COVID-19 would impose its will so sternly nor that my family and I would have been so prepared to deal with its consequences. Some of it was luck, some of it was planned, and the rest we learned in the moment.
Our experience probably started like that of many other people. We were hearing news about the looming spread and, depending on the source, it was going to be bad or it was going to be more or less like the seasonal flu. This theme continued for a while, but when the deaths from China started reaching the thousands, more people took notice.
The Closing Threat
Next, Italy took it on the chin, while the pandemic was just breaking in America. The death toll was around 700 people per day, and then, inexplicably, toilet paper was being bought up in droves.
My work had continued its course as usual. But, things then took a turn, and people started really taking COVID-19 seriously. My last normal day in the office was March (Friday the) 13th. After that, things changed dramatically.
“I had no idea COVID-19 would impose its will so sternly nor that my family and I would have been so prepared to deal with its consequences.”
We learned the virus was in our county. While Colorado is still comparatively remote, vacationers who’d come to ski spread the virus in the mountain towns, and it trickled out into the rest of our beloved state. This was when we learned that people could be highly contagious before having any symptoms. It seemed like a somewhat remote threat, all happening to other people—that is, until the e-mail.
On Tuesday, March 17th, we received an e-mail from my daughter’s school indicating that someone had tested positive and that our child might have been exposed. This was during the time when we were just hearing that the virus appeared to be less fatal to children. The warning said our local health department had been notified of our possible exposure and that it might contact us.
Very suddenly, the threat became real, personal. It was suggested we quarantine for 14 days.
My wife, son and I felt great at the time. My daughter had cold symptoms—a runny nose, an occasional cough and low-grade fever. Thankfully, it never worsened and only improved until it was gone. This was a nebulous time; knowing what to do was an uncertain thing. So, we sheltered in place, treated symptoms and avoided contact with other people. Within a couple of days, the rest of us suffered minor symptoms but were nowhere near approaching emergency room status.
“While a shelter-in-place order or even a quarantine doesn’t necessarily a survival situation make, there were basic tenets that helped us get through this scenario with aplomb.”
The grim reality only seen on the news had become ours with neck-breaking speed. Suddenly, we were pushed into a 14-day quarantine.
Now, the mission was fairly clear. We had a number of objectives to attack. First and foremost was, How do we logistically support a family of four without leaving our home and potentially contaminating other people? Second, How do we fund the operation? Third was, What do we do with our time?
“Very suddenly, the threat became real, personal. It was suggested we quarantine for 14 days.”
My job is largely based on computer work. By the grace of the gods, I’d requested a laptop during my most recent upgrade several months ago. Because of this, I was able to take my work laptop home, plug in with a virtual private network (VPN) and do 95 percent of my job from my home office. My wife was in a similar situation. She worked with her information technology (IT) department and was able to gain remote access to the majority of the functions she needed in order to do her work.
The kids, well, they were a different story.
My son had just recently transitioned to a computer-based school program that meant he worked from home anyway. This stroke of luck played well, because all the schools—and I mean all—shut down right around this time. For my son, it was business as usual. My daughter soon transitioned to a part-workbook, part-online course of studies.
Establishing a Connection
The first order of business was getting transitioned to a digital working household. The IT demands on us to accommodate all four people using the Internet, Wi-Fi, computers and other gadgets became a hurdle. Thankfully, my wife and I mustered enough acumen (and swearing helped!) to get things up and running.
“While Colorado is still comparatively remote, vacationers who’d come to ski spread the virus in the mountain towns, and it trickled out into the rest of our beloved state. This was when we learned that people could be highly contagious before having any symptoms.”
Once the “heavy lifting” was done, we were able to maintain good contact with established patterns. In the morning, we’d all log in, go to our respective “work places” and toil—while the world slowed to a crawl outside the window.
In the meantime, the health department never contacted us, nor did I rest on my laurels waiting for the government to support me. Having worked in this field most of my adult life, I know how quickly local resources get overwhelmed. In a pandemic, the capacity for even larger resources to get overwhelmed exists. “Big G” wasn’t coming; we had to figure things out on our own.
Favorite Grocery Store(s)
The second order of business was supporting life at home with supplies and groceries. We started reaching out through a number of means. The search for toilet paper yielded continual disappointment. We heard on social media that Dollar Stores had some. This made sense. However, by the time we got there, it was gone, and stores had started to mandate “one-per-customer” policies, because they’d already been cleaned out by frightened hoarders. We soon activated orders for delivered groceries, bulk supply deliveries from Amazon and Target, and spun up the account we had with HelloFresh to get meals delivered.
Over the next couple of weeks, we had an array of cars and vans delivering goods to our door. We’d check the security cameras, wait until the goods were dropped off and then shuttle them inside to get them squirreled away. This greatly limited any potential exposure to—and from—us. As more people caught on to the same methods of delivery we’d found, we saw more substitutions happening in our orders. While this wasn’t great, it was certainly livable. Not getting the exact pasta or butter brand I wanted was a small price to pay in order to maintain our quarantine.
Home on the Range
Security is always a concern at my home, but it was truly only strengthened during quarantine. Our hell-raising K9, the ever-watching cameras and my growing distrust at the state of things brought us to a heightened awareness. The threat was not palpable. Rather, it was more of a nagging reminder that I might not be able to keep bringing in supplies and provide for my family. However, after the initial 14 days, we’d established fairly good protocols and were dealing efficiently with the almost-daily deliveries.
We were fortunate in so many ways: Both of us had kept our jobs, had recently received a tax refund and ultimately received a stimulus check, all of which had us well-poised to keep afloat. We reinvested much of that money back into the economy—buying groceries and other needed supplies to keep us well-provisioned.
The ill-fated projections that sank in after we cleared our quarantine warned of food supply chains breaking down due to the large number of sick workers. In some areas, this happened. We learned from news broadcasts that an estimated two-thirds of the American workforce wasn’t able to telework. Over a month passed before I went back into work, and even then, it was on a limited basis.
The ‘New Normal’
So, what about that extra time at home? It was amazing! The work week was much the same, although I spent a lot less time getting ready or dealing with laundry for work. My wife and kids also pulled their shifts, and we’d all reconvene as normal after the work day was done. On the weekends during quarantine, we did spend more time together, but I attribute much of the lack of struggle with this to living in Colorado.
Those who’ve lived in mountainous regions for any good amount of time know how to hunker down for storms. It’s a mentality that you adopt or go crazy from cabin fever. Fourteen days definitely stretched that a bit, but we adjusted to a “new normal”: We exercised in the mat room, played board games, video games, watched movies and even binge-watched “The Mandalorian” together. I occasionally tackled garage projects related to firearms or other forms of defense and preparedness.
A Changed World
As I prepared to go back to work, even for a half-shift (one day a week due to social distancing and minimum staffing requirements from the governor), I noticed the world had changed. People were dying at an alarming rate. I’d worked for an ambulance service as an EMT for several years, and my wife was a certified nurse assistant. The thought of healthcare workers not having enough personal protective equipment was startling. The risk to those workers was paramount in my mind.
“Flatten the curve” became the mantra behind governmental mandates for staying at home. The term, “essential,” took on a new meaning, and a whole lot of people wondered what they were going to do as their jobs or businesses took the hit.
When I was a boy, I asked my grandmother (who survived the Great Depression) why she had so much food in cans, jars and in the freezer. She sagely told me that you couldn’t always count on the stores when times got tough. I heard her voice echo in my head during this quarantine.
While a shelter-in-place order or even a quarantine doesn’t necessarily a survival situation make, there were basic tenets that helped us get through this scenario with aplomb.
Mindset. We were okay with staying in and knew how to make the best of it. We weren’t expecting anyone to help us.
Medical. We had enough skills to monitor and treat our own symptoms. We also knew when we’d need to throw in the towel. At one point, we even used a tele-doc appointment (a video meeting with a doctor over the phone) for an unrelated ailment.
Technology. We harnessed tech to make grocery and other delivery services work for us—but, it was more than that. As soon as other shoppers found the same resources, orders got blocked or quantities ran out. We had to extend our search, even ordering supplies from online drug stores. By the end of our quarantine, the delivery trucks were continually buzzing through the neighborhood. Going from store to store online made the difference.
Retailers were still trying to harvest that almighty dollar, so many businesses adapted to free deliveries. In addition, a full month after the coronavirus entered Colorado, stores were still struggling to supply toilet paper, because that initial hoarding created a whip-crack that people were still recovering from. We solved that with a call to a relative in a different state where people weren’t yet hoarding TP.
Meeting the Challenges
I want to stress how fortunate we were in being allowed to work from home and maintain our collective income. I know a lot of people haven’t been that lucky during this pandemic. Because of this, alone, we were able to shelter in place and focus on treating whatever illness our family experienced. Eventually, we fell into a new rhythm until our quarantine passed.
We watched on social media and TV as the world changed around us. As of this writing in early June, the COVID-19 death toll in the United States is stated at 113,235, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) website. As of early May, more than 27 million workers had filed for unemployment benefits. To put that into perspective: Slightly more than 1.5 million workers were receiving unemployment benefits during the comparable week of 2019.
Only time will tell whether we’ve hit bottom yet or if the worst is yet to come. For my family, the good news is that we met the challenges that came our way. We confirmed that we had good plans in place, and we also learned some valuable lessons during our brush with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most importantly, we know we can do it again if the need arises.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the September, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.