Coping With the Quarantine in Uncertain Times

face mask virus

We've been told to stay home to minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus, and I sincerely hope most sane adults are now doing so. The Governor of Mississippi finally issued a shelter-in-place order that took effect yesterday. I believe that this measure came far too late, and I suspect that some of my neighbors will continue to ignore it. And so, the numbers of infected will continue to climb. A high price will be paid for incompetent leadership and conspiratorial thinking. We could have prevented the worst of this, but we did not do so. Now we have little choice but to try to ride it out over the next several months.

I hope that everyone who is now hunkering down in self-isolation, quarantine, or whatever else we might call this is doing as well as can be expected. I have few illusions that it will help since we all cope in different ways, but I thought I'd share some of what has been working for me. Even though I recognize that I am an outlier in that this sort of isolation is not a big departure from how I have lived for the last 20 years, I have found some things to be helpful that don't have much to do with how unbothered I am by the social isolation aspect of it.

First, I have found it extremely helpful to limit my exposure to the news media. I was not initially doing this, and I quickly became overwhelmed with trying to keep up with the constantly changing virus-related news that I stopped sleeping and descended to a bad place. I now limit myself to no more than an hour of virus-related TV news within a 24-hour period. Since most social media platforms are full of virus-related content too, I've cut back the time I spend on them too. I've also become far more selective in the sources I consult for virus-related news. I focus primarily on the information provided by the CDC on their website and my state's health department and steer clear of cable news, the conspiracy-oriented nonsense that continues to thrive on social media, and Trump's ridiculous press conferences. I immediately delete the widely circulated hysterical emails everyone I know keeps forwarding me that purport to be written by "a viral epidemiologist."

Second, I structure my time with a schedule in much the same way I do when I am at work. Since I am working from home, this is relatively easy. Much of my day is now filled with remote meetings and the same sort of work I am used to doing. I have been going beyond this and scheduling my time outside of these formal obligations. This helps me keep track of how I am spending my time but also prevents me from wasting it. Even though I sometimes resent the fact that I am working much longer hours now than I am used to, I suppose it helps to be busy because I don't have time to obsess over the many things I cannot control.

Third, I've made some attempts to reach out and connect with friends, family, co-workers, and others I am worried about. Some of these attempts haven't worked out because others are busy or dealing with the situation in different ways, but most have gone well. I think most people appreciate the effort even if we don't always manage to connect. The only people I am trying to avoid in this process are those who are still convinced that there is no virus and the whole thing is some sort of anti-Trump hoax.

Fourth, since I have not been able to be as physically active as I'd like due to the long work hours, I have reduced my food consumption. This has been helpful in making what little food I have been able to procure last longer than it otherwise would. With the few grocery stores in my area being unable (or unwilling) to stock a steadily expanding array of items (e.g., beans, rice, pasta, oats, flour, bread, many frozen items, meat, dairy), cutting back as much as I can makes sense. What I have must last as long as possible because there does not appear to be any more of it. We've been hearing for roughly two months that our food supply is fine and that our supply lines are strong. I have seen no evidence to support this. Paper products, soap, and cleaning supplies have not been available since early February, and the food supply now seems to be running low.

Contrary to what I keep seeing from Christians on social media, one thing I haven't done is resumed belief in their preferred god or any other fictional entities. They seem convinced that all of us will do this, and some even think this is why their "god" visited this particular plague upon us (i.e., to bring us all to Jesus). They don't seem to understand how belief works or to know much about atheists.

Anyway, I think the hardest thing about our present situation is the uncertainty about how much worse it will get and how long it will last. It sounds like it is expected to get much worse in the near future. I'd guess we are looking at a few more months of this and maybe more. The idea that everything will be over and back to normal by the end of April, one commonly repeated prediction, is unrealistic considering the slow and inconsistent nature of our response. Perhaps if we had implemented a nationwide shelter-in-place a couple weeks ago, we'd have a better outlook.

As for the finger-pointing, I don't find it productive at this point. They'll be plenty of time for that later. What I'd really like to see would be the development of a good plan for dealing with future pandemics that consolidates everything we are learning from this one. I'd also like to see this happen at the federal level because I think a big reason for our current predicament has to do with our puzzling practice of letting every state do whatever they want. The shelter-in-place orders should have happened at the same time everywhere and been preventive in nature. This seems obvious now, and we need to develop a system for doing it next time.