Today was the 17th straight day of isolation inside our apartment. Two days ago, V broke his streak with a grocery run so epic, it took us almost two hours to wipe down and sanitize all of the items one by one with Lysol wipes, get rid of extraneous cardboard packaging, and soak all the fruit and vegetables in warm soapy water with just a hint of bleach. Today, I transitioned from social isolation to social distancing by going for a two-mile walk in the urban jungle of Arlington, VA.
I have been coping pretty well overall with the isolation period in which we all hope we don’t come down with the coronavirus. For the first couple of weeks, I checked a lot of work email, watched a lot of movies, and kept no kind of normal schedule. This week I have felt more restless and motivated to be productive; I talked on the phone and FaceTimed with family and friends, I went through my closet and to-do lists, and yesterday I spent an afternoon slowly washing my dozens of makeup brushes and sponges with Zote, my Mexican laundry soap, and lying them out to dry. I challenged myself to see how little water I could use to get them all completely clean.
[Random sidebar: I seriously love the pink Zote and discovered it five years ago watching beauty vloggers – nothing has ever cleaned my brushes and sponges better without damaging them, and you can literally buy Zote at Walmart or on Amazon for a couple of dollars. The bars are huge and last forever. I am never going back to dish soap or expensive designer brush cleaners!]
Tomorrow I’m going to do some work training online and then clean and polish all my jewelry. V and I are doing well and working together as a team to minimize any possible chance that we get sick. He has been cooking a lot for us and we are existing peacefully in this small space.
In my life, I rarely get prolonged downtime, so as the State Department cancels permanent change of station (PCS) moves for the entire month of April, the Virginia governor slaps a stay-at-home order on residents through June 10, and the worldwide coronavirus cases top one million, I have realized I have to do more not only to work and be organized, but also to keep my physical activity up. It is so important for our mental health right now to get as much fresh air and exercise as is safe to do.
Throughout the months of January and February, I was in my apartment building’s gym at least five times a week. I can see it from our bedroom window, and it takes less than three minutes to get down there. I enjoyed it, and was seeing results. In only two months, I lost more than 15 lbs. But the gym has now been closed since March 17 and I have been feeling gross and lethargic. It just isn’t normal to walk less than 2,000 steps per day for weeks on end. My arthritis also tends to flare more when I am inactive. I am immunosuppressed and at high risk of catching the coronavirus, so we have both been taking extreme measures to keep me well. But today when I woke up, I knew that it was the day I would take a walk.
For Immediate Release:
Governor Northam Issues Statewide Stay at Home Order
The [executive] order directs all Virginians to stay home except in extremely limited circumstances. Individuals may leave their residence for allowable travel, including to seek medical attention, work, care for family or household members, obtain goods and services like groceries, prescriptions… and engage in outdoor activity with strict social distancing requirements… [the] order also directs all Virginia institutions of higher education to stop in-person classes and instruction. Private campgrounds must close for short-term stays, and beaches will be closed statewide except for fishing and exercise.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of sheltering-in-place in a house with a yard, or near a forest. Our house in Canberra would have been the ultimate place to wait out the coronavirus. But instead we temporarily live in a part of Arlington near the Courthouse Metro station clustered with townhouses and apartment buildings. It’s also very hilly, and chock full of cafes, bars, restaurants, and shops. I considered how I could go for a walk while still keeping four to six feet apart from others.
I thought about driving somewhere more open and green to walk, but ultimately decided to wait and do that with V, and for today just walk on the flat road behind our building that’s a back way to downtown Rosslyn along Highway 50. I figured if I walked back and forth there, it would be sunny and I’d be less likely to run into anyone because there are hardly any businesses save a motel along the way.
The first thing I noticed when I cautiously stepped outside, already sanitizing my hands from the two lobby doors I’d had to push my way through, was how windy it was. The second thing was how many people were around! I simultaneously felt defensive about why I was outside and resentful that it had taken me so long to prioritize my own need for fresh air and fitness. I saw a handful of people walking dogs, a few cyclists, and numerous joggers. It seemed like people were coming from all directions, even more than on a regular day. It seemed a little ridiculous to me that the simple act of going outside had become such a big deal, but there is no getting around it – we are living in a dangerous time where you can touch a metal railing five days after an infected person has touched it, and then incubate that illness for two or three weeks yourself before showing any signs. So being cautious is not only smart but necessary.
I started down the hill and stepped out of the way a few times for others coming towards me to pass. Many people were wearing masks. One older man was wearing a mask and gloves and was loaded down with plastic bags from Safeway. I crossed the street near the taco truck to avoid an older lady with a small dog lingering at the corner. There were no customers waiting for tacos auténticos y deliciosos; I caught a whiff of meat cooking.
I have never looked so much in all directions when I was walking before. In a different context it would have looked like I was expecting to be mugged. Joggers running up behind me ran into the empty street, passing me with a wide berth before bouncing back up onto the sidewalk ahead. I enjoyed the fresh air immensely, and thought for the umpteenth time lately how odd it is to see the world burst into the new life of spring while many of us are in pajamaland and teleworking at home.
Today at least, I broke the ice of my social isolation and got to be out briefly in the world. Still distanced, but me in the world. Showered, with dry hair, and makeup on. Despite the number of people about, I managed to come into contact with no one. I didn’t touch anything (except the doors to get in and out of the building), lean against anything, set my keys or my phone down anywhere, or touch my face.
When I came home, I got the mail and put it into the three day paper and cardboard isolation area inside the front door. I put the clean clothes I was wearing into my dirty clothes hamper, scrubbed my hands with warm water and soap, and used a Lysol wipe to clean my phone, headphones, and keys. I sat down and ate a nice pork loin cooked by V and watched Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” I am both part of what is going on in the world, and largely protected from it.
I recently listened to two podcasts that gave me a more chilling insight into the ways that many people are on the frontlines and very directly affected by the coronavirus. If you’re inclined, I recommend them both, although only if you are in a calm and resilient space because they are not easy listening.
The New York Times’ The Daily – “The Sunday Read: What I Learned When My Husband Got Coronavirus”
WNYC Studios’ Death, Sex & Money – “We Are the Glue – Stories From Essential Workers”
Please stay safe out there if you have to be out. Otherwise, please stay home and help save lives.