By Lonnie Stewart. COVID-19 positive and in isolation at home.
How did this happen? I have been so good for the past 7 months.
I teach graduate Physical Therapy students. Physical Therapy is a hands-on profession, and my colleagues and I crammed all of our students’ didactic education for the remainder of the year into online formats to be consumed during the summer months. We subjected students to a fire hose of continuous information that cannot be fully understood without in-person classes. We did this with the hope that we might be allowed to meet in-person this fall: a hope that was realized, albeit with a list of conditions that, should any one condition not be followed appropriately, threatened to close the Programs in Physical Therapy.
Classes were run at half-capacity, meaning longer days teaching. Students followed meticulous rules: study only with the same lab partner for every class this semester; arrive to class wearing hospital scrubs but change into a second set of clothing for class; sanitize hands; wear gloves; wear a surgical mask; wear a face shield/eye covering. Wipe down any piece of equipment you touch; don’t hang out in the hallways; no eating or drinking in class. Heaven forbid if one sneezes. A sneeze is followed by a long list of steps to take off and put back on personal protective equipment away from the rest of the class.
Despite being the primary instructor, I was not allowed to go between the two classrooms that each now held a quarter of the class. We have relatively small classrooms, and during a normal semester, I could travel at will between classrooms to demonstrate a technique or settle a technical difference between lab instructors.
I was meticulous. There were no problems. Everyone took this seriously. I had my flu shot in late September, and until that time, was tested repeatedly for SARS-CoV-2 virus on campus.
When I began feeling tired and achy last week, I thought my allergies to ragweed were acting up. I did not anticipate a positive SARS-CoV-2/CVOID-19 test result.
Where was I exposed, and how? Where did I have my guard down? There are so many possibilities, and the exercise to determine the specifics of my exposure may be fruitless.
After the positive test results – a test performed by City MD that took 4 days to receive results – the phone calls began: to our apartment building management company and the superintendent, to the providers that came into the apartment earlier in the week (we have Local Law 11 work being done outside our windows), to friends who went out to dinner with me and my wife, to my daughters’ friends. Being in isolation we cannot walk the dog (no leaving our apartment), and so we made arrangements to have our COVID puppy, Moosey, now 7 months old, shipped out to Brooklyn with someone I’ve never met before. NYC Health + Hospitals call us multiple times to begin contact tracing – and because they are tracking three of us – we get three different calls each day with the same survey questions that last about 20-30 minutes. Now we reply to a series of texts instead. I was meant to assist my colleagues in the Management of Adult Neurological Conditions course. They’ll have to find a different lab instructor to replace me. Not an easy task.
One further complication: my 18-year-old daughter tested negative. She shares a 1,200 square foot apartment with me and my wife, and somehow she is unscathed. We are all wearing masks inside and she keeps to her room (typical behavior, but during a pandemic, I suppose it is preferred behavior?). That is the only silver lining, though – her being negative. Because she has been in contact with known COVID-19 cases, she will not be allowed to sit for her last shot at the ACT exam for college admissions. What effect will that have, even though most colleges and universities are test-optional now? No one knows.
Perhaps you feel it, too? Each day has a set of hurdles. Many of the hurdles are unrelated to COVID-19, but are certainly complicated by it. Judging by the present outlook of cases rising across the country, we are in for more complications and potentially more challenging hurdles.
Yesterday, I was on a conference call at my desk when, just outside my window, the elevator scaffold used by the workmen lowered down onto our through-the-wall air conditioner and almost tore it out of the apartment. Remember: we are in isolation. The message from the doorman: “Sorry, Dr. Stewart. Because of ‘your condition’ we’ll have to wait to make repairs.” The solve: a little plastic and tape will cover up the broken glass and holes to the outside for the time being.
So much plastic and tape, both literally and figuratively, is needed right now.
But don’t give up. The sanest advice is still the same: wear a mask, wash your hands, keep your distance. Those three action items are our present vaccine. In fact, doctors have known for a long time that wearing a mask – if everyone is wearing a mask – has the overall effect of reducing the viral load to which you and I are exposed if we are exposed. Meaning, instead of being exposed to a high dose of the virus which is most likely to cause severe symptoms, being exposed to a low dose may either set off an immune response without symptoms or reduce the severity of the disease.
The best place for information on the disease is still the CDC: Click here for the CDC COVID-19 web site This site has expanded and developed over the past 8 months, is easy to read, and gives guidance on what to do in any number of situations.
Communicate regularly with friends and family over Zoom, over FaceTime, over the phone, over e-mail. Get a daily or weekly dose of contact with loved-ones or others who are in the same boat. Trade strategies for getting groceries or deliveries.
Plan for this to get worse. Boy did I hate writing that sentence. But, gradually squirrel away some back-up supplies should New York City close down again. Have you vowed never to be without toilet paper again? Each time you go to the market or get a delivery, buy a pack and set it aside. Don’t panic: plan. Tomato sauces and pasta keep for a long time, as do cans of beans, canned or frozen veggies, soups, rice. Keep a reserve of supplies to give you wiggle-room should times get tough this winter.
There is a new App developed by the son of a friend, called Harbor: find it here in the Apple App Store. Here is their Web site. Harbor gives suggestions for being prepared for the unexpected, and I have found it to be worthwhile and thought-provoking. Take a look at it and subscribe to their newsletter.
Subscribe to the Village Alliance newsletter (bottom right-hand corner of the home page). This is one of the most helpful newsletters for our area with lists of open businesses. If you do not have a Village Access card, or do not have the iPhone App (sorry, I do not believe there is an Android version yet) – get it now to receive discounts at many beloved area vendors, such as Agata & Valentina and News Bar, and so many others.
We live in a great city. One of the greatest in the world. We’re so great, people like to pick on us. The leader of this country is among them, despite being born and bred here.
Most of you reading this (good lord, I salute you if you have read this far) remember numerous permutations of this city’s rise and fall, the peaks and the troughs. You may have carried around “mugger money” in your front pants pocket as part of your daily preparation to go out. We have had a lot thrown our way: terrorist attacks, recessions, <insert your own historical hurdle here>.
By extension, we have the greatest people in the world: our neighbors. During my family’s quick transition into isolation, we found someone to take care of our puppy through a friend’s contact. We had our repeat COVID-19 tests delivered to the UPS Store by my neighbor across the hall. In the meantime, I reached out to other neighbors down the block and each responded to our call for assistance. While I am the one that usually preaches the necessity for each of us to reach out for help – I found it hard to do. It is really ridiculous. I found myself not wanting to impose, but if anything was going to get done now we needed help. Neighbors responded. This experience renewed my faith in New York City, and how lucky we are to be surrounded by people who will help each other at a moment’s notice. Those contacts got us through the roughest days of the disease, and we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I know N2N has not been very active with respect to Newsletters. This is an all-volunteer organization, and my primary job – the one I’m paid to do at Columbia University – became all-encompassing during the second week in March and hasn’t stopped since. What I do know is that the members of the conversation group and the book group have continued to stay in touch with one another, and for that I am grateful. Whatever sense of community can be maintained will help us to weather any oncoming storm.
Stay strong. Stay smart. Plan for the future. Reach out to others if you need assistance. We will get through this together.