Family isolation protocols: don’t judge

In this time of sheltering-in-place and self-imposed isolation, we have to learn to be kinder and less judgmental to each other. One of the biggest issues for families is agreeing on your own “isolation protocol,” for lack of a better description. Most of the stuff that I have read include suggestions such as from Britain’s NHS here. Or articles on what activities to do now that the kids are home. But I haven’t seen that much discussion about how you formulate your own protocol. Given my interest in Internet protocols, this seems a natural point for me.

It is just my wife and me at home. You would think that the two of us would be able to figure out some common ground for exactly how much isolation we should be doing. But it is a harder problem than that. There are two dimensions to this. First is that the ground is shifting. As the virus spreads, scientists are learning more about its transmission and its lethality and changing their own recommendations. That means building into the family protocol the ability to be updated to reflect these changing conditions. Or if one of you becomes more concerned about a particular activity, for example. As I said, things are changing rapidly.

The second dimension is that all of us, even long-married couples, come to this virus from different perspectives. What we need is to make some consensus decisions. We do this all the time, and it part of our daily lives. Only, instead of what are we having for dinner or who is going to clean the bathroom, they become decisions that involve the potential life and death of the family members themselves. Maybe that is too dire a description, but you see what I mean.

Let me give you some examples of the potential points around assembling your own protocol:

  • When should we wear a mask, if at all? (See the link above for the latest CDC recommendation.
  • Is takeout food acceptable under specific circumstances?
  • How often do we shop for groceries and other supplies? Do they require delivery?
  • When one of us returns from being outside our apartment, what is the cleansing and transition process?
  • How often should we go to the office?
  • What about continuing or beginning any volunteer activities?
  • Do we have a cellphone cleansing policy, and who enforces it?
  • What about how to disinfect the mail and newspapers?
  • Is anyone other than the family allowed inside our apartment and if so under what circumstances?

These all seem like pretty petty issues, but in the time of Covid, they could be life and death, quite literally. If you want your family to survive this crisis, you need to come to agreement on these policies and be willing to concede to your spouse’s POV. I have heard stories about those medical workers who have to sleep over the garage or in someone’s RV rather that spend their time inside the family manse.

I was talking to a friend of mine who has a father who is in his late 70s and still goes to work at his office. She tried talking to her dad and getting him to stay home but was unsuccessful. Another friend who is 80 had all of his grandchildren over to their house for dinner not too long ago. This person recently had heart bypass surgery.

Here is the thing. You can’t judge what someone else’s protocol may be, however inelegantly expressed or however much you disagree with their position. Everyone has to come to terms with this pandemic on their own terms and reach their own comfort level. Now I realize how frustrating it can be to deal with a family or friend who has a different position on what social isolation means, and perhaps doesn’t disinfect as much (or as more) as you do. It isn’t up to us to judge. You have to be you, to quote a common phrase. But you and your family should have some discussion about this and at least agree on some of the basic principles as I listed above.

8 thoughts on “Family isolation protocols: don’t judge

  1. Hey David, thanks for sharing your thoughts on protocols during this crisis – and the concept of creating protocols specifically for this time. I will though, take exception to your position of “… can’t judge someone else’s protocol.” Because our personal protocols affect the community writ large, it behoves us all to speak up if another’s protocol (e.g. “I’m going to a COVID Party tonight”) may endanger the community. I know this sounds harsh, but COVID-19 doesn’t care about our personal protocols.

    Thanks again, you always have a unique and substantive viewpoint.

  2. When someone else’s willful carelessness can kill you, judging them is not merely acceptable, it’s essential. The challenge is in basing the judgement on solid information. As much as knowledge and advice about this thing is changing rapidly, much is actually quite stable. Especially about what is reasonable vs. unreasonable for people to do. It isn’t reasonable for them to wear N95 masks. It is, however, reasonable to wear a basic mask. Keeping 6′ apart is reasonable. And so on. Some of this changes as more is learned, but the basics aren’t changing. Sometimes, it’s important that you overcome your innate politeness and tell people to back the fuck away.

  3. I found everything you said very interesting and thought provoking. We do need to practice social distancing and good hygiene but if someone is handling it differently than you and you find their way is unacceptable the best you can do is to remind them that being safe can only help us all. Arguing or shaming will only make them defensive. So, David, thank you for giving us all something to think about.

  4. The last bullet spoke to me because my husband and I have chatted about the weekly housekeeper’s visit. I say there’s a very valid need to keep the place as clean as possible right now. She wears a mask and gloves. He says she’s a risk because she cleans several houses a week. I say who’s less of a risk than someone who pretty much works with bleach all day? The real issue is that if she stops coming, it’s ME who will end up cleaning the house, not HIM. He won’t be inconvenienced at all. So unless he’s going to take over, this is one I keep winning.

  5. David, Good topic as usual and well covered.
    I see problems with age groups. The teens are still kicking around town together, and make jokes about the disease named ‘boomer remover’. This hits close to home when one of your own teens refuses outright to follow the social isolation rules. I phoned the youth crisis line (this office has close ties with the police). The person who does the counseling there tells me ‘call 911’.
    This problem gets me thinking that I should rewrite my will.
    Thanks — Rick

    • Yes, but it isn’t just teens. Did you see the contact tracing of the FL spring breakers? They managed to spread it all over the country.

  6. Hello all,

    speaking from Italy, I 100% second this position “judging them is not merely acceptable, it’s essential”. Of course, how to actually handle the judging and the decisions that come from it wildly varies from situation to situation, but it is essential. I’ve read outbursts of rage from someone mad because one of his relatives living abroad had convinced all the extended family living there to gather for a birthday in mid-March, thus leading to 2 or 3 participants to die COVID19 in the following two weeks.

    On the domestic side, I must report we had no conflicts at all to define a protocol, just lots of confused talks to reach a conclusion. Absence of conflicts was due to lack of choice in a few cases, like our volunteer activities being just shut down by decree, from their board, or government decision. Confusion, was due to the difficulty to find relevant and complete information on how to handle certain cases, e.g. relatives forced to return home from abroad.

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