Editor’s Note: Brookhaven City Hall abruptly shut down March 14 with the news that an employee tested positive for COVID-19. Mayor John Ernst said he was going into self-quarantine or self-monitoring, and urged anyone who had been at City Hall to do the same. That included Ann Marie Quill, the city’s communications manager, and Kevin C. Madigan, a freelance journalist who covered a City Council meeting for the Reporter. The following are their self-quarantine experiences in their own words.
Ann Marie Quill
Communications manager, city of Brookhaven
I readily admit I wasn’t taking the news of the emerging threat of COVID-19 all that seriously in the beginning. I’d heard it all before – SARS, Ebola, bird flu, swine flu, etc. I can’t recall any of those outbreaks ever having a direct effect on my life. It won’t get that bad here, right?
I can’t remember exactly when I started taking more notice. Maybe with news coming from Italy, where I have traveled to in the past and so it started seeming a little closer to home. Maybe when the city I work for started canceling events the past week.
But still, I’m in my 40s, have no health conditions, work out regularly, and try to eat healthy-ish. So, this shouldn’t be a problem for me, right? Well, I’m writing this from my sofa on Day 4 (a Tuesday) of a 14-day self-quarantine, so that tells you how much I know.
I’ll also admit that five days before, on a Friday, I was out eating in a restaurant with about 15 other people. We were all certainly aware of what was going on, but still of the mindset that the health crisis might be a little over-hyped.
But then, at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, I got the call. A coworker was diagnosed with COVID-19 and I was being advised to either self-monitor or self-quarantine, and to err on the side of caution. I was told that our co-worker as well as the staff had the full support of the city, and that we would be teleworking until March 30.
As I had some limited contact with my co-worker, I decided to play it safe and self-quarantine, whatever that was supposed to mean.
And there it was, the direct impact on my life. All of a sudden, this health crisis became very real for me. And I’m not going to lie, it shook me.
For the record, as I’m writing this, I have no symptoms whatsoever and feel totally fine, but definitely have excess nervous energy. I also understand that many people who have the virus remain asymptomatic, and that means something different to me than it once did. At first, I thought it was great that most people experienced no or mild symptoms. But that’s the problem, right?
At the risk of sounding dramatic, right now I have this dreadful feeling that I could be carrying around a silent killer inside me. I may not ever have any symptoms, but I could go out and infect several people, who could infect several more, and someone might die.
That feeling has influenced everything I’ve done for the past four days. I’ve only left my house to walk my dog, and I’m keeping my distance from anyone I see. I’ve rescheduled the exterminator to come on another day, because I don’t want him touching my fence and getting infected. I’ve placed food delivery orders with services that are promoting local restaurants, claim to be supporting their drivers, and will agree to leave the food at my door.
I’ve even thought through the logistics of receiving deliveries in strange detail. Items can be left at my door and I don’t have steps or handrails so the delivery driver doesn’t have to touch anything and probably won’t get sick. Is it a mistake to put my garbage out, or could that hurt somebody?
When I first heard that we were advised to self-quarantine or self-monitor, I paced for two straight days that weekend. On Monday, I tried to establish a routine. Get up with the alarm clock, fix coffee, work and eat lunch at a reasonable hour. Work some more. Feed the dog. Walk her. Do my treadmill since I can’t go to the gym, cook dinner, relax, go to bed. I’m kind of doing OK with that plan. Better today than yesterday.
I’ll avoid the grocery store unless I absolutely have to go. But I’m no stranger to online shopping, so that really hasn’t been an issue for me. I haven’t hoarded anything – I didn’t want to deal with the crowds. But I did make a conscious effort when I did my grocery shopping last weekend to see what I was low on, so I’m good on supplies right now.
Since I’m confined to my house, it’s odd to see people post on social media when they’ve been out. I keep forgetting I’m experiencing this from a different view. I see people walk by my window on the street and wonder what they are going through right now. Do they do this every day, or are they stuck at home too? I’ve learned that my dog pretty much barks and patrols all day, so maybe she’s keeping intruders away.
Since my workplace’s quarantine has been in the news, I am touched by how many people have reached out to me to offer to bring me anything I might need. I think most people have the impulse to help when things are bad, and that is showing. I’ve read in my neighborhood’s NextDoor feed how folks are arranging running errands for elderly people or fixing lunches for children stuck at home who might not have access to healthy food. My impulse has been to help, but then I remember that I can’t, because I’m stuck inside.
For now, I have the better part of two weeks to go. I know I’m lucky that I feel good, have supportive family, friends and workplace, and am not in need of anything immediate. I’m hoping that this experience is just a blip in history. Like everyone else, I wonder how this is going to play out and how it’s going to change our lives in the long term.
I keep hearing the phrase “the new normal,” and I hope like hell that’s not the case. Right now getting up before sunrise (I’m not a morning person), sitting in rush hour traffic and going into the office sounds like a little bit of heaven, and I hope that I’m back to listening to traffic reports very soon.
Kevin C. Madigan
I remember saying to a friend a couple of weeks ago that I couldn’t get too worked up about all this virus stuff. Never mind that I’m in the so-called high-risk category, as are many of my friends. We go to bars, restaurants and concerts on a regular basis, enjoying the pleasures and amenities of urban life. But not anymore. That denial phase, albeit a brief one, is over.
My job as a freelance writer allows me to work wherever and whenever I like, but it does have its pitfalls. I covered a meeting at Brookhaven’s City Hall on March 10 only to find out later that a staff member had been diagnosed with COVID-19. I feel fine — so far. I just hope this person will be OK.
So I’m staying inside this smallish house, which even at the best of times is difficult, with my wife and adult son. He has Asperger’s syndrome and all kinds of concomitant issues. I’m not sure he understands what a virus like this one can do to a human being, and insists on being taken out to eat. My long-suffering wife does her best to appease him, though I am less indulgent, so there is always a lurking tension in the household. Just this afternoon he was taken to Emory Hospital with atrial fibrillation, but he’s better after emergency treatment.
The recent loss of our daughter to heart disease hangs over everything in our lives like a black cloud. Grief, at least to me, partly means you don’t really care about much else, and the looming onslaught of a deadly virus at first left me nonplussed. Now I’m taking a bit of comfort in Italians singing to each other from their balconies and Spaniards applauding their healthcare workers from the same vantage point. I feel badly for workers in food and drink service who will suffer unduly from the effects of this pandemic. We must help anyone who needs it however we can.