Local epidemiologist says ‘forgive yourself’ for quarantine fatigue

May 18, 2020, 2:01 PM
Washington outbreak, IDM report, quarantine. reopening, shutdown...
A pedestrian wearing a face mask walks past art by a local street artist, featuring the Space Needle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Quarantine fatigue is real. Everyone, whether they’re struggling financially, emotionally, or otherwise during this pandemic, is dealing with new emotions and challenges.

Last week, Gee and Ursula shared a post on Facebook from Dr. Christopher Carlson, an epidemiology professor at the University of Washington and associate member of Cancer Prevention Program at Fred Hutch, who says it’s human to be tired, frustrated, and fatigued right now.

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“We had a disease that was going to burn at a rate that was going to cause extraordinary damage, and in order to try and shut that down, we used a sledgehammer,” Carlson said. “I’ve got to give our public health authorities incredible credit for the fact that they looked at it like, we have to hit the emergency button on society and stop this for now, but without knowing how to get back out of it.”

Quarantine has been hard, Carlson recognized, even with the occasional good news.

“But you’re still stuck with, we’re at home, if we’re fortunate enough to be able to afford to be at home,” he said. “And there are a lot of people who are getting frustrated and more importantly, just scared of what else is coming down on us.”

Carlson said he is one step removed from this crisis as he is not an infectious disease epidemiologist, and not on the front lines fighting COVID-19. He’s, as he put it, “just trying to stand outside,” but wants to help his friends and family and share information. Carlson has written a series of articles during quarantine, one of which Gee and Ursula re-posted.

“The epidemic is not just a medical and scientific crisis,” Carlson said. “It’s also a societal crisis where we can’t effectively respond to this disease. … Basically, we’re in a holding pattern, we’ve got to find some way to get through to the point where we have some treatments that actually give us something we can do or, even better, a vaccine, something we can do to prevent.”

“But it’s gonna take a while. Science isn’t instantaneous,” he added.

In the meantime, people have to do their best to stay safe and help slow the spread.

“The best analogy I can come up with is life in the Blitz in London,” Carlson said. “I mean, you didn’t know where the bombs were going to land, but you knew that everybody had to keep their lights off so that the Bombers couldn’t see where your city was. And that’s kind of where we’re at now, is how do we get through this?”

Since COVID-19 is still new, we don’t know where the virus is, how it’s transmitting, or who carries it. Even though cases are being tracked in most states, Carlson said many active tests aren’t being detected since there are people who aren’t in the hospitals, and aren’t being tested.

“So we’re still needing to figure out some way to move forward. But the sledgehammer stopped everything,” he said. “And as we learn more about the disease, maybe we can start relaxing things.”

His post reminded everyone that we’re in this quarantine together, and we need to have patience with ourselves when we’re not perfect.

“The first thing is you want to do is listen to the health authorities because they really are doing their best to help guide us through this in a way that does the least damage possible,” he said.

“But the second thing is to forgive yourself. We’re all getting tired of things. It’s just like being on a diet. There are going to be days when you just need to eat that sleeve of Oreo cookies,” he added.

Obviously, a crowded concert in the park isn’t a good idea right now.

“And some things are really frustrating. The things that would really give solace, gathering as a group in church would give us solace, but church may be one of the most dangerous places for spread,” Carlson said. “Because it’s a large number of people in a closed airspace who are likely singing or greeting each other. It’s exposure.”

Carlson reminded listeners to “give scientists grace.”

“We don’t know everything. We just know how to ask the questions. And we’re starting to know things, but … we’re going to be wrong sometimes,” he said. “And sometimes we’re just going to have to tell you we don’t know. We don’t know what if everything is safe or not. We don’t know the exact measure, but we do know we’re learning more at an incredible rate.”

“And we’re learning things like masks matter,” he said.

It’s not because masks prevent someone else from infecting you, it’s because we don’t know who has the disease and we’re all playing a giant game of tag.

“You put the mask on, and you wear that mask in public to protect the public from you in case you’re currently ‘it,'” Carlson said. “It’s a game of tag, and you don’t know if you’re it or not, and that mask helps prevent you from spreading disease.”

What if you just can’t take quarantine anymore? How do you get social interaction without negating the progress you’ve made?

“Bring [a friend] over to your backyard, sit down six feet away from each other and have them bring their own drinks so you can have your quarantinis together,” he said. “But you’re not actually socially touching each other. Your exposure is relatively low.”

He’s also heard of “quaranteams,” where you get together with another family where both parties have had no cases in their own bubbles, so the bubbles merge. However, this doesn’t work if one person teams with another, who teams with another, making a chain of transmission.

“Try to do it as much within the the idea of the rules as possible,” he said. “Even if you just can’t take it anymore, and you need to break a rule or two.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Local epidemiologist says ‘forgive yourself’ for quarantine fatigue