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Four months later, family has no regrets about moving to isolated cabin

A woman leaves Life Care Center of Kirkland on February 29, 2020. Washington state previously announced additional protocols for nursing homes and retirement communities to help protect vulnerable, elderly residents from COVID-19. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Tom Paulson — former reporter at the Seattle Post Intelligencer, former editor of Humanosphere, and frequent guest of KIRO Nights — made the decision at the end of March to remove his 93-year-old mother from her retirement home in Seattle to a more isolated family cabin in Idaho.

Son whisks mom away from retirement home to isolated family cabin

“They weren’t able to test and there weren’t any cases and then suddenly there were two, and then four, so I decided I was going to take her,” Paulson said in March. “We are fortunate enough as a family to have a place in Idaho, and I just said we are going on a trip and heading to Idaho to self-isolate in a very isolated place.”

Last week, Paulson checked in with KIRO Nights again to share an update on his mom in Idaho and to talk about the successes and failures of the pandemic.

Paulson’s mom is still at the cabin in Idaho with his brother, while he’s in Seattle working.

“She’s doing great,” he said. “My cousins are next door, and so there’s a lot of family, and we’ve known people up there for … decades. It’s a nice little community. Everyone’s … staying very safe. Of course, it’s nice weather, so they’re outdoors most of time.”

The only complicated thing to manage is taking her into Spokane fairly regularly for doctor appointments and blood draws. Still, Paulson has no regrets about his decision.

“I don’t have any qualms about it,” he said. “And I thought it would be more difficult. It hasn’t really been that tough. We’re lucky to have this cabin and have family and friends who have been kind of support services and made it work for us.”

He clarified that he didn’t move his mom because her retirement home was doing a poor job. He just recognized the risk for elderly people, especially in care facilities, and made the choice.

“Also the living quality of life now in those places, in order to keep everybody safe, is pretty bleak, really. I mean, everyone’s fairly isolated and they can’t really do much,” he noted. “So, no, I don’t regret it at all.”

While he hasn’t kept close track of the status of the facility in Seattle, he said his mom does still keep in touch with her friends there. At his last check, the facility had about two dozen positive tests between workers and residents, but since then hasn’t seen a lot of new cases.

Looking back on the missteps

Paulson recognizes now that he was wrong about some things early in the pandemic.

“Yeah, that’s why I was questioning you guys having me on the show since I was wrong about things,” he laughed.

Based on the way COVID-19 acted in China, Paulson was pretty sure it was going to spread rapidly.

“And because of its asymptomatic phase, it’s really hard to contain a virus like that,” he added.

He also thinks he was right about the death rate, though admits we don’t have a clear picture of the death rate as many people have COVID-19 without having symptoms and it’s a “sneaky virus.” Paulson also noted that people are talking less about the death rate as it doesn’t matter much since it’s obviously killing a lot of people.

He admitted it was misguided to be so focused on the death rate early.

“I was definitely wrong about masks. Of course, I wasn’t alone, I was just listening to public health experts,” he said. “They said masks weren’t probably going to make that much difference, and that we should stick to social distancing and hand washing and all that. And obviously that’s changed.”

Now almost everyone, he said, acknowledges that masks probably do contain the spread, even if we don’t completely know why. People often say the public was discouraged from wearing masks to save them for health care professionals, but the health care system is still having mask shortages, Paulson points out.

“Even Tony Fauci didn’t recommend masks early on,” he added.

There just were not good studies to show masks protected the wearer from infection, he said. It’s more about containing the virus. While the science hasn’t changed much, there are more examples now, like the protests, where there was no surge in cases even though people were together in large groups, in close proximity.

“But many of them were wearing masks, and that seems to have made a difference,” Paulson said. “… People are reluctant to advocate anything if they’re not sure it’s going to make a difference, but I think most people now, I don’t think we understand why exactly it works, but it does seem to work, along, of course, with social distancing and all that.”

“And I thought [COVID-19] might wane in summer, and it’s not,” Paulson added. “So it’s a very weird bug, … very, very scary. I’m a lot more worried about it than I was when it first started.”

To better understand if masks are working, Paulson suggested that contact tracers ask if the person has been wearing a mask, and how they wear masks for an added piece of evidence.

The potential for a shutdown … again

With cases on the rise across the country and in Washington state, there’s been rumors of a potential move backward to a stay-at-home order.

“I think it’s likely we’re going to go into a shutdown,” Paulson said. “I don’t think it’s just a possibility — I would bet money on it. And I’m not sure how successful it will be this time around because I think … there’s going to be graver economic consequences. And people are tired, they’re just tired of this stuff.”

Paulson said he thinks Gov. Inslee has been doing an OK job, and admits the governor probably needed to start opening things up and taking a calculated risk.

If he was in charge and could implement any policy, federally or locally, Paulson started by saying the most effective thing is and will be social distancing. He said he would also require masks indoors.

“Just all these things public health have been telling us, but make it enforceable and punish people,” he said. “… The people who don’t follow these public health guidelines are killing people. So that seems like … it’d be worth passing laws and punishing people for violating those public health guidelines.”

Paulson said we know what to do, and we know what works.

“Look at New York City. I mean, what a turnaround, amazing. They’re in phase three, opening up tattoo parlors, … they have taken it seriously. And I think we should really be looking at how they did it given what was going on there,” he said. “I’m not sure why Washington state, I mean, even Seattle King County, where everybody seems to be wearing masks, and the numbers are going up.”

“I think we really gotta look hard at what we’re doing and not doing,” Paulson added. “[But] we know what to do. It’s not a failure to understand the virus, it’s a failure to get people to behave properly.”

Listen to KIRO Nights weeknights from 7 – 10 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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