Three years into a global pandemic and people have gotten used to masks and restrictions, but households are rarely prepared for when COVID-19 strikes a member of the family.
With a hyper-contagious Omicron variant driving a surge in cases, how do you keep safe when a space houses both COVID-positive and negative people?
Family dynamics and space play a role in ensuring the safety of everyone. Some live in condo units, bungalows, or houses with two-floors. Regardless of real estate, Filipino families comprising different age groups often co-habitate, complicating isolation when resources are centralized and shared.
Chai, a development worker, lives in a bungalow with her mom and two younger sisters, the youngest of which is a high-schooler currently COVID-positive, with the other exhibiting symptoms. Their mother survived COVID before vaccines were available.
Dealing with the virus a second time was different from the first. "Unlike last time, we had more information, and the positive family member didn't have comorbidities and was vaccinated,” she said, noting that the family had been used to it by now and resigned to the fact that they just had to deal with it.
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For condo-dweller Val, it’s the other way around — in a household of five, only her sister evaded COVID so she had to be quarantined to stay safe from the virus.
“Generally, the routine change has been pretty hassle, considering we live in a condo and since most of us are positive nga, it also means na we still have to do chores. Swerte na lang rin I guess na we have resources for deliveries and medicine even in quarantine,” Val said.
Extended families catching COVID-19 is common nowadays, and though writer Ria and her immediate family are spared, they’re sending supplies to cousins and grandparents who are recovering the virus in a separate house.
“We sent them ulam and meds. Kami rin sumagot sa RT-PCR, deliveries din. We call them every day and may group chat din [with the family]. To be fair we’re a bit lucky kasi we can do it from a distance and they’re able to take care of themselves,” she said.
Most of the help comes in the form of providing money for food and essentials, along with calling for tests and doctors, Ria said.
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After getting the results, the next step is getting supplies for the quarantined person and learning to live apart for the next 14 days, or longer if symptoms persist. For Val, her sister is quarantined alone to avoid catching the virus while the rest of the family move with masks and disinfect everything they touch.
For Chai, that means everyone stays in the living room while her sister stays in one room.
“During the peak of the symptoms...that was a stressful time too because there wasn't a doctor or medicine anywhere. The general panic of...okay, when things go really bad we're not going to be able to reach or get any medical help or supplies even if we're willing to pay because there's just literally none available,” Chai said.
“First few days are calls or trying to find tests, and call the LGU or a teleconsult doctor. It was harder this Omicron wave—no one was answering calls anywhere. Mid-quarantine is trying to call relatives, Grab, and pharmacies for medicine delivery. This too, no stock of Neozep or cough medicine anywhere. These calls surprisingly take so much time and patience,” she said.
“We only have one bathroom. We just Lysol after use,” she added.
Masks are a must, for both the positive and the negative. “[My sister] is just constantly masked so if she leaves the room we just stay a few feet away,” Val said.
Food is often left at the door for the patient to get. “I told my mom na we should use disposables na muna para we don’t have to worry about too many dishes and cross contamination. Sorry, Mother Earth,” Val said.
Deliveries are crucial at this time when everyone, even those negative, must stay inside. Val’s sister goes down to pick up deliveries or extended family members leave essentials at their condo unit’s door.
Laundry is uncharted territory for both Chai’s and Val’s families.
“We haven't confronted laundry yet, but used clothes of the quarantined people stay in their quarantine room for now,” Chai said.
“We haven’t yet pero mukhang same old naman, washing machine and all that but I think we’ll wash separately at least,” Val said.
How to keep safe
Adapting to change in a short amount of time is a struggle, especially since passing through doors and entering rooms is muscle memory.
“It's the having to police everybody to keep the quarantine. 14 days...it's a long time and only three to four days of it are actual super bad symptom days. Most of it is boring, and they feel normal. So what happens is people forget to close the bedroom doors, or go out of the room to get chocolate from the ref, or call a cat in the quarantine room,” Chai said.
“If you touch it, you disinfect it,” Val said.
Wearing a mask at home at all times can help negative people stay COVID-free. Those quarantined must be supplied with water good for at least a full day and food good for a few hours.
Also important to have: an oxymeter for oxygen levels, a thermometer for temperature, and alcohol for disinfection. Phones must be charged for communication with family outside the room, or for teleconsult with doctors.
For Ria, the most she can do is stay negative at home to avoid being added to the case tally—for her sake and her family’s.