Quarantine Series:
To Go or Not To Go [Outside]?

In case you forgot, the purpose of quarantine, shelter-in-place, PAUSE, lockdown, etc, is to reduce human interactions and slow the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing as a concept makes sense during this time. Therefore, whether from fear of getting the coronavirus, fear of spreading the coronavirus, or fear of violating laws, the majority of people has been staying indoors as much as possible. Unless you were an essential worker (thank you), have a dog or kids, or [insert other valid reason], going outside is definitely a personal choice. Thanks to technological advancements, groceries, food, medication, can all be obtained through contactless delivery, without leaving your building. I’m sure at some point in the future, all of this can probably even materialize inside the apartment without opening the door. I myself don’t fall under any essential category, so choosing to stay inside summarizes 95% of my quarantine time.

There is the 5% though. The 2 days a month (once every two weeks) that I do venture outside to buy groceries. Going outside now is such a mental and physical process, that just thinking about it and all the precautions required can sometimes be determent enough. I would start by evaluating whether or not I truly needed something, or if there was a way of substituting. Maybe there is another way to prolong not eating fresh fruits or vegetables, but still have a balanced diet. Back in the normal times, I might not fight the craving for ice cream as fiercely, weighing the dread and risks to physical health the outside brings versus the benefits to the soul that a chocolatey ice cream deliciousness would bring. At some point, eventually, I do give in to the internal debate and start planning To Go Outside.

First, there’s the shopping list. Write down everything that needs to be replenished so that I don’t return home anguished at having forgotten to buy sugar or shampoo. Then, there’s some internet research required to double check various store hours in case any of them have changed. Depending on that, I have to plan strategically for a convenient time to make the shopping run, ideally avoiding a popular window to minimize crowd exposure or lines.

Once it’s time To Go Outside, the physical process begins. Retrieve the PPE = Personal Protective Equipment: gloves, check; hand sanitizer, check; face mask, check; extra wipes, check. Leaving the building means using elbows to push elevator buttons and open doors. Once outside, it’s hard to enjoy because there’s this eerie overhanging worry of getting infected and sick, constantly trying to remember not to touch my face. Seeing others also wearing masks and gloves feels so unusual and taints any temporary illusion of normalcy by just being outside. If people approach, we both purposely walk a berth of 6ft around each other, like propelling magnets. I startle when hearing human voices resonate clearly, not filtered through a speaker or headphones.

I walk by the larger stores, that have a line outside, people spaced 6ft apart, waiting to go into the store to ensure capacity for social distancing while shopping. Inside the store, there is an attendant disinfecting carts. Cash registers have dividing panels between cashier and customer. Staple food aisles might be out of stock, with signs limiting quantity of purchase. The entire experience is no longer the same. Just merely being around people feels bizarre and somewhat psychologically fearful, depending on how many and which COVID-19 news/video sources you watched. It’s a matter of getting what I need, as quickly and safely as possible, and returning home stat to minimize exposure.

Once back home with the groceries, it’s another process to reenter the home, “safe space,” with all these items from the outside world, potentially virus-carriers, which could spread and cause infection, and you’ll get sick, and then, and then — best try to control the mental spiraling before it gets too out of hand. All the items are deposited right inside the door, while I carefully peel off the gloves, face mask, and outer wear, also leaving them by the door. Hands are washed rigorously with soap and water, then my face and arms as well. I change out of the clothes, carefully folding inside out and placing into the laundry hamper. The mask and gloves are strategically laid out on the window sill for ultraviolet light disinfecting.

Having tackled my personal sanitization, I grab the Lysol bottle and paper towels, and basically spray down everything that I bought. Good thing edible items have their own plastic/wrappings because there is no discrimination with the Lysol. From the loaf of bread to the sack of potatoes to the package of chicken. Anything in a can/jar/bottle or otherwise fully sealed, I dump into the sink and soak in soap and water. Admittedly, whether this entire process accomplishes any successful virus-killing, at least it calms the mental paranoia. Satisfied with the cleansing of the items, I do a final Lysol wipe down of the doorknobs, light switches, and faucets. I finally breathe a sigh of relief, now that the sanitization is complete, hopefully with no contamination, and I can stay in the safe confines of my apartment again. That is, until the next time I have To Go Outside.

As reference for future me, some items I bought for the first time, as part of the initial panic-stockpile phase: frozen pineapple chunks, beef bones, lots of canned tuna and corn, mini bagels, hummus, peanut butter and jam (I actually tried this long time American favorite for the first time and can totally understand now why kids love it).

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Sky Lee

I write to offload emotions and to one day complete the recurring yearly resolution.