Editor’s note: Welcome to The Pandemic is Personal, a weekly series focusing on on how the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV‑2) is affecting the everyday lives of people throughout the Pacific Northwest. We hope to enlighten you and reflect on what you and others are addressing as this pandemic runs its course.
If you have a story to tell, please feel free to contact us.
Patti Dailey is a veteran Democratic activist and public servant based in Pierce County, Washington State’s second largest jurisdiction. She has a longtime history of involvement in the labor movement in the Pacific Northwest. A cancer survivor, Patti is among those who are the most at risk from possible exposure to COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. In this installment of The Pandemic is Personal, she reflects on her necessarily strict physical distancing regimen.
Functioning through COVID-19 with disabilities that increase my chances of contracting the virus has been interesting and challenging.
In 2015 I fought both triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) and renal carcinoma, also known as kidney cancer. One left me with new disabling conditions and both left me at high risk for other illnesses.
I work full time for the state DSHS (Department of Social and Health Services) in Tacoma, Washington. In early March I became concerned hearing about deaths related to COVID-19 and how people over sixty years of age, with health conditions that decrease their survivability, were at greatest risk.
I began trying to lessen my exposure to people. My division was not yet ready to send people home to telework so we continued to work in the office despite news of exposures. I was issued equipment with set-up instructions to take home and began working from home full-time the last week in March.
Due to state budget shortfalls, I am included in the groups of AFSCME Council 28 represented employees who will be facing furloughs.
We are going to be furloughed one day per week through the end of July, then one day per month through the end of the contract period in June 2021.
Because I was one of the employees whose Social Security number was used for a fraudulent claim, I may not be able to file for unemployment relief.
This will cause a substantial financial hardship.
Fortunately, I have done surprisingly well working from home.
I live alone with a dog and two cats. It is amazing how the relationship with your pets change when you are with them full-time. They became my new co-workers and we had to establish some new working rules like, don’t follow me to the bathroom – this is not an all-staff opportunity; you can’t write, so no taking over the keyboard; and the mouse does not belong on the floor.
The biggest challenge I have had is how to get out to shop for food and keep safe. I only go out during the restricted shopping hours at Safeway at 6 AM.
I get anxious when I encounter people who refuse to realize the importance of wearing masks and keeping physical distance. It has been especially unnerving when employees are not wearing masks and I either ask them to mask up or move, or even just pull their mask up over their nose, and the massive attitude I get in return makes me angry and upset. Each trip is stressful.
There’s unfortunately a contingent of people out there who do not seem to understand that COVID-19 isn’t just a mild flu for people like me. This is a deadly virus that can easily kill anyone with underlying medical conditions.
I have been avoiding Costco and other stores that do not have special hours for older people that are not during the workday. Though I’d rather not, I have been using Amazon for things I am unable to get at the grocery store.
I have not been able to go to the doctor, to therapy or other appointments and have had to adjust my schedule due to being isolated at home.
I miss going out to eat and interacting socially with friends. Because of fear of exposure, I have not been able to do even a little outdoor activity.
The other pitfall is working hard to keep from falling into depression. I have been forcing myself to stay active with my union and the Democratic Party. Participating in Zoom meetings gives me some opportunity for social interaction.
Will all of this be over soon?
Probably not, and especially not for people with disabilities who are at greater risk. Some experts suggest we’ll need to stay home until there is a vaccine – which could be more than a year from now. So, like any other difficult set of circumstances, I’m learning to adapt and adjust and make the best of it.