Living With My COVID Neighbor

Late on Friday my building management emailed us to say that a resident reported they tested positive for COVID-19.

I was shocked.

Then I was like, wait, I have been living the past month as if someone in my building of 300 souls already had it. For weeks when I ventured out to do laundry or fetch mail I don my surgical mask and creep around door handles and railings as if they were coated in coronavirus.

Why suddenly with confirmed news does it seem so much scarier.

The psychology of threats is that we prefer to see relatives than absolutes. The relative threat of coronavirus before confirmation today was knowing that everyone was taking precautions and that we as a community would safeguard each other by doing so. The numbers of confirmed cases were just news. My ward has reported the second lowest cases in the city, less than 1% of the ward’s population!

But now all of that is truly fiction and all I see is one big absolute, the threat is verified to be here and now. I feel compelled to take some kind of action, as many who experience gun violence first hand become the bearers for legislation action.

The reality is the DC government has already given us action. We socially distance, we sanitize surfaces, we wash our hands, we think twice before touching anything. We’ve been prepared from the start to do the things that we would do if coronavirus was already around us.

Without this preparation or heightened awareness weeks earlier, we’d likely already have an outbreak of community transmission here in these brick walls by now. We all have to interact with door pulls and elevator buttons.

For a week now I have been hearing a telltale dry cough echoing into my window. I don’t think it’s on my floor, but even so, I have to act like it is. My next door Italian neighbor had flu and dry cough for at least two weeks (as far as they knew). I interacted with them once even, and could hear them coughing next to my wall. Their symptoms have cleared and they are in good spirits, I didn’t get sick from that.

There is uncertainty over aerosolized coronavirus in public settings. No doubt the confirmed case neighbor will be filling their unit with virus for a few days. Most of it will fall to the ground after a few hours. Even though coronavirus can be aerosolized, it’s not certain if we will have SARS like building outbreaks. We have yet to see these stories in New York City where everybody lives in tight apartment spaces, but time still has yet to pass given the virus incubation period. There certainly would have been such a story out of Wuhan if it had happened, so far we’ve only seen outbreak stories occur in sustained close quarters (ie: churches, choir rehearsals, bus coaches, etc).

With all these unknowns, the day to day for me will be pretty normal. I will still don a mask, carry sanitizer, and use napkins on door handles in my hallways. I might choose to do laundry earlier in the day. But I’ll probably be more vigilant about washing hands AND face when I come back into my unit, just to avoid any “crumbs.”

While those scary SARS outbreak stories are in the back of my head, I feel at this point, we have a working understanding of how to live with and near corona.