Ready to Plan for a Mid- to Long-Term Medical Leave? Part 2
In the last post, we looked at the financial issues underpinning a need for COVID-related medical leave. This week, we turn to organizational issues. Since I first drafted this article, some of those issues have changed, both in the United States and around the world. Response to the highly contagious Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus differs from what we’ve all grown used to. Medical professionals now urge increased vigilance and use of N95 or KN95 masks instead of cloth, while the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reduced isolation or quarantine periods to five days and businesses are cutting paid sick leave to match the CDC recommendations. It is crucial to remember, however, that the new five-day quarantine period applies only to people who are asymptomatic or improving, and that anyone coming out of quarantine or isolation must continue to wear a mask around others for several more days. Amid the confusion arising from the new regulations and the rising infection rate from Omicron, having a plan has become more crucial even in the last two weeks.
How will you keep your household running smoothly if you or another family member is exposed to or contracts COVID-19? The first thing to realize is that, depending on your household situation, you may need more than one plan. When I started drafting this post, I was working on three: what to do if I’m sick, if my husband or a vaccinated older child is sick, and if a younger unvaccinated child is sick. I have already changed one of these plans because emergency use authorization has now been granted for vaccinating children ages 5-11, so more family members are vaccinated. There is still no vaccine available for children under 5, and children in this age group cannot be isolated easily; your plans may need to take those considerations into account. Household members with risk factors like a compromised immune system may require more careful planning than those who are at lower risk.
Use the questions below to consider your household dynamics as you prepare for a lockdown and the extra work that caring for someone with a COVID-19 infection must include. This type of planning is not easy or fun, but it is necessary.
- Is there a space where you can quarantine someone who’s been exposed or isolate someone who has tested positive?
- Does that space have everything the person may need: a bed, books and other quiet/calm sources of entertainment, clothing, extra blankets, a window for fresh air, internet access, a phone, a table or desk, a computer, or other furniture and supplies?
- Does the space have its own bathroom? (Ideally it would, but it’s not always possible.)
- Does the quarantine/isolation space need to change depending on who is ill?
- Is the kitchen stocked for illness?
- Are a variety of fluids available, including electrolyte replacement fluids for someone who’s vomiting or experiencing diarrhea?
- Do you have foods that can be easily prepared for someone with a sore throat?
- Will you need to accommodate any dietary restrictions, like food allergies or diabetes?
- Do you have other supplies to take care of someone who is ill?
- Are cleaning supplies, including bleach and surface wipes, available to clean and disinfect areas used by the sick person?
- Do you have disposable gloves for handling their clothing and dishes? The CDC recommends that caregivers wear gloves and wash their hands after removing and disposing of the gloves.
- Are the dishwashing and laundry supplies well-stocked so dishes, clothes, masks, etc. can be cleaned and sanitized quickly?
- Are there enough masks for everyone in the house?
- What type(s) of masks are they? Experts now recommend using N95 or KN95 masks, rather than cloth masks.
- Can masks be reused? Are you able to replace them easily? If you are using cloth masks, will everyone have a clean mask available while used ones are being laundered?
- Is there plenty of soap and hand sanitizer? (Better to stock extra now and not have to spend more for delivery when you’re in lockdown.)
- Do you have common over-the-counter medications, and are they still in date? (I ask this as a mother who wonders with every illness if she can give a child expired ibuprofen.)
- Do you have, or do you want, a forehead thermometer and a pulse oximeter to monitor temperature and oxygen saturation? Pulse oximeters come in adult and pediatric versions. If you have both adults and children in your home, you may want both types.
- Is the house clean and organized?
- Is important paperwork easily accessible?
- Is the kitchen set up for easy cooking and cleaning?
- Can everyone find what they need?
- Can healthy children help with simple cleaning or cooking? What training will they need?
- Who will be the designated caregiver for the sick person?
- How will they protect themselves (handwashing, masking, etc.) while caring for the sick person? The CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) both offer guidance for caregivers.
- What extra responsibilities will the caregiver have?
- Who can handle some of the caregiver’s normal household tasks so they can focus on the sick person?
- Can the rest of the family manage if you are sick?
- Will someone else know your responsibilities to the family and be able to cover them until you recover?
- If another adult is ill, can you cover their responsibilities?
- Is there a list or a set of guidelines written down to explain these tasks and how often to do them?
- Is a pet living in the house?
- Who will care for the pet if the normal caregiver is ill? The CDC recommends that infected people avoid contact with pets if possible.
- Who will care for the pet if the pet gets COVID-19?
- Can your phone help you more?
- Can you handle email or other administrative tasks from your smartphone while you’re caregiving?
- Are there any apps that will help you work more efficiently? In addition to phone calls, email, and social media, your phone can be used for banking (including check deposits from home), grocery shopping, website updates, communicating with a child’s teachers, monitoring grades and turning in homework, communicating with colleagues or clients on Slack, video chats, term research, etc.
- Are there tools or equipment other than a phone that will make it easier for you to manage a medium- to long-term health crisis?
- Do you already have them?
- Can you or will you acquire them?
These may not be the only questions you need to answer, but they will hopefully give you a good start in planning. And keep in mind that you may need one or more backup plans, depending on who is or is not ill in your household. In my case, if my husband or an older child is ill, they can self-isolate in their bedrooms, communicating any needs to me by phone, and using a laptop computer to work or attend school remotely if needed. If I’m ill or exposed, I can likewise shut myself in my bedroom and work or rest as comfortably as my health will allow while my husband handles the cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring to school, and the rest of the household management. If one of the three younger children is ill or exposed, however, the situation becomes more serious. They will likely all be exposed together, and since it’s very difficult to leave a small child in a room alone for long periods of time, I will probably wear a mask constantly and keep those children in the main part of the house with me, masked as often as they can stand it, while my husband and older kids are banished downstairs together to avoid exposure. In all cases, the adult who is not quarantining in a bedroom (in our home, usually me) will need to prepare all food and deliver it to anyone who is in quarantine, then collect and wash the dishes afterward, keeping them separated from dishes used by healthy people.
Finally, please do not assume that making these plans and putting them into action will ensure that you can keep working during quarantine or isolation. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is still a mystery in many ways. We don’t always understand who it will affect, or how, or why. The virus keeps mutating and surprising us; about the only thing it hasn’t done is disappear. If you or a loved one contracts it, you or they may just have several days of mild cold symptoms and some staycation time in your isolation space. On the other hand, you may become seriously ill, even if you are vaccinated. A colleague who contracted a breakthrough infection lost two months of revenue and continued to experience debilitating symptoms at work even after recovery. You may have the same trouble with symptoms that prevent you from working for some time after the disease has run its course, or you may have only a few days of discomfort. There’s simply no way to predict accurately how this virus will affect any of us. No matter what happens, however, you can have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that you and your family are as ready as possible to quarantine or isolate comfortably and safely.
About the Author
Danielle Maxson has been translating since 2009 and specializes in medical translation with a focus on patient records. She is an ATA-certified Portuguese to English and Spanish to English translator and the chair of ATA’s Business Practices Education Committee. Before focusing on translation, she worked as a Spanish teacher and a medical interpreter. For more information, visit https://dmaxsontranslates.com.
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