The Weight of Having to Wait: Emotions Surfaced by the Stay at Home Extension

By Erin Murphy and Meredith Li-Vollmer

Over 500 staff at Public Health – Seattle & King County have been in an emergency activation for COVID-19 since late January, when the first identified U.S. case was reported in Washington. Since then, we have been committed to the round-the-clock efforts to respond to the multitude of needs that this pandemic created.

But we are also human. When we heard the Stay at Home Order has been extended through May 31, a number of us immediately had a very human reaction, thinking less about the big picture of the pandemic and more about what this means for our personal lives. Like so many others, we keenly feel what this means to have kids out of school, social lives curtailed, more time spent within the confines of the home. Even though we had expected that the extension might happen, when it became official, our first reaction was, “How do we do this for longer?!”

Your Feelings Are Valid

How does a parent tell their 6-year-old daughter that she still can’t see any friends for a while? How does someone living alone manage go for another month without a hug and physical touch?

Right now, as Public Health, we just want to validate your feelings. Things feel really hard right now and all the emotions that the Stay at Home extension order brings up are real. Beyond the rollercoaster of emotions, uncertainty is exhausting. It is so natural for us as humans to crave and need certainty—whether it be a specific number, data point for making decisions, or overall stability.

So many of us have to figure out yet again how to cope with logistical nightmares and economic stress. Many of us likely hoped that things would be different, even if just a little bit, after May 4th. It easy to become cynical and waiver in your resolve to social distance.  We know it’s hard to feel like we are all in this together when a trip to the grocery store means you may see a number of people not taking social distancing or other protective measures seriously.

It’s Worth It to Slow the Spread

After the momentary grief that some of us in the health department felt when the Stay at  Home extension was announced, we shifted our focus to why this Stay at Home order was put into place. Collectively, the people in this region have shown the power of staying home. With our sacrifices and diligence, we have slowed the spread of COVID-19, a virus that has the ability to infect huge numbers of people if unchecked.

COVID-19 is still spreading and people are still getting sick—in King County, nearly 100 new cases are confirmed a day according to this week’s data. And people will continue to get sick since we are all susceptible to a virus that’s new to human populations. But dealing with 100 new cases a day is manageable within our healthcare system.

Currently, people with severe cases of coronavirus are able to get hospital care and our hospitals can provide lifesaving measures if needed, like ventilators and ICU care. Other patients are also able to get care for the many other medical emergencies that happen each day, like heart attacks and severe injuries. If we experienced a dramatic rise in cases—such as if social distancing was lifted now—hospitals could be overwhelmed. Heart-wrenching decisions would be necessary if the number of patients who need lifesaving care surpassed the availability of those resources.

As our health officer, Dr. Jeff Duchin, has said, “I don’t think it’s possible to prevent all transmission. We need to keep the number of cases manageable. We want to see something like a slow burn, where it doesn’t evolve into an uncontrollable raging fire.”

It’s Worth It to Protect Essential Services and Workers

There are many people who can’t stay home because they are essential workers, providing all of us with critical services, like sanitation, utilities, food, childcare, delivery, and healthcare. If you can stay home, the choice can feel like burden, but every individual choice matters. Those of us who can stay home can help protect those workers and the services they provide.

Feel All the Feelings

So we are going to ride the tidal wave of emotions and stand together to slow the spread of COVID-19.  We know it doesn’t always feel like “WeGotThisWA” and that’s ok. Go ahead and feel all the feelings—rant with a coworker, call a friend to cry, share your stress with a neighbor.

Life is full of tensions right now, with good days and bad days. When we find ourselves on the other side of this, may we be able to look back and know that we focused on the things that we value most to get us through.