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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Health and Safety Guide

ASERT has compiled resources for those with autism and those who care for people with autism relating to the current COVID-19 outbreak.

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Feeling More Stuck at Home than Last Year

By Miriam

For the majority of 2020, many of us stayed home to stay safe and slow the spread of COVID-19. We isolated ourselves physically from friends and family and watched as nonessential local businesses temporarily closed. Now, in the summer of 2021, I find myself fully vaccinated and case numbers much lower in my area. The local governments have ended almost all COVID-19 related restrictions. I thought by now, I would no longer be spending so much time around the house. While the pandemic is not fully over, the danger has significantly lessened. However, I instead find myself even more stuck at home than this time last year due to obstacles other than the pandemic. 

One of the main obstacles to going outside lately is the weather. For a few weeks in a row now, almost every single day has been extremely hot or included severe thunderstorms. A couple of times, there has been minor flooding. We have rarely gotten a day under ninety degrees Fahrenheit in my area. There was one day where the temperature dropped to the eighties, but the humidity was very high. Even if I drive to an indoor location, I find myself getting covered in sweat simply walking across a parking lot on some days lately. Luckily, my air conditioner has continued to work without any issues at all. Having such intense heat outside and a cool house to stay in makes me less likely to leave. 

This time last year, I often spent time in the area directly outside my house on days when the weather was nice as a way to get out of the house while still isolating. Sometimes I walked around the neighborhood or went to the park, though this increased the chance of being around other people. However, it was still less crowded and easier to distance than in a grocery store or other indoor spaces I found myself in when going on essential errands. Even stepping outside for just a few minutes made such a huge difference compared to being inside my house constantly. It felt great to feel the sun or breeze against my skin for a moment. We had plenty of days last year where the weather felt fantastic outside and this year has been the complete opposite. 

There have also been multiple obstacles in figuring out what locations to go to. With many businesses closed for months and now reopening, it is a bit difficult to figure out what is actually open now. Some businesses I used to shop at have permanently closed without me realizing it until I arrived and found the store empty. There have also been a few places marked as temporarily closed still on Google Maps despite having re-opened, so checking in advance does not always help. The quality, pricing, and offerings at many local restaurants have also changed. I feel like I have to re-try every restaurant now and not rely on previous knowledge of where to eat after barely eating out or getting takeout for over a year due to the pandemic. 

On holidays such as the 4th of July, it was even harder to figure out my options for getting out of the house. When I did a general search on Google and Facebook, very few events were listed. There were also a few events listed that had been canceled this year due to the pandemic. I felt like I already had to know what areas tend to put on events for the 4th of July to find anything. When I searched by the name of specific areas that put on fireworks shows and other events before, the websites for those events came up, despite having not come up in the general search. Additionally, when I tried to find a place to get ice cream that day, few businesses had holiday hours listed on Google Maps. Only the regular hours were listed for these businesses with a little note saying hours may vary on holidays. My family ended up driving to one ice cream place only to find out it was closed for the holiday. We decided to then only go to places that listed holiday hours. We all wanted to get out of the house, but when searching for places to go that day, we had trouble finding anything. We thought there might be more to do given the holiday, though we ended up just taking a walk in the park, getting the ice cream, and watching a surprisingly short, yet well-advertised fireworks display. 

I thought the reopening of movie theaters would also help get me out of the house as someone who frequently visited them. However, due to production on many films being delayed during the pandemic, there still are few new movies being released now compared to before the pandemic. The movies that have been released are all ones I am not particularly excited about seeing. If someone wants to go see them together, I will go. If they end up on TV or Netflix someday, I might watch them that way, but I am not in a hurry to see them in theaters. A lot of films have been released to streaming services at the same time as their theatrical release recently, further lessening my desire to go see them in theaters. Some of the movies scheduled to release in December or early in 2022 look like they will draw me to the theater again, but for now, it is unlikely I will go to a movie theater. 

I also thought I would be spending more time with people in person by now. One of the main issues with doing so is how many of my friends have moved away or have been traveling lately. Many of my friends from high school had already moved to other states for college, making it only possible to stay in touch virtually. Then, the people I either met in college or who attended a local university after we met when younger have also started to move away as they graduate and find work outside Philadelphia. Very few of my friends from before the pandemic still live nearby. The few who are still local often have limited availability due to school and/or work. A couple of times recently, I have messaged friends or family asking if they wanted to meet up only to find out they were busy when I had availability. Having our availability not line up was an issue before the pandemic, but having fewer friends and family still living in the area also reduces the number of people I can ask. I find myself needing to make new friends again just to have local ones with who I can spend time in person. I keep checking the website Meetup to look for events there that could help with this. Both before the pandemic and now, there is a lack of Meetup groups with events close to me geographically. Some are within driving distance, but the ones that are particularly close by are all not for my age group. For a few months, as things reopened, there had been almost no new events listed on Meetup. However, there have been more and more new groups and events added over time. It seems like only a matter of time before I find something there. I also tried looking on Facebook, but I found very few local Facebook groups for meeting new people locally. Most of the ones that were there were simply extensions of the Meetup groups, with the same events listed on Facebook as on Meetup. In addition, I have been going on dating apps now that it is safe to date in person again compared to before I was vaccinated and when case numbers were high. However, I have gone on almost no dates due to many people matching and then never messaging, people simply trying the app while being unsure if they actually want to be in a relationship, and other issues. I know I do not want to be single, but it is hard to find other people who seriously want to date, let alone someone who is right for me. Dating would get me out of the house more if I were able to find people who actually want to go on a date. It is surprising how many people on dating apps either rarely check their notifications, are extremely unsure about what they want, or are using the app for something other than dating, such as just looking for a gym buddy. I am having a similar issue with employment where many employers never respond to my applications and there are fewer job listings in most fields locally than before the pandemic. It is as if you combined the Meetup and dating app issues to get what I am experiencing on job search websites. According to Indeed, almost all my applications have not been viewed. Over time, more job listings have been appearing, but they are almost all low-paying retail and customer service jobs (the latter being receptionists, customer service call centers, etc). If I had steady employment, this would also get me out of the house. For now, I just find myself doing some self-employed work from home and sometimes finding temporary jobs out of the house. Even some of the retail jobs have been temporary ones due to places needing additional staff earlier in the pandemic to help run vaccine clinics, conduct temperature checks, or other reasons. It has been hard to find work between not hearing back from employers, a lack of listings, and some of those listings only being temporary. It’s been especially hard to find a job that pays well and with a good work environment on top of that when there are few listings to begin with. 

I feel like the only thing pandemic-wise keeping me at home at this point is some concern over the Delta variant and other variants. It’s important to remember the pandemic is not fully over yet, though it also feels safe enough to leave the house at the moment. Case numbers were starting to inch back up around the time I was writing this, so only time will tell whether it will be less safe to leave the house again in the near future. (By the time I finished proofreading this a few weeks after writing it, the Delta variant had led to a large rise in case numbers and some areas have re-implemented pandemic-related restrictions. At least I am vaccinated, but the relatively safer period I thought would get me out of the house as everything reopened and case numbers declined might already be over). I want to get out of the house and enjoy this safer period while I can, but it has been surprisingly challenging to do so. I had the opportunity to go roller skating, go out for locally made ice cream, and had some other really nice moments out of the house this summer. However, I mostly have been at home still, trying desperately to brainstorm and search for more ways to get out of the house and re-start the in-person part of my social life.