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.
Something I cannot stop fixating on lately is how much time I have been spending at home this year and how much I wish I did not have to stay home. As much as I try to focus on what I am able to do from home, I keep being reminded of all the plans I had before the pandemic started that were canceled and activities that I love to do that I cannot do safely right now. I’m someone who is at a very high risk of experiencing a severe case of COVID-19. I was born with a very rare set of birth defects called VATER, which impacts my respiratory system and digestive system in ways that make viruses harder for my body to fight. I’ve always taken longer than the average person to recover from most colds. While I seem to have avoided COVID-19 so far, I’ve had other types of upper respiratory infections prior to the pandemic. I was even hospitalized for a few days due to an upper respiratory infection a few years ago. I know what it is like to be really sick from a virus, so I have been staying home almost constantly to avoid this one, even when places in my area briefly re-opened.
I’ve known since before the pandemic started that I don’t like staying home for long periods of time. As a kid, I would often ask my parents to take me places on the weekends, with school getting me out of the house on weekdays. Sometimes, I did not even care where we went as long as I did not have to sit around the house all day. Even just getting out of the house by going out on a bike ride down familiar routes for a bit can feel amazing sometimes, but I also like going to places I have not been to before. I really wanted to travel the world more this year after visiting the West Coast for the first time last year, but then the pandemic started. I’ve tried to at least step outside my doorway or go on a walk when the weather is nice, which is better than nothing, but not the same as what I had been looking forward to this year.
I find myself missing the smallest things lately and feeling nostalgic for the places, people, and activities of my past. I miss hugging my teammates back when I participated in spoken word poetry competitions in high school. I didn’t like hugs as much when I was younger, but I started to really enjoy them at that point in my life. I miss the goodbye hugs I used to share with family members before heading home when I visited them. I miss being able to visit family and friends in general, especially with Thanksgiving and other holidays coming up that we used to be able to spend together safely. I’ve found myself missing playing sports now that the fall weather is reminding me of the years I spent evenings this time of year on the soccer field. I haven’t played any sports in a few years, but I’m really starting to crave playing them again. I also see my roller skates in my room every day and miss the feeling of skating around an indoor rink, which I have not done in years, despite owning my own pair of skates. Sometimes, I even miss the less pleasant experiences of my past that would have at least gotten me out of the house and interacting with other people.
I had made so many plans to spend time with friends and family in-person before the pandemic started. I definitely struggled to build friendships as a kid, but some of it was just me overthinking what it can mean to be friends and not pushing myself to practice small interactions. In the last couple of years, I had started putting more effort into interacting with people and built not only new friendships but rekindled old ones by reaching out to people I had not spoken to recently. The very same week my area started implementing COVID-19 restrictions at the beginning of the pandemic, I had previously made plans to spend time with one of my friends in-person that week that I had not seen in a while. I had been chatting with another friend around that time about going to a concert together and we had almost bought tickets. Sometimes, I wonder what would have been if we had been able to have these small interactions in-person after all over the last few months.
I still chat with people virtually, but the more I try to be social online only instead of a mix of virtual and in-person, the more I notice what is missing. At first, I was really excited by how many conferences had moved online, some running this year for free, which now made them more accessible if they had been too geographically far away or expensive to easily have attended before. However, the more I attended online conferences, I started to realize how many tiny, yet meaningful social interactions that occur at an in-person conference were missing from the virtual ones. For example, one of the biggest moments from when I attended Vidcon in-person last year was talking to someone else who had the Creator Track badge while waiting in-line for the bathroom only to find out their YouTube channel had millions of subscribers while I only had a little over a thousand at the time. We still related to each other so much despite the large difference in our audience size. That feeling of being able to easily and deeply relate to each other’s experiences kept happening throughout the conference when I talked to fellow creators in person that year, regardless of how long we had been creating or our audience size. I also met someone who is a cameraperson for one of my favorite content creators without realizing it at first while waiting in the registration line at Vidcon, simply because we started talking to each other about the camera gear we were holding at that moment. I ended up being an interviewee for a documentary months after Vidcon that someone I met while walking between the hotel and the convention center was working on. There were so many people I had meaningful interactions with simply while in the hallways or waiting for parts of the event to start. While I still was able to learn from the panelists at virtual Vidcon this year and greatly enjoyed some of the sessions, I just kept thinking about all those little in-person moments from the previous year that are hard to replicate virtually. Some virtual conferences other than Vidcon recently have not provided a way for fellow attendees to chat with each other at all. I love going to conferences not only to hear from speakers but directly talk to people in those spaces. It feels strange for some conferences now to just consist of simultaneously watching a live stream with fellow attendees and nothing else.
Another big thing I have wanted to do lately that I can’t do safely during the pandemic is start dating again. My last romantic relationship ended months ago and I felt ready to date again. I’ve tried online dating, but I really miss the aspects of being in a relationship that is also hard to replicate virtually. I miss going on a date that does not depend just on keeping a conversation going the way online dating often does, such as the moments of simply doing things together you get on a date to the movie theater or natural pauses in conversation that happen when eating at a restaurant together. I miss physical interactions as small as going on walks while holding hands. As much as I sometimes make little eye contact (I’m someone who can intensely stare while other times do not look someone in the eye subconsciously), I even miss just looking someone in the eye not through a screen or face shield. I used to think it was awkward when doctors started off appointments shaking your hand, but now that I have been to a few in-person doctor appointments where they no longer shake your hand, I miss even that small moment of physical contact with another person.
I’ve realized I also really miss physically interacting with dogs and cats. My house is not pet-friendly and I couldn’t afford a pet right now anyway, but growing up, a lot of my friends and relatives had pets. I was definitely someone who pre-pandemic would ask to pet your dog if we walked by each other and you did not seem in a hurry. Pet photos can still make me smile, but it’s not the same as feeling a purring cat laying on your lap.
I know I should still avoid all of these types of interactions and stay home when I can to avoid COVID-19. At the time I am writing this, cases are spiking both locally and globally. Sometimes, I think if I stop taking precautions now, all the months I forced myself to stay home will have been for nothing. However, there is also a part of me who sees other people interacting in person as if the pandemic is not still going on and wants to take those same risks myself. It’s getting harder to convince myself to just stay home the more I find myself missing the places, activities, and people I cannot interact with as easily or as deeply from home. I find myself lately sometimes almost forgetting to grab my mask before leaving the house and having to walk back in my room to get it after already being in the doorway to leave. Back when the pandemic started, I was the one reminding the other people I live with not to forget their masks. It’s as if my mind wants to forget the pandemic is happening and just return to what I used to be able to enjoy doing, but just because I want to do those things does not make them safe to do right now. I find myself hoping for the vaccines to be ready soon and quickly distributed while also wishing the process of checking the data to make sure those vaccines are safe and effective is not rushed. I also know that even if the vaccines were ready tomorrow, there will still be the risk of getting sick from something other than COVID-19. I’m the employee who pre-pandemic got really sick at a previous job a few days after my supervisor came to work sick. I’m the student who, along with a few other students, caught a different strain of the flu than was in the vaccine one year when my professor came to class sick. Of anyone, I know what happens when people do not take precautions for the sake of public health, and yet, I crave going back to the time where we interacted with each other without constantly being afraid of a virus. I miss when it was just in the back of my mind instead of something I am reminded of multiple times a day. I hope things like not coming to work sick and better systems to allow employees to take time off when they are sick are maintained when the pandemic finally ends, but I long for the day where we can hug someone outside of who we live with, gather in groups in-person again, travel to new places for fun, and walk around without wearing masks.