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Coronavirus and Roommates: Thoughts for the (Over)cautious

You're not being fearful. You're being smart.

COVID-19 has already generated some heated discussions between my partner and me. I tend towards over-cautiousness. He tends towards under-cautiousness. We’ve had to negotiate how we want to interact not only with each other (since we’re now spending the vast majority of our time within the confines of our home), but also how we each interact with others. Should he go see his parents? How often should we go to the grocery store? Is it ok for friends to come over?

Because I tend to be on the cautious side, I’d like to share some of the things that skew me towards more caution currently:

  • While those who are 65+ and immunocompromised are at the highest risk of death, 20-29 year old’s are most likely to be carriers of coronavirus. Of all Americans, I am in the age group most likely to pass coronavirus to someone else. To me, this means I should be among the most cautious Americans.
  • 40% of Americans hospitalized for coronavirus so far are aged 20-54. If the current rate of increase continues, we will reach a point where the US will run out of hospital beds. While I won’t likely die, if I am infected and go to the hospital, I’m taking a hospital bed from someone else.
  • Experts expect 40-70% of Americans will get coronavirus, and a report which motivated a policy shift in the President’s administration estimates that 2 million Americans could die from the virus directly, with an additional 2 million dying because of an overwhelmed healthcare system.
  • It can take 2 weeks for symptoms to show. That means that, if I discover I have coronavirus, I will have spent the last two weeks possibly giving it to anyone I came into contact with, and it will be too late for me to take it back.
  • The United States continues (as of data on March 18 and March 19) to be on track with Italy for the increasing number of cases.

All this being said, guidance on what to do and what not to do from experts varies a bit. All professionals recommend against large groups or interacting with older or immunocompromised persons. But after this, advice comes on a spectrum. Some experts say you may be fine to see friends in small groups with limited physical interactions. Others say to just stay home except to grocery shop and to not let anyone over. With these little differences, you’ll have to negotiate with roommates who may differ from you in approaching interactions with others.

Cautious? Or smart?

I have one friend who expressed to a roommate concerns about having guests over. The roommate responded that he appreciated my friend sharing his “fears.” While some hysteria is certainly expressing itself currently, I don’t believe that an abundance of caution has to be simply fear.

Rather, I think it’s important to frame caution as (a) putting the needs of the community before your personal lifestyle and (b) following the guidance of medical and public health professionals. You are not being fearful. You are being smart. Don’t be afraid to say this.

Still, it’s helpful if you can come to a mutual understanding and agreement. Arguments that just result in someone unhappily caving to another’s will don’t make for good relationships, particularly in a time when we’ll all be spending a lot of time with our roommates. So it’s helpful to have a method of mediation.

The Professionals

One point of disagreement between my partner and I has been on which professionals to follow. I obviously tend towards those who say not to leave the house unless necessary, not to visit family or friends, and not to have anyone over. He feels a need to visit some family and friends and has focused on seeing in-person only a small list of people. I say he’s not being cautious enough. He says I’m confusing social distancing with quarantining.

One way we’ve resolved some of these issues has been by relying on people who actually know what they’re talking about. On a number of questions, we’ve reached out to medical and public health professionals we both know and trust for advice. We’ve had to say: “I probably won’t change how I feel, but if they’re ok with it, then I can be ok with it.”

This is an agreement we came to after quite a bit of discussion. It may not work for you. You need to determine (ideally based on the best evidence available) what you are comfortable with for yourself and those with whom you are in close contact. If your roommates care about you, they should understand that these are unusual times, and we need to put each other in positions where we both feel safe and are actually safe. While we need to engage the world in some way to stay emotionally, socially, and spiritually healthy, we should be aware that every action during this time will have an impact on our friends, families, and neighbors. And what is safest may be what we find uncomfortable and inconvenient.

If you and your roommates can’t come to an agreement, you may just want to consider moving out. Most likely, the worst is yet to come. When it does come, you need to be with people you trust.


Other articles on roommates and the coronavirus:

“These stories often end with some variation of, ‘Am I overreacting? I don’t want to be dramatic…’ You know what’s dramatic? A global pandemic.”

Rachel Miller, VICE

Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops. 

2 comments on “Coronavirus and Roommates: Thoughts for the (Over)cautious

  1. Pingback: Thriving in the Midst of Pandemic: Week 1 – Chris Damian

  2. Pingback: “Catholics can choose whether to put ourselves at risk” – Chris Damian

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