On Quarantine and Cabin Fever

image from survivetheflu.com
image from survivetheflu.com

With the Swine Flu news is coming talk of possible quarantines.

When I was a kid my family was quarantined by the county health department because my baby sister contracted whooping cough at less than a month old and more than one of the rest of us were carriers. We were pulled out of school in the middle of the day and escorted home.We were not supposed to leave or have anyone over. Homework got deposited in our milk box where we would retrieve it when the deliverer had gone. Thankfully there were medications we could take and the quarantine period was under a week—just until we weren’t contagious anymore. But what about a disease there is not medication for? How would that be dealt with? How long would a quarantine need to be in place to be effective? And what would you do with all that time isolated from society?

The Federal Government and most state and local governments have the authority to quarantine someone who they believe has a disease that could cause a public health hazard. These government-ordered quarantines can last hours or weeks until the quarantined individual is no longer believed to be a threat to the health of others. This doesn’t happen too often on the Federal level, the most recent case being Andrew Speaker who was quarantined in a hospital in Denver in 2007, thought to have a drug resistant strain of Tuberculosis.

In the case of a true pandemic, there will be too many affected individuals to quarantine them all in hospitals. Individuals will likely be requested to self-quarantine if someone in the household is sick. This means the whole household should stay home to make sure nobody else is infected and to keep the disease from spreading. The length of time you would need to be isolated depends on the incubation period and contagious stage length of the disease, and of course what is recommended by health care providers. A recent computer model for studying pandemic flu outbreaks in Georgia found that an 8 week quarantine period would be most effective in stopping the spread of the disease. A 4 week quarantine was as effective as closing schools for 6 weeks. So we’re probably looking at period of weeks rather than days.

You could also choose to “reverse quarantine” by isolating your healthy family before any of you are exposed to whatever disease is going around. How long you stay in your quarantine is up to you, but if an infected person is quarantined 8 weeks, you could easily need to stay isolated 3 months or more for the risk of infection to subside.

Obviously you will need to be able to meet your family’s food and basic sanitation needs during this extended period. Besides health and food supplies in your pandemic preparations, you might also think of “preparing” things you can do at home with your family if you all are stuck there with each other and nobody else for the duration of the quarantine. You might as well enjoy your time together (which to me means NOT sitting around watching the news). It will be especially important for children to have a sense of normalcy or even that it is a special time rather than the stressful time a pandemic or other extended disaster could be. So here’s a few suggestions for beating “cabin fever” during a quarantine.

Of course if the power’s on you can resort to video games, computer, TV, etc., but I’d use these sparingly—especially if news reports are disturbing. You’ll want to keep a positive atmosphere in your home.

Play board games or card games. There are even “junior” versions of classic games like Clue, Pictionary, and Scrabble for the younger ones. Here’s a huge resource for card game rules. Just make sure you have a couple of decks on hand.

Play charades, make music, draw, paint, or write something. Build a puzzle or two or ten. Read books or download audio books to listen to. Build a city out of legos. Sew, crochet, knit. Set up your tent and “camp” in your living room. Build a model. Work on books of crossword puzzles, word searches, etc. You get the idea. If noise increases your stress level, take that into consideration before planning to build paper plate and dry bean tambourines. ;)

Those of you in the country or more rural areas may be able to get out in the yard, so take advantage of outdoor games if you can.

If you’re in for an extended stay, maybe it’s time to take up that hobby you’ve always wanted to learn but never had time to—just make sure you have supplies on hand so you don’t have to go out in public. (Here’s me buying knitting needles and yarn and a book on how to knit.)

Educational supplies would be good to have on hand also so the kids’ brains don’t turn to mush

Daughter's emergency fun can
Daughter's emergency fun can

Have a few things tucked away that will be “new” when you need something new. A new coloring book, non hardening clay, colored pencils, a game, watercolor paints—think of things that could store for long periods before they get used. We’ve “canned” some fun items for each of our kids in an emergency can. We did this at a preparedness fair, but it could also be done by renting the canner from your local dry pack cannery or just using Ziploc bags or a box would also work. Stuff the can with fun non-perishable games or activities and seal it up. I honestly can’t remember what all is in them—I know I put crochet stuff in my girls’ cans and I think a puzzle, but I know that’s not all because the cans were full before they were sealed, so it will be new to all of us when they need to be opened.

You know who you’ll be quarantined with–brainstorm some age appropriate activities, make yourself a list, and make sure you’ve got the supplies on hand ahead of time for a variety of activities.

Most of these ideas can be used for any extended emergency situation, whether you’re quarantined or not. And if you don’t end up needing them for an emergency, you’ll have them for some lazy Saturday instead.

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