VIRUS DIARY: Life with an essential worker is a daily dance

Nation & World News

In this April 6, 2020, photo, shoes that are not allowed inside sit outside the door to Associated Press journalist Janelle Cogan’s Atlanta home. Her boyfriend is an essential worker in the transportation sector, and because he’s not able to work from home in the coronavirus outbreak, they take precautions, including leaving some belongings outside when he comes back in the evenings. (AP Photo/Janelle Cogan)

ATLANTA (AP) — The daily dance begins when he arrives at the door. I meet him, prop the door open and quickly take a few steps backward. I don’t want to get too close yet. He slips off his shoes without touching them and leaves them on the mat outside. His backpack drops to the floor, and I grab a sanitizing wipe to scrub it down.

Once inside, he strips off his outer layer of clothes and carries them gingerly to the washing machine for a cycle set to “sanitize.” He steps into the bathroom and runs a hot shower. I grab more wipes and attack the doorknobs, the washer dial, anything else he might have touched.

We’ve done it so many days in a row now that few, if any, words are needed.

Only when he’s out of the shower do I start to relax. I breathe a bit more naturally and finally ask: “How was your day, honey?”

My boyfriend is an essential worker. He’s in transportation logistics for a trucking company. He still goes to his Atlanta office every day, waking up to a 5:30 a.m. alarm in our bedroom, putting on work attire and heading out the door. His morning routine hasn’t changed much since the coronavirus outbreak grounded me and much of the rest of the world.

I tell myself: His work is important. Among his accounts are a large grocery store chain and a huge computer company with warehouses worldwide. Perhaps now more than ever, shelves need to be stocked. The supply chain can’t be broken. He’s key to getting the goods from Point A to Point B.

But the truth is, I hate it.

I worry constantly that my partner is being exposed to the virus. Is he washing his hands enough at work? Are all of his colleagues in the office and all the truck drivers on the road taking every possible precaution? Does everyone observe social distance when they sit in conference rooms? Does he even use the sanitizing wipes and masks I’m giving him? What about his boss, who until recently was still planning business trips across the country?

We’ve planned together to mitigate the risks as much as possible. He used to take public transportation but now drives my car, since I’m working from home. He has the wipes, the Purell, the masks. We have the after-work routine.

But it’s frustrating and tiring for him after a long day at work, where stress is building. On good days, we get through our dance quickly, like pros. On others, we bicker. He forgot to drop the bag, or I’m still on a work conference call, or we somehow got too close to a neighbor in the hallway of our loft building.

And are these measures even helping? The shoes, the laundry, the shower — does it all even matter?

I ask him every day: “Is there any update on a plan for you to potentially work from home?” But the fact is that he can’t successfully do it all without being in the office to physically check on matters.

When my anxiety gets the better of me, I think of other essential workers — doctors, nurses, grocery and drugstore workers — who have even more direct interaction with the public, and the heroic work they’re doing.

I remind myself: We are so fortunate to have jobs, while many friends in Atlanta and beyond have lost theirs in the shaky economy. We control what we can, the best that we can, in the little home we’ve built here in our three years together.

And then I get ready to navigate the daily dance once again.

___

“Virus Diary,” an occasional feature, will showcase the coronavirus saga through the eyes of Associated Press journalists around the world. Follow Janelle Cogan on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JanelleCogan

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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