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Returning to Work Part 3: Billy Mathis Asks, ‘Where do We Go from Here?”

By Billy Mathis, FCSI, CDT posted 10-26-2020 12:52

Where do we go from here? In my previous blogs, I discussed what we did in response to the spread of the pandemic, and then to what we were looking at as the “New Norm.”

In this third installment, I am going to give you some insight into the daily life of my family. Hopefully this will give you time to think about your daily life and how you will cope with the new environment.

To begin with, I must tell you my family and I operate under the premise that at some point we will be exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Whether we catch it or not will depend on many variables, but we are relying on our actions and common sense to help us avoid contracting the disease for as long as possible. With that in mind let me tell you about our day.

Workday Beginnings:
Most workdays start with my alarm at 6 a.m. I do my morning readiness actions such as taking a shower, brushing my teeth, taking my morning medications, etc.  (Some things are TMI and don’t need more detail). Then I prepare my breakfast, pack my lunch and head to work. It is about a 20-minute drive.

My wife sleeps till around 7am where she gets up and does her morning readiness actions (which includes having to placate two cats). She then gets dressed as appropriate for the weather, says good morning again to our cats (who pretty much ignore me because I am not their source of snacks), eats her breakfast and goes to our “Computer Room” (AKA back bedroom) for her day online.

Actual Workdays:
I usually arrive at work around 7:00 to 7:15 a.m. I put on my mask, gather my things and ride the elevator to the 3rd floor, where I put my lunch in the fridge and heat up my breakfast, unless I have stopped by Chick-Fil-A and gotten a breakfast sandwich and OJ. I then go to my desk, turning off the extraneous lights that automatically come on in the morning and turning on the copier along the way. When I get to my desk, I take the mask off and eat my breakfast.

Around 7:30 a.m. I start reading emails, then plan my day based on upcoming deadlines and the emails received. During the day, I spend a great deal of time at my desk. However, I have to coordinate with people, print and pick-up information, and sometimes walk around to wake up.

Every time I get up from my desk I put my mask back on, do what I need to do, and sanitize my hands with the sanitizer I keep on my desk, then remove my mask and get to work. If anyone comes over, I put my mask back on so we can talk. At lunch, I put my mask on, go to our breakroom, get my lunch, heat it up, then sanitize my hands, remove my mask, and eat.

If I go up to our 4th floor “Skydeck” to eat, and if anyone else has the same idea, we make our best effort to sit a minimum of 6 – 8 feet apart, since our masks are off. Once we are done, we put our masks back on and continue the conversation or go back to our desks where we go through the same process. Whenever I pass one of the self-dispensing sanitizer stations, I use it. I sanitize or wash my hands at least 15 to 20 times a day.

On the other hand, my wife is still working from home. While this has its advantages—she is not exposed to other people—looking at the same four walls and two cats 24 hours a day is rough on people mentally. She reports to work electronically at or just before 8:00 a.m. She then sets up her workload and begins the day. Taking breaks along the way and trying to keep the cats from walking on the keyboard are her biggest challenges.

The work is consistent, however, her only contact with other people is by email or phone. At lunch, she goes to the fridge and sometimes prepares leftovers, or something simple like a sandwich. Other times she takes the time to cook something simple like soup or frozen dinners. She only needs to put on a mask if the mail person or some other delivery person comes to the door.

End of the Workday:
I work a 9-hour day Monday through Thursday and a 4-hour day on Friday. This means I get off work around 6:00 p.m. and have the same 20 – 30 minute drive home depending on the traffic. To get to my car, I put on my mask, then walk to the elevator. At the 1st floor, I stop by the auto dispenser and sanitize my hands. I then go out the door and open my car.

Before I remove my mask inside my car, I sanitize my hands one more time. I then remove my mask and drive home. Once there, I change into my leisure clothes and wash my hands. We then prepare dinner and spend our evening watching TV, doing chores, or sitting around talking.

My wife works a 30-hour week, normally divided into four 6-hour days and a 4-hour day on Friday. She gets two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch, which means she roughly works from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8:00 a.m. to Noon on Friday. Then she does chores, plays with the cats, thinks about dinner and then executes whatever plan she has till I get home.

In the beginning, weekends were filled with house chores (or honey-dos). We really didn’t go anywhere unless forced to get food or other essentials. Now we take short, in-state trips to places that can be driven to and back in one day. We will go to a department store, a grocery store, and even a restaurant. Obviously, we wear masks everywhere and carry hand sanitizer.

What we have noticed is most places have what we lovingly call ”cleaning stations,” with hand sanitizer, some bleach water or other cleansing solution to wash down handles on baskets or carts, and cleansing solution to wash your hands. People for the most part are leaving around 6-feet between each other, but close encounters are inevitable, which is why we wear our masks. 

In restaurants, we wear our masks until the wait staff brings our drinks and food. The restaurants are having a tough time of it. They must only seat 1/3 to 1/2 normal occupancy and “uber clean” everything between each group. They will be wearing gloves and masks all the time. One thing I’ve noticed is that if anything touches the table (food or fork), it is not consumed or used. It is set aside and tossed when they clean up the dishes. Because of all the precautions the servers have to take, I tip more abundantly to help support them. 

To answer the question I raised – “where do we go from here” I have to try and see into the future.  I have full confidence that at some point in the future a vaccine will come out and the impact of COVID-19 on people will be reduced. Will it ever go away? I don’t think so. It will be out there like the flu and other viruses.  Once a vaccine is released and people get vaccinated against it (even if it is annually like the flu shot), then we will move back a little more towards the “old normal.”  I honestly don’t think we will every go back to what was the “old normal.”

We have seen now what a pandemic can do both to our health and financial well-being. We have seen it almost take this country to its financial knees and so far been at least partially responsible for thousands of deaths. People may not wear masks every second of every day, but I guarantee they will have them ready if they need them.

The idea of people thinking, “I am only feeling a little off and can go to work,” will be replaced by employers enforcing sick days, and making people go home if they don’t feel good. Restaurants may fill up again, however, I don’t think they will “pack the house” like they used to.

Events such as concerts and sports contests will start back but it will be slow to fill the venues like they were, if we ever go back to “standing room only.” Schools at all levels will have smaller classrooms, will be prepared to go virtual when needed (snow days will be gone), and some classes at all levels may be virtual all the time.

Finally, there will be more virtual meetings held, more training conducted at individual desks in lieu of training rooms, and conventions will be spread out more and people will be more wary of bunching together with strangers.

Fundamentally, our mindset has changed, and our feeling of invulnerability is gone. One thing is true, we need to remember and learn from the mistakes made this time as the next pandemic might be worse.