Many of us by now have gotten the dreaded text, call, or cryptic app notification: You were in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. If you develop any symptoms, please quarantine immediately.
So, is this inkling of a sore throat a symptom? What about a faint headache and stuffy nose? You’re supposed to see your grandparents this weekend, so should you quarantine on their behalf even if you’re boosted and symptom free?
If you’re fully vaccinated and feeling OK, the CDC essentially leaves it up to your discretion. But plenty of people are once again hunkering down with the arrival of Omicron.
So whether you’ve tested positive for COVID, or are choosing to isolate ahead of seeing grandpa, or simply need some peace of mind before the holidays, here’s a look at a few (healthy) ways to pass the time in quarantine. We asked several public health experts to weigh in with their suggestions.
Dr. David Hamer, a physician at Boston Medical Center and a Boston University epidemiologist, points out that if you live alone, you have more options as far as quarantine activities go. Those quarantining in a household, however, are limited to just one room — and socially distanced time outside.
“If you’re feeling healthy, it’s important to go for walks and runs. I think exercise is really important for one’s mental status,” Hamer said. “Aside from that, I think people should do what they enjoy doing, whether that’s reading a book, watching a movie, or playing a video game.”
Hamer said he and his family got really into jigsaw puzzles while in isolation: “It’s a great way to pass the time and there’s a mental process — it’s more than just watching TV.”
Hamer also suggested a couple of books — although he admits they’re not exactly beach reads. “Biography of Resistance” by BU educator and researcher Muhammad H. Zaman compiles stories about history related to microbiology “but it’s done in a way where I look forward to reading it at night,” he said. “It’s not a dry science book. It’s written in a storytelling style that’s really quite good.” He also recommends “The Great Influenza” by John M. Barry, which examines the 1918 flu pandemic. “It’s really fantastic and interesting to see what happened then, and how similar it is to the situation now in some ways.”
Hamer said he’s had friends who’ve taken up cooking, gardening, or sewing while in quarantine. He warned that one of the biggest dangers of quarantine is becoming stagnant: “Snacking too much, eating low-quality food, not exercising, gaining weight.”
Tufts University professor and World Health Organization advisor Dr. Daniele Lantagne said her quarantines tend to be centered around her kids, ages 5 and 9.
“Work throughout the day to keep the kids in a schedule — with food, exercise, play, activities — that enables the family to get through all the inside days.”
As for media for kids, Lantagne recommends the video game Minecraft, the animated PBS show “Wild Kratts,” as well as the show “Doc McStuffins.”
Boston University epidemiology and global health professor Matthew Fox said he’s had to quarantine once over the course of the pandemic after being exposed to COVID: “It was after vaccination, so I wasn’t concerned about serious effects if I was positive, but I quarantined all the same and never became positive.”
His go-to activities during quarantine? Television, books, and podcasts.
“I found ‘Ted Lasso’ a great pandemic binge,” Fox said. “It had the right feel, upbeat, heartwarming, fun. I also loved ‘Derry Girls’ at the beginning of the pandemic, as well as ‘Catastrophe’ and ‘Fleabag’.”
Fox also said his family has been rewatching “Community,” “New Girl,” and “Happy Endings.”
As for podcasts, Fox said that in addition to the ones he listens to on science and COVID, he also listened to “nearly a year’s worth” of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour.
“I don’t go see many movies, but I like to feel like I know what people are talking about, and it’s great to learn about what’s going on with people who are witty and fun,” Fox said, adding that he’s “obsessed with podcasts,” and records two himself, “so I like to listen to ones that broaden my world.”
Fox said he mastered the Rubik’s Cube while in quarantine — the 3x3, 4x4, and 5x5: “I did it because I knew it would take a lot of time, and I needed to fill a lot of hours those early days.”
Fox also said he tried baking and cooking while in quarantine “but I’d say that was a big miss.” His daughter, he said, picked up knitting and crocheting.
For those feeling well and looking for something productive to do during quarantine, Fox suggested thinking about things you can do for your neighbors and community. His family, for example, has fostered animals.
“We’ve had about 35 different cats with us at various times, most for just a few days, some for as long as a few weeks,” Fox said, adding that when it comes to quarantine, “just be kind to yourself. It’s been a tough few years and we are not finished with it. Reach out to people around you and connect in any way you are comfortable. Keep connections with loved ones.”
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