Quarantine and isolation are classic tools in Public Health’s pandemic toolkit. Mendocino County Public Health has arranged for any individual unable to successfully quarantine/isolate in their home to be provided food and lodging free of charge. Ukiah resident Marcie Brendlen sought the county’s quarantine housing when “my children and I were potentially exposed to the virus through my ex-husband who tested positive.”
Though never displaying symptoms of COVID-19, Brendlen was concerned she could transfer the virus to her mother. “I live with my 70-year-old mother, and I did not want to expose her to the virus after I had been around somebody who had tested positive,” Brendlen explained. She expressed gratitude for the county assisting her in protecting her mother and family. “I love how quickly and promptly [the county] got me into a hotel and away from the person who tested positive,” she told us.
Bekkie Emery, Manager of Mendocino County’ District Operation Center, noted that there are a few circumstances in which an individual would be required to enter a period of quarantine/isolation. She explained, “Someone would either test positive resulting in these individuals going into isolation, or the person would be close contact (closer than 6 feet for more than 10 minutes) of an individual that has tested positive while the person that tested positive was in their infectious period.”
Emery said, “Currently, we encourage people to isolate or quarantine at home when possible. However, it is important to ensure that people needing to isolate or quarantine are able to do so safely in their home away from other household members.” In efforts to provide isolation housing to residents, Emery explained that Public Health “partnered with local hotels and have identified alternate care sites for individuals to stay in while they are isolating or quarantining.”
Brendlen and her two toddlers were housed at a Ukiah hotel from July 10 to July 24 and were told to stay there “for 14 days and not leave the room.” Under the strict guidelines of quarantine, Brendlen said she “was not allowed to have visitors.” She described feeling as if the “front desk wouldn’t deal with me” because “they have a contract with the county, so there are special circumstances.”
When asked how the toddlers reacted to 14 days in quarantine, Brendlan said, “Definitely antsy, bored. They would take everything out of the fridge and ‘reorganize’ it, run from the door to the window and back.” Brendlan described taking it, “one day at a time and order[ing] sticker books and my aunt dropped off hoola hoops. I had my mom bring my 4-year-old [a] backpack with her learning books.” She said by the end of her stay, “there were crumbs all over the floor, but I couldn’t do anything about it because housekeeping wasn’t allowed to come in and clean.”
Emery described the County providing food for quarantined/isolated individuals and having “the rooms cleaned professionally after each stay.”
Brendlen told us, “[M]ost of the time, they call in advance to see what I’d like them to pick up for me in terms of meals for the day.” She alleged that the room was not clean when she moved in, but she recognized “[t]hat’s not the county’s fault, that’s bad housekeeping on the hotel’s part.” Brendlen reported that the hotel did not provide towels or bedding and hoped that Public Health could contract with someone to provide for quarantined/isolated residents adequately.
Emery said that under the Mendocino County blanket quarantine orders, food could be delivered, but there cannot be any interaction with the delivery person. Emery added, “As to family visits, these need to not be in person as the individual needs to isolate/quarantine. They can have visitors by alternative media methods, telephone but can not have any face-to-face contact.”
Brendlen’s most uncomfortable experience staying in county-provided quarantine housing was the garbage pick up procedure. Out of concern the garbage could propagate COVID-19, Brendlen said she was provided a “32-gallon trash can and a few trash bags and told county staff would come and pick up the refuse every few days. Eleven days of quarantine went by as her room began to reek of garbage, so she reached out to her 70-year-old mom who came to the hotel “to drag three full trash bags to the motel’s garbage area. They were so heavy, Bredlen said, that her mother couldn’t lift them into the dumpster.”
Emery recognized that some Mendocino County residents in quarantine/isolation have “had to remain in their room for more than a week, resulting in the need to remove garbage more timely than their release from isolation/quarantine.” She added that the timely garbage pick up “is an area that we have had to figure out as we have progressed through the event, in these situations we have made arrangements to have the garbage removed by the contractor and disposed of appropriately.”
One facet of Brendlen’s quarantine that has puzzled her was being told she would have “to test negative before I would be able to leave.” However, when her two weeks were up, Brendlen said, “Somebody called me and told me to be out of the hotel by 9:00 a.m. and that I did not need to test.”
Emery emphasized the importance of quarantine housing and said the county continues “to evaluate our processes and welcome feedback and suggestions.” As the number of active cases continues to climb, Mendocino County Public Health’s isolation/quarantine procedures will inevitably improve.