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Roommate Etiquette in the COVID-19 Crisis

[Updated: Jan 08, 2021 ] Apr 17, 2020 by Lena Katz
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A sign is posted at the entry points of Eagle's Nest -- a spacious share rental that houses three Las Vegas 30-something professionals, plus a part-time fourth roommate who's there one week out of the month.

"House Residents Only Beyond This Point," it announces in large font. Smaller type clarifies: "No guests allowed. No exceptions. Guests are to remain in the garage area, which has been designated as the only hang-out spot."

Several weeks before states began going into official lockdown, many people who keep abreast of international events had trained a wary eye on the COVID-19 outbreaks sweeping across Asia and Europe, anticipating the virus's arrival into the States.

Some households took social distancing measures more seriously than others, especially those with residents with underlying medical conditions. Even more than apartment or condo living, home-share situations necessitate a high level of safety consciousness during a pandemic

Adult housemates/co-living

In this household's case, the part-time occupant, a natural medicine doctor, was among multiple trendcasters in the home who identified that COVID-19 might seriously impact public health and took early steps to safeguard against it. All the roommates agreed, taking to their new lifestyle with a mix of humor and pragmatism and total commitment.

"We are kind of prepared for everything, on a total sliding scale of 'OK to be relaxed, but aware,' to 'Someone in house has it; here's what we do,'" says Jack Colton, who posted the pandemic house rules to his social media channels back in March. Beyond the "no guests allowed" mandate, those rules include:

  • Shoes stay outside.
  • Anything brought in (food, packages, etc.) gets washed properly.
  • If anyone goes to a store or public place, they have to immediately wash hands, then shower and put clothes in washer.
  • Always stay stocked up on two weeks' worth of food in case there's a total lockdown.

While these protective measures triggered a storm of questions and commentary from Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) friends when first posted, six weeks later they've become the norm for most homes. Granted, most households have slid into them gradually, nudged by news headlines, "flattening the curve" PSAs, and social media hysteria. But for households where adults without family ties share living space, it's a sensible and considerate thing to have clearly delineated rules that all must abide.

Eagle's Nest is set up as an entrepreneur house where occupants are collaborative and friendly and have the use of shared assets (podcast stations, camera equipment, and health and wellness equipment like an infrared sauna). But to keep it this way, the house itself must be a safe space.

Sharing space with families

Individuals living with family groups sometimes need to impose stricter rules on themselves to provide an extra safety cushion to younger or elderly residents. Alex Outhred, who got stuck on the East Coast when New York's lockdown occurred while he was there on a seasonal holiday from work, has been quarantining for more than four weeks, but in two different houses. His first was in an all-adult household, but after moving to a guest house where the main house has a family, he is in a self-imposed full quarantine for two more weeks. His practices include:

  • Always maintaining a 10-foot distance from others on the property (though Outhred still helps with outdoor chores and other caretaking responsibilities).
  • Wearing a mask and gloves at all times when outside of his quarters.
  • Using some outdoor furniture reserved for him while the family uses other pieces.
  • Minimal to no shopping -- only once every two weeks for essentials, and always wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) to go out.

After the quarantine period, Outhred says restrictions will ease up and he'll enter the house at times and interact with the other folks living on property -- though perhaps never in extremely close quarters.

A brief history of quarantine in America

Though all of this seems like an extreme new way to live, there's a history of quarantine and isolation on none other than the CDC's official website. Quarantine is a method of infectious disease prevention that dates back to the 14th century, and it has been federally legislated in times of national emergency since the late 19th century.

While its extreme requirements and lengthy durations have fired up countless arguments in the COVID-19 day and age, it's one of the most effective means of stopping infectious disease transmission for which treatments and vaccines have not yet been invented.

Social distance = social responsibility

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about social distancing is that if one person in a situation doesn't abide by it, then it doesn't work for anyone. However, while rules for families might be a bit squishier, in house-share or co-living situations, they should be well delineated and socially responsible, the same as financial obligations and other hygiene and security practices.

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Randi Zuckerberg, a former director of market development and spokeswoman for Facebook and sister to its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Lena Katz has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.