We Keep Each Other Safe: Making a Covid Safety Plan for the Real World

Sponsored by Just Us Health.

No one could ever have been prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic; especially in the US, it’s been a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. If we imagine it were possible to be in some way prepared for it, however, we would note that the queer community has a unique set of tools and experiences to navigate this moment. We’re unfortunately well versed in having to figure things out on our own without a ton of guidance or institutional support; we tend to value communication and community very highly, and a whole generation learned from the AIDS epidemic that responding to individual community’s risk factors and needs with information and resources rather than shame is key to keeping people as safe as possible.

Because the experience of the pandemic is so different according to your location and social context, what it looks like to stay as safe as possible and keep those you love safe as well is different for all of us. Depending on the resources available in your city, your health and exposure level, and your options for avoiding risk, your choices might look different. As an example, these graphic explainers from A. Andrews are a great illustration of what living safely during COVID-19 in Minneapolis looks like right now, where I also live:

A. wearing a mask and beanie says “By now, most folks are familiar with COVID-19 and its presence — both in Minnesota and throughout the United States. But like any public health crisis, there can be an overwhelming amount of information floating around. It can be hard to figure out what any of it really means. What is the actual risk? And what do we do when risk becomes reality?” A large coronavirus looms in the center of the panel, and next to it there’s text that reads “What is Covid-19? COVID-19 is an infectious disease that causes viral respiratory illness. The disease is caused by a coronavirus not found in people before. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure with the virus, but it's important to know that not everyone with COVID-19 will experience notable symptoms. For those that do, these symptoms may include shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, headaches, sore throat/loss of taste or smell, body aches/fatigue/chills, and fever/sweats.”
Preventing the spread. Covid-19 is spread through nose and mouth droplets when someone who is infected coughs, sneezes or exhales. The most common way COVID-19 spreads is through close contact with others. While many people experience mild illness, anyone can become severely ill from the virus that causes COVID-19. Risk for severe illness increases with age, but people of any age can get very sick — especially those with underlying medical conditions. Slowing the spread is on us! And that might feel daunting, but fear not. Here are some things you can do to protect yourself and others in your community: Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Stay at home as much as possible. Limit travel to essential trips and work from home if you can. Wear a mask properly fitted over your mouth and nose when in contact with others outside your household. Follow social distancing by maintaining 6 feet in smaller groups. Limit indoor activities and spend shorter amounts of time with others. At the bottom of the panel, A. is chatting with a tall cis white man. They’re both wearing masks. The man says “Wow. This all seems like… a lot. But I do want to protect myself and others” A. replies “These are unprecedented times! The main thing is to do what you can.”
Yeah, but … Am I really at risk? Anyone with a set of lungs has some level of risk in coming into contact with COVID-19, regardless of age or health, but the communities identified as at risk of higher impact may include older folks, immunocompromised and disabled folks, LGBTQ+ folks, unhoused folks, BIPOC folks, and those living in rural communities. A laptop depicts a zoom call below where four queers are in discussion — “At risk of higher impact?!” “Yeah, what gives?” “Does this mean that COVID-19 will make me sicker?” and from a frame with the video turned off “…Is this thing on?”
A. in a Zoom window speaks: “Information is changing all the time as we learn more about the virus, but we know that the risk of severe illness and potential fatality for older adults and immunocompromised folks is greater. And while COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate, we know there are systemic healthcare disparities among people of color, indigenous communities, disabled folks, unhoused folks, AND LGBTQ folks that we can’t ignore. Access to adequate healthcare resources is not the same for everyone. We have to do better. Below, the queer from the earlier call looks distressed “Thats… bleak.” to which A. replies “It’s not great!” The Minnesota Department of Health has set up no-cost COVID-19 community testing. These sites offer FREE testing for all folks whether you have symptoms, have been exposed, or just want to get tested. A cute queer with long brown hair and a jean jacket pipes in “How do I know if I even need a test?” to which A. replies “Great question! Let’s talk!”
A. peers in at the top left and says “Can’t make it too a testing site? You’ve still got options!” A shaved head queer looks excited and says “No way, really?!” AT HOME TESTING: Minnesota and Vault Medical Services also offer at-home COVID-19 saliva testing. When you’re ready, a health care worker will walk you through it via a video visit. When you’re done, you send your sample in a prepaid package. You can expect results 24-48 hours after your sample is received.” A. chimes in “Whatever testing option you choose, the most important part is what you do while you wait for your results.” Below a triptych of the shaved head queer shows them watching a movie on their iPad, listening to music and napping on the couch. “Testing can only tell us whether or not we have COVID-19 at the time of testing. So the best thing you can do while you wait is minimize any potential risk. The best way to do it? Staying at home, and away from others.”
TESTING! We've come a long way in these long months regarding testing for COVID-19. Testing options are more and more readily available and easy to access when needed. But how do we know when it’s needed? Generally, people who do not have symptoms or exposure concerns don’t actually need to be tested for COVID-19. However! If you’re concerned about an exposure, are at risk due to housing or work environments, or are caring for folks who are more vulnerable/at risk there are testing options for you.” A testing nurse is poised with a testing q-tip at the ready and says “While testing is covered in most situations, some can cost you money. The Minnesota Department of Health’s community testing sites offer drive/up walk up COVID-19 testing at no cost. None at all!” WHAT TO EXPECT AT A TESTING LOCATION: Generally you can schedule an appointment, or walk in/drive up to a community testing site and be tested. You should bring a mask with you if you are able. And while all community test sites will test at zero cost to you, if you do have insurance coverage you should bring a copy of your insurance card. A health care worker may begin your visit with a quick screening. All sites are clean and spacious for social distancing. Your sample will be collected and sent for lab testing. Nasal testing may feel a little odd, but isn’t painful. For this test, a health care worker will gently insert a long swab into your nose to collect a sample for testing. Saliva testing can be more comfortable than nasal testing and just as accurate. For this test, you’ll collect a spit sample to submit for testing.

We have a pretty intense winter here that means outside socializing isn’t super fun, so I only see members of my two-household pod in person for now. Minnesota has contracted with Vault Health to provide free self-directed saliva testing at locations throughout the city, so I get tested every two weeks or so and if I think I may have had an exposure, isolating from the rest of my pod until I get the results. These things may or may not be the case for you; here are some things to think about to get a fuller picture of what your own situation and options look like!

What are your risk factors and those of your loved ones, pod or broader community?

Do you have to work outside the home? If so, can others in your home or life limit their outside exposure to help mitigate the risk to you, themselves and others? Do you or loved ones have health conditions that put you at higher risk for COVID complications – or that mean you’re at risk of being impacted by the overload on healthcare resources? If so, can you make a plan with your doctor(s) to try to address your care in the event you need a medical intervention? Are there people in your pod, family, or broader community who are at higher risk than you, and ways you can show up for them – like volunteering to deliver meals to elderly and immunocompromised folks, or helping older people in your life figure out how to get their prescriptions delivered rather than picking them up? There are likely distanced ways you can get involved with mutual aid efforts in your area; we all have unique risk factors right now and we also all have unique skills and resources, and a mutual aid network can help match those up.

What information do you need about your community? What are your testing options?

Do you have a reliable community resource hub to find out key information in your area about covid? In Minneapolis, we have this resource from Just Us Health; have you found a trusted source, whether it’s a community organization, local news outlet, state resource, or medical resource that collects information you need about testing options, COVID spread trends, and the latest recommendations for safety and distancing?

The basics to know are: staying masked AND six feet away from others who are also masked is the best way to stay healthy; spread is much more likely in indoor environments, especially ones with heavy exertion or breathing (like gyms) or eating and drinking (like bars or restaurants). Wearing a mask protects you somewhat, both from infection and severity of symptoms; other people wearing masks protects you much more.

If you do think you might have been exposed, the best time to get tested is five days after potential exposure; infection may not be detectable until then, and you should isolate for that time and until you get test results. The current recommendation for quarantine is 10 days; if you think you may have been exposed or have decided to take on a new level of exposure for something or break quarantine, ten days is the right amount of time to self-isolate before interacting with other people without masks again. There are likely other good pieces of info to know (and share!) specific to your location – if you have a good resource hub for your area, we’d love to share it with others in the comments!

How can you communicate with others about safety?

The ideal would be for all of us to be able to stay within our households and leave only every ten days for essential supplies, masked; the reality is that especially as this pandemic has worsened over ten months due to extreme negligence from our leaders, many of us have to work outside the home to survive, are being pressured to return to work even if we aren’t essential workers, need to care for family or loved ones impacted by COVID, and/or are trying to navigate things like socializing or dating with the knowledge that people are approaching the pandemic with radically different levels of precaution. Much like communication around sex or STIs, it can feel uncomfortable; also much like communication around sex or STIs, it’s crucial for your safety and to show respect and care for yourself and everyone around you. Especially as winter deepens and distanced outdoor socializing or work are less possible for a lot of us, it’s a good time to practice using phrases to communicate about your boundaries and exposure risks and invite others to do the same, like:

  • I’m excited for our date! I feel good about staying distanced for now, and if we both decide we want to get closer, isolating for 10 days beforehand. Let me know what you’re thinking!
  • Hi, it’s so good to see you! Would you be ok with also wearing a mask? Here, I have one in my bag you can have!
  • Just wanted to check in – my roommate is going to visit her family for Christmas, so I’m going to isolate from her inside the house by both of us staying in our bedrooms, not using shared spaces or eating at the same time and using masks if we need to be outside our rooms. Does that feel ok to you/would you prefer me to isolate from the rest of the pod for 10 days after she gets back? Is anyone from your household traveling for the holidays?
  • I’m super into you, can’t wait to hook up on Friday – just to check in, your roommate knows about my pod size and she’s ok with it? I can get tested on Tuesday and results will likely be back by Thursday if either of you would feel more comfortable with that!
  • Hey, just wanted to let you know – my boss had her mask loop break and fall off while we were in the walk-in together at work, and I’m not sure when she was last tested or what her home life is like. Five days from now would be Wednesday; I’m going to try to get tested then, but let’s plan to isolate from each other for now and I’ll check in when I know more?

What resources like the Just Us COVID resource hub would you recommend? We’d love to see them in the comments!

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.

7 Comments

  1. A U.S. News article from October 2, 2020 said
    “A negative [COVID] test within less than seven days after exposure ‘is a very, very poor indicator of whether you have virus on board,’ said Dr. Alan Wells of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Some tests are less accurate than others, and you have to factor in the incubation period, he said. A negative test between seven and 10 days of exposure is a better indicator, Wells said, but even then some people might not test positive until later.”
    https://www.usnews.com/news/news/articles/2020-10-02/how-long-could-i-be-contagious-before-a-positive-virus-test

    Has this changed to 5 days? If so, can someone link an article with evidence for that?

  2. Hi, I am one of JustUs Health’s COVIDline workers! If you live in Minnesota call us at 612-254-0116, we answer calls Monday through Friday 9am-5pm central time, and you can leave a voicemail after hours! We can answer questions about COVID, set up testing appointments, refer you to community organizations, and mail you free PPE kits containing items like face masks, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes!

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