Virus Diaries 2: Texas’ Two Step Reopening and My Father

On April 13th a friend posted that his father, who lives in a New Jersey retirement community, was moving in with a friend. The community had 13 COVID-19 positive staff members and there had been multiple deaths among residents.  He described his gratefulness that his father’s friend had opened his home and lamented our national response: “This is a nightmare.”

Yesterday, a mere two weeks later in a different part of the country, the Texas governor began promoting a two-step plan for reopening the state. It begins this week with retail and restaurants. He didn’t call it the Texas Two Step, but from my vantage point it sounds like a dance with the devil.  Okay, maybe you’re right. Compared to some plans for re-opening, aka Georgia’s, I suppose it could be worse.  In Texas, not everything opens all at once. There are limitations for how many individuals can be in a retail store; there is guidance on being six feet apart, and using hand sanitizer. (Masks are only mentioned for those working with elders.) What’s not to like. People are cheering Governor Abbot as a hero…except for those that aren’t. ( In reality, his “plan” passes the buck to business owners and individual employees. Open and go to work or stay closed at the peril of your livelihood. Neither your state nor federal government will back you up to do what is best for public health. Without clear guidance, all those Texans longing for a beer at the corner bar or an enchilada they don’t have to cook will be back in circulation.  Haircuts and manicures are just a week or so away. Hang in there, ladies! With this guidance, it is up to individual business owners to decide whether to stick to their social distancing guns or cave to hurried, entitled customers who may defect to a not-so-strict competitor. 

Even on April 13th, well before anyone was discussing the Texas plan, my friend’s post brought up the grief that I have carried throughout this pandemic. It is the loss of certainty in the decisions I made for my father last summer. Finally at age 98, after a series of small strokes and blood clots, my father reluctantly moved into an assisted living facility.  After he had agreed, he started revisiting the decision. With the endorsement of everyone I know, I took the reins and told him, “Daddy, that horse is out of the barn. No going back now.” He knows about barns and horses and accepted the new reality. He’s become beloved in his community, made friends, and has created a little life that consists of bingo, cocktail parties with very weak cocktails, and other small pleasures that are punctuated by my monthly visits. Those visits ended abruptly in March. Now six weeks later, my father asks every day when I am coming. Every day I tell him I don’t know and explain why. Then, he says, “Maybe you’ll know when you call tomorrow.”  I reply, “Maybe I will, Daddy. I hope so.”  It is the best we can do. 

On-line, I see people debating back and forth about the merits of Governor Abbot’s plan. “We can’t stay home forever. We’ll develop herd immunity.” Or the converse, “Re-opening is too big a risk. The models show what happens with 20 percent opening, 50 percent opening, and none of it looks good.” Thus far, nobody is talking about my dad or others like him. Nobody talks about the fact that the Governor’s Two Step, and other re-opening schemes, only make his and other elders’ lives worse. Not even the most rabid proponents of reopening would suggest reinstating visits in assisted living, skilled nursing facilities, VA centers, or hospitals. Yet, those wonderful staff to whom I am indebted for their tender, daily care of my father will, within days, be going out to dinner or shopping on their days off as will their friends and family with whom they will certainly gather. Who could blame them? Yet, with each human interaction his caregivers have with others, my father’s risk of contracting the virus, dying alone, and, as of this morning, not even getting a proper military burial increases. To what benefit? His portfolio may improve, but his loneliness extends.

On Easter Sunday, my husband and I talked about what would happen if my father became ill. Unbeknownst to my husband, I had a plan. I found an apartment rental service that operates remotely. I decided I could ask a friend to stock one of those apartments with groceries and other necessities before I arrived. Maybe I could get some PPE from medical friends here to take with me and then I could be with him while he died even if I had to get a step ladder and surreptitiously crawl through his window.  After that, I’d quarantine for 14 days before returning to my family in North Carolina. My husband listened, then said, “And if you get sick? Our family can’t lose you.” I had no plan for that possibility. We tabled the conversation and ate our Easter Sunday cinnamon rolls. But as Texas dances into this next phase of the pandemic, perhaps we have to have the conversation again. 


  1. Mimi, thank you for a beautiful and heartbreaking diary entry. I understand the loss and sadness you and your father are both feeling. I also recognize the danger posed to our elderly population by a too early and too loosely executed plan to reopen. My 93 year old mother lives in a senior living facility in Pennsylvania. Because she has been blessed with good health, she lives independently in an apartment. But the reality is that she is isolated, lonely, bored and fearful. Outsiders, including family members, are not permitted to enter the facility. Residents no longer socialize or even go out of their apartments much during the day. My mother’s one lifeline to her community was a 1,000 piece puzzle that is no longer available for group work. She takes the puzzles into her apartment, works on them for days and then replaces the finished one with another. My lifeline with my mother are multiple daily calls with video using my Alexa Show. It took her awhile to learn how to use it, but we enjoy seeing each other and trying not to talk about the virus or number of dead or testing or Trump. I am trying to keep her positive and focused on daily tasks to fill her day and trying to discourage her from watching Fox News. She misses her friends and her activities, but most of all, she misses me and the rest of my family. The reality is that I probably won’t get to hug or kiss her for many more months.

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