Letter to My Daughter Whom I Left Behind
by Effin Older
I couldn’t leave without hugging you. It was the only time we broke the six-feet rule since COVID tore our lives apart. We clung to each other, not knowing when we’d touch again, but we promised, promised, promised we would. Hours later, your father and I boarded an Air New Zealand Boeing 787 bound for Auckland, New Zealand. The plane had fifteen—yes, fifteen passengers. Under the passengers, the 787 carried a full cargo of California fresh fruits and vegetables; the return flight will be filled with New Zealand lamb.
Twelve hours later, after clearing customs and collecting our luggage at Auckland Airport, our temperatures are taken, our health history recorded, and we’re given a Welcome Pack. It outlines our part in keeping New Zealand at the lowest level of risk. We’re more than happy to follow the rules. All fifteen of us are then bused to the hotel where we begin fourteen days of “managed isolation.” It’s one of several hotels designated by the New Zealand government for returnees like us.
We can’t leave the facility. I don’t want to; it feels so safe here.
We’re now in Day 11 of our managed isolation. We have a bright, modern, sunny room where three times a day a knock on the door signals that our meals have arrived. We’ve pre-selected for the week from a menu that includes delicious vegetarian and non-vegetarian choices. Every meal has fresh fruit, fresh salads, desserts, and super-generous helpings of everything. We’re allowed six bags of laundry service, and fresh bedding and towels upon request. Food, laundry, bedding and the room are all free, courtesy of the New Zealand government. We pay for wine. Fair enough.
We vacuum our own room and clean our own bathroom with cleaning products left outside the door. We must wear masks whenever we’re not in our room. Staff and security personnel wear masks at all times, too.
We leave our room for walks in an area outside the hotel with two rows of fencing and guards at all the entrances; the only requirement is that we sign out and sign back in each time. New masks are freely available. Two health workers in full PPE gear come to our door every day to take our temperature. We had our first COVID test on Day 3 (we’re both negative) and will have a second one on Day 12. Our health will be checked one final time the day we leave.
Even with everyone masked-up, I’m pretty sure we’re the oldest returnees here now. There are many families with young children. It can’t be easy keeping little kids occupied, but I haven’t seen one tantrum. The hotel supplies sidewalk chalk, sheets of puzzles and coloring-in, and there’s a small library of books for kids and adults. We see families playing leapfrog, kicking soccer balls, doing exercises. So far, at least 35,000 Kiwis have returned home from all over the world and only about 80 have tested positive; they’ve all been treated. A very few returnees have climbed the fence to escape (I can’t imagine why they’d want to), but they’ve been caught. Someone recently managed to break in. It made headlines all over the country.
We’ve downloaded a contact tracer app on our cell phones. Once we’re “free,” we’ll swipe QR codes posted outside shops, pharmacies, businesses, schools. If someone with COVID has been in that place, our phone will ping, letting us know we’ve been exposed and should get tested. If the shop (or whatever) doesn’t have a QR code, we’ll manually put in the date, time, and place we entered so we can be contacted if someone who went to the same place has the virus. Contact tracing—what a concept!
So, here we are, about to begin new lives in a country we love. It feels much safer than San Francisco; at our ages, that’s a serious concern. People don’t refuse to wear a mask because it restricts their freedom or is unpatriotic. Yes, jobs have been lost here, and the economy has been badly affected, but there’s a general feeling that we’re all fighting this battle together. Our Prime Minister calls us “Team Five Million.”
We’re off for a walk soon. If we do 15 loops around the fenced-in area in front of the hotel, we’ll rack up two miles. We do online exercises in our room every day. I’m glad the hotel doesn’t provide scales; I don’t want to see the mounting COVID Kilos. We’re trying to walk them off . . . or eat less. Which choice will win out? It’s a toss-up. Let’s FaceTime again tonight like we did when we were still in San Francisco. It’s the best we can do until we can hug once more.
P.S. We made a minimovie so you can see what it looks like here under managed isolation.