The COVID Risk

This virus is clearly much more widespread and dangerous than flu, in many ways. We already know it can spread through droplets, on surfaces, and by air. Many of us will eventually catch it. I’m not holding out for a vaccine.

But I’d rather not catch it, or pass it along, until we better understand it and have evidence-based treatments that are widely known and available to doctors, nurses and nurse-practitioners across the United States.

I’m also very cautious about COVID19 because Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. Some people with Type 1 think good blood sugar control protects them. Others think because they’re not obese they’re safe. But I read the studies. That’s not what they say.

I already know my immune system doesn’t think straight—why find out the hard way what it thinks about the new COVID19 virus?

There’s a lot of evidence already that COVID19 can provoke dangerous immune responses in a surprisingly large number of people regardless of age or fitness level. Early research evidence shows it’s extra-deadly for Type 1 diabetics. I’m not surprised at all by that.

And about 20% of the people who catch COVID19 experience nausea and diarrhea, which can put people with Type 1 diabetes on a fast track to diabetic ketoacidosis. DKA combined with COVID19 sounds like a terrible idea made even worse.

All this stuff is top of mind for me for another reason. Nearly every remaining state on my route, starting with Texas, is at the bottom of the list when it comes to public health, healthcare spending, and healthcare outcomes. They’re also states that have encouraged people to feel safe about plugging back into their communities, even though they fall far, far short of all recommended public health guidelines.

Which is why I haven’t been in a rush to restart. Scientists, doctors and nurses are smarter with every day that passes about how this virus works, and how to treat this thing, and we’re getting better and better data about where it’s most active, and where it’s subsided for the moment.

All that said, Leslie and I have done a lot of thinking about how to tweak the run protocols to minimize the risk of either catching or passing along the COVID19 virus.

When I stopped running on March 22, I had made it to Tarzan, TX. 1261 miles done, 1584 to go. On September 24th, 2020, I found another window of opportunity to finishing the remaining 550 miles of Texas, as far as Texarkana.

Here’s what I have left:

  • Arkansas
  • Mississippi
  • Alabama
  • Georgia (a tiny corner)
  • Florida, to my end-point in Melbourne

General COVID trends

We don’t want to pass through any areas that are currently experiencing COVID outbreaks. Since the virus is not under control in the US, that means that it can pop up anywhere. Generally low levels of testing in most states, especially the ones on my route, mean you never know if you’re passing into an area with active spread or not.

So rather than plan on running straight through to Melbourne, FL, I’m now thinking that I’ll break the remaining route into state-by-state chunks, and assess each chunk before I begin it.

That means my next goal is simply to get from Tarzan to DFW and if all goes smoothly, to the Texas/Arkansas border.

Inside the bubble

Fortunately, we’re inside our own bubble most of the time. I’m running by myself on road shoulders. Leslie’s in the van. Food and water breaks all get supplied out of the van. No problem.

We’ve always had a Biffy Bag set-up on board the van for the most remote sections of the route, and now we’re planning to use that exclusively—no public restrooms.

Outside the bubble

Gasoline

We still have to get gas. No way around that. But that’s outdoors, usually not near other people, and we’ll use disposable gloves, same as we did back in March when the virus threat first emerged.

Ice

Super-important for running in Texas and the South, because the heat and humidity is brutal. When air temps are 90+ and the dew point is 65 and higher, I often put icy soaked transition towels on my head and around my neck on every break from about noon on, and stick my wrists in the ice water in the cooler when the heat index is sky-high. It’s the only way to keep going.

Our normal practice is to keep a 70-quart marine ice chest full of cold liquids buried in slushy water and top off ice every day or two at a convenience store. But that’s a lot of trips in and out of stores, often in areas where people choose not to wear masks and social-distance.

No ice going forward. We’re going to use a 12-volt Dometic fridge exclusively for cold water and Gatorade.

Food & liquids

Previously, everything we ate and drank came out of the van except for a stop at the end of the day at a local taqueria or burger spot if handy.

Now, we skip restaurants, with at most an occasional curbside pickup.

We already carry enough food that we can generally avoid grocery stores. It’ll mean less variety, but that’s fine.

We normally carry about 50-60 gallons of water. Depending on route length, we may have to replenish water either at a Walmart or even better, at a self-serve water machine.

Hotels

Assuming a summer restart, we’ll have to stop in hotels. We used the tent frequently during the first ~1200 miles and it worked great, but we were usually able to grab a spot in an RV park that had public showers, and temps were much lower then.

Now, we’re taking RV parks off the list entirely—we don’t feel confident about the sanitation and ventilation in their public showers and restrooms, and their visitors come from all over the United States, so the risk of virus exposure is much higher.

Plus, now I hope to be running in the hottest part of summer. My original schedule was specifically designed NOT to do that. The tent would be great for a laidback summer trip where I didn’t grind myself down every day. Not so great for a summer cross-country run when temps are still in the 90s at 9 o’clock at night.

Plus, after a long day of running alongside highways, I feel like a mobile Superfund site. I have salt crusts and raw areas from dried sweat on my face and anywhere skin surfaces touch, including personal areas. I’m literally coated in dirt and road crud. When I scrub down in the shower, the water is black with bits of asphalt and specks of road debris. Sponge baths and camp showers just don’t get this stuff off.

All of which is to say, we’ve worked out a detailed hotel protocol. We figured out that we can stay in a single hotel for every three days of running, rather than switching every night. #FTW: we can do our sanitation protocol the first night, leave the “do not disturb” sign on the door, and walk right in without any hesitation the next two nights.

Digital check-in, masks and disposable gloves when we go into the hotel, and we’ll wait if needed to make sure we’re the only people on the elevator. We’ll also ask for rooms that weren’t occupied the previous night. We’ll open the window if possible, and if the HVAC unit has a fresh-air option, we’ll use it.

The plan is to also put a disposable layer down on the floor or extra bed for 100% of our gear to sit on, and use spray sanitizer on bathroom and bedside surfaces. Not planning to use the in-room fridge or microwave. Didn’t watch television anyway, so won’t be touching the remote.

We’ve set up a simple box with a power strip inside that can plug into a wall outlet. All our devices plug into the strip inside the box, so no need to put phones, blood glucose meters, GPS watches, Garmin tracker, etc., on the nightstand.

We’re also planning to minimize use of hotel laundry rooms.

The unknown

The biggest potential exposure is the stuff that’s entirely outside our control. If the van breaks down…if one of us gets hurt or sick…or something else unexpected pops up…we’ll have to move outside our bubble. That’s when virus risk can increase significantly.

And one thing I’ve learned is that the stuff you don’t plan for…still happens.

Before RelayIowa, we had to get the van looked at in Sioux City at the last minute. That involved, as I recall, four trips into four different, very busy, auto repair places.

And during the first part of this run, approaching Phoenix in February, I fell against a guardrail and badly gashed my hand in multiple places. I was lucky to avoid an urgent care visit, and had the right first-aid stuff in the van for initial clean-up—but it took weeks to heal, which meant multiple trips for medical supplies to multiple stores.

I don’t want to bury my head in the sand and say “Nothing will go wrong.”

Stuff. Happens. It just does.

That’s why I’m breaking it up into chunks, and looking at the “state of the virus” one chunk at a time.

Because when stuff does happen, I don’t want to step out of my bubble and into a known hotspot.