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I live with my parents, and I work in the healthcare industry. I'd like to continue working in the healthcare industry, however there are some issues that I have trouble resolving. Specifically, assuaging my parents' fears of contracting Coronavirus in the workplace. A common fear that they share is that people working in the healthcare industry often face a higher risk of being exposed to Coronavirus. This issue is exacerbated because:

  • I have a customer facing job, which only heightens my parents' fears
  • I work part-time, so simply "self-quarantining" myself or taking time off work isn't an option
  • I have a good working relationship with my peers and my boss, and I don't want to quit (I don't want to burn bridges).
  • I work in an area that already has multiple cases of people contracted with Coronavirus

Essentially, I have a hard time convincing my parents that I'd like to continue working in the healthcare industry, especially in this current job (at the moment), despite the Coronavirus outbreak. When I start and end conversations them, it always ends with the underlying fear that "something may happen", or "something will happen soon".

How can I assuage my parents' fears, especially as they work in jobs that allow them to self-quarantine themselves, and still be able to work in the job I want to work?

My parents do acknowledge that Coronavirus is not the only one thing one can get in the workplace, but given that the known symptoms of Corona match up with the flu (and given it is flu season around this time), it doesn't help to calm them down.

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  • Can you clarify if your parents are worried for you, for themselves, or for everyone living in the house? Mar 12 '20 at 19:15
  • @pipinstallMonica Moreso for themselves, but still for everyone living together since we all have our own risks and factors.
    – katana
    Mar 12 '20 at 19:53
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I worked in healthcare settings for around 9 years. Unfortunately, getting exposed to disease is an occupational hazard in that environment.

A lot of this answer depends on your parents' fears and their reaction to them. Either they aren't reasonable WRT their fears, or they are. I'll try to answer both perspectives.

If they aren't reasonable, there's no amount of convincing that you can do. That's part of being unreasonable. In this case, with people, I've just said, "I love this job and I'm helping the sick every day; being exposed is just part of the risk I accept when I come to work." Don't argue, don't try to convince, don't say anything more. Let your passion for your calling in life be the answer to unreasonable fears.

For people that are more reasonable, then you can talk about infection control. There I've said things like "This is just one of many things I risk exposure to every day. The facility does containment of communicable diseases and does it well; the most effective thing to do is to wash my hands and I do that often. Yes, something may happen but do you want to know the statistically riskiest part of my job? It's the commute to work. I stand a lot worse chance of dying in a traffic accident on the way to work than from this particular virus." (Look it up... death in an auto accident, at least in the US, is much more common than other forms of premature death. One source is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motor_vehicle_fatality_rate_in_U.S._by_year)

Either way, those of us who work or have worked in a healthcare setting take on this risk on a regular basis. I know I was sick more often when I worked in the hospital - it can't be helped when you're around sick people. But that was all colds; it wasn't anything serious (TB, flu, SARS, etc.) The key here, especially with the panic going on, is for us as professionals to stay calm. Let others see how calm you are and derive strength from you.

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    @EdGrimm Reasonable questions are never out of line. I don't think it's part of the answer, but I'll respond here. Masks, as I understand, don't prevent infection very well. They do prevent transmission. So the most appropriate use for a mask would be to give one to a person with a respiratory issue rather than for the care provider to wear one. Mar 11 '20 at 11:57
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    OP lives with their parents, what if they're afraid of getting COVID-19 from OP, rather than just OP getting sick? Have you had to deal with something like that?
    – Caroline
    Mar 11 '20 at 16:13
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    @baldPrussian I'm not sure that answer's Caroline's question. If OP's parents are worried about getting the virus from OP (not an unreasonable fear given their age), OP telling them: "oh don't worry I've acknowledged the risk" doesn't strike me as a good response to them. Mar 12 '20 at 19:08
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    @baldPrussian I don't see anything in the OP that makes me believe OP's parents are being unreasonable. In fact, I think it's pretty unreasonable to respond to "we are scared for our health" with "I love my job." Surely there are concrete things that OP can do: Taking showers immediately after returning from work. Doing laundry separately. Not fixing their food. Wearing a mask. Mar 13 '20 at 14:28
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    I think that sounds like, "given the nature of my job, COVID-19 infection is more likely than the normal route of transmission." For many hospital lab workers with little to no direct patient contact that's probably true. But speaking of the most efficient way to reduce transmission of the disease doesn't address the fact that people don't know immediately when they have it enough to be contagious. Mild expression of the disease could cause one to not recognize the need to wear a mask. People can't trust 100% of people who are infected to wear masks.
    – Ed Grimm
    Mar 14 '20 at 21:03
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I have to disagree with the accepted answer. Depending on the age and health of your parents, they may be completely reasonable in their fear of contracting this virus from you, and saying you understand and accept that risk isn't likely to appease them. Of course, probably everyone who works in the healthcare industry interacts with people who don't want to be exposed, and asking all those people to quit their jobs is obviously not feasible. In short, their concern is justified, but their solution of you quitting your job is not. So the question becomes, what can you do instead to reasonably address their concern?

Since you are a healthcare worker, you are probably already aware of things you can do to reduce the chance of transmission. These include:

  • Stay at least six feet away from your parents
  • Don't share food or dishes
  • Avoid sharing spaces like bathrooms and the kitchen
  • Wash your hands frequently and disinfect surfaces after you've touched them
  • Take whatever steps you can at work to minimize the chances of you getting sick

Tell your parents you plan to do all of these things. If you can use an alternate entrance which doesn't require you to walk through the whole home, do that. If you can get takeout every day instead of fixing food in a space shared with your parents, do that. Maybe they can stay in their bedroom while you leave for work and return home, so you don't directly interact. Get supplies so you all can disinfect things like doorknobs. If your parents are at a high enough risk for this virus, then you may even want to consider finding your own place.

Do not blow your parents off or dismiss their concerns. Demonstrate a plan to take concrete, effective steps to keep them safe, then firmly stick to that plan.

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    Hi Kat, thanks for taking the time to write up an alternate answer! I added a link to support the medical information here. Can you add backup for the interpersonal parts? Have you had to have similar conversations? How did the other person react - was telling them your plans sufficient, was there some pushback that OP might need to prepare for?
    – Em C
    Mar 21 '20 at 17:54
  • A little note: disinfecting surfaces after is useful for others not to contract the virus should you have it. If your goal solely is about your own protection, it might be better to do it before. (The best being of course of doing both).
    – avazula
    Mar 21 '20 at 20:04
  • @EmC I'm not sure many can say they've had a similar conversation to this before. It isn't often that someone's chosen profession suddenly puts the people they live with at risk. I understand that makes my answer less than ideal according to the rules here, but it still seemed important to give this perspective. Hopefully someone in the healthcare field who lives with others can share how they're keeping those people safe and reassured, rather than just blowing them off.
    – Kat
    Mar 22 '20 at 1:14
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    @avazula yes, this is written from the perspective of OP trying to prevent transmission to their parents. OP says their parents have jobs which allow them to isolate themselves, so it doesn't sound like there's much risk in the opposite direction.
    – Kat
    Mar 22 '20 at 1:15
  • Sorry, I got that part wrong upon first reading. Thanks for clarifying :)
    – avazula
    Mar 22 '20 at 15:02

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