How Oakland families are adjusting to the shelter-in-place

Observing the six feet social distancing requirement. Avoiding coronavirus droplets from a random sneeze. Washing our hands for at least 20 seconds. These are all very necessary for our physical health during this COVID-19 pandemic. But how are families adjusting since the March 16 shelter in place order? Implementing the shelter-in-place may prove to flatten the curve of spreading the virus here in California, the effect it is having on Oakland residents differs from household to household.

“Reducing the risk of infection for our family is very important,” said Michelle Poole, Oakland resident, essential worker, wife, and mother of five. (Courtesy of Michelle Poole)

Work-life balance during COVID-19

Michelle Poole, 33, resides in East Oakland with her husband and five children, ages 18, 15, 9, and two three-year-old twins. Poole’s line of work is considered essential, thus she spends half of her work day in the office and the other half at home. Finding herself overwhelmed, anxious, and exhausted now while at home, Poole fights to find the peace of mind she is used to her home environment providing. 

In addition to her job’s expectations for Poole to meet her usual productivity level, she also has two school-age children. Homeschooling is a new venture for Poole and her two daughters. Her daughters look to her for academic guidance now, versus just homework assistance. Her twins do not understand that Poole is actually working when she is at home doing her required work hours. “The twins feel I am all theirs when I’m present,” Poole said. She finds herself being the working mom, teacher, and childcare provider all in the same space at the same time. 

Poole’s twins were born under three pounds collectively. Being born so young came with health challenges. “Reducing the risk of infection for our family is very important,” Poole said. “Our twins are high risk, so they have not left the house since the shelter-in-place began. My husband and I agree that having preemies prepared us for the things we are dealing with today with shelter-in-place.”

Poole has been married for over ten years. “My marital relationship has required a lot of adjusting. We are learning how to spend much more time together,” Poole shared. “Balancing everything from my family, my work, and my household duties, is very hard. The whole family gets stir crazy at times, but I am grateful to say we are all together and in good health.”

Isolation and staying at home

“I am aware of what the news is saying the risks are, but I am not worried, because God is in control.”

Shukri Abdullah, 82, West Oakland

Not everyone is sheltered with their families. Shukri Abdullah, 82, lives alone in his senior apartment in West Oakland. Mr. Abdullah receives weekly visits from his in-home care worker, who now comes in a mask and gloves. He’s left his apartment just once since the shelter-in-place went into effect for a follow up appointment for a recent eye surgery. Although he’s not afraid to go outside, he stays in to be safe.

“I am aware of what the news is saying the risks are, but I am not worried, because God is in control,” Mr. Abdullah expressed. “I have also seen on the news that a lot of people are not being in compliance; I feel that is reckless because they are putting themselves and their family at risk.”

Shelter-in-place and family stress

“The vibe I have been getting is people’s patience is going to run out. Even in my own house, I’m having to learn to deal with my household members differently on a mental and emotional level. Each child has their own personality, so they require different things from me.” 

Michael Jackson, Oakland resident

The stress on essential workers is also taking its toll. Michael Jackson, 50, is a bus driver and is considered an “essential” worker. He leaves his home for about 10 hours a day, five days a week. He is in constant contact with the public. Due to the nationwide shortage, Jackson’s company has not provided masks or gloves. Jackson found it necessary to buy his own box of gloves. He acquired a mask from his neighbor. Limited COVID-19 testing prevents testing for individuals who may have been exposed to the virus until they have serious symptoms, he said. 

The shelter-in-place feels both unusual and stressful for Jackson, and he feels things are going to blow-up soon. “The vibe I have been getting is people’s patience is going to run out,” Jackson said. He resides with his five children in deep East Oakland. “Even in my own house, I’m having to learn to deal with my household members differently on a mental and emotional level. Each child has their own personality, so they require different things from me.” 

Jackson continued, “With the shelter-in-place has come new responsibilities.  I am also a homeschooler now. This is a whole new world for our family and it has given me a new appreciation for teachers.”  

But Jackson also expressed concerns about the decline in educational quality his children will receive during the pandemic. “My children will have lost several months of actual instruction and the online alternative is not adequate.” 

Still, he is grateful for the time he and his children have to interact together. Having so much time together, he sees his children bonding more. Jackson told me, “My children are learning who each other are; I am also learning who my children are as individuals.”

About Amelah El-Amin

Amelah El-Amin is a mother, grandmother, and African American Muslim human rights activist. She has been serving our community for over 25 years. She co-founded Mu’eed, Inc, a non-profit which has coordinated Humanitarian Day in Oakland for the past 11 years, a program which services homeless residents and low-income children. In addition to feeding the hungry, she advocates for elderly. Amelah El-Amin is a correspondent for Oakland Voices. View all posts by Amelah El-Amin →

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