This month, a Knott County couple was finally able to leave their home and interact with others after a little more than a year of self-quarantining due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kasie Wallace, 28, of Breathitt County, and her fiance Ian Hall, 24, of Knott County, were in quarantine from April 10, 2020 to April 14, 2021. Throughout their time in quarantine, the pair said they experienced several effects mentally, physically, socially, financially and spiritually. In March, the couple received their vaccinations, and in mid-April the pair were officially able to break quarantine.
Wallace said when the pandemic first started, she and Hall were living in Richmond. Wallace was enrolled in a dual-credit program between Alice Lloyd College and Eastern Kentucky University, and Hall was enrolled in the English department at EKU. Wallace was taking nursing classes at EKU and said she remembers paying attention to the news when she first began hearing about COVID-19 spreading in other areas, because the information was interesting to her.
“When they first announced the virus back in late 2019, I thought it seemed a little interesting, because I’ve always been interested in contagious diseases. I’d been interested in contagious diseases since I was younger because I had the swine flu when I was a kid,” said Wallace, explaining that her previous experience combined with her desire to help people made her pay attention to what was being said about the new virus. “So I noticed something was off about this and it was making me nervous basically because I could see the signs of there being a pandemic occurring within China, and I knew how much China and business goes together and how there was a lot of travel out of Wuhan, so I was like this could be bad.
She said she grew nervous thinking about what could potentially happen. Wallace said she remembers talking to her friends in school about the virus, but none of them seemed concerned where the virus hadn’t reached the United States.
On March 6, when state officials confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in Kentucky, Wallace said she was in a clinical when she found out. After class, Wallace said she called Hall and made plans to shop for a few things in case there was a temporary shut down or spread of cases. Wallace said she and Hall began practicing several safety measures while they were in public, such as wearing masks, washing hands frequently, practicing social distancing and disinfecting all surfaces they came in contact with.
Hall, said Wallace, is immuno-compromised and has medical conditions that concerned them both, so they didn’t want to risk exposing him to the virus or potential complications that could result from it. Additionally, she said, case numbers in Richmond were growing and she had high anxiety with medical conditions and was considered at risk as well, so they decided it was for the best if they quarantined. Wallace said after sitting down and talking things through, the pair made a decision, and she and Hall officially went into self-quarantine on April 10, 2020.
“Looking at the cases that were coming in, I started noticing that this was not only a lung issue; this was a whole body inflammatory issue, and of course the doctors finally came out and said that,” said Wallace, stating they considered his and her health conditions and felt it wasn’t worth the risk to be out.
“So he and I made the decision to go into quarantine,” she said.
On April 20, 2020, Wallace said, they received news that Hall’s grandmother had passed away. The couple considered breaking quarantine to go to the funeral, but decided not to and joined virtually instead via a video chat with the family, said Wallace. Hall, said Wallace, was very close to his grandmother, and not attending the funeral affected him.
“He was very close to his grandmother, he lived with her for many years. She basically was a second mom to him,” said Wallace. “He still hasn’t properly mourned for her. He has what’s called complicated grief, it still doesn’t feel real to him.”
As the pandemic continued, Wallace and Hall began doing everything they could online, she said, including switching to online classes, online banking and online shopping, as well as seeking online jobs to keep a steady income. When anything was delivered, Wallace said she would disinfected mail and other delivered items before they would use them.
Although there were challenges with the move to virtual living, Wallace said they did the best they could.
“That was extremely difficult for nursing students, because we went from an in-class setting to a sudden online class setting,” said Wallace. “It was very difficult to learn in that kind of way.”
Additionally, she said, finding online work was hard, because the virtual job market had become highly saturated with people needing assistance. Hall, she said, had been offering virtual tutoring sessions for a while, so he was able to keep a steady income, but she had more trouble finding a remote job.
Wallace said that as cases continued to grow, she spoke to the dean of EKU about taking a leave of absence in good standing until case numbers weren’t as high, because the school had plans to return to in-person classes as soon as they were able and she was not yet comfortable with that.
“I got a lot of backlash for this. People were saying ‘If you’re going to be in nursing you’ve got to be used to infectious diseases anyway,’” said Wallace, stating that many people questioned her decision to remain quarantined rather than return to in-person classes. On May 2, 2020, Wallace got her diploma from ALC but didn’t get the ceremony due to the pandemic. She said she still has not returned to EKU, but is considering it. Hall, she said, also had to switch to online classes and had to complete a virtual reading of his thesis. Hall received his EKU diploma on Feb. 23, 2021.
While in quarantine, Wallace said, she found out she needed to have an emergency dental procedure scheduled. She said the first appointment in May went very well, and said several safety precautions were in place, making her feel at ease. Wallace said after that appointment she monitored herself for symptoms for two weeks just to be safe. In June she had her second dental appointment, and said there were more relaxed precautions which made her more nervous.
In July, Hall’s parents wanted to have a picnic on Independence Day, July 4, said Wallace, but the couple chose to not break quarantine. Instead, she said they compromised by having his parents sit outside the window to their apartment while Wallace and Hall remained inside and used video chat to communicate with his parents.
In early August 2020, Wallace said, the water to their apartment broke and they didn’t want to have the repairman there while they were in the apartment. This, combined with other factors, led the pair to decide to temporarily move into Hall’s grandmother’s house in Pippa Passes, said Wallace.
“At this point, we were not even going outside except for at 3:00 in the morning to check our mail and that was only on Sunday,” said Wallace. “So we were trapped in this tiny one bedroom apartment in Richmond, effectively, from April to August. The only time in Richmond that we had left the house was for my temporary and permanent crowns.”
Isolation begins to wear on couple
After months of being quarantined in the small space, not having contact with others and bad things happening, Wallace and Hall began experiencing mental health problems.
“Ian’s mental health started suffering really badly. He started having a lot of issues with it to the point I was afraid I would have to take him to the emergency room. He was able to get in touch with a therapist which helped him greatly,” she said. “He was in really bad shape, so I was like we need to get out of here, we need to go.”
The couple said that, in August, they gathered their things and moved to Pippa Passes without interacting with any other people, wore masks and gloves on the trip and disinfected things they touched. The move, said Wallace, was supposed to be temporary, but would help improve their mental health, would get them away from the surge in cases in Richmond and would allow the repairman time to fix the water at their apartment.
“In September of last year I had a lot of suicidal ideations that I had to struggle with from being in quarantine,” said Wallace, adding that she also struggled during the pandemic. Hall, she said, now has intense virtual therapy sessions every week to help him work through his issues, and Wallace also sees a therapist.
Wallace said she and Hall were supposed to be married on Oct. 10, 2020, but due to the pandemic, they chose to wait. Postponing it, she said, was hard for both of them.
“We had picked out the date in 2018, 2019 and we were devastated,” said Wallace. “We struggled a lot with the fact that the date came and went, and even now we’re still not married yet.”
Watching others continue to go out during the pandemic caused additional stress and resentment, said Wallace. Last year, she said, a college friend got married, so it made her think of her own wedding that she chose to postpone for safety reasons.
“She got married in 2020 like I wanted to, and they had an in-person wedding and they went on a honeymoon and they had all this stuff, and all I could do was sit here and draw comparisons that it could’ve been me, but I took the responsibility to quarantine for us and to quarantine for others. It broke my heart,” said Wallace. “A lot of our friends and family just did not understand why we were so uncomfortable getting out.”
Wallace said several friends and family members continued to go out during the pandemic and would question Wallace and Hall’s decision to quarantine.
“We had a lot of family, they weren’t taking this seriously. They were going out and eating in restaurants when they opened up, they were going out and hanging out with friends, having birthday parties, all this stuff and it made us mad. It made us mad, because if people would have just taken a few weeks out of their lives to quarantine like we have for a year, we wouldn’t still be quarantining a year later,” said Wallace.
Those feelings, she said, still linger.
“I would get mad, I would lash out,” she said. Wallace continued, “Unless you were an essential worker, in my opinion, there was no reason for you to be out. We still have a lot of resentment and that’s caused some issues between some friends (and family) who did not quarantine.”
The decision to remain quarantined during the pandemic, she said, was out of love for Hall and her friends and family, as well as caring about people in general. Wallace said she had experienced loss in the past and did not want to lose her fiance or cause anyone else any harm. “I was terrified that something was going to happen to him. I had already lost my mom and my dad, they’d already passed years ago. To lose him was unthinkable and I was going to do whatever it took to protect him,” said Wallace, explaining that she was afraid of Hall being exposed to COVID-19.
Couple believes they made the right decisions
Wallace said she believes that even if she and Hall were not considered in the high-risk category, they would have most likely still made the decision to quarantine in order to slow the spread and protect other individuals. “I think even if we hadn’t been high-risk we still would have made the decision to quarantine, because I can’t imagine thinking it’s okay – unless I absolutely needed to – to go out in public with others. It goes against every instinct I have that the nursing school gave me, that I had as somebody who’s always been interested in the medical field and caring for others,” said Wallace.
“It was difficult and frustrating to see people not share those same values,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I thought for one minute that a careless action on my part caused the sickness or death of someone else, I don’t think I could have done it,” said Wallace.
In March, Hall and Wallace were finally able to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations and begin the process of leaving quarantine. “On March 2, he and I received our first dose of the Moderna vaccination. We were terrified; that was our first day of officially breaking quarantine since we went into quarantine that was not an emergency situation,” said Wallace. The couple got their second dose on March 31 and were officially considered safe from the virus as of April 14, she said.
Once they were vaccinated, she said, they were finally able to go outside for recreational purposes and were able to hug Hall’s parents, who were also vaccinated. “It was emotional; that was our first hug in over a year,” said Wallace.
Although they have been vaccinated, Wallace said she and Hall are still being cautious.
“This was a very hard year. Leaving quarantine now that we’re protected has been difficult,” said Wallace. “We’re still nervous. It’s hard going from fear to knowing it’s okay. I know it’s science and what the CDC says, but it’s hard shutting off that part of my brain that has said ‘danger’ for a year, so we’re taking small baby steps.”
The news of new strains in other areas is also a concern, she said.
“Even now the idea of another strain coming to Kentucky is another reason I am still (pushing to) wear masks and wash hands. Even though we’re fully vaccinated, we don’t know what the future holds, so that is a concern of mine,” Wallace said.
Getting vaccinated, she said, was an important step for them, and they feel they made the right decision. “I understand the hesitancy coming from people when it comes to vaccinations, I do. This is how I looked at it: I know COVID is real and if I got it I could die or Ian could die. Do I want to die hooked up to a ventilator with no one around or do I want to chance this vaccination that has been through all of these steps?,” Wallace said. “For me, it was a no-brainer,” she said. Wallace said they are still nervous about the long-term effects, but said she believes in the science behind it and that the benefits outweigh the risks.
“It was really, really hard. There was a lot of (stress), it strained mine and Ian’s relationship because that sort of thing is naturally going to happen, but I feel like we came out of this stronger than ever. It strained my mental health,” said Wallace.
Wallace said her therapist is suggesting she take time to think before returning to nursing, another high-stress environment.
“I’m looking at possibly not even being able to finish my nursing career because mental health issues not only quarantine has given me, but the pandemic has given me,” she said.
“It’s been an interesting time. For all of the bad things, there have been good too,” she said, adding that they worked on their relationship, improved their physical health, made time for hobbies and grew spiritually and individually. “There was a lot of fear this past year, but I took comfort in knowing we did our part. We were staying home, we were staying safe and we were protecting others.”
Although the pandemic is ongoing and they experienced many effects of the quarantine, Wallace said she and Hall will continue to work on safely reintegrating back into a normal routine, and will continue to focus on the positives that came from their time in quarantine.