Living in, and searching for, apartments in a time of social distancing

March 16, 2020 by Ted Bauer

First: what is social distancing?

Essentially, it has two kind-of bigger definitions: one is the distance between yourself and others in a 1-on-1 or small group situation, which should ideally be a couple of meters (6-10 feet). The other definition is avoiding larger groups, which is why you see sports getting shut down, concerts getting shut down, and all the rest. A Mavericks game might have 15,000-20,000 people. There’s a certain “petri dish” element there. 

But why is this important?

Basically, the central idea that decision-makers are going for is “flatten the curve.” It looks like this:


Here’s some math:

On a regular day, we have about 45,000 staffed ICU beds nationally, which can be ramped up in a crisis to about 95,000. Even moderate projections suggest that if current infectious trends hold, our capacity (locally and nationally) may be overwhelmed as early as mid-late April. Thus, the only strategies that can get us off this concerning trajectory are those that enable us to work together as a community to maintain public health by staying apart.

If you don’t believe us, here are some charts about how the coronavirus could spread -- and here’s some research that the idea of “social distancing” worked in previous generations, i.e. the 1918 flu. That’s a little bit of a false equivalency, admittedly, but it’s still good advice to follow. Here’s a good story (not a good ending) from 1918 Philadelphia that sounds like something out of a Malcolm Gladwell book, but will shed light on why this is all important. Here’s another good resource on how viruses can spread through a community.

OK, so how do I practice this broadly?

Here’s one guide getting a lot of attention, and here’s another. This is not easy, and it’s a confusing time for many -- and remember, the core of what makes us human is connectivity. You’re asking people to be less connected, for a period of eight weeks -- and possibly more. It’s not within the human condition, broadly. Look at Wrigleyville, in Chicago, from Saturday night during early St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. These people “DGAF.” It’s not health-advisable, but … they wanted to see their friends and drink with them on a weekend. No one should endorse this, but it’s understandable.

Thankfully, the other thing that makes us uniquely human is adaptability. We have gotten through other big, scary events -- and we will get through this.

What does this look like if you live in an apartment?

OK, here’s a couple of quick hitters:

  • Stay inside and make yourself a better person as much as you can: We mean like .. listen to informative podcasts, maybe even about the virus, instead of again rewatching The Office. Here’s one list. 

  • Try to work out at-home if you can: Many public gyms are not closing, and those gyms get super-deep-cleans twice or more per week. So, broadly, a public gym is safe -- although if it’s crowded on the machines, you might not be able to practice 6-10 feet distance. Now, an apartment complex gym? Probably safe -- usually there are not many people in there at a given time, except for the morning and right after work -- but apartment complexes have a lot going on right now and we don’t know if your specific complex is deep cleaning. Thankfully, there are many no-equipment workouts you can do at home, and the Tone It Up crew just made workouts free for a month.  (Most of those you can do within your apartment.) 

  • Go to the grocery store once or twice per week: Try to knock out as much as you can in 1-2 trips, because grocery stores are depressing places at this moment. (Seen Twitter at all?) Using a meal kit option is actually not that bad of an idea right now. (I use Sun Basket.) So long as their supply chains stay good -- seems like they should -- it’s a way to get 4-8 meals per week that are generally healthy, and the stuff is coming to you. 

  • Do not over-abuse Amazon or over-abuse one or two products, i.e. toilet paper: Heed the story of Matt Colvin, who became a national enemy by hoarding hand sanitizer, before later donating it. (Good on you, Matt.)

  • Call your friends who might be depressed: This period may be the hardest for them.

  • If you want to see them on a call, use Zoom or Skype: There’s a reason Zoom’s stock is in bull territory while everyone else is a bear.

What about if you’re looking for apartments?

We will cover this more during this week, but if you’re looking for apartments right now, first you need to be psychological about all this. You might not want to deal with an apartment search right now, but think of the flip side: What if you don’t do anything, re-sign with your current complex at a higher rate, and this returns to normalcy in six-eight weeks? Now you will be kicking yourself. This situation sucks, and it’s scary and confusing, but you still need to find ways to live your life. So … how do you search for apartments?

We’d recommend, if you can, go look at apartments on weekdays in the middle of the afternoon. That will be even easier if your job put you on WFH. Just take a late lunch and do 1-2 apartment complexes. We will provide you a guide to tighten your radius. Mornings and weekends will probably remain semi-crowded -- likely not over 50 in a leasing office, no, but if you’re concerned about even crowds of 10-12, you might run into that. 3pm on a Wednesday? Much less likely.

And when you visit, ask them about their approach to the coronavirus, especially if the situation is intermediate-to-long-term. Right now some of the bigger complex companies are trying to invest more in multifamily, but coronavirus is a hurdle. That’s on their business planning, though -- ask them about what they’re doing for residents in terms of cleaning, dropping packages at the door, shared spaces (billiards room), etc. For sheer compliance reasons, every complex is going to have a plan they can present to you.

“You can’t be too cautious”

Consider this:

Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates, who is a licensed registered nurse, has been encouraging high-risk individuals — such as seniors and those with underlying medical conditions — to take extra precautions.

“I think you can’t be too cautious,” Gates said.

Hallman said city officials have discussed ways to disseminate information about preventative measures through community pastors and faith leaders.

“You can’t push the message out enough,” he said Monday. “We need to slow the spread. ... That’s the best possible scenario.”

Yes and yes. Be safe, do your best, and try to flatten the curve. But if you need an apartment in this time frame, it’s doable. And of course, we’re down to help. And if you're frustrated and confused right now, consider this: let's say the eight-week number to normalcy is somewhat valid, OK? If you live to be 90, which is an increasing reality in our day and age, that's 4,680 weeks. Eight weeks out of that is 0.0017094017 as a percentage. So this could be zero percent of your life. You've got this.


About the Author

Ted Bauer

Ted Bauer is a writer/editor for White Rock Locators focused on as much cool content about the DFW Metroplex rental scene as he can possibly find week-to-week.