Moving out during a pandemic

Pixabay via MoveON moving

Six people discuss their experiences moving during a surge of COVID-19 cases

The moving process may include occasional setbacks, but moving during a pandemic becomes even more difficult. Worrying about COVID-19 exposure along with the typical tasks proved to be stress-inducing for those who made their moves and could inhibit potential moves for others in the future.

COVID-19 rose to over 14 million cases in the United States on December 2 and infections continue to increase across California. As the number of cases march on, Americans are struggling to keep up. 

Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom established a statewide moratorium in March protecting renters in the state from evictions due to COVID-19 impact. This executive action prohibits tenants from being evicted for nonpayment of rent and prohibits law enforcement or courts from enforcing an eviction. Renters had the ability to put off rent payments until May 31.

As the coronavirus infections steadily continued, Newsom signed new legislation protecting landlords and tenants from the economic impact of COVID-19. Renter protection will last until February 2021 and landlords can expect repayment of debt starting March 1. 

With bills continuing to add up and a lack of jobs, residents of all ages and occupations in California have been forced to relocate. 

For Shuying Wang, the impact of the pandemic keeps changing her life. She found herself unemployed in March and knew she couldn’t afford to stay in her Irvine apartment. She made the choice to pack up and move to something more affordable.

“All of a sudden, I lost my job so I had to move,” Wang said. “I used Craigslist to find a room to stay in so that I could save money, but it’s so hard to find people to be on the same page with.”

For many, living in an apartment in California means having roommates to help level out the rising costs of rent. Yet, during the pandemic Health officials have issued safety protocols that call for social distancing at work, when getting groceries or getting together with friends. Finding roommates who are practicing these safety rules can be a challenge according to Wang. 

“Some people I talked to were staying inside and wearing masks, but some people didn’t care as much and I would have been scared for my health living with someone so reckless,” Wang said. “It made my move so much more complicated than anytime before.”

Moving homes can be challenging in the best of times, but with the added stress of COVID-19 piling on top of the process, it has made it even more difficult. According to some who have had to move during the pandemic, the usual acts of gathering items, finding the next home and getting everything into the new place requires new levels of safety and new layers of labor.

College students and young Americans were also greatly affected by COVID-19 with due dates passing by as bills added up. With most not yet in their careers and with little or no savings, the impact was even greater. Kincaid McClure, a recent graduate of Los Angeles Trade Technical College had to move from his apartment in Los Angeles and back with his parents in San Clemente after he was unable to find a job.

“While the cases of COVID-19 were increasing, the mystery and uniqueness of the situation led my roommate to pick up everything and move out of state,” said McClure in a text message. “The abrupt decision caused me to relocate back home with no other plan B. As I was in the process of moving, I witnessed others in distress.”

COVID-19 shutting down schools across California caused many high school seniors to feel distant from their final year. The inability to experience end of the year activities and ceremonies like graduation only added to students’ disappointments heading off to college. 

“I moved out of my mom’s house in June,” said Nathan Carnnahan, a first year student at Chapman University. “At the time, Laguna Niguel’s numbers had stayed pretty low so it was nerve-wracking to have to get all my stuff together and move to Orange. Reading about the coronavirus rising in Anaheim, Santa Ana and Orange made me take sanitizing stuff like my groceries and social distancing a bit more serious and I’m sad that I don’t get to go on campus, but I hope things get better soon.”

When moving during a pandemic, COVID-19 safety precautions like wearing gloves, a mask and washing hands or using hand sanitizer often still apply. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention insist that surface and items should be continuously disinfected and when moving items in and out of a truck, this could pose a threat.

Making the move from across town presented challenges to those who have done it, but some students have had to relocate across the state and even across the country. During the pandemic, many businesses have had to shorten their hours and were faced with closures to curb the spread of the coronavirus so traveling long distances worried Saddleback College student Alisha Boujikian.

“I had been living in northern California when COVID-19 started to really pick up in cases across the world and in the U.S. I remember a lot of places like Twitter and companies along Market St. in San Francisco started closing down in late February to have people work at home, so it was really taken seriously,” said Boujikian in a text message. “After so long of staying inside, I broke my lease and moved back to Orange County where I had friends and family and support. I remember being worried that everything would be closed along the way so I wouldn’t be able to get something to eat or gas in my car.”

The possibilities of surfaces becoming infected is real and to Boujikian, was something to be careful of.

“I kept my apartment really clean and disinfected everything that came inside, so moving all my stuff into boxes or throwing it in the back of the car made me feel a little uncomfortable because I knew I couldn’t keep it all clean,” Boujikian said. “On top of everything, I had been laid off from my job and everything at the time seemed so bleak. I was just like ‘is this really happening?’.”

Alyssa Gillies is another student at San Diego City College, who decided to move home to San Diego from her off-campus apartment in Chicago amidst the pandemic.

“Before I left, I felt anxious that I may become sick during my trip or that I would not be able to use a restroom or find a hotel for the night,” said Gillies in an email. “This time was also amidst the George Floyd protests, so some businesses in larger cities, like Chicago, began to shut down again. However, once I started the cross-country drive, finding a place to stay and restaurants that offered take-out were fairly easy.”

The fear of driving across the country was not just about finding a restroom, it also included dealing with the heated politicalization of safety precautions like masks.

“One of the more difficult and stranger experiences that I had was when I stopped into a Subway in rural Kansas,” Gillies said. “The two clerks that were working behind the counter sneered at me for wearing a mask. The political divide caused by our country’s response to COVID-19 made interactions, such as this, the more demanding aspect of my move.” 

Trying to find help with moving can be costly and during COVID-19, most moving companies have stayed open being deemed essential businesses. Even though these companies are there to help, some like Gillies are less-inclined to use their help for fear of infection.

“I was lucky to be living with friends at the time that offered to help me pack my belongings into a rental car,” Gillies said. “I had boxes and a couple smaller pieces of furniture, but everything was able to fit in an SUV with the seats folded down.”

For most young Americans, cases of COVID-19 are mild, but for those who are immuno-compromised or elderly, the risk of hospitalization amplifies up to 13 times that of Americans aged 18-29. The risk of death for people aged between 75-84 who get infected is 220 times higher than that of 18-29 year olds.

So when Lenore Riechlin, who is in her mid 70s, had to move from her second floor Dana Point apartment to another apartment on the first floor, her worries grew heightened. Riechlin couldn’t move everything on her own, so hiring help presented issues.

“Moving is always a pain, but now I’m older and living upstairs wasn’t working anymore,” Riechlin said. “I paid some movers to do the heavy lifting and I rented a hotel room until they were done. I asked them to all wear their masks and try to be conscious of the coronavirus, but I stayed in my hotel a couple days extra after they finished so that some of my things could have the chance to disinfect and then when I got home I did a lot of cleaning on my own to make things feel safe.”

Cases of COVID-19 in the United States steadily keep rising and with it, obligations such as making an income, paying for bills and living life. Nearly 34% of American adults reported their households struggling to pay for food according to the November Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The data from the census collected by the Center on Budget and Policy priorities show that the struggles faced by Americans aren’t stopping.

Considering that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security act, a 2.2 trillion dollar economic stimulus bill, is set to be ending this month, moving may be something more and more Americans have to do. Those who had completed their moves can say that it was tough but with numbers continuously trending upwards the challenges increase.