Terrified of COVID, she works from home. He goes to the office. What’s a family to do?

He’s a certified drug and alcohol counselor who opened a sober living home during the height of last winter’s deadly COVID-19 outbreak and is on site at least six days a week.

She works for a production company, colonized their kitchen table for her two oversized computer screens, and has remained largely locked up in their 600-square-foot apartment in Mar Vista, where they now dine on TV sets.

“When LA was, like, the worst place on Earth for COVID, I would go out and look at three homes a day,” said co-owner Jack Shain, researching locations for Hyperion Sober Living. “Cara was very anxious. It’s a light way of saying it.

Shain’s job means that he is in the world almost every day, where it is impossible to tell the vaccinated from the sick. Cara Ferraro keeps her home with the cats, her anxiety, and the stack of dishes still in the sink.

Contact with COVID-19 has been a strain for Jack Shain, left, who spends most of his time working outside the home to run a sober living center, and Cara Ferraro, who has been working from their home. apartment for a production company.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The pandemic has changed the fabric of life in many households, especially those where members’ working circumstances are very different. This raised questions of privilege and fairness within families and forced difficult conversations about responsibility and burden. The issues are big and small: health, privacy – and who does the laundry, sweeps the floors and does the grocery shopping.

Jackie Nuñez created a color-coded Google document to divide up tasks with her partner, Jack Dobbrow. “It was beautiful,” she says. “We used it for a month.” Sophie Bennett learned to ignore her husband’s voice at 3 a.m. – he works nights from their one-bedroom apartment in Koreatown. David Johnston of Torrance devotes his former commute time to housework, and “I’m happy to do it. “

As Year 2 of the pandemic draws to a close, the world is stumbling back to normalcy. The majority of people who can be vaccinated have received the vaccine, and while the Omicron variant is looming, the job is, in a way, coming back to its pre-pandemic circumstances.

More and more Americans are returning to the office. The Bureau of Labor Statistics sets the rate of people working at home at least part-time at 11.3% in November, up from a high of 35.4% in May 2020.

But that still means 17.5 million people are working from home and maybe running into other household members who can’t: grocery store clerks and teachers, caregivers. and those who work in restaurants, doctors, nurses, janitors, delivery drivers.

“If someone goes out into the world and someone stays at home, it creates a problem for both people,” said Arne Kalleberg, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, who wrote on “COVID-19, precariousness and the power of workers. “

Between those who can stay at home and those who cannot, he said, “the inequality is huge.”


Bucky, the three-legged senior rescue cat, sleeps on the couch, buried in an LA Dodgers blanket. Photogenic Zelda scampers off to the Cat Tower. The blue multi-story structure is nestled under the window between the papasan chair and the loveseat, where Ferraro and Shain sit side by side.

As the pandemic dragged on, the thirties learned to work together in the small apartment full of possessions. At first, he ran therapy groups from the living room through Zoom. She would join staff meetings – about 10 feet to the kitchen table, also via Zoom, instead of her Burbank office.

When the treatment centers where he worked began to reopen, he took over counseling in person – and was exposed to a client who had the virus.

A photo of a man and woman kissing among many decorating a refrigerator door

A photo of Jack Shain and Cara Ferraro on their refrigerator door.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

“I immediately panicked, even though he told me not to do it,” Ferraro said. “I just said to myself, ‘What are we doing? I emailed our doctor like, “Can I get tested?” Google all the CDC stuff, like, “How does this affect me?” “”

He was secluding himself in the bedroom for as long as he could take it. She slept on the sofa, wore a mask inside the apartment. None of them got sick. They have both been vaccinated since. Ferraro returned to therapy, via Zoom. They talked at length about managing anxiety and cleaning the house. Talks are ongoing. Since Shain opened the sober living center, he spends little time at home.

Shain: “I went from 75% of the housework to her to 25% when she worked in Burbank. Now she’s 97% and I’m 3%. I am not pulling my weight.

Ferraro: “We haven’t done a deep clean for a long time. “

Shain: “The last six months have been easier, at least for me. I think we have accepted our new roles.


The California lockdown began on March 19, 2020. Jackie Nuñez and Jack Dobbrow moved in together in San Mateo two days later. They went from seeing each other a few days a week to spending every waking moment together.

“It was a weird time to move in together,” Nuñez said. “We didn’t kill each other. Cleaning is our biggest sticking point.

The couple have since moved to Ventura. Nuñez is the deputy public information officer for the county and comes to the office every day. Dobbrow is in marketing for an Los Angeles-based electric vehicle company, a job that is permanently remote.

“Now that I’m in the office, I come home and say, ‘How does this stuff go wrong so quickly? “I just cleaned it up,” she said recently. “But someone lives in the house eight hours a day.”

When the couple first moved in, Nuñez laid out all of the household chores in a complex Google document. They pledged to go to the board every Sunday, figure out what needed to be done, and divide up the tasks. Their system quickly broke down.

So the 26-year-olds are talking. And they argue. The conversations, Nuñez said, are “controversial” and “repetitive”.

But each time, they improve a little. She vacuums every week, cleans the bathroom and the kitchen. He’ll vacuum when she asks him to, clean the bathroom when she asks him to. But he also fixes things, drives most of the time when they drive away, lets the plumber in because he’s home.

“We once had a conversation and had a [monthly] cleaning service, ”said Nuñez, a self-described cleanliness freak.

And then there was the watershed moment, a product of proximity, conversation and COVID-19.

“He said, ‘I don’t care about the cleaning, but I know it makes you happy. That’s why I’m doing it.


The big question Leonila Irias faces is how to stay safe while operating a day care center from her pretty pistachio green home in northwest Hawthorne as a global pandemic comes and goes outside.

Leonila Irias and her daughter, Alejandra Alarcon

Alejandra Alarcon, right, worries about bringing the coronavirus home from work and risking the health and livelihoods of her mother, Leonila Irias, who runs Irias Family Child Care in Hawthorne.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

This is where she lives with her eldest daughter, Alejandra Alarcon, a 29-year-old researcher at the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. It’s also where a dozen children arrive each day with a parent or two left behind, hunting down germs created by their own households.

Irias is 60 years old. Although she works from home, she is by no means a remote worker; instead, the world comes to her. That still makes her a target for a virus that has killed more than 74,000 people in California alone.

Latinos like Irias are 2.1 times more likely to contract the virus than non-Hispanic whites, according to the Times coronavirus tracker. When their share of the population is taken into account, blacks and Latinos die more often than others.

“There is something very frightening about how the coronavirus has had such a huge impact on this group – Latinas, Latinos and black residents, more than most, right? Said Alarcon. “I’m afraid of my mother’s mortality.”

Many extra precautions have been added, including face masks designated for each child.

Child-sized face masks are stored in a clear plastic rack hanging from a door at the Irias Family Daycare in Hawthorne.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Tuesday morning before the arrival of his charges, Irias showed some of the the safety precautions she and her assistant Perla Alvarado take every day. There is a small table next to the door where children check in. It contains a hand sanitizer and an electronic thermometer.

Bundles of small face masks are stored in a clear plastic rack that hangs from the doorway of what was once the master bedroom. There are tiny workstations where the younger ones sit; the older ones work at the dining room table.

“It affected everyone, especially the children,” Irias said. His charges call him abuela, grandmother in Spanish. ” They do not understand. It’s hard to explain to children, they have to keep their distance and can’t hug each other when they enter.

After more than a year of working from home – and sharing Wi-Fi with a dozen children learning remotely from the Irias family child care center – Alarcon is back on campus four days a week. Everyone on campus should be vaccinated or tested for the virus twice a week, she said.

Leonila Irias runs Irias Family Childcare from their home in Hawthorne, California.

Hawthorne, Los Angeles, CA-Nov. December 31, 2021 – Leonila Irias, right, runs the Irias Family Daycare from their home in Hawthorne, Calif. Many extra precautions have been added to keep everyone safe in the daycare, including checking the temperature of everyone entering the daycare and hand sanitizing. Perla Alvarado, center, is a childminder.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

For one thing, she no longer needs to explain to her colleagues why they hear the ABC singing loudly in the background at Zoom meetings. On the other hand, she now reaches out to children and their families as a possible disease vector, a potential threat to her mother’s health and income.

Alarcon is still worried about bringing the virus home and forcing Irias Family Child Care to temporarily close. Even a short stoppage poses a risk of losing clients, who must find other childcare services and may not return to her mother’s exploitation.

“It’s the tension,” she said. “It’s the weird COVID tension we have at home now.”

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