Ask Ada: What To Do In A Pandemic When You’re Immunocompromised

Plus: how to share joint custody of a child while social distancing.

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

My Co-Workers Won’t Wear Masks

Dear Ada,

I’m employed and still have to go into a workspace for all of my shifts. I have an autoimmune disease, but I do still want to work. I’ve been wearing a face mask and practicing social distancing at work, and so have most of my coworkers. 

But, here’s the problem, a few people don’t wear masks, and I feel like they’re always in other people’s personal space. Worse – they seem to boast about how they don’t need to wear masks. I’m not one to start a problem, but I think they’re creating an unsafe work environment. How do I get them to mask up and stay away like the rest of us are?

You have two options: you can talk to your coworkers or you can bring HR or a superior into the picture.

Let’s start with your coworkers: Have you tried talking to them about how you feel or have you basically accepted their actions? Speaking up isn’t the same as starting a problem, and depending on your relationship with your coworkers, this might be the best place to start. 

If you feel safe talking to them, do it. Be clear and concise with your requests so they know exactly what you’re asking of them

Are you comfortable sharing your health concerns with your coworkers? If your coworkers are aware that they’re putting your health at risk, they may be more willing to comply. Of course, you shouldn’t have to disclose in order to get them to comply, but if they’re able to see the personal connection to why it’s important, they might agree.

If you aren’t satisfied with their response to this issue, it may be a good idea to “start a problem” and contact a disability lawyer to see how you can best protect yourself.

And back to the specifics. You want two things from them: to respect your personal boundaries and remain at least six feet away from you during the work day and for them to wear a mask like the rest of you. 

I’m worried that if they’re boasting about their non-compliance, they’ll dig in their heels and refuse. But if that’s the case, you’ve still taken the first step and spoken to them as a peer who needs their help.

If they choose to continue their behavior then you need to contact your superior or HR department and ask them to take action. Your employer is supposed to provide you with a safe working environment, and right now, it doesn’t seem like you’re in one.

Again, you’ll need to be clear with HR as to what you’re asking of them and why it’s important to you. If you aren’t satisfied with their response to this issue, it may be a good idea to “start a problem” and contact a disability lawyer to see how you can best protect yourself.

How Do I Handle Joint Custody During A Pandemic?

Dear Ada,

My ex-husband and I share custody of our one child, and even though we try to get along in front of her, we can’t stand each other. We live very different lifestyles, and I’m worried about how we can both go about sharing physical custody during a pandemic. How do I know he’s following social distancing rules? Should we change our schedule for sharing her? This might not seem like a big deal to some people, but I have multiple illnesses and I’m scared my child will carry the illness from his house into mine.

This calls for a sit-down conversation with your former spouse. Sure, you say you can’t stand each other, but as two adults who are co-parenting a child, you need to put your frustrations, anger, and whatever other feelings you’re both harboring, aside to figure out how you’ll both protect your child…and each other.

It doesn’t matter who wronged who or which one of you hurt the other the most. Right now what matters most is safety. Put the past behind you so you can all survive this pandemic.

Seeing as how he hasn’t approached you, you’ll have to be the bigger person and ask him to meet with you, whether through a video chat or by socially distancing in the driveway during a drop off. 

I recommend this conversation not be in front of your child if at all possible, but if she’s quite young and there’s no one to watch her, just make sure it stays civil so she doesn’t become part of the argument.

There’s two key things you’ll want to work through when you meet: how you both plan to approach social distancing and whether or not the custody arrangement needs to be adjusted.

Let’s start with social distancing. Ask your ex-spouse what he’s currently doing to protect himself and your daughter. If he’s not doing something that you’d like him to do, ask if he’ll consider it. 

For example, let’s say he brings your daughter to his parents to visit every Friday night. You can’t control whether he takes her, but you could ask him to make sure everyone is wearing a mask and washing their hands during a visit.

And don’t think I’m suggesting that visiting other households is appropriate. I’m simply suggesting that you aim for things that are achievable, because no matter how much you’d like to change his environment, you have absolutely no control over it.

Living different lifestyles doesn’t necessarily mean that your ex-husband isn’t following the best practices for doing everything to ensure his daughter is safe in his presence.

Don’t forget to discuss your custody arrangement if it’s something you’re anxious about. If you currently have your daughter every other day, you may consider splitting the week in half so there’s less coming in and out of houses. If you do go this route, understand that any change in routine could negatively impact your daughter. It’s important to bring her into the conversation and explain that the change is only temporary and is happening to keep everyone safe. She may need extra support and nurturing from the both of you as the transition occurs.

And one more thing: you’re right to be concerned. You can’t protect your child when they are away from you, and you also have no control over how your former spouse practices social distancing. 

But just remember, living different lifestyles doesn’t necessarily mean that your ex-husband isn’t following the best practices for doing everything to ensure his daughter is safe in his presence. 

The only way you can truly protect yourself and your child at this point is to enforce that which is within your control. Creating routines about reentering the home will give you some peace that you’re doing everything you can to keep the virus out of your home. 

Make sure your daughter doesn’t touch anything after entering the house and have her shower right away. Use gloves to immediately put the clothes she was wearing (and the towels she used) into the washing machine. It’s helpful to limit transferring items between houses, but if your child is bringing a special stuffed animal back and forth, let her know that the toy will need to be washed as soon as she comes home. 

If your situation worsens — let’s say you find out your former spouse is having unmasked friends over for dinner while your daughter is home — your only option to change your circumstances is to contact your lawyer for advice on how to proceed. 

Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email and tell us your problem.