This story was published in partnership with The 19th, a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom reporting on gender, politics and policy.
When COVID-19 emerged, Jyl Choate’s family entered into strict lockdown. They had no choice: Choate, 51, doesn’t have just herself to think of. Beyond caring for her husband and two children, she is responsible for her 87-year-old mother.
“Nobody wants to kill grandma,” said Choate, who lives just outside of Atlanta in Marietta, Georgia. “If any of us get the virus, she will probably get it.”
Choate’s whole life revolves around her mother: 14 hours a day, seven days a week, she makes sure her mom eats, exercises, takes her medications and goes to doctors’ appointments. Even before COVID-19, she stopped working to stay on top of her mother’s needs. Now, the pandemic has strained her family’s finances. Choate is more stressed than ever, sleeping maybe four or five hours a night.
Family caregivers says the coronavirus pandemic complicates their already difficult task. (Photo: Getty Images)
If not for the health crisis, Choate might have hired someone to help care, even just for a few hours every now and then, to alleviate some of the burden. Now the risk of exposure is too great to allow anyone else into the home. Already, her mother has a host of medical conditions, including heart disease, COPD, osteoarthritis and macular degeneration.
COVID-19 could be a death sentence. If her mother falls — which happens often — Choate has tried to take care of her at home, doing all she can to keep her from going to the hospital. She recently had to break that rule, taking her mother in for emergency care. But because of the pandemic, she isn’t allowed in to visit her mom and provide the assistance she normally would have.
Those worries have political ramifications for Choate, who wrote in a vote for Jeb Bush in 2016. She is a lifelong Republican in a state looking increasingly competitive for 2020. But she can’t vote for Donald Trump, she said — especially after the president, who recently contracted the coronavirus, told voters “don’t be afraid” of COVID-19.
“We’ve got friends who died, but ‘It’s OK, don’t be scared.’ I’m supposed to tell my 87-year-old mother don’t be scared?” she said. “Don’t turn around and tell me I have nothing to be scared of when I have been locked down with my entire family since March.”
She watched the vice presidential debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence with rapt attention. Hanging in the balance, she said, was the decision whether to break with her party and vote for Joe Biden, or to just stay home.
Almost 42 million Americans, or 16 percent of all adults, serve as caregivers for relatives 50 or over. The majority of the people doing this unpaid, labor-intensive work are women, and, on average, they are just shy of 50 themselves, according to data compiled by the AARP. Many have jobs outside the home, or are also