The Quarantine Diaries: Day 1

The number of COVID-19 (more commonly known as coronavirus) cases in Germany is growing. The curve is on the upswing, and it’s getting steeper. The situation is changing quickly, and in just a few days, coronavirus has gone from a bit of a running joke (at least in my office) to a serious fear.

The preventative measures seem at once too late and too soon. Why didn’t Germany start implementing social distancing measures before the number of cases in the country hit three, or even four, digits? On the other hand, why the sudden panic now, when we seemed fine for so long?

I’m not a virologist. I don’t have the answers.

Last week, all sorts of clubs, organizations, businesses, restaurants, and sports facilities were taking preventative measures, but not making any major changes. If you’ve visited a high-risk area, please stay home. If you have any symptoms, or have had contact with a sick person, please don’t come. If you’re healthy and well, sneeze into your elbow, wash your hands frequently, and we’ll provide some extra bottles of hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes for your well-being.

Then on Monday, everything changed. Schools were shut down. Bars and clubs, too. All businesses and administrative offices deemed non-essential for daily life closed. Freelancers, small business owners, artists, musicians, gastronomy workers, hotel staff, people working in travel and tourism, people working in the insurance industry, and athletic instructors all began to worry about their livelihoods. Restaurants could stay open, assuming they were able to keep a 1.5-meter distance between patrons. By Tuesday, a 6 p.m. curfew was enacted on them, too.

A friend of mine staying in a hotel in Hamburg said when she went to check out, the receptionist was close to tears because she had just been fired. How was she supposed to find a new job when countries were enacting travel restrictions all over Europe?

I got in a fight with my best friend recently over a corona-related topic. She was coming to terms with the fact that she wouldn’t be able to see the guy she was dating long-distance for a while because of the outbreak. “Life sucks,” she wrote. I got mad and told her there were people in Italy trapped in their apartments with dead bodies because the coroner couldn’t take them away fast enough, and that she should be grateful the worst effect she had to suffer because of the virus was that she didn’t get to see her partner for a few months. As it turns out, when someone is upset, a reminder that other people have it worse doesn’t really make them feel better, and the conflict escalated.

I’ve become extremely aware of my privileged position in life over the past few weeks as the pandemic has unfolded. I’m a full time, salaried worker with paid time off and the possibility of remote work. Whether or not I can physically go to work, or even work, I will still get paid. Even my industry (PR) is minimally affected by the virus – in fact, the need for crisis communication and digital storytelling solutions is greater than ever. I’ve never been more glad to no longer be working in the cruise industry.

Many companies sent their workers home to work remotely a week or even two ago. On Friday, my employer told us the option of home office was available to us, but not required. Entire teams announced they would be working on home, and several emails went around with tips on how to use different online tools and how to make the most out of remote work.

By the weekend, I was mentally ready for home office. I love my apartment, and bemoan the fact that a full-time job means I get to spend much less time in it than I like. And I was looking forward to the chance to do all the home workouts and hobbies I liked.

Reading books, doing yoga, playing the piano or the guitar, doing pushups and chin-ups and working on my splits, practicing pole dance, doing jigsaw puzzles, jogging, fixing things in my apartment and cleaning. I had high expecations for my home office phase.

So when I found out over a series of Whatsapp messages late Sunday night that my entire team was planning on being in the office on Monday, I was seriously bummed. I didn’t want to be the only one to stay home, but going in to work seemed dangerous and stupid. I fought with my boyfriend about it. In the end, I took the public transit (I was too lazy to bike with my heavy laptop in my backpack, so I decided to risk it) and went to work.

The office was more than half empty, but a surprising number of people beyond my immediate team were still there. However, as the city administration announced more and more restrictions on daily life, the company upped its home office guidelines to “strongly recommended,” and, after an exceptionally long and strenuous day, it was decided that we would all switch to remote work.

Day 1. I woke up feeling optimistic. The sun was shining, and I noticed a bird’s nest outside my window. For the first time in nearly a year, I went jogging – a short, 3km route through the botanical garden Planten un Blomen. Many people were taking advantage of the sunny weather, and I saw nearly a dozen other joggers just during my short stint. The playgrounds had been roped off and the greenhouses were closed, but otherwise, the park was operating as normal. I’m not sure I should feel guilty or not. I read an article recently about the healthy effects of sunlight and fresh air, so I thought going outdoors was safe. However, I later saw some people online shaming others for going to parks as it meant they weren’t social distancing. I’m not sure. As long as you’re not meeting in a large group, is it really a problem? I wish the guidelines here were more clear.

Shower, breakfast. My boss asked for 9:30 a.m. check-in calls every morning. I was thrilled that my commute only consists of crossing my apartment rather than crossing the city now. But my mood quickly soured, as today happened to be a high-stakes, high-stress day at work, and my teammates’ irritation was apparent.

At noon, I went for a quick lunch break to my favorite falafel place in the neighborhood, Falafel Haus on Grindelallee. I used to go there all the time for lunch or even an early dinner as a student, but now that I live in the neighborhood, I prefer to eat at home. The owner of the restaurant, who I’d gotten to know during the semesters in which I was a regular there, was working, and we had a pleasant chat. He said he had fewer customers than usual because the university had canceled finals and delayed the start of the new semester to April 20 – more than a month away. School breaks were always slow times, but they’d never lasted six weeks before. I gave him a generous tip, and he gave me two stamps on my punch card.

The afternoon featured four hours straight of video conferencing, which was exciting for about 15 minutes and then became grueling. By the end of it, my brain was fried, I couldn’t concentrate, and I needed to get away from looking at a screen. After a quick debrief phone call with a colleague, I double checked my messages – all clear – and made myself some dinner.

At 7 p.m., I did a yoga live stream with my favorite yoga in Hamburg, Kat Bates. The theme of the day was yin yoga, a type of slow, relaxing yoga where you lay on the floor and hold poses for a very long time. Although I generally prefer high-energy and power yoga, it was a pleasant break and I enjoyed it.

I checked my work computer once again and realized, to my dismay, I’d missed a handful of messages and a debrief phone call with the whole team. I felt guilty that I’d missed it, and frustrated that home office made it difficult to tell when the work day ended. I apologized (my teammates were relaxed about it) and typed up six pages of notes from our four-hour video conference as atonement.

I had originally planned on playing the piano later, but it was late and I decided to do some online shopping instead.

It’s 10:30 p.m. on Day 1, and while I’m slightly less enthusiastic about home office than I was 24 hours ago, I still think it will be a good experience. Replacing my morning commute with a morning exercise routine is great. Having more time in the mornings and evenings will allow me to get plenty of sleep AND indulge in my hobbies, even while working full time. We’ll just see how long it lasts. The loneliness, for one, hasn’t set in yet.


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