The Quarantine Diaries, Day 29: The New Normal

I had to check the calendar to see how many days it’s been. Working from home, staying in, and seeing nobody but my boyfriend has become the new normal. Streets are quiet, shops are closed, and going to the supermarket is a rare and dangerous undertaking. Despite the dark circumstances for human society, spring is relentless. The days grow absurdly longer, birds and plants and flowers are out in full force, and the ridiculously sunny weather belies the darkness of the situation. It is hard to feel too sad, or take the situation too gravely, when the sun is shining.

Western health organizations reverse their stances on face masks

In the beginning, I saw the occasional person wearing paper or cloth face masks in public, and I judged them. The guidelines at the time said: you should only wear a mask if you’re sick, and if you’re sick, you shouldn’t leave the house.

That all changed at the beginning of April. Seemingly overnight, the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, and the Robert Koch Institute reversed their stances on face masks in public – something which has long been common in Asian countries. Interestingly, the scientific consensus was the same: non-medical face masks do little to protect the wearer from an airborne virus, but they can help prevent the wearer from infecting other people by stopping the spread of virus-carrying droplets when they cough or sneeze. It was just how the different countries interpreted these results that varied. In many parts of Asia, the understanding that “my mask protects you, your mask protects me” meant that wearing a mask in public meant you were a responsible, caring citizen. In the more individualistic Western societies, authorities scoffed at the use of masks for everyday citizens, pointing out that masks do little to protect the wearer as the average virus is small enough to fit through the holes in cloth or paper many times over, and that medical-grade masks, which are in short supply, should be reserved for medical personnel.

Suddenly, masks were in high demand – or higher than they had been before. I saw via the app Goodhood/Nebenan that a neighbor of mine was sewing masks, so I raided my closet for old t-shirts and bedsheets, and donated the fabric to her in exchange for two masks. (As I am one of the lucky ones to not be financially impacted by this crisis, I made a small monetary donation too, so she could buy more materials). I also bought a couple of masks at a tailor shop while I was waiting for the neighbor to finish my masks, but they turned out to be way too big for my face. I’ll try to tighten the ear loops or give them to another friend.

Oh yeah, politics still exist

Coronavirus, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 – whatever you call it, it’s dominating the news cycle. I’ve almost forgotten that non-pandemic news exists. But on April 8, Bernie Sanders dropped out of the U.S. presidential race, making Joe Biden the presumptive presidential nominee and reminding Americans that politics are not standing still. Given Sanders’ poor performance in the primaries, this was unsurprising, but disappointing to a lot of people. Although Biden was not my top choice of candidate, I repeated the mantra: anyone is better than Trump.

“Moving in” with my boyfriend

I spent one week working from home in my boyfriend’s apartment. It was nice to have someone around to spend the evenings with, to cuddle and tickle during my breaks, and to talk with when I got lonely. He cleaned out the tiny “office” room in his apartment and set me up with an external monitor so I could work with two screens, just like in the office. During my lunch break, we went on walks, grabbed food, or made runs to my apartment so I could restock on clothes and water my garden. We got into an evening routine of cooking dinner together, having a few glasses of wine, and watching Babylon Berlin. I got out of my routine of exercising regularly, and am now still trying to get back in to it. In the past two weeks, I’ve been jogging once.

Working in my garden

Speaking of gardens, I am loving having so much time for gardening this year. My boyfriend and I spent an afternoon on Easter weekend pulling out all the weeds in my little patch of dirt. I’ve got tomatoes, lettuce, bell peppers, basil, coriander, and cress started on my windowsills. So far I’ve planted corn, sunflowers, lavender, rosemary, and thyme in my little garden. I’m looking forward to having fresh herbs and vegetables over the next few months.

Breaking the rules

For the most part, I have been good, meeting with no one except my boyfriend and washing my hands every time I leave and re-enter my apartment. But my best friend, who is newly single, has been very bored and lonely sometimes, and I miss her too, so we talked about it and decided to risk meeting up once in a while. My boyfriend only has contact with me, I only have contact with him and my best friend, my best friend only has contact with me and one other friend, and her friend only has contact with her and his wife, so all in all, we are a closed group of five people who are not meeting up with anyone else. None of us have symptoms, and all of us have been social distancing for at least four weeks. I do feel guilty, because that’s not what you’re supposed to do, but the mental health benefits I get from seeing my friend make the risk seem worth it. Maybe I’m selfish. But I am so tired of crappy Zoom connections, “is my video working?” and staring at screens.

Should people pay for news about coronavirus?

The New York Times and several other news organizations are making their news about the novel coronavirus free. In times like these, information is a vital service that everyone should have access to. The question is, should people have to pay for it? The German data journalism magazine Katapult wrote a scathing article shaming news sites for placing their coronavirus coverage behind a paywall. Yet doctors and nurses – who also play a vital role in this crisis – do not go around giving away medical care or coronavirus tests for free. Should journalists, then, provide their services for free?

Journalism institute Poynter did a nice analysis of the issue:

“Journalism is a public service. Is it more like critical health care or food?

If you show up at the hospital, they treat you, then figure out how to recoup the cost. If you go to the grocery store, you are still expected to pay for your food. During normal times, news is more like food, you can get it in lots of places and the quality may depend on what you’re willing to pay. But in times of crisis, information becomes more akin to emergency room care.”

Guilty pleasures

Since all the bars are closed and I was getting tired of only drinking wine, I splurged and bought ingredients for mimosas and Cosmopolitans – my favorite cocktail. If I can’t enjoy going out, at least I can enjoy staying in.

Easter weekend

Between Good Friday and Easter Monday, Easter is a four-day weekend in Germany, and this year it was blessedly sunny and warm. I’d been feeling stressed out and overwhelmed with work, so I was glad to have a few days to take a break. I slept long every day, spent time with my boyfriend, and did a little cooking and cleaning. Having four days in a row where I didn’t have to work made the corona pandemic finally feel like a vacation – or a staycation, at least.

I realize I am incredibly lucky. I still have my job, and I like working from home.  I have a boyfriend who I still regularly see, but we don’t live together so we can still take breaks from each other when we want. I have a modest but comfortable apartment in a nice neighborhood with safe streets and parks nearby. Although I get caught up in life’s little annoyances – long lines at the supermarket, senior citizens blocking the aisles, long waiting times for online deliveries, limited postal service to the US, not being able to see my friends – all in all, I have to remind myself that I have it so good compared to many people. As one of my friends put it, “there are plenty of people who would be extremely happy to experience my crisis situation as their daily life.”


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