Journal of the Plague Year: The exquisite agony of self isolation

Posted Friday, March 13, 2020 in News

Journal of the Plague Year: The exquisite agony of self isolation

Bowdoin College in Brunswick, one of five (and counting) colleges and universities in Maine that are closing for the rest of the school year owing to Covid-19.

by Gina Hamilton

March 13, 2020

On a nasty, rainy day, the remaining colleges in the state announced that they would close after spring break and begin online coursework to the end of the year.  That's unfortunate on many levels.

There is a vast difference between being in class on campus, where you can work with your classmates in study groups, grab a cup of coffee or glass of beer, attend a musical evening, colloquium in an interest area, college game, or visit a new exhibit at the college museum, take an actual lab, and be encouraged by professors, and the silent world of computerized work in your childhood bedroom or on your parents' sofa in the livingroom.

For seniors, the isolation will be particularly difficult, as no one really knows if there will even be a commencement after their four years of effort.

Some students are in more dire straits than others; international students may have difficulty getting back and forth to college.

College towns are worried, too -- a lot of their school-year income comes from student spending.

Kindergarten-12 schools are extending their spring breaks, and it will be a short step from that to closing indefinitely if things don't improve quickly.  This will leave students reliant on assistance from the school lunch and breakfast programs scrambling for calories, and leave many parents with childcare struggles.

Meanwhile, regular people -- the worried well -- are stripping stores of supplies. Yesterday,  we saw that our local Shaw's was out of pantry staples, such as flour and sugar, and Covid-19 specific items like hand sanitizer. Other friends said that specialty store Whole Foods was out of pasta. Really? And nut milks, which might be expected.

What isn't completely out of stock is often difficult to reach, especially for the vertically challenged.

And then there's the greeting business. We aren't shaking hands anymore, so people are coming up with their own strange and new means of saying hello. The greeting I prefer is a simple hand over heart (no shaking that, if you please) with a little head nod or sketched bow. But there are these other things that are just weird, if you ask me -- a rather awkward elbow bump has become suddenly fashionable. Handing out flyers can transmit the virus, as can giving out business cards.

But most of that worked out, because at the height of Maine's show season, the shows are shutting down. The boat show got in under the wire, but the Maine Flower Show announced its cancellation just today. Whether the Home Show will go on is questionable. It looks like it's been postponed to May, but they're still advertising for it.

At home, working in isolation is difficult. Although dogs seem to like our being here, it's more difficult for us. We see a rug that needs vacuuming. We are reminded when we get a cup of tea that the dishes need doing. Every minor sniffle or cough catches us up. Is it the coronavirus? Or is it just March?

We'll see.

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