Stuck At Home: What Is The New Normal In The COVID-19 Era?

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As the world shuts its doors to hide from COVID-19, a new sense of normalcy has emerged inside many homes.

To staunch the spread of the virus, local government officials mandated a stay-in-place order for Alachua County, which went into effect March 24. Then, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into effect a statewide stay-at-home order officially requiring the state to stay indoors through April.

Life indoors is the new normal. But what does that entail? To accommodate the change in living, locals are all shifting in their own ways to create a new sense of normalcy.

A week before graduating from her flight attendant training, Ghada Chouder was sent home. The 28-year-old JetBlue Airways employee, who kept a strict routine of class, eat, study, sleep, suddenly returned to her family home in Gainesville where she tries to occupy her newfound time with tasks around the house and keeping connected with others.

Even though the training came to a halt, Chouder felt relieved to be sent home because after graduation she was to be stationed in New York City, considered the epicenter of the coronavirus in the U.S.

“It’s more of a blessing to be sent home,” Chouder said.

After college courses moved online and campus extracurriculars ended, some college students found relief in the ability to take things at their own pace.

Sebastían Sarmiento, a student at Sante Fe College and employee at Office Depot in Ocala, noted the biggest change in schedule is regaining the chunk of time it would take to commute to school and back plus the time spent sitting in physical classrooms. The flexibility to tackle homework and online courses at his leisure have opened up his schedule.

His job hours have remained relatively the same, but that’s an outlier.

“I think everyone’s life has changed,” Sarmiento said.

Luke Han, a pre-nursing freshman at the University of Florida, said the added flexibility has given him more free time. Before social distancing, he was a part of Gator Emergency Response Unit and a volunteer at the fire department.

Now, back at home in West Palm Beach, he said he has more time than he knows what to do with. “It’s actually a little bit frustrating sometimes,” he said.

Maddie Crowley, a UF third-year linguistics and education sciences major with a minor in disabilities in society, said she’s been able to build a schedule that works for her. But as someone with muscular dystrophy, which causes muscles throughout her body to be weak, she is concerned about her access to medical care in the future with an overwhelmed medical system.

She routinely goes to UF Health Shands Hospital for eight hours every other week.

She said her team of doctors has been considerate but she said, “things are escalating quite quickly and we have no idea what the next couple of months are going to look like.”

The daily life of India Juliana, 30, has changed immensely after being temporarily laid off from BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, where she was a server for the past three years.

Juliana has lung and heart issues that place her at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus. As a result, she has been self-quarantining alone in her house for almost a month. Her friends pick up groceries for her, which she wipes down with disinfectant right after receiving them.

Since then, she has been constantly calling unemployment services but has had trouble getting ahold of someone. She also said she has been denied from getting food stamps, despite her lack of income.

“They said I make too much money,” she said. “And I was like, ‘That’s funny. I’m not making any money at all.’”

Some have not experienced a large shift in their schedules but rather approach their responsibilities and daily structure a bit differently.

Monica Fowler, the 71-year-old owner of Delectable Collectibles in Micanopy, immediately closed up shop after receiving word concerning the closure of non-essential businesses. Despite this, she maintains structure in her day by heading into the store for three hours each day to clean and enjoy time with her dog Abigail, who lives in the store.

“Every day I come here, and we spend time together, and I clean and I reorganize and I restock,” Fowler said.

The schedule of Jess Mather, a 29-year-old strength and rehab professional, hasn’t changed significantly since the start of social distancing since she consults clients online from her home in Gainesville.

But, she misses the small moments of human connection that she was used to in her pre-quarantined life: Trips to the farmers market and opening her door to a friend are no more.

Regardless, she said she noticed “this new kind of energy of support that wasn’t quite there before.” People are asking “How are you?” and “You doing OK?” more often.

New pockets of hobby time have emerged, too.

Mather has allowed herself time for play without guilt. For her, this means spontaneously dancing whenever she feels like it. Juliana is reading a Harry Potter book. Crowley has been playing Animal Crossing and Minecraft. While she isn’t as busy with her acapella group, she still finds herself singing around the house.

Han has been watching a lot of Netflix — mostly “Parks and Recreation” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

For Fowler, cleaning has become her solace.

“What’s really funny is I see pieces of the floor of my store that I have not seen for 20 years,” Fowler said.

Chouder is also returning to her forgotten pursuits.

“There’s a lot of things I want to work on,” Chouder said. “A lot of projects that I’ve been putting away for years.”

One of those projects is picking up a paintbrush as she used to when she was younger. When “regular adult life gets in the way of things,” it can be difficult to fit in time for passion projects, she said.

Juliana calls herself a survivalist, one who has faith in the universe and that as long as she remains good and kind, everything will be OK.

“We’re essentially in a global trauma,” Mather said. “I think it’s important to remember that humans are innately resilient. Even in the pain and suffering, you still possess resiliency. You are human and it exists.”

About Lauren Rousseau

Lauren is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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