Who would have thunk that we’d be here as a planet today? The entire world is grappling with a pandemic which is killing people, decimating economies and baffling scientists. When China first reported this new virus impacting parts of its population earlier this year, I don’t think many of us thought that it would touch us at all. It was a virus, all the way over there. Yet here we are…locked-down, quarantined, working from home, masking up and asking how will this end and when will it end. And guess what? Choose a country, any country anywhere in the world, and someone there is asking those very same questions. It feels as if everything has happened so fast and many of us are just trying to catch our breath and COPE. While I’ve been doing my best to cope, I’ve also been concerned about our children and how they have been coping with this upheaval. So I decided to check in with them and document it as a sort of personal snapshot of COVID-19 in Jamaica. For posterity.
Meet our Children
Two of our children are not babies. Rachael is 24 and Nicholas is 17 (he turned 17 in April, under lock-down. Bonus Boy Michael is 8. They’re all still so young and simply don’t have enough life experience and terms of reference in my opinion to process this sudden change in their lives and in the lives of everyone around them. Sure they have a roof over their heads and food in their bellies (give thanks for that!) but even as I grappled with my own questions and fears to do with the Covid-19 pandemic and how it might impact ME, I wondered about them. So I asked them. And it is something I do from time to time. I say: “Mental Health Check In Time! How you doing? What concerns you today?” And we talk.
COVID-19 Pandemic: State of Play early May 2020
Jamaica reported its first COVID-19 case on Tuesday March 10. Today, we are reporting 469 cases, 9 of which have died from the disease. There is no set time for releases on the state of play as it relates to the progress of the disease in Jamaica. We typically get a warning tweet from our Minister of Health and Wellness to stand-by for a new update. And between 10 and 20 minutes anxious minutes later, we get our updates in this format:
The Jamaican government has responded with a range of measures: school closure, work from home guidelines, curfews, lock-down of specific communities, beach closures, mandatory mask wearing and social distancing guidelines, and closure of many businesses including hotels, bars, cinemas, call centers, and so on. The economic fall out has been swift and in many cases devastating at an individual level. Small entrepreneurs have seen their income streams switch from on to off literally overnight. Larger firms have instituted pay-cuts and even cut staff. Farmers have had their biggest market, the tourism industry, shrivel to nothing. And no one knows when and how this situation will be resolved.
Even as our case count in Jamaica surges, one senses a switch in strategy in terms of the management response from the government. I expect that lock-downs may become a thing of the past except in certain very specific situations. I expect too that the current 6pm to 6am curfew will be relaxed somewhat. Of course, this is all speculation on my part founded on murmurings from powerful private sector players and rumblings from various corners of society on social media and elsewhere. I may be wrong. I don’t envy our decision makers at all! This is literally uncharted territory. Balancing health with economic imperatives is a delicate and difficult balancing act. The world’s best scientists remain baffled by the COVID-19 virus so remedies remain elusive and questions abound as to the best strategy for managing this disease.
Here’s the global COVID-19 situation today:
And simply because grappling with COVID-19 has been a novel experience for the majority of the planet, and because resource availability differs country to country, there is no best-practice model for governments to follow as they try to cope. The USA is so close to Jamaica, so many of our people live and work there and we rely on the USA for the lion’s share of our 2 biggest foreign exchange inflows (tourism and remittances) and so what happens there impacts us in a real and direct way. We have been looking on intently at how the virus has treated that country and their response.
17 Year Old Nicholas & the Pandemic
Nicholas is in grade 11 at school. He was slated to sit final regional exams in May, the results of which determine how he matriculates into college. As at now, the regional examination body has revised the assessment rubric and has tentatively scheduled those exams for July. Of course sitting the exams in July is wholly dependent on the spread and impact of COVID-19. And so what happens if they don’t get to sit the exams in July? What happens to those students in the lower grade who need to move up? Very real, very serious questions and implications.
Once schools closed, Nicholas’ school immediately switched to online classes. Thank God our internet service in our neck of the woods has improved over the last year and half. It wasn’t always like this. We live in rural St. Andrew and the struggle has been real. Thank God he has a laptop to use. Only one teacher was late to the online party, but he has since come on-stream and all appears to be well as at now. Nicholas tells me that not all the students attend online school. Some simply don’t have internet access. A few are uninterested and unsupervised.
To hear him tell it, he is comfortable with online school. Yes, he has questions about whether he’ll actually be able to sit CSEC exams as scheduled and if not, what next. Know what my son’s number one concern and upset in this whole corona virus pandemic is? The suspension of English Premier League football. He is a Liverpool football club fan. Apparently, LFC was 2 wins away from winning the trophy for the first time in many, many years, and came this close to winning last year. He was gutted when the league was suspended and frets about if the season will resume and when or if it’ll simply be scrapped. Go figure. His second issue to hear him tell it, is that he misses his friends. Now my son is no social butterfly. We’re a pretty insular family who hang out as a family, very rarely with anyone else. So this “missing my friends” was a bit of a surprise to me. But you know, he went to school 5 days a week from 7am to 3pm. And he hung out with people his own age. He no longer has this opportunity to simply be a teenage boy with like minds, free to goof around and talk about whatever they talk about and to be a kid away from his mom and dad. Sure he does it online (I hear and see him) but apparently its not the same. I am sad for him.
In the meantime, he attends online school, he does his assignments and he studies. I see him. And he works out almost daily. He plays football by himself in our yard, working up a good sweat and uses dumbbells in an effort to bulk up his tall, skinny frame. I love this kid so much. And we talk. My own message to him is that he ought only to use his energy on the things he has control over. That it is normal to feel down sometimes, to feel anxious, to wonder about the future. And that this too shall end and we shall emerge on the other side. Awoe.
Rachael and COVID-19
Rachael is a college graduate. She has been lecturing at our premier visual and performing arts college and she is also a freelance photographer and writer. Well, since COVID-19, all events have been cancelled. No opportunity to free-lance as a photographer there. And she has had to transition to delivering her classes online. She tells me that she was trepidacious about this new modality, but has become more comfortable now. She says its not ideal for her, and it saps her energy, but that it still is working out better than she anticipated. One hurdle crossed. Like the rest of us in this family, Rachael is not very social, so she is not suffering from the absence of parties and such the like. What she says she is suffering from is the absence of road-trips. This is how we live, but with curfews and the closure of beaches and rivers, we have simply been staying put. Road trips is where Rachael practices her craft. And understandably, she has been distressed about the lack of opportunity to indulge her passion. Imagine a painter being unable to paint for whatever reason. Imagine a chef being unable to cook. I think of the actors who are now out of work. Her income streams have reduced and her creative outlets limited. She tells me that she wonders when this whole thing will end. She wants to go back out to work. Like many of us, she simply wants predictability to return. In the meantime, she does what she can to cope.
I’m proud of her. Over the years, Rachael has learned to cope with anxiety and uncertainty. She is now able to realize when her reserves are tanking and she sets boundaries and takes actions to preserve her mental health. Check out this piece she wrote about coping during this strange and uncertain time. Did I say I was proud of this young woman?
She’s teaching, making the best of it, and yesterday we chased the early morning light, a minute after 6am, in search of The Perfect Shot along Kingston Harbour and the Palisadoes. Our hunt was not in vain. The featured image for this post was taken by Rachael and is a simply stunning capture of people coping, the untamed south east coast of Jamaica and the majestic mountains that rise up from the plains to guard us.
An 8 year old and Life in the Time of COVID
Our Bonus Boy is 8 years old. He doesn’t live with us, but he used to spend every other weekend with us. That has stopped since COVID. We miss him and he misses us. Whatsapp video calls are not the same as having him here. He appears to be coping ok with online school, and he has all the resources in place to do what he needs to do. He is a very social person, and has had contact with his church and friends cut. He entertains himself online and exercises at home. He says he misses going to school and seeing his friends. My heart hurts for these kids who are missing weeks and weeks of normal child stuff. But like the rest of us, he’s doing what he has to do day to day. And we’re all looking forward to getting back to “normal”…
And as for me… Kelly and COVID-19
Coping is a day by day endeavor. Some days are better than others. For my part, I have questions without answers, and this takes a toll. I am never content to see issues without logical answers and move on. I think. I overthink. My mind automatically goes to worst case scenarios (I’ve worked in operations and logistics most of my life…anticipating worst possible outcomes comes naturally to me 🙁 ). Questions that keep rattling my cage: should Jamaica move to a complete lock-down situation? How are small entrepreneurs faring? When will they be able to open their doors again? Will the death rate in Jamaica mirror other countries? Will this thing bust out of control and will our hospitals be able to cope? And the scientist in me remains baffled and in awe and terrified of the new discoveries every day that emerge about how this virus actually works. The more that happens, is the more I realize just how much we don’t know! And optimally managing something that we don’t understand simply isn’t possible. Sigh…
This is my 6th week of working from home. I workout, I fast and I continue to eat low-carb. This has helped me a lot in terms of stabilizing moods and causing me not to gain weight (I’ve actually lost a few thank God!). Grocery shopping has become a military operation: masking up, lining up and getting temperature taken before being allowed in. Ugh. No longer does one simply pop out and pop in to a pharmacy or supermarket. It’s a hassle. I miss the beach. I worry about my job; will I still have one going forward? Ah bwoy. But like our children, I manage what I can and press on.