In my last blog post, I took the pulse of members of my immediate family in terms of how they were coping with the pandemic and their thoughts on the predicament that planet was plunged into. This was 6 weeks ago, and we had reported 469 cases of COVID-19, 9 of which had died from the disease. We were under lock-down, working from home, unable to go to the beach, and not certain as to what “normal” would look like. I decided to check in once again as more time has elapsed, and here in Jamaica, as with countries all over the world, we appear to have entered a new phase in our response to COVID-19. People are still getting sick, people are still dying, but the restrictions imposed here in the west as at end March are being loosened. Heck, Jamaica welcomed tourists June 15 for the first time in months! So I wanted to see how my people were feeling, what their thoughts were with respect to this impending “new normal” and just how they’re coping as at now.
The COVID-19 State-of-Play in Jamaica now
As expected, we’ve started reporting new positive cases. Why expected? We’ve started receiving Jamaicans from overseas who want to come home, and we’ve started welcoming visitors back to our shores. For a nation whose economy depends so heavily on tourism, we had to. As the PM said: “We can’t survive the pandemic only to die in the recession.” There were 2 consecutive days last week where we reported over 10 positive cases per day, a marked and worrying departure from days of single digit and in many instances zero cases being reported. We’ve also entered a phase of “re-opening” various aspects of the economy and the beginning of us trying to get back to the way things were. So curfews are now 10pm to 5am. Rivers and beaches are now open, of course with health protocols and social distancing guidelines being encouraged (I wish I could say “enforced”!). Churches are open, with the health protocols and social distancing guidelines enforced. Beauty salons and barber shops and community bars were among the first businesses to re-open a few weeks ago, with, you guessed it, health protocols and social blah blah blah. The number of people allowed to attend weddings, funerals and churches has increased from 10 to 50, physical space permitting.
Are the COVID-19 Health Protocols & Guidelines being adhered to though?
Of course, as to whether or not people are actually adhering to these guidelines is another matter. We drove out to Trelawny last weekend, a beautiful parish on the north coast of our island, roughly 2 ½ hours drive from where we live, and we passed at least 2 burials in progress with at least 100 people in attendance. So there’s that!
My own informal observations & inquiries reveal that many, too many, people in Jamaica are behaving as if COVID-19 is a thing of the past. No masks. No physical distancing.
Schools are still closed, but many of us have resumed working in office.
The entertainment industry has been lobbying hard for some sort of resumption. With a 10pm curfew in place and social distancing guidelines still very relevant, how that will actually look on the ground remains to be seen!
Restaurants are still hurting, with most of their activity confined to delivery and take-out. A few have provided seating way below their regular capacity (social distancing and all that) and I expect that more an more people will gradually venture out to socialize and eat out like they used to. I was able to sit and have a coffee and a delicious omelet from my favorite coffee house this past Saturday. It was a balm to my soul! It’s still not the same, as only 3 of us were allowed to sit there, and we were served in disposables (ugh…I like my crockery), but its a start!
And did I say that beaches were re-opened? Well YASSSSS! The last time we went to the beach was early March. Over 3 months of no beach for beach lovers like us who live on an island, has been nothing short of TORTURE. So yesterday, we packed up and headed north.
Road-trip time! #lifeinthetimeofCOVID
I did say we went to Trelawny last week, but that wasn’t the original plan. You see, we decided to head out to the beach, for the first time in over 3 months. We went to our normal quick-run beach, an hour and half away, easy drive. Have mercy! When we got there, the gates were closed! “Sorry, Beach Full” was the depressing sign that greeted us. Can you imagine the disappointment? Well we were disappointed for exactly 3 minutes then we decided to continue west. We were determined to get to the beach. First time in over 3 months and we were expected to slink off into the bushes just so? NAH! Off we headed for Duncan’s Bay, Trelawny. This is just open seacoast, with powdery white sand and turquoise waters. The plan was to simply pull up and park and walk out to the seaside. We had our own simple picnic, since part of the regulations around the beach reopening forbids formalized dining on the beaches. So it was a BYOB and food too!
We got there in blazing sunshine much to our delight. You see, the weather forecast warned us that it would be a wet weekend. Sigh. After 3 months in lock-down under severe drought conditions (none of the traditional May rains), hot in the house, the first weekend we are able to venture to the beach had heavy, heavy rains in the forecast. So yes, we were thrilled to see the sun. The beach was everything we wanted. The water was crystal clear and warm. The sun beat down on us. Alas… this didn’t last long. The ONE time you pray that our notoriously inaccurate local weather forecasts stay true to character is the ONE time they didn’t.
Life Stays Dropping Lemons: first a closed beach, then a thunderstorm
And as is the case in the tropics, 20 minutes later, blue skies gave way to heavy, black clouds rolling in from the east. We crossed our fingers, we willed the clouds away, but to no avail. Jah Jah started to “draw him chair” across the floors of heaven and the thunder and lightning that we experienced gave way in short order to a heavy heavy down pour. We beat a hasty retreat, finally arriving bags and coolers in hand to where we had parked, drenched to the skin. Ah boi. So we sat in the car. And waited. And waited some more, hoping against hope that this was simply a passing cloud. But as we waited in the car, we chatted, and this is the occasion that I used to find out how my people were dealing and coping at this stage of the pandemic.
Nicholas (17) & The Pandemic: An Update
Recall that last I reported, Nick’s biggest concern was the resumption of English Premier League football. His favourite club was 2 wins away from winning the title for the first time in 30 years when the league shut down as a response to COVID-19. Well the good news for Nick as he told it as we sheltered from the thunderstorm in the car, was that the EPL was to resume in the coming week. this Wednesday. He was ecstatic and relieved. I’m happy for him, and I hope (please GOD, or the disappointment will be too much to bear!) he gets the outcome he wants!
Last I shared too, Nick’s terminal exams in terms of format and timing were still up in the air. Well as at now, we have a date and we have the timetable. So he is preparing with a timeline in mind. He says this makes preparation more meaningful and now that online classes have officially ended, he’s able to use his time better and with more comfort. He says that he didn’t actually mind online school at home. He said he certainly didn’t miss the commute and he was able to use his time better…that he had more time to exercise, for leisure and for school work with way less pressure than he felt Monday to Friday during a normal school week. He reported less distractions during class time too. We’re praying and hoping that all goes well with his exams and that his preparation will bear excellent fruit and that he’ll go on to great things in his life.
By way of his general thoughts and processing as to what was happening around him though, Nick expressed surprise and just a little dismay at just how much we don’t know, even at this stage, about the corona virus. He says that the conflicting information is jarring, but that he feels no personal fear of contracting the virus. He thinks he’ll suffer no ill-effects should he get infected, but that he worries about the possible impact on other members of his family. He says he’ll follow the protocols, but sees some difficulty when physical school reopens come September. The classrooms aren’t big enough to facilitate social distancing, plus the number of kids per class, especially in the lower school simply won’t permit this, he opines. He says it may be difficult at first to get kids to keep their distance from each other, especially after such a long time apart.
Nick also wonders how various sporting events will fare with reduced spectators. He insists that the new protocols that obtain will NOT become our new normal, that this is no way to live, and that we humans need to touch, to gather, to talk, to fellowship and that this sterile mask-wearing interaction devoid of touch is not sustainable because of our nature. “This is no way to live” he declared. He does think however, that the enhanced hygiene measures will stick.
Rachael (24) & The Pandemic: An Update
“I give up. I don’t care anymore. I’ve stopped thinking about it”. Something has given way in our daughter’s psyche. She reports being tired of the lock-down, the curfew, and the restrictions. Now I know that Rachael is no social butterfly, so I dug deeper as to why she was so put-out by the measures. As she tells it, just knowing that her movements are now limited and dictated by law, rubs her the wrong way. She finds the lining up to do grocery shopping, the masking up, the temperature checks and constant hand sanitizing at every stop onerous and tedious and burdensome. “I want to go back to work.” She taught some of her classes during the lock-down via Zoom, but some are studio classes, difficult to do remotely. The semester has now ended. And she misses the classroom, going to work, covering events and earning money. Rachael doesn’t care about catching the virus. And as I told her, she doesn’t need to explain her mindset to a soul.
At the beginning of this whole disruption she had conditioned her mind that things were not going to be the same. 3 months in, she is simply weary and over it, all of it. She’s existing day after day after day. I suspect she wants a sense of purpose again. As she explains it, this was her first year after graduating from college, and she was looking forward to a great first year in her professional life. And it started fine! Then COVID-19 happened, and here we are, all the things that are important to her having been forced to pause indefinitely. I get it. She hangs with her friends online, she engages on social media, but her days are simply not the same. She tries to write (her other way to make money other than teaching and being a free-lance photographer) but focus eludes her and writing for her has just become another part of the burden that her life now feels like. The one bright spark she mentions is that she has seriously improved her driving during lock-down (emptier roads perhaps?) and that she feels more confident around the steering wheel.
H: My Husband, their Father and the Pandemic: His Perspective
I didn’t report on H’s thoughts last post. But here we were, trapped in the car while the rain poured down, and he wanted in on the action! “I’m tired of this” was his very pointed and firm declaration as he swirled his cup with ice, rum and ginger ale (remember we had been picnicking on the beach ?) H says that our current existence feels surreal to him: the temperature checks, the masks… the MASKS! H has a real problem with the masks it turns out. According to him, he has difficulty breathing under normal circumstances. Now layer on this mask and his discomfort is ratcheted up! He says as he moves around under the burden of the masking restrictions, trying to navigate this surreal reality in this present context of social unrest he can’t get George Floyd out of his mind. Floyd cried out: “I can’t breathe” as 3 policemen in Minneapolis, USA pinned him to the pavement, one of them pressing his knee into his neck, and he can only imagine how horrific his last moments on this earth were. Plus he complains of inability to hear people properly as he can’t see their lips and read their facial expressions. No, he’s not deaf, but this is his feeling about masks.
But why surreal? Here’s how he explained his choice of the word “surreal”. Well most of us in Jamaica are apparently well and healthy. More than 50% of those testing positive for COVID are asymptomatic. So here we are, hale and hearty, walking around getting our temperature checked and all masked up. Yes, intellectually he understands the measures. Practically, they’re a pain and jarringly y at odds with the reality on the ground. He doesn’t think he’ll get ill, and in fact, he wouldn’t be surprised if he found out he had it late last year when he had a weird fever episode.
In answer to my probing as to whether or not he thinks we’ll “get back to normal”, his answer was quick and sure: “Of course we will!”. He referenced the Spanish Flu back in 1918. Normal life changed during and immediately after that pandemic, but eventually normalized to how we were living pre-COVID. He reckons it will take 18 months for us to get there.
So just how else is H coping? The first 8 or so weeks of the lock-down were quite tolerable for him, good even. He went to office daily, and benefited from significantly less traffic on the roads, the absence of our notoriously undisciplined taxi drivers, and enjoyed the time and space that resulted from the lock-down measures. Now that WFH has ended, peak hour traffic is back! Normal deliverables are expected! And so the current restrictions superimposed on this half-way normal reality feels exceedingly oppressive to him. H dreams of whisking his family away for a few days to a villa on the beach, where we have complete control of our surroundings, free to bask in the warm Caribbean sea, days that are slated with rum and grilled meats and where time is only told by the sun rising and setting. I’m here for ALLLLL of that! We’ll see what happens later this summer (fingers crossed!)
He doesn’t envy the policy makers. Public health vs the economy is how many frame the dilemma facing us, simply because it seems so difficult to find that sweet spot between these two seemingly opposing objectives. As the PM said, we can’t survive the pandemic only to die in the recession. H thinks it is time to re-open and get going again as we are doing, but adhering to public health guidelines is imperative to limit spread and keep as many of us as possible healthy.
Bonus Boy (almost 9): An Update
Mikey was not with us last weekend, but we spoke via Whatsapp call. I wanted to get an update as to how he was faring. His online schooling continues, but he was very definite and clear in his declaration over the phone to me: “I want to go back to school now. I want to see my friends.” He doesn’t fear getting ill, but understands the importance of masking up, socially distancing and keeping hands clean. He reports being quite prepared to do all of the above come September. Like his big brother, he welcomes the return of English Premier League football (Go, LFC!) Mikey thinks that eventually we’ll return to “normal” even though his own time horizon for this happening is a mere 6 months. The optimism of youth is a good thing, right?
My Own Thoughts: Kelly & The Pandemic. An Update
And as for me? LOL! My own philosophy continues to be “one day at a time”. I miss working from home. I enjoyed the convenience and flexibility. I got everything done comfortably. I simply want to see my kids happy and thriving. I want that villa vacay. I hate the masking up, but I do it. I don’t fear getting ill. I’ve done a lot over the past 2 1/2 years to improve my own metabolic health by changing the way I eat, and in addition to losing a ton of weight, I haven’t even had a cold in over 2 years. All the data is there that persons with poor metabolic health and the associated comorbidities like diabetes, hypertension, cancer, etc. are more at risk of serious illness and even death should they contract the virus. And there’s no pill that you can take to improve you metabolic health. There’s no tea you can drink or super-food that you can eat to improve your metabolic health if your standard diet is crappy. Many of us have radically improved our metabolic health by applying the scientifically backed principles of addressing insulin resistance and lowering blood glucose levels simply by consistently eating low-carb.
I follow the public health guidelines and very happily comply with social distancing rules. Those come naturally to me, a person happiest with my own company.
How our (first-after-3-months) Beach Day ended
Well the rain did NOT stop. And we decided to head back home. After driving for about 30 minutes, the skies cleared enough for us to pull off the road and have a mini tail-gating session. We poured drinks, and shared up chicken. We had nuts. Remember we are a keto family. Our eating needs are way simpler now. Just water, low-carb drinks and meat. And we headed home. Were we disappointed? Not really you know. Of course we wanted to spend longer in Duncan’s Bay, but at the end of it all, we did get some beach, we did have a road trip, we did enjoy each other’s company, we did offload our feelings about our current (sur)reality and we picnicked (albeit in the car).
There’s still so much uncertainty surrounding life in this “new normal”. We don’t appear to be “post-pandemic” just yet though. Places that have “opened up” all over the globe are experiencing an increase in positive cases. I think that many of us accept that the status quo today could change tomorrow as we continue our balancing act of living and making a living due simply to how unpredictable this virus is, how much we still don’t know and how very contagious is appears to be.