Residents cope with cabin fever during COVID-19 pandemic

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Resident Monique Doussard's 8-year-old, 11-year-old and 13-year-old sons have been staying active by playing on their trampoline while school is out. (Photo/ACPS)
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By Luke Anderson | [email protected]

In an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, Governor Ralph Northam issued a stay-at-home order for everyone in Virginia on March 30. Alexandrians are now trying to find ways to fight off cabin fever.

In compliance with health officials’ guidelines, many residents have stayed inside, working or attending school remotely for several weeks already. This order officially requires everyone in the state to remain in their residence unless going out for food, supplies, work, medical care or exercise and will remain in effect until June 10, unless revoked or extended by executive order.

Residents of all ages and backgrounds are using technology to keep in touch with family and friends, and they’re developing creative ways to stay fit, clear their minds and fill their time.

Alexandria resident Emily Mark has been working from home since her office closed on March 16. Mark said her first few days at home were very boring and she didn’t know what to do. She tried to go out once a day for a walk but cut back after seeing local parks crowded with people.

During her first week at home, Mark was unproductive and spent a lot of time watching the news and Netflix, she said. At the beginning of Mark’s second week at home, Northam announced that Virginia schools would remain closed for the rest of the academic year. Hearing this caused her to have “a moment of panic” as she realized the situation could extend past a couple of weeks.

“Now I’m at the point where … I’m not panicking, but I’m going to take it seriously enough where I’m not going to go outside and put myself around friends, and that was hard for me being an extrovert,” Mark said.

She tried to order puzzle sets and board games from Amazon, but many were sold out or scheduled to be delivered weeks or months later. She was fortunate to find some puzzles and games in stores like Walmart or Target. She has also been playing video games and applied to foster a dog short-term.

Mark said she has recently become more health-conscious, wanting to increase her body’s ability to fight sicknesses both now and in the future. She follows YouTube exercise videos and uses Zoom to join virtual fitness classes led by her friend, a fitness instructor in Arlington.

Occasionally, she has a drink and FaceTimes her friends for a virtual happy hour. Mark lives with her boyfriend; if she lived alone, she would be more inclined to leave her condominium and “break the rules,” she said.

“If I wasn’t living with somebody, I think I would be going crazy,” Mark said. “I can’t imagine going through all of these emotions and feelings alone and not being able to go directly to somebody and talk to them about it.”

Having someone to talk to is not an issue for larger households, but groups of people confined to one space for weeks on end can present different challenges.

Resident Monique Doussard is a stay-at-home mother to three boys, ages 8, 11 and 13. Before, she used to go grocery shopping, run errands and have some time to herself before her children came home from school. Now that schools are closed, she stays busy helping her sons with their school work and finding ways to keep them engaged and entertained as her husband continues his work remotely.

“Taking on the role of teacher during the day while trying to get three meals out and, you know, keep people happy and get people outside — it’s very busy,” Doussard said. “We do have cabin fever, but I think we’re doing okay at this point because we’re able to counter it with exercise.”

Although their home is spacious, it has started to feel more crowded than before, Doussard said. For a change of scenery, the family goes on regular walks, bike rides and weekend hikes.

“The most amazing godsend right now is our trampoline,” Doussard laughed. “Fortunately, I pushed for it two years ago, because the kids are spending tons of time on it, and I think for that reason we’re surviving, honestly.”

Liam Doussard plays the cello during an online lesson with his orchestra teacher. (Courtesy Photo)

She has been pleased that her oldest son, a George Washington Middle School student, has been occupied with daily assignments and live instruction from his teachers. Her second oldest, a fourth grader at Mount Vernon Community School, is spending much of his time on a Chromebook. Doussard said she has struggled to find things to do for her youngest, a second grader at Mount Vernon who has not had much school work, though his teachers are planning some live instruction online this week. Fortunately, her mother-in-law, a former art and English teacher, comes by to teach her younger sons art, reading and writing lessons.

Now in the third week since Alexandria City Public Schools closed, Doussard admitted things are getting more difficult. Her sons seem to be fighting with each other more often and pushing back more with school work, she said.

“We’re trying to figure out what we’ll be doing next week with spring break,” Doussard said. “I’m actually a little more concerned then, because the kids won’t be doing school. … I feel we’ve been able to give them structure, and they know what to expect. Next week puts a little more pressure on me, because when my kids don’t have structure, then they do a lot of fighting.”

James K. Polk kindergarten teacher Maggie Posey is staying home with her own 7-year-old son. She has also developed a schedule for him that includes daily lessons, midday walks on Holmes Run Trail and helping make dinner. She factors in plenty of social time using Zoom to play games and interact with friends.

Posey noted that her son is experiencing more emotions right now, such as sadness and anger, which she said is completely normal for children during a time like this.

“I think that play is the best way to get in touch with your kids and to get in touch with their feelings,” said Posey, who has a degree in social work.

She pays attention to what her son says and does when playing with his toys. Lately, he has placed some of his Lego men in “quarantine,” a word he is using frequently in his play, Posey said. She takes the opportunity to ask him why his toys are in quarantine, creating an open dialogue for him to express his thoughts.

Posey is still working during this time, using Zoom for her team’s staff meetings and to meet with her students online. She participates in two hours of professional development training each week and posts daily review videos so her students can retain the skills they have. She also makes regular outreach calls to students’ families to make sure they have food and know how to adequately support their children during this time. Being in communication with the families has given her an insight into how others are handling the situation.

“A lot of the families have lost their jobs or sources of income and a lot of the families are using the meal drop-off sites for food,” Posey said. “A lot of families are wondering what happens next month when they still don’t have the money for rent. … I think that’s a growing concern I’m hearing from them, but I think people are just being really positive and optimistic and are pretty much like, ‘We’re going to figure this out.’”

Zoo animals peek out of a window as part of “Walking Wednesdays,” a scavenger hunt activity neighbors are organizing in Beverley Hills. (Courtesy Photo)

In the Beverley Hills neighborhood, residents have started a new activity for kids called “Walking Wednesdays.”

Every Wednesday, neighbors decorate their windows, porches and front yards with artwork based around a specific theme. Then, throughout the day, kids and their parents can walk the neighborhood to admire the displays and hunt for hidden art.

The event started with St. Patrick’s Day. Resident Meredith West introduced the concept of a “Shamrock Walk” to the Beverley Hills listserv after hearing the suggestion from her 5-year-old daughter’s preschool teacher.

“The idea is just that you cut out a shamrock out of green paper … and put it in your window,” West said. “Then, as everybody walks around, they’re sort of hunting for more shamrocks in people’s windows. I thought it would be a great thing for our neighborhood to do a shamrock walk so everybody could get outside and get some fresh air.”

The initial Shamrock Walk was such a success that neighbors organized a zoo-themed walk for the following Wednesday.

“Every week it seems to get a little more elaborate,” West said. “People have gotten incredibly creative in doing some art or finding stuffed animals in their houses and putting it in the window. People have done all sorts of things. It’s really turned into a great art project for kids, too.”

The neighbors plan to keep the walks going every Wednesday. More than 90 households have pledged to participate by entering their addresses on an online form.

A front porch zoo display set up to entertain kids no longer in school because of the coronavirus. (Courtesy Photo)

On April 1, the theme was superheroes or cartoon characters, while April 8 will be Easter/spring-themed.

“I think during this uncertain time, people are looking for community,” West said. “It’s just a really simple way to create community and do something together while we have to stay so far apart from each other.”

“This is an unprecedented and difficult time and it will be hard for people — I understand that — but I have faith in you as Virginians,” Northam said at Tuesday’s press conference. “We need everyone to take this seriously and act responsibly, and we will get through this together.”

Missy Schrott contributed to this article.

(Read more: Animal Welfare League of Alexandria offers virtual adoptions)

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