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Coronavirus Stories: Adapting to a New Normal in the Suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

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Welcome back to Coronavirus Stories. A collection of short stories written by YOU, our readers from around the globe, sharing how their lives have been affected by COVID-19.

Today’s story is written by Mary Ann, an American currently living in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one of the hardest hit areas in the United States from COVID-19. She shares her struggles adapting to what is now a strange new normal as a result of the virus.

How Life Has Changed Since the Coronavirus Came to the USA

Where to start… I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia, my graduate degree is in public health, and I am a germaphobe. This trifecta creates a somewhat troubling personal struggle when the air I breathe and the surfaces I touch could be tainted with a potential deadly virus.

My husband and I are adapting to sharing the same space 24/7. Much to his dismay, he has had to endure my insatiable need to give and receive hugs. Being Italian, hugging is part of my DNA – it is literally painful not to reach out and touch someone (not in a creepy way, but in a loving, comforting way).

Neighborhood Walks

Photo by Elton Sa on Unsplash

In the US we are still allowed to go outside for exercise as long as we maintain an appropriate 6-foot social distance. My husband and I are avid walkers, and COVID-19 has changed the mood of our walks considerably.

When we go out for daily walks in our neighborhood, we are constantly on the lookout for other walkers, and skillfully weave from sidewalk to road to maintain a six-foot distance. Creating a wide berth to let others pass and having conversations with neighbors from across the street is not exactly a relaxing experience, but it is what we have to work with.

Grocery Shopping During COVID-19

Normal tasks like grocery shopping require a level of planning and flexibility that can be exhausting. Here are some of the factors that people in the Northeast consider when venturing to a grocery store.

  1. When will the grocery stores be less busy
  2. Deciding what store will have toilet paper, tissues, and milk
  3. Remembering face masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes (you are not allowed inside of the grocery store without a face mask)
  4. Organizing your grocery list to shop in the most efficient manner possible without doubling back to pick up items you may have forgotten to get in the first aisle that you went through (grocery story isles are one way only)
  5. Choosing the shortest check out line (a line that does not have any people who are coughing, sneezing, or sniffling (even if this is only due to pollen induced allergies) and hoping to get a relatively non-busy self-checkout aisle.
  6. When you get home, the disinfecting starts anew with hand washing, wiping items down, and washing counter tops that you have put your grocery bags on

After all this, you definitely need a nap.

You may ask, “What about home grocery delivery?” Well if you want to wait two to four weeks to get your groceries that would work out just fine. Most folks can’t wait that long.

Shortages and Empty Shelves Have Become Commonplace

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Common items such as toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, eggs, milk, flour etc. are now missing from the grocery store shelves. This means we often have to get creative and fashion meals out of the limited items we can find.

So, the next dilemma becomes, how do you stretch what you have to decrease the frequency of grocery store visits. If you are like us, you start searching through the upper cabinets to find canned items that you have forgotten about. How can I fashion what I have into a meal that will feed the body, but may not necessarily make your mouth water? OK…how many dinners can I get out of this meal? We consciously find ourselves separating meals into portions that will result in the number dinners we have calculated to be optimal for the amount of food that we have cooked.

Don’t get me started on paper goods! Our two high need items are tissues and toilet paper. Let’s examine tissues first. We scoured the house to find as many tissue boxes as we could (in the cars, spare bedrooms, etc.); much to our dismay, many of these boxes we found were almost devoid of the soft rectangles of paper that our noses have become accustomed to.

Since our napkin supply is considerably larger than tissues, we have created an alternative supply chain for nose wiping. We have cut napkins in half and placed them next to tissue boxes. The use of half napkins has extended the life of our tissue supply.

Ah…toilet paper has no substitutes. It sits high above the items that are much prized during these troubling times. The only way to stretch the supply is to limit the number of squares you use. This has become an absurd game…three or four squares to go #1, with larger allowances (12 to 16 squares) for going #2. Literally counting squares is not what I ever thought I would be doing, but COVID-19 has reduced us to this pathetic level.

Small Businesses Are Suffering

Photo by Larry Costales on Unsplash

Besides the challenges of everyday living, I have been missing my paycheck. Working for a small company whose revenues have all but dried up, we are trying to figure out a way to keep our business afloat and take advantage of some of the programs that the US government has enacted to help small businesses. Nothing is easy or is working as the lawmakers had envisioned.

The reality of the situation is that many families are struggling. Nothing about what we are going through is normal. One might say that COVID-19 has redefined normal and has tilted the universe just enough to make its impact felt in all aspects of our physical, emotional, and financial realms.

To use a Harry Potter reference, finding our way to the other side will be challenging but it is not impossible as long as we let the medical professionals, scientists, and public health experts destroy the death-eaters and create a safe space for us all. We owe these warriors an enormous debt of gratitude for their tireless fight against COVID-19.


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