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Friday, April 03, 2020

Situation. Crisis. Epidemic. Pandemic. As last week went on, the words used to describe the novel coronavirus and its national and worldwide effects got progressively more terrifying and life-altering. School cancelled for a day; no, school cancelled for a week. Two weeks. Until further notice. Shuls closed. Simchas cancelled. No Shabbat gatherings. No playdates. Maintain social distance. Voluntary self-quarantine.

With those words, life immediately changed. First was the run on hand sanitizer and antibacterial soap and wipes. Then toilet paper and bottled water. Then cleaning products of all kinds. As the news got worse, shelves emptied in stores in towns throughout the area.

On Sunday morning, people lined up outside local supermarkets and grocery stores in advance of their opening, intent on buying “quarantine products,” including rice, beans, canned vegetables and fish, boxed milk, frozen foods and other foods with a long shelf life. The goal? To get in and out before the crowds arrived to maintain #socialdistancing. Unfortunately, since everyone seemed to have the same idea, that did not go quite as planned.

“I needed to get the ‘just in case’ food, but really didn’t want to run into people,” said a woman who wished to remain anonymous, who shopped wearing a face mask and plastic gloves.

With so many people at the stores early in the morning, there wasn’t much food left for those who shopped later in the day. Aron’s West Orange, for example, had a full meat section when it opened on Sunday morning, but the section was completely empty by 1 p.m. Reports of a similar situation came in from ShopRite of West Orange shoppers during the afternoon. And it wasn’t much better on Monday, although Aron’s did restock its meat department halfway through the day, to the delight of the latecomers.

After a Shabbat like none in recent memory, when families with no other social options took long walks multiple times during the day, people were anxious to get out on Sunday. However, with social distancing and voluntary quarantines the rule rather than the exception, and many places, including outdoor venues, closed, individuals and families took to parks and trails for hikes, walks and bike rides.

On a usual Sunday in March, people might go to the gym and then spend the day relaxing at home, very likely watching sports. This week, however, gyms were closed and sports were cancelled, forcing people outdoors. Which finally brought out the positive in this unprecedented situation.

Parents were walking, running or biking. Kids were alongside them, exercising outdoors rather than sitting inside on their phones, laptops or TVs. Families were playing Frisbee and catch at area parks. Teenagers were twirling batons and hitting baseballs on grassy fields. Phones were away, at least for a short time, as people actually went outside for exercise and fresh air while the afternoon sun was strong and temperatures were mild.

On a typical March Sunday, people would not necessarily think about getting outside, likely taking it for granted and thinking, “I’ll wait a few weeks until it gets warmer.” Today people are learning not to take anything for granted, including the great outdoors. People are realizing that they might be subject to quarantine at any time, and they are taking advantage of time outdoors while it is still an option, encouraging their children to do the same.

And if mandatory quarantine becomes a reality? Kids are already complaining about being bored, despite having TV, phones and video games at their disposal. Maybe this will be the time when board games make a comeback. Scrabble, Bananagrams, Taboo, Risk, Monopoly, Clue. All great options. Remember doing projects as a kid? Shrinky Dinks, window clings, chemistry sets, puzzles, coloring books and color-by-number books. Great distractions and innocent fun for kids of all ages. What about sidewalk chalk? Luckily the weather has been cooperating. Get outside with your kids. Call it recess. Call it playtime. Call it fun. Whatever you call it, take advantage of this mandated time at home and spend time with your families. No matter what COVID-19 brings next, that is something no one can take away from you.

By Jill Kirsch