Pandemic workout

“You can do a workout with a N95 mask?” asked my friend as we passed each other in front of the entrance to the large gym at the local YMCA.  I am not sure if he was in awe or incredulous because his expression was hidden behind his surgical mask.  “It’s not a N95 mask. It’s a KN95 mask and yeah, I can”, I replied. 

Doing high impact aerobics with a mask is certainly a better alternative to what I had been doing since the beginning of the pandemic when the YMCA temporarily closed its doors.   Attending my Thursday evening fitness class has been an important ritual for several years and it became even more essential in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis.  As a result of the pandemic, class was now on my iPad with my instructor, dear friend, and library colleague, Kim, leading her students via Zoom.  My classmates were dots on my screen.  My workout space was now in the guest room in my house.  The room nicknamed “the man cave,” is roomy enough for guests but a tad confined for a workout. 

I am very grateful that Kim continued the class virtually.  Her weekly workout helped me to cope with my day-to-day normal stress and elevated, pandemic related anxiety.  Nonetheless, I missed her in-person positive energy, the camaraderie of the other members of class, and the spacious fitness room.  Looking at a small iPad screen was becoming challenging.  And after a long day of work-related Teams’ meetings, spending time on Zoom for exercise was less than ideal.  Despite this, the alternative, not attending Zoom aerobics, was an unviable option.

Thankfully, aerobics and other fitness classes, with very strict protocols, resumed at the YMCA in the summer.  I leapt at the opportunity to return to in-person aerobics.  No more iPad!  No more Zoom!  No more dots! No more confined man cave! That being said, I was now required to adapt to the many rules associated with pandemic era, in-person fitness instruction: class size is limited, pre-registration is compulsory, social distancing is obligatory, and mask wearing is mandatory.

Wearing a mask during the workout is not without its challenges.  The mask makes my face hot and irritates my skin.   Breathing can be tricky. Nevertheless, these inconveniences are worthwhile because I can exercise in a spacious, well-ventilated facility with my instructor and fellow participants.

Recently, as I was about to enter the Y’s gym for class, I overheard another member expressing his fatigue with wearing a mask.  He was so tired of it.  I empathize with him; however, when the choice is between exercising virtually on Zoom without a mask or exercising in-person with a mask, I choose in-person with a mask.



My family started a new tradition shortly after the Governor declared a state of emergency in New York.  To support our local businesses, break the monotony of being at home all day, avoid preparing dinner, consume delicious food, and establish an event to look forward to, we decided to order from a different restaurant on Fridays.   At this point of the pandemic, we were instructed to stay home and social distance.   COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations were increasing at an alarming rate in New York City.  Cases were confirmed in Otsego County. Consequently, we ordered our food online and requested contact-less delivery.  One of the first restaurants we ordered from serves Jamaican-American food.  It was slated to have its grand opening on the day the Governor ordered businesses closed.  Luckily for us as connoisseurs of Jamaican food, the owners decided to transition to the take-out model.  When the owner delivered the food to the house, I was on my front porch.  She and I maintained a distance of at least six feet as she gently rested our food at the top of the stairs to my porch.  She was grateful for the business and I was grateful for the delicious food.

We continued this pattern of contact-free delivery of our Friday meal until early May when we saw signs that the COVID-19 situation was improving.   At this point in the pandemic, COVID-19 hospitalization and death rates were slowing down in New York.  We were now required to wear masks in public when social distancing was impossible.  Our next-door neighbor had closed his Japanese restaurant in March and promised to open only when he felt the pandemic was under control. We were happy when he announced in late April that he was reopening his restaurant for takeout. To celebrate the opening of our neighbor’s restaurant, we decided to order our Friday meal from him.  We were feeling braver and decided to venture to the restaurant and pick up our food order.  We walked to the restaurant. We wore our masks. We picked up our food from our neighbor. He met all customers at the front door.  He was thrilled to see us. He wore a mask and gloves.  He placed hand sanitizer on the pick-up table for his customers.  He prominently displayed a sign about the benefits of wearing masks and good hygiene.  He gave us our food. We returned home and enjoyed our delicious meal. 

We continued our Friday tradition into June. On one Friday, as our region entered phase three of reopening, we became even bolder.  We decided to order from a restaurant we had never previously ordered from or dined at in pre-pandemic days.   We had heard good things about it.  We followed the usual pattern: order online, go to the restaurant, wear mask, get food.  As I approached the restaurant, I noticed a sign on the door indicating that customers entering the restaurant must wear masks. No problem.  We were wearing our masks.   We entered the building. There were two staff and one customer in the restaurant.  Ironically, none of them was wearing a mask.  I greeted the staff.  The person behind the bar looked uncomfortable and confused.  “May I help you?” he asked. The question was distinctly unfriendly.  “I am here to pick up my food order,” I said in a friendly and polite manner.  My response appeared to confuse him even more.  “What did you order?”  I told him.  More confusion.  What was the problem?  My mask?  The sign on the door specifically stated that anyone entering the restaurant must wear a mask. I was wearing a plain white mask on this evening, not the other one I kept at home that declared my allegiance to the Toronto Raptors.  Was it my brown skin? My curly black hair?  My brightly colored dress?  One of my daughter’s health care providers once informed me that the yellow fleece I was wearing was “rather bright” and the comment was not meant to be complimentary.  Was it because I was not a regular? Was it my Canadian accent which still has traces of a Jamaican inflection that he could not quite place?  Many years ago, a SUNY Oneonta faculty member once asked me if I was from Long Island.  I thought that was an odd question, but I digress.  Did the man behind the counter think I was a fugitive from downstate? An outsider?   Still looking dubious, he moved to the kitchen to ask the chef about my order.  The chef emerged from the kitchen with the meals I had ordered and passed them on to the waitress.  She started fiddling with the cash register.  “I already paid,” I said, keeping my tone even and still friendly.  My husband tried to make small talk with her but his attempts did not break the tension in the room.  The waitress confirmed my payment, gave us our food, and we left.

“Is it just me, or was that really uncomfortable?” I asked my husband when we were safely in our car. “Nope,” he replied, “That was definitely unwelcoming.”  “It’s a good thing you were with me,” I responded.  Once an outsider, always an outsider, despite living in Oneonta for almost twenty years, I thought to myself.  Well, at least we had our food, though unfortunately it turned out to be like the service, unpleasant.  “Next week, we ought to order dinner from the Indian restaurant,” my husband suggested.  “Yes,” I agreed.  The food is delicious, the staff is friendly, and they wear their masks. 

We call him “covid warrior”

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, one of my many cousins set up a WhatsApp chat group for our family so that we can stay in touch during this time. I have at least 25 first cousins on my father’s side of the family, most of whom are on the chat group. Many of my cousins are parents and grandparents. The family is very large and scattered across the world: Jamaica, the country where my cousins, grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings and I were born, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The U.S. based family live in New York (me), Virginia, Florida, California and Texas. It is a lively, multi-generational, diverse, and widely dispersed group which makes for spirited chat.

The initial messages on the chat that I saw consisted of family members joyously greeting each other and expressing their gratitude for this platform on which to communicate. Tidings of staying healthy and staying at home were exchanged. Pictures of family, flowers, food, mountains and beaches were posted; however, there was one post that defied the jocular chat exchange. Bobbie, my cousin Geoffrey’s wife, posted that he was out of bed and on the couch, the worst was over and that he was recovering. Geoffrey lives in Texas, works in the medical field, and travels a lot for his job. He is a husband, father, grandfather, brother, and cousin. He is also one of the over 200,000 confirmed U.S. Covid-19 cases.

Thankfully, Geoffrey recovered from Covid-19. My cousin Barbie asked Geoffrey to share the symptoms of his illness with the family chat group so that we would know what to expect in the event that one of us became infected with the coronavirus. Geoffrey generously shared his battle with the disease. His illness was a real wake-up call for the rest of us. It was dreadful. It was miserable. He had a fever for 12 days. He had no energy. He had no appetite. I thought that some good could come from Geoffrey’s suffering by sharing it with others. Geoffrey generously agreed that I could share his symptoms on the pandemic diary project. I am grateful for his willingness to share his account with us because it vividly illustrates the seriousness of the disease:

…, at first I felt tired with just a little lack of energy. Fever and decline came on quickly. Next day the dry cough started and lack of appetite. Energy level dropped to very low and stayed that way for two weeks. Overall feeling of bad illness like you would feel having a bad case of the flue. Although from a subjective point of view it felt different than anything I had felt before. The expected aches and pains associated with fever and staying in bed for so long. Some of the main symptoms I did not experience is tightening in the chest and shortness of breath. I did shallow breath to avoid stimulating the cough as much as I could. I pray non[e] of you have to experience this and I feel blessed I did not get to the point of hospitalization.

This illness was so bad, my cousin used a very expressive, colorful, Jamaican curse-word to describe it. I won’t write it here because only Jamaicans would understand the meaning and forcefulness of the word. And it’s not a nice word although, trust me, it is an apt description. Any illness that gives you a fever for 12 days deserves to be cursed at.

Geoffrey recently received the all clear from the health department. He is released from quarantine. His wife Bobbie is in quarantine until the middle of April. His daughter and family will be in quarantine until early April. He may have antibodies now to protect him from another bought of Covid-19; however, he is taking no chances. He continues to practice social distancing because he does “not want to tangle with Covid- [curse word] ever again!” Geoffrey is wise. He knows firsthand the power of Covid-19. He is a survivor. He is resilient. He is grateful. One of my other cousins paid tribute to Geoffrey by nicknaming him “COVID Warrior” He is a warrior. He is my family’s COVID-19 warrior.