Resolve remains strong in New Rochelle where the Girl Scouts created this neighborly sign. Photo by the author
Resolve remains strong in New Rochelle where the Girl Scouts created this neighborly sign. Photo by the author

Life as a Mom in New York's Coronavirus Containment Zone

It's day 1 for my family in New York's first coronavirus "containment zone," a state-mandated two-week shutdown of schools and other public-gathering points within a 1-mile radius of the state's epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in New Rochelle. With so much uncertainty—who will get sick, how long will this really last, and will I have the supplies we need—it’s hard to know how to react to this shutdown with my family, which includes two teenagers, here in Westchester County.

As recently as a week ago, "prepare for sickness" topped my to-do list in terms of what to gather and stock up on. In early March, it still all seemed like an anxious person's panic and overkill. At that point—only a few days ago—most of the local discussion among parents and neighbors centered on whether or not COVID-19 was overhyped compared with the seasonal flu. I decided to take it seriously—not as a panicked person fearing for my life, but in the interest of emergency preparedness for the sake of my family.

(Find more information, including school closings and indoor activities and games, in our Coronavirus Guide for Parents.)

For those of us living in the New Rochelle, New York, area, a town of around 80,000 in Westchester County just north of New York City, the question of coronavirus exposure has been like "six degrees of separation" game, except not very fun. I had been in close contact with someone whose family members were placed on quarantine soon after our interaction. Was I exposed? Will I expose my kids? My husband rides Metro-North to the city every day, the same line that the initial local coronavirus patient rode to work every day, the same one so many of us in the 'burbs do. Did they ride near each other? Had others near him on the train been infected?

A week ago, my fear wasn’t as much of contracting the disease as of the behavior that the collective panic would cause. In those first few days of March, I was already too late for surgical masks and hand sanitizer. I wasn’t going to miss out on toilet paper. If the worst that could be said for my zealousness was that I’ve got canned peas in my garage to last for years, so be it—they expire in 2024. Strategically, I focused most of my efforts on nonperishable items that wouldn’t require water or electricity in case down the road those services became scarce: beans, peanut butter, canned vegetables. Given the general mindset at that time, I wondered if I was crazy. My husband put a hand up at one point and said: "It’s OK, you can stop buying the paper towels now, we’re good.” A day later—with Italy on lockdown, the NBA season canceled (and Broadway, too), and international travel restricted—I’m thinking my preparation was warranted. Things are escalating.

For the most part, the stores in this area have remained well-stocked despite the pandemic shopping going on, so I suppose my fear of a run on everything has not played out. I know colleagues in other suburban areas, such as New Jersey, have reported four-hour lines at Costco and freezer, pasta, and bean aisles stripped bare at the local grocery stores. Even Amazon Prime is out of Clorox Wipes right now.

The National Guard was called in to help with the coronavirus containment efforts, including cleaning and handing out food within the containment zone. To accommodate low-income families, they set up tables in a designated area with bags of things like pancake mix and pasta. Other parents have been ramping up their takeout orders (in part, to help keep local restaurants in business), while other friends report a stockpile of lunch and snack foods—even random things they wouldn’t normally buy—to avoid two weeks of complaints from their kids. I stocked up on baking ingredients so I can satisfy cravings and have one more indoor activity to do with them.

RELATED: Updated NY School Closings: What Parents Need to Know

Governor Andrew Cuomo implemented a 1-mile containment zone in New York's epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, starting Thursday, March 12 through Wednesday, March 21. Photo by Darren McGee/Office of the governor 

Two weeks is a long time. Other than the occasional snow day or power outage, the last time our schools shut down like this was for Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Unlike planned school breaks, these next two weeks aren't wrapped around a festive holiday, or filled with playdates, trampoline parks, or tropical getaways. On my block, things are quiet. In local business areas, places like Starbucks are attracting teens, stirring discussion among parents who worry that these gatherings defeat the purpose of social distancing. Many people are stressed about the limits of the containment zone's one-mile radius and are petitioning the governor to cast a wider net—and many are keeping their kids home even if their local school remains open.

To optimize the benefit of these closures, I certainly believe we should embrace social distancing, so hopefully, we can get this "right" on the first try and return to school on March 26 as currently planned. While I hesitate to even write this sentence, at the moment I see this lock-in as a chance to dial back from the usual overstimulation and keep the focus simply on the kids and home. We’ve got plenty of board games, baking projects, and plenty of closets to clean (well, not plenty of closets, but plenty of mess!). In theory, anyhow, that would feel therapeutic. As for reality? We’ll see how long I can keep this positive sentiment going.

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