Life in the Age of COVID-19 by
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Chorus is canceled. Trips to California and Europe, which would include visits with our children – gone. Gym shuttered. Restaurants open for take-out only. “First-world problems”, a friend teases. He is right. We have our health, we have food and plenty of toilet paper (what gives with the run on toilet paper?).

I did grocery shopping just as the shut-downs started. It was wild, no social distancing, no food! The Featured photo was taken by a friend at our local grocery store. It is the pasta section. I walked out with nothing, but tried again, earlier the next day and found what I wanted.

People are stuck in their homes and bored. We have exercise equipment here. Dan has his treadmill, which I’m now using (though I use it only out of necessity; not really my thing), and last year he bought a fancy, smart trainer for his bike (no more rode biking for him, after three serious accidents). In anticipation of the coming closings, I bought a little home equipment myself. I’ve done classes at my local branch of Equinox for years, so am doing a combination of Josie Gardiner’s Core Synergy class (my favorite!) and mat pilates, alternating with a trot on the treadmill to get my heart rate up.

the jack knife position from Pilates

Bird Dog

Bicep curls

This morning, Josie is teaching Core Synergy on-line through Zoom! We signed up and paid a small fee yesterday and have an email with the call-in number already in our in-box. I’m SO excited! I can’t wait to be motivated by her and exercise with her again. She’s a marvel; 73 years old, former member of Boston Ballet, inventor of Zumba Gold (for seniors), she is known around the world and the BEST there is. We are lucky to train with her.


We don’t know anyone who is sick. We can stay in, read, watch plenty of TV, from recorded movies to streaming shows from Netflix to Amazon. We are in touch with both our children on a regular basis.

One lives in San Jose, which has been a hot zone for weeks (when I first wanted her to come visit and checked their status, three TSA agents had already contracted the virus). She frequently works from home, so that isn’t different, but now she is in lock down. She was in a terrible mental state just 10 days ago, afraid of the virus, afraid of global warning, afraid of the presidential politics. She was as low as I’ve ever heard her. She begged for some time off and was given it, which helped a bit. Now we really are in crisis, but she is in a better place to deal with it. I am hugely sorry that we can’t see her in a few weeks, just to soothe her and personally assess her.

My other child is in London. He was supposed to attend a conference in Ethiopia in April, then we would visit in mid-May at the end of a two week cruise through Spain, Portugal and France. He was peeved when DeepMind canceled all their employees out of the Ethiopian conference, several weeks ago, deeming it too dangerous a place to visit (I was secretly relieved). Within two days, travel for Google Europe was canceled for the foreseeable future (DeepMind is a division of Google). David began working from home on March 12. He lives in a small apartment with his long-time girlfriend but at least they have two bedrooms. We are staying in close touch. London is not in good shape. Boris Johnson took a different approach, deciding to let the population get the virus and develop “herd immunity”, but sickening and killing off a large portion of the population in the process before presumably gaining immunity (the virus is so new, no one knows if this is true or not).  Shocking! Due to repeated cuts and underfunding in their socialized healthcare system (sorry Bernie, but it’s true), they have massive problems now, caring for all the sick people. Boris finally understood the severity of the problems he’d created and closed the schools on March 18! David told me on March 16 that the UK and Belarus were the only European countries not to have closed every public place! Of course, in the original travel ban, the UK was exempt. I am not sure why, given what was going on there. Could it be that Trump owns three golf resorts in the UK?

You may have read about people going to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket to get away from the virus. We have no plans to do that. We are comfortable here in Newton. But my heart aches for friends from the Vineyard in the hospitality business who have had to shut down restaurants and lay off their employees. They are good, hard working people, for whom life changed in a moment. And I know that is true for all owners of small businesses and restaurants. And for those who did seek refuge on the Vineyard, the first case of COVID-19 was reported on March 19. The hospital has 5 respirators.TOTAL. They cannot handle the influx of “summer people” who have come trying to escape the inevitable.

Everyone is doing the best they can to stay afloat. We have learned the term “social distancing”. We wash our hands raw on a daily basis, while singing “Happy Birthday” a bazillion times. We talk to doctors vis FaceTime or some other computer or phone call way. On the 19th, I called one of my dearest friends on her 65th birthday. Normally, we’d share a delicious chocolate cake. Today, I sang her happy birthday via FaceTime and blew her a kiss. She is trying to keep her piano lesson business alive via FaceTime. We are living in a new reality.

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Tags: Coronavirus, COVID-19, canceled Spain, canceled chorus, hand washing
Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Betsy, you have done a wonderful job of capturing the world we are living in now. And, as always, your pictures add tremendously to your story. (But, for us gym neophytes, what is the hoop-like contraption near your mat?) You so well capture both the limitations we are dealing with and the various ingenious ways to address them, albeit not always entirely successful.

    Two quick notes. One, particularly from my non-profit boards, I have learned more about Zoom in the last few weeks than I ever knew. (Those scummy insider trading Senators should have been buying up Zoom stock if they were really smart.) And two, having just returned from the grocery store, I can confirm that there is still no toilet paper.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, John. The hoop-like thing is a Pilates circle or ring. We use it in various ways in a Pilates workout. We can put it between our thighs and press on it, or put our legs through it (mind you, we are on our backs, with legs up in the air; this is why I don’t eat before class) and press OUT for a thigh stretch (working our abductor/adductor). Sometimes we press our arms against it (it has some flex to it). Other times we just hold it out in front of us to guide our arms in certain directions, while pressing on it. Pressing with our arms engages our core. At the end of class, also on our backs, we use it to stretch, holding first leg, then the other, up to the point of tightness, pulling it across our body, then out in the other direction and so on. So that’s the Pilates circle. I just got this one. It is a less-expensive version of what we use in the gym. I can crush this one between my thighs! Guess after all these years of working out, I’m pretty strong.

  2. Marian says:

    I second all of John’s comments, definitely a great recap of where we all are. My yoga teacher is starting Zoom classes next week, and my poetry group is going to attempt a meeting. Just got an email from Whole Foods that they are starting senior shopping hours here in Santa Clara county, which is a great relief. They will be first thing in the morning, presumably when the stores are stocked and cleaner than they would otherwise be. It’s really strange to figure out regimens for going shopping, to the ATM, and outdoors in general, armed with gloves and wipes.

  3. Suzy says:

    Your picture of the empty grocery shelves has a disconcerting way of changing as one scrolls up and down. The shelves seem to move from being straight across to being on a diagonal. Or else I’m just hallucinating because of all the drugs I took in my youth! Try it and see!

    You do an excellent job of describing the situation both for you and for your two kids, all in very different places (geographically and perhaps emotionally as well). And your exercise routine is very impressive!

    You mention that you don’t know anyone who is sick. I thought I didn’t, but then found out that my nephew had it. He apparently had just 3 days of feeling miserable, didn’t get the test results until he was already feeling better, and has now posted a video on Facebook of him singing “Corona” to the tune of “Maria” from West Side Story. So one can get sick from COVID-19 and still recover, maybe even pretty quickly, which is nice to know.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Suzy, thank you letting us know about your nephew. Glad he is recovering. I suspect, within a few weeks, we will all know someone with the virus, as it spreads and spreads. Massachusetts has been slow getting test kits and sites set up to do testing, so our cases are growing exponentially and we’ve had two deaths in the past two days. But our governor basically locked us down a week ago (tho not “shelter in place” orders…still only go out to do important things like grocery shop, get medicine or go to work if you have to).So that has stemmed the tide. Now even the Vineyard has its first case and the local paper posted a notice to “summer people”- STAY AWAY! The hospital can’t handle this sort of health care emergency and most of us are better off at home on the mainland. We can’t outrun the plague!

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    Betsy, you have described our new reality very well in your story. Those of us who have resources may be anxious, but we will manage. I worry about the many people out there without any safety net as well as those who are alone. Bad times.

  5. I applaud your Pilates routine, Betsy! All I manage is walking, both on a treadmill and around the neighborhood, but it does feel so good to get the blood flowing. I feel deeply for your concerns about your daughter, and her concerns. My heart goes out to both of you. I spent about an hour last night texting at length with my granddaughters, something we rarely do in any depth, and I think we actually got to know one another better! Interesting how social distancing can actually bring us closer, and aren’t we grateful for technology!

  6. Wonderful how we’re all coping- or trying!
    My husband had surgery on St Paddy’s Day – a week, but seems a lifetime ago – and the day after he was discharged we left New York for the two hour drive to our Connecticut weekend retreat. We’re lucky to be able to hunker down here, but worry about friends and family still in the city.
    Two upcoming book clubs of mine will meet via Zoom, and we’re thinking about having a virtual Seder. But alas we’ll have to forego theatre and other plans, and a biz conference of my husband’s that was to be held in Charleston. Charleston is my hometown and I never miss a chance to go back, but, I’m afraid this time it will have to wait.
    Stay safe everyone!

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