SOUTH ORANGE/MAPLEWOOD, NJ — This time last year the SOMA community was just beginning to adjust to news that the novel coronavirus had arrived in the New York Metro area. On March 15, 2020 it was announced that Maplewood had recorded its first case of COVID-19; later that week a Seton Hall employee would test positive and the university would shut down for the semester.
Now a year later and SOMA has spent an entire year wearing masks in public, social distancing and spending a lot more time at home. TAPinto SOMA interviewed five SOMA residents about their experience throughout the global pandemic.
For Ed and Tonia Moore the pandemic meant most of their regular activities were moved online. The Moores, both in their late 70's, were able to take virtual technology training workshops at Seton Hall through SOMA Two Towns for All Ages.
“In the beginning it was totally frustrating. Now we know a few tricks — we can log off and come back,” said Tonia.
The Moores live in one unit of a two-family home. Tonia, a retired schoolteacher, became very involved with virtual school with their two grandkids who go to Clinton school and live in the adjoining unit.
Through the summer and fall Tonia also taught yoga classes outside in their yard. They’ve since moved the classes to Zoom which she says allowed her class size to grow. Even with all the restrictions, the Moores remained active, going on walks and to the town pool. Ed said they knew people who completely locked down, but they reacted differently and continued to take precautions.
“We know that it’s only temporary, though it’s been a long temporary,” said Tonia.
Before the pandemic they used to frequent SOPAC and see plays in the city. This year they began streaming stage plays and went to watch an outdoor opera screening at the Woodland in Maplewood.
“We’re old enough to remember when polio was the big threat, and then they discovered the vaccine for that,” said Ed. “I went down and got vaccinated at my elementary school and that was that.”
Now that they’ve received both doses of the vaccine with warm weather on the way, Ed and Tonia are eager to get more active again.
“I want to get outdoors more,” said Tonia. “Gardening and going walking.”
“I’d like to travel more,” said Ed. “Not to Europe but places that are nearby day trips — to the museums or the botanical gardens.”
In March 2020 Sasha Sinkler was a junior at Columbia High School when schools abruptly closed for the remainder of the year.
“It was very jarring. It changed a lot of things,” said Sinkler. “My interests, my routine, my friends. It’s definitely been harder socially than academically.”
Sinkler said the work in her online classes has been very simple and easy for her. It was the distance from her friends that was more difficult.
“Technology is helpful for talking to people and trying to keep in touch, but it's been draining sitting in front of the computer all day,” said Sinkler.
Though she has felt distant from her friends, Sinkler said she’s gotten closer with her family members. She lives at home with her two parents and younger sister.
“We take turns cooking dinner every night, and we’ve been watching a lot of movies because there’s nothing else to do,” she said.
In just a few months Sinkler will be graduating from Columbia after a senior year she described as anti-climactic.
“It’s been a lot more boring than I thought it would be. We would’ve had a lot more socialization like football games, prom— I don’t even know if that’s happening. [And] there’s usually senior privileges that we didn’t get,” said Sinkler.
Now she’s looking forward to life after high school. She’s decided to take a gap year to do some traveling and because she doesn’t want to do college online.
“I’m hoping to travel outside the U.S. I have an E.U. passport that can help me travel,” said Sinkler. While she is not vaccinated yet, Sinkler is eager to get it as soon as it becomes available.
Sinkler said she is going to be a more cautious person moving forward; the pandemic has shown her anything can happen.
SOMA senior Kathy Maloney started off the pandemic learning how to set up Zoom at home. Now she takes classes and has a weekly virtual cocktail hour with her daughter every weekend.
“I feel very fortunate to have made it through this far. I have a lovely home and family and friends who check in on me. There are some people who don’t have that support system, so I know how lucky I am,” said Maloney.
In the earlier days of the pandemic her daughter-in-law was helping her get groceries and essentials, but then she began to get them delivered herself. Maloney says sticking to a simple routine helped her out at the start of lockdown.
Through the summer and fall Maloney was able to have some outdoor visits with her kids and grandkids and over the holidays she connected with her family over Zoom.
Now that she is fully vaccinated she is hoping to be able to get out a bit more as it gets warmer outside, and take some day trips down the shore to see her son’s family. “I’m thinking about it, but I don’t want to throw all caution to the wind after being so careful this past year,” said Maloney. She still plans to wear her mask and is considering eating outdoors at a restaurant but isn’t ready to eat inside or go to a movie theater.
“Maybe I’m being too cautious,” she said. “I’m waiting — the CDC is supposed to put out guidelines for people who have gotten their full vaccine regimen.” Until then Maloney is going to keep taking courses online through the Adult School and keeping up with her family and friends via Zoom.
At the start, the pandemic felt like a giant snow day for Jesse Torrey and her family. Her husband began working from home and her daughter and son were both home full time.
In the beginning they were very strict because of her son’s medical concerns, which meant the family was spending a lot of time together. She and her daughter took up home improvement projects like putting together new living room furniture and the entire family was able to do more activities together.
Like many people, Torrey found that the pandemic affected personal relationships. “There are some people I am better in touch with than before and some relationships that fell by the wayside,” she said.
Torrey has taken this opportunity to go back to school and is studying for a master’s degree in mental health and wellness counseling from NYU. Over the summer they were also able to get tested and visit family for a week in Rhode Island.
While it was nice to spend time with the family, Torrey said it was also challenging for her kids. When her daughter’s university first shut down, she left Baltimore and came home for what was only supposed to be a few weeks — it turned into months.
For her son, who has special needs and is non-verbal, it’s been difficult because she said his life became even more limited than it already was.
“Now we’re all moving at a slower pace,” she added. “It’s his normal pace, and he’s happy to have his family around.”
When her son graduated from high school in June he was supposed to begin an adult education program but it did not open up this past fall.
“I don’t know when I’ll feel comfortable sending him, because it's going to be a whole new environment of people they don’t know,” said Torrey.
A year later and the entire family has gotten both doses of the vaccine.
“I’m looking forward to traveling and spending time with friends,” said Torrey. “I don’t think I appreciated how much we were able to travel before.”
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