Although lockdown restrictions have lifted, life has not returned to “normal” for the Wiesbaden community. Family travel plans have been postponed, cancelled or changed; social gatherings are limited in attendees; and in-person school looks very different than in previous years. In small and big ways alike, life has changed since lockdown restrictions were eased, and people are adapting to what appears to be a new normal.
For some, wearing masks may be the biggest adjustment to life after lockdown. Reve Rucinski, an American Red Cross Volunteer at the Wiesbaden Army Health Clinic, said that wearing a mask can get very hot and stuffy. “Sometimes while working, it gets so hot that my glasses start to fog up,” she said.
Since masks are required in most places of business, some have found it helpful to have several masks on hand in different places. Giannina Sirois, a home-based business owner, said she has “several dozen masks in the house, in cars, in my purse — I always wear them, and gloves, when interacting with a customer.”
Chap. (Capt.) Stephen McDermott noted that “since they are now part of our uniform, we have to have them in our possession. I keep one in my cargo pocket and some in my car.”
For those with younger kids, this also means having to tote around masks. Inese Barett, a federal employee spouse and mother of five, said, “We have masks everywhere. I keep all of the kids’ masks in my purse, and I wrote their names on their masks so they can’t fight about whose is whose.”
Another new norm is increased hand washing and hand sanitizer use. Spc. Katlynn Owens, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, U.S. Army Europe, said, “I have been washing my hands so much that they are noticeably dry.” Carrying hand sanitizer might not be a new habit for some, like active duty spouse Stephanie Tanner. “I always had sanitizer with me before. I still do. It is not a big change,” Tanner said.
Many businesses now encourage debit or credit card transactions to minimize the handling of money. Newman Village resident Erica Lester said, “Now that more businesses are using credit cards, I do tend to use it more. I am still fine with using cash. I wash or sanitize my hands after I touch cash.”
Shopping habits have adapted as well. Barett said she finds herself shopping less: “I plan out my shopping trips more now, consolidating trips such as going to the dentist and getting the mail. I’ve actually saved money by shopping less.” Tanner said she also shops less now: “I avoid shopping because I don’t like wearing the mask, so I do consolidate my trips. I used to like to run errands but do not enjoy it anymore.”
For home-based businesses, operations were suspended from March through May, which frustrated many business owners, as well as their customers. However, Sirois found a silver lining and used the extra downtime to learn new baking techniques for her baking business. “The most difficult part of the downtime was having to say no to customers who just needed a small cake to celebrate their children’s birthdays,” Sirois said.
Family life continued to evolve as people returned to their offices, as kids returned to school, and as families moved in and out. During lockdown, many families enjoyed spending more time together and became accustomed to virtual school. Barett shared that “it was hard for my kids to not have their friends and to not be able to do things like go to the playground.”
McDermott explained the difficulties many faced at home coming out of lockdown: “Families were stressed because they were locked down and they didn’t get a chance to breathe; some families are reacting and adapting well. It’s important to know that each of us are wired differently, each of us handle the restrictions differently, we deal with stress differently. It’s important for people to know themselves, to know what is a triggering event, and to watch out for their battle buddies … It’s important to come together as a family. That’s one of the things that COVID has robbed us of, is our identity as a family.” Even though chapel services have resumed, McDermott said attendance is still down: “We’re still missing our numbers from last year; I’m seeing members of the church community on post but not at church. Our numbers have declined, and I guess people got used to sleeping in on Sundays.”
The new school year has been a significant point of concern for many students and parents. “I am concerned about the kids missing out on a normal life, especially at school this year,” Tanner said. Between wearing masks, social distancing and affected extracurricular activities, parents are understandably wary of the quality of life for their children moving forward. “I was extremely impressed with the high school graduation ceremony in June,” Tanner added. “The dedication of the high school staff and Army garrison really showed. They made it very memorable and special.”
Mary Tanner, senior at Wiesbaden High School, and Sally Tanner, sophomore at Wiesbaden High School, said this school year already feels significantly different. A handful of the changes are: students no longer have lockers and can request “mask breaks” during class, lunch has been separated into different groups, and many stairwells and hallways are one direction only.
“It was really hard on the first day of school because it was the first time I was seeing some of my friends in six months, but I couldn’t hug any of them,” Sally Tanner said. She added, “Our principal and vice principal are really great, and they are trying their very best to make it work. They are doing everything they can. The counselors and everyone in the office has been working really hard. We’ve been really lucky with the staff that we do have.”
With the fluctuating status of COVID in Wiesbaden, adaptability is a necessity. Mary Tanner said, “I feel like I am definitely more prepared for another lockdown because we already did it last year. The teachers are prepared.”
Gone are the days of weekend trips on last-minute budget flights. Many families are finding themselves staying closer to home for personal travel. Owens said, “I feel less restricted and would like to travel, but I still would rather stay close versus venturing farther out.”
Travel plans outside the host nation have to be thoroughly researched to understand policies such as quarantine requirements and restrictions on which countries visitors are being accepted from. Lester said, “We have been doing a bit of traveling. We are very cautious about where we go and where we stay.”
Being able to get together with friends, even in a limited capacity, can give the feeling of normalcy amidst such uncertain times. Many are trying to stay responsible by meeting with friends and family outdoors. Lester, also known as the “Newman Village Wine Fairy,” said “I was pretty active before lockdown. I do tend to stick to smaller groups, and I have met a number of new people since lockdown.” Her role as the “Newman Village Wine Fairy” is to facilitate a community-funded social activity where neighborhood residents get to know one another over a glass of wine. Lester said the “Newman Village Wine Fairy” was inspired by Aukamm resident Carolyn McLain to encourage people to get outside and spend socially distanced time with their neighbors. Lester added, “It is a way for new people to meet in their neighborhoods and start building friendships. With everyone in lockdown for so long, it was a fun, stress-free weekly event that people could look forward to.”
Though life moving forward may be different, many are happy to be able to spend time with friends and family again and to make the most of living in Europe. Rucinski said having the lockdown restrictions lifted “has given me a different perspective on what things are important like health, time for myself and family time.”
For more information on continuing restrictions and changes due to COVID, visit www.home.army.mil/wiesbaden for garrison information and links to official German releases and websites.