The definition of a pandemic is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area (such as multiple countries or continents) and typically affects a significant proportion of the population.”
As the year 2020 began to unfold, lives and tales of the new coronavirus strain responsible for COVID-19 spread across the globe. As cases and hospitalizations began to climb in March, many states, including Ohio, opted for a shutdown in hopes of slowing the spread.
While it may seem very localized, the pandemic was illustrated as other countries dealt with similar situations. Living in the United Kingdom, Chillicothe native Heather Simpson and her two children described what life was like across the Atlantic Ocean, as COVID-19 numbers began to climb all over the world.
“Every time I talk to someone back home, it seems like your lockdown was no where as strict as ours,” said Heather Simpson.
“We didn’t have the pushback that the U.S. had. We had three or four protests, but nothing like in the states. Most of us here were upset that the lockdown didn’t happen sooner. If you were caught breaking lockdown, it was a 30-pound fine ($38+), and then it went up to 60 pounds ($77+). And they did give the names out of the people who flouted lockdown rules. It was like name and shame. It was all over the news.”
Guidance was released for the United Kingdom about who could meet up where and when by the nations of England, Scotland and Wales, which are part of Great Britain, and Northern Ireland. Simpson and her children live in the town of Andover, located in the English county of Hampshire. The United Kingdom lockdown began on March 23 the same day the state of Ohio began its stay-at-home order.
“As of March 23, everything apart from pharmacies, food shops and post offices were closed. Everyone was asked to stay home. Obviously, if you had symptoms, everyone in your house/family had to self-isolate and have things delivered to you,” said Simpson, regarding what it was like in England.
“You weren’t allowed to meet anyone outside the home, and no one was allowed to come into the home. Everything closed apart from essential places. Everyone who could possibly work from home was expected to do so. If you were not able to work from home, nor were you a key worker, you did not work.”
Like the United States, supply and demand had a big effect on how life was conducted.
“Everyone over the age of 70 had to shelter in place for 12 weeks. They weren’t allowed to leave at all. They had to have others pick up their groceries and medicines and leave it at the door,” said Simpson.
“Since I wasn’t considered an at-risk person, I couldn’t get food delivery. Before the lockdown, only seven to nine percent of the population would order food online and have it delivered. Once the lockdown came, the infrastructure wasn’t there for everyone to get it. To ensure that all at-risk people could get food, that was the way it had to be and the way it should be.”
Fast food restaurants closed, along with their drive-thru windows. Cafes also closed. Simpson’s friends and family in the United States could still get fast food through the drive thru or pick-up. Fast food was not an option in the U.K. for roughly three months.
In early June, McDonalds was allowed to open 300 restaurants located near distribution centers. The restaurants featured a limited menu, and everything needed to be paid ahead, as no money was to be exchanged. No order could cost more than 25 pounds, which translated to $32.25 U.S. dollars as of Sept. 15.
If an individual wanted to go outside for exercise, that individual was only allowed to do so one time each day.
Simpson also said medical care changed. If an individual was due to a routine appointment with a general practitioner, the individual would need to call and tell the doctor’s office and the doctor’s office would screen them over the phone, basically doing a triage every day where those who called in were prioritized by urgency. The people who really needed to be seen could still be seen in person.
As Ohio began to lighten its restrictions in mid-May, a similar storyline was unfolding in the United Kingdom.
“The first lightening of restrictions allowed you to meet only one other person outside in a public space. You weren’t allowed to go to each other’s houses. You had to maintain six feet, but you could at least see someone outside your own house,” said Simpson.
Additionally, under the lightened lockdown, only people who had jobs that could not be physically done at home were allowed to return to work on May 13, such as manufacturing and construction. All office jobs were to continue being done at home. Service industry employees (restaurants, bars, cafes, salons, cinemas, etc.) were still not allowed to go back to work. Simpson said individuals were allowed to exercise outside more than once a day under the lightened restrictions.
“When you go to the stores, they have a queue (line) outside. Each store has a number of how many people can go in or out of a store, and usually it is one member of a household,” said Simpson.
Both children continued their newspaper routes each day, going door to door to drop off papers to subscribers. In order to continue delivering during lockdown, the children had to carry “KEY WORKER STATUS CONFIRMATION LETTERS” as they were considered essential workers by the government.
When the U.K. lightened restrictions for the second time, it allowed more people to see each other.
“The second lightening allowed you to have up to six people in your garden (yard in the United States), as long as you socially distanced six feet apart. You were not allowed to go in anyone else’s house,” said Simpson.
“If you were a single-member household, or you are a single parent with at least one child under the age of 18, you could form a social bubble with one other household. The idea was grandparents could see their grandchildren. You can’t link up with any other households — just one,” said Simpson.
“In the social bubble, we are allowed into each other’s houses and we can eat together, as if we are one family. However, if one of us has any symptoms or gets sick, both households have to go into isolation.”
Since Skye, Simpson’s 18-year-old daughter, was a babysitter for two girls, the Simpsons formed a social bubble with that family.
Additionally, children from split homes were allowed to go between for visitation as long as both parents were symptom free.
Like the state of Ohio, schools were also forced to close, leaving online learning as the only option.
“Schools have done the best they can. The government opened a national academy online, and they were publishing thousands of lessons for free to all students based on their year level and subject,” said Simpson. “Because we have a national curriculum, they were publishing a certain amount of lessons online every week. At the very least, if you had access to the internet and your school did not, you could do the lessons being prepared by the government.”
Skye, the equivalent of a high school senior in the U.S., didn’t get to finish the in-person classes or take the final exam required to go on to a university for her A Level studies (Advanced Level, subject-based qualification courses in the UK required to get into universities). Exam grades were estimated, based upon performance.
“They announced that there would be no exams, so why would we go back for classes? The online learning for us was finish coursework,” said Skye.
With so much unknown, Skye indicated there were varying emotions among classmates.
“I know some people definitely took it much harder than I did. Even though I didn’t hang out with people much outside of my classes, I am still friends with them. That realization hit when our online classes ended.”
Skye said the exams are where the largest portion of the student grade is generated in A Level courses.
“As soon as these announcements were made, everyone could guess how they were going to estimate our grades. But it was still uncertain,” said Skye. “But I’m pretty sure 99 percent of us were anxious messes like, ‘Oh what is happening? Will we get our grades or not?’ Of course, some people were happy, and were like, ‘Yes! We don’t have to take the exams.’”
Students who weren’t happy with their estimated grades were told they could contest the grades and actually take the exam in the autumn. But Results Day was Aug. 13, leaving little time before students needed to go to university in September to contest the grades if they wanted to do so.
“Because the grades are predicted on past performance, most people could guess where they will finish. A lot here hinges on the exam. A lot of people were betting on the exam to get the grade they need to get into their chosen university. Our coursework isn’t more than 20 percent of our grade,” said Skye.
“There was also a sense of loss that we weren’t working for our grade if we weren’t doing the exam. I still know that I haven’t done that final step because the exam is such a big thing here.”
Her younger brother, Daniel Suda, did better with online schooling than the traditional classroom.
“It has been great for Daniel because he understands assignments better written down rather than verbal,” said Skye. “I don’t mind either. Being in person for class or being online are both fine for me. But some people are doing really great online, while others are doing badly. I’m fine. I’m happy.”
Daniel, who deals with some challenges from autism, liked the switch to online schooling. So the lockdown didn’t really bother him.
“It wasn’t that different. I’m generally an antisocial person. I don’t really like to go outdoors that much. I like to stay at home. For me, it didn’t change that much. If anything, it was better to be working from home,” said Daniel. “If I found work too overwhelming, I could take a small break. I could snack in the middle of it. I didn’t have to be on the dot (timewise), but I knew I had to do a certain amount of work. It was flexible.”
Besides his paper route at 5 o’clock in the morning, Daniel would go out occasionally for a walk or a trip to the store.
“I know a lot of other people would be stressed out because you are inside the house all of the time. Sometimes people vent out their energy through walks or doing certain outside activities,” he said. “So I can imagine it would be a lot more stressful for other people.”
When Results Day arrived on Aug. 13, Skye was rewarded with good grades for her work, allowing her to go to the school of her choice — the University of Highlands and Islands in Inverness, Scotland. However, her first semester of classes will be online, as Scotland was not allowing anyone from outside of the country to enter.
As a homebody, Skye wasn’t terribly bothered by the lockdown outside of having it affect her schooling.
“I didn’t mind that much. I was able to get out and walk my paper route. But I couldn’t go to school or the library, and those were my main ways of socializing. Even though I’m not a super social person, I value time with people; but I am pretty much a homebody outside of those times,” said Skye. “It is weird. I feel like that sums the whole situation up. It is strange.”
Heather agreed with her children, regarding being told to stay at home.
“It has not been difficult for us, but I think we are an unusual family. After living in London for six years, we are pedestrian based. We pretty much walk everywhere. We haven’t had to go to school or work, so we don’t need to take the public transportation,” said Heather.
“We follow our normal schedule from home through the day and then once evening arrives, we eat dinner together. Once we found a routine, everything was fine. I have a history of working, studying and teaching at home, so it wasn’t stressful for me.”
“I’m an ex-pat (expatriate, a person who lives outside their native country) who has moved around a lot. I’ve only been back in this community for less than two years, so I have only recently started forming more regular friendships here. My closest friends I call or message on WhatsApp. Nothing has really changed.”
Through the internet, Heather could connect to her church services online, as well as a book group and a yoga class.
“Everything I would do, I can still do. A lot of people aren’t as independent or they aren’t used to having their kids give them space. My kids are used to that.”
Dealing with being homesick, Simpson is wishing she could come to Ohio for autumn, her favorite season. But to make the trip, she would need to quarantine for two weeks before traveling and then quarantine alone here in the United States for two more weeks. Right now, Simpson said it seems impossible. So she will wait and hope that the day will arrive sooner than later.