After eight weeks spent mostly in isolation in their Hong Kong high rise, two New Brunswickers have some advice for people back home who are just settling into a life of physical distancing and working at home.
Make a daily schedule and stick to it. And try to laugh.
Teachers Brent and Norma Jean MacEachern and their two children, Naia and Nevan, have become old hands at physical distancing since schools closed in late January.
The MacEacherns, formerly from Tabusintac and Miramichi, are high school teachers with the Canadian International School of Hong Kong, a private school.
In an interview using Zoom, the couple talked about how they've learned to balance family life and work in their small 40th-floor apartment on Hong Kong Island.
Norma Jean said the thing that has stuck with her was knowing her young children would remember how they felt during COVID-19.
"They're so quick to sense anxiety," she said. "I found that having a schedule, we made that daily schedule, so they had that predictability, that helps to reduce the anxiety for them."
Look for humour
The couple said they also want their children to have fun. Even their dog, Lucky, has had to wear a Spider-Man costume.
"We're trying to just find the humour in every day and making sure we're trying to help somebody every day," said Norma Jean.
It was near the end of the Chinese New Year holiday when COVID-19 began spreading into Hong Kong.
But because the region learned from its experience in 2002 with SARS, which hit Hong Kong hard, officials were quick to put preventive measures in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the MacEacherns said.
Hong Kong, whose response to COVID-19 has generally been praised as more successful than others, provides much more information to the public than New Brunswick does.
Hong Kong has a website detailing how many cases there are, the sex and age of the people who tested positive, and the apartment buildings they live in, Brent said.
Shortages of essentials
As a family, the MacEacherns began to prepare right away, buying masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectants. They also experienced the same shortages that New Brunswickers did with some items.
"We live on an island with one million people so that was scary because we really weren't sure if we should be stocking up on stuff," said Norma Jean.
The MacEacherns did prepare the best they could and bought supplies on Amazon. Knowing the virus would eventually reach Canada, the couple began trying to order things to send to their families in New Brunswick, but they found products were unavailable or the prices were skyrocketing.
Norma Jean found seeing the virus spread to other countries stressful.
"I felt like that was a time when we really started to feel down. To us it seemed to be coming to an end, and then we started seeing everybody else going through what we had gone through."
Despite the fear and uncertainty, the parents have incorporated anti-virus measures into their day-to-day routine.
"We have all our masks lined up by the door and we spray them with alcohol every time we come back in," Norma Jean said. "We just keep bottles of alcohol, we spray everything with alcohol.
"I think now we exercise more than we ever did because it is stressful."
The couple said wearing a mask is a cultural norm in Hong Kong.
"If someone has the flu or feels a little bit ill, they're going to put a mask on. So it wasn't a big stretch to put a mask on," said Brent.
Hong Kong is going through what appears to be a second wave of coronavirus right now, mainly because of Hong Kong natives who've come back from virus-hit places in the world.
"They almost had it gone, but people started returning and it started coming back. So people are trying real hard, putting the masks on, taking the extra effort to try and get it done, so everyone can have a normal life again."
The couple said their children are anxious for this to happen. Both had a hard time adjusting to wearing masks during outings and not being able to see their friends.
"Our daughter found it harder than our son," said Norma Jean. "She loves school, she's in third grade and she really really misses her teacher."
Naia, 8, does online learning with her class four days a week, but it has been a struggle,
"She said, 'Mom, I just miss chatting with my teacher. I really miss our chats,'" Norma Jean said. "She had some tears when they said the school closure was going to be extended."
Six-year-old Nevin loves being home with his parents each day, although he misses his classmates and enjoys his online schooling one day a week.
Family life versus work life
The children have had to learn to keep themselves busy and quiet when Norma Jean and Brent go to work as online teachers.
"Brent's teaching a class on this side, and I'm teaching a class on this side, and then we've got the dog and the two kids in between."
The couple had to prepare the online classes. And the school decided the best thing to do was to follow the regular school schedule and start classes at the same time of day, using Google Hangout.
Students are expected to be online with their cameras on to follow along.
"Then the short version [of the class] is recorded and then the kids that aren't there can tune in when they get a chance," said Brent, who teaches science the same way.
Students write tests and use an app to create a PDF to send to the teachers to mark.
"We all use Google Classroom so we send all the feedback that way," said Norma Jean.
While the students adapted, she said everyone, including the staff, misses seeing each other in the hallways and classrooms and the daily interractions of school life.
Both said staff and students are trying their best and supporting others.
"There's a lot of technology to juggle," Brent said. "Last year, the school tried to weed down how much technology because there were so many different things and now this year ballooning it again. But we have to suit the needs of all."
And it's not easy to keep the pace going. Brent said the school plans to start scaling back its online teaching to give teachers and students a break.
Beginning this week, the school day will be condensed.
"We've been doing it for eight weeks and it's tiring. I don't know what it is that's so tiring, it must be us being on the computer all the time."