My coronavirus diary | Day-to-day life in self-isolation


Cape Town mom, Kim Whitaker, gives us a diary update about life with the coronavirus and how her young family will try to cope with an extra three weeks of self-isolation.

With the president’s announcement of the national lock down, I feel sharing how we are coping day-to-day at home with two young kids (three and seven) may be useful.

As we listened to the national address, I felt comforted by the Presidents’ decision, but horrified at the reality of a further three weeks in self-isolation. We will have been in self-isolation for 35 days by the time the proposed lockdown finishes. China’s Hubei province has been on lock down for over 60 days (and counting), but my mind cannot even think that far ahead.

I am grateful we are still in isolation and not subjected to the mad rush for tinned food and toilet paper. We only had four hours to prepare for life in self-isolation (12 days ago), and it was a mad rush. I was still accustomed to the well-oiled machine of our daily routines: my husband and I both run our own businesses, and we normally have incredible household support from our nanny who cares for our children and manages household affairs.

I felt overwhelmed with the work, cleaning, and the kids vying for our attention. For the first two days in self-quarantine, before I found out I tested positive for the Covid-19 virus, we were pretty feral. The doctor from Western Cape Health made it clear that strict hygiene measures to avoid cross-contamination were vital to stop the spread of the virus to my husband and our children. 

Key items

At this point, my husband and I made a decision to up the cleanliness of our house to "hospital grade". Let me be clear, with two young children the reality is far from hospital grade, but we are trying our best.

We decided on some key items:

  • I have been sleeping in the spare room since my return and will continue to do so until the period of self-isolation is over.
  • I use the second bathroom to do all my ablutions. 
  • All my “contaminated” clothes, bath towels etc. are kept in a separate room, and all clothes are washed on a hot setting. 
  • My drinking glass and water bottles are kept separate and labelled with nail polish. 
  • Frequent hand washing for 20 seconds: We have hand soap at every tap, and the kids sing “Happy Birthday Corona” for 20 seconds.
  • Daily chores: Clean door handles, fridge doors, kitchen taps, phone screens with rubbing alcohol. Clean counter tops with Domestos and Jik. We keep the dishwasher full and the sink clean.

Even before we went into self-quarantine, the kids had heard about the coronavirus at school, and were nervous. For the first week, we decided not to talk about it at all in front of them, but explained we had to be careful not to share glasses, etc. There were still lots of cuddles and contact within our self-isolation bubble, but they adapted quickly to the new routine and I was careful not to e.g. cough on them.

We have relied on friends and family to drop off grocery supplies since online grocery apps in our area became inundated about four days into our self-isolation. We get groceries delivered every second or third day and try not ask for more than 10 items at a time. We did a decent shop on the first day, but decided not to fall into the trap of bulk buying. We’ve used the opportunity to clean out our cupboards, finishing all half-jars of beans, quinoa, rice, pasta, etc. Fresh ginger, garlic and lemon are always in high stock as their natural vitamins boost immunity. 

Our routines include:

  • Making your bed when you get up.
  • Putting pyjamas in the wash basket.
  • Washing hands frequently, brushing teeth and hair
  • Dad puts on his work clothes and does a morning team briefing.
  • Having breakfast together and running through the schedule for the day. We cook almost every meal from scratch, eating mostly vegetarian with lots of fresh fruit, fresh veg and smoothies. 
  • Vitamins: The kids are taking Echinacea for kids, a multi-vitamin and Reuterina Junior (probiotic). The adults are taking Berocca, Echinacea drops before meals and a DS24 multivitamin to support our immune systems.
  • We do morning and afternoon exercise (trampoline, beach bats, gym exercises, Strava challenges).
  • Sun time. We are making the most of summer days and soaking up some rays every day to combat being inside so much.
  • We limit TV time to twice a day.
  • We get creative with crafting, painting, beading and baking.
  • Chore time. (Kids do tidying; my husband and I actually clean the house and do laundry)
  • Quiet time (napping, reading, drawing, Lego).
  • Academic time. Our kids' school has sent resources for home schooling, and there are multiple lists flying around with ideas. Since our kids attend a Montessori school, we have tried simulating the environment and giving them choices of which stations to use. (The academic resource list is growing every day, and our school has been great at offering learning support and ideas. Because the kids are young, all the schoolwork is offline. Friends with older kids are reporting a lot more technology-related solutions.)
  • Facetime with school friends: Our kids miss their friends and enjoy catching up over Facetime.

Demystifying the schedule

I am good at talking about the schedule and my husband is great at actually following it. After the first two days, we realised that our kids needed more structure. They need the structure and discipline of knowing what activity is coming next.

On day five I put together the kids' schedule, followed by my husband's and mine. Ours had to include time for academic time with the kids, creative time, cleaning, washing clothes, preparing healthy meals, work calls and exercise. The last two days I have been consumed by work, as the severity of my tourism business being at the front-line of the pandemic is dawning on me, and big decisions need to be made daily.

With my whole head office team and co-founder in self-quarantine, it is challenging to run the hotel and my instinct is to drive straight to work and comfort my amazing team. This means that the schedule has gone down the drain for me. My husband and the kids are, however, still following the broad structure. While they missed their friends and popping out to the shops or for a walk in nature for the first two days, they have adapted incredibly well to no contact with the outside world. 

Keeping up rhythms and rituals

My husband is an exercise nut and he didn’t let life in self-isolation hold him back. Almost immediately his Woodstock-based F45 gym franchise went online and his daily gym routine continued from his phone in the yard. We set up an exercise bike, and he even participated in the "Corona-Olympics". A friend up the road challenged him to a 800m sprint through the house and yard through the fitness app, Strava.

On Saturday night we had a house party. Of course, not an old-fashioned one, but a virtual one. 14 friends got together over the Houseparty app, drank wine, played trivia and charades while discussing the viability of "corona cell families" (i.e. how we can go into self-quarantine together and do less washing up). We have celebrated two birthdays and our anniversary in the last twelve days in self-isolation and keeping up these rituals has kept the family strong.

There are moments while baking a birthday cake or dancing in the kitchen to Elton John’s “I’m still standing” that the WhatsApp group ping fades into the background, the heightened stress of our ever-changing corona world dissipates and I can feel real joy. As the fake news quote Bill Gates supposedly write about Corona virus: “It is reminding us of the shortness of life and what is most important for us to do … our purpose is not to buy toilet rolls.”

Kim Whitaker is the CEO and co-founder of Once Travel – a youth travel company that operates experiences and hub hotels for adventurous travellers and storytellers. She has set up a fund for the Team of Once in Cape Town and Once in Joburg, where friends of Once can contribute

Image credit: Supplied, Kim Whitaker
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