The first weekend in June, Cyré Olivia Coleman, 29, a student in Randolph, Massachusetts, did something that even a month earlier would have felt like a far-fetched dream: took a family vacation.
Since March, Coleman had not left her home, which she shares with her mother, brother, 4-month-old daughter and the father of her child.
“We’ve gotten pretty creative, so we haven’t gone stir-crazy,” she said. “We put my daughter into a laundry basket and splash around with her teething toys. We go on walks around our neighborhood because it isn’t so populated.”
By the beginning of June, however, it was time for an adventure. “We decided that since we’ve been home all this time we could go to my mom’s friend’s lake house,” Coleman said. They all drove to North Conway, a village in New Hampshire set amid lakes, forests and mountains.
Worry about the pandemic guided most decisions. The family decided against renting a bigger car to make them comfortable during the three-hour drive, because she was not sure what the rental companies were doing to ensure their cars were virus-free. They fed and changed the baby in the car to avoid public rest stops and bathrooms.
Even though the lake house was near the center of the village, they stayed away. “We played family board games, we went on kayaks, we had a kiddie pool, we did lots of barbecuing,” Coleman said. “We went on the trip to stay at the house. The intention wasn’t to go anywhere public.”
After a spring indoors, leisure-seeking Americans with the means to do so are suddenly — if tentatively — on the move. Some are patronizing restaurants or bars, even crossing state lines to do so (and not without repercussion in various areas).
Others, longing for a change of scenery, are renting houses at beaches and lakes or taking day trips to frolic in nature. Even those uncomfortable leaving home are meeting family and friends for barbecues, play dates and picnics.
In early June, Thomas E. Pierce, 34, the chief executive of a media and public relations consultancy who lives in the meatpacking district of Manhattan in New York City, put on a mask and took the train for a day trip to Greenwich, Connecticut.
“We were on my friend’s rooftop, and we literally played a Saint-Tropez playlist, popped Champagne and danced on the table,” he said. “We went to a restaurant to sit on the water, and we had a four-hour dinner. We ordered everything: octopus, steak and dessert, appetizers, tuna tartare. We went for it.”
It was his first outing since the pandemic, a worthy reason to celebrate. “It was so surreal just being at a restaurant,” he said. “Everyone kept looking at each other like, ‘Look at us dining out.’”
But even as Pierce was letting loose, he had to hold back. “I enjoyed a few glasses of Champagne, but I definitely wasn’t getting intoxicated,” he said. “I had to stay responsible, and it’s hard when you are consuming alcohol.”
Next came a trip to Fire Island. “But only with two friends who have been social distancing,” he said. “Before I spend a weekend with someone, or any time at all, I ask them if they’ve been responsible.”
Pierce worked out a reliable way to probe. “I say, ‘Has it been hard for you?’” he explained. “Then they tell you what they’ve been doing, if they’ve been home alone or what.”
But what if they are lying?
Rafael Agustin, 39, a TV writer in Los Angeles, said he has broken his quarantine only twice. “Once to see the girl I thought I was dating, and then once to see the girl I now hope to be dating,” he said. With both of them, he had a rule: They must be mask wearers. There were a few ways to make sure that was the case. He could ask them directly and check their social media accounts. But there is no way to know exactly what they were doing behind his back and out of the spotlight. Still, he will continue to insist.
“Today, face masks are the new condoms,” Agustin said. “If you’re not using them, then you’re not getting any action. So please use protection because you don’t know if you might be a carrier.”
‘There has been some yelling’ in Utah ‘COVID group’
Those who have been isolating in a group have found a way to work around the strictures of quarantine from its beginning. But now, with the patchwork of reopenings across the country, disagreements are arising about which new pursuits may be permissible.
Thomas Gunderson, 24, is an aviation student at Southern Utah University. By the end of March, most students had left Cedar City, Utah, where he started living recently, having transferred from a different school.
Three people he knew were still in Cedar City including his brother, 25, who works for a network marketing business and is his roommate, and two female students, 19 and 30, who live together. “The group got whittled down to the few of us,” he said. “We decided this was going to be our COVID group.”
They are still socializing only together. At night they make food like tacos and watch television including “Money Heist” on Netflix. During the day, they hike to Logan Canyon and the Great Salt Lake. They have decided not to go to restaurants, which are reopening, opting to wait to see whether the virus is halted or renews its spread.
With mixed messages from the government, family and friends have had to collectively decide what they feel safe doing.
The one time there was a disagreement, Gunderson’s group decided to err on the side of caution. While churches were closed in Utah, they were open in Idaho, and one of the women suggested they drive there to attend services.
“I said, ‘As much as I would like to, I don’t think it is a wise decision,’” Gunderson said. “The whole point of them shutting down was to promote social distancing and keep people at home.” The group stayed put.
Ilana Brown, 34, and Joel Wishkovsky, 37, usually live in New York City but are currently in Moab, Utah, with another couple and a single friend. The group has been together since mid-March. Though they are living in something of a dream scenario, relations occasionally get a little rocky.
The group moved to different houses around California — Lake Tahoe, Palm Springs, Temecula, Paso Robles — before settling in Arizona and now Utah. Setting their rules and norms has been a challenge, one compounded by the array of places where they have stayed.
When they were in Arizona, the state was open, Wishkovsky said, so there were more questions. “Can we get a haircut?” he said. “Can we go to a restaurant and do outdoor seating? Can we go shopping for new sneakers to hike in? There are going to be questions now because in Arizona you can do whatever you want.”
“There has been some yelling,” said Brown, who works for a hospitality tech platform. “It’s people trying to convince others of their opinion.”
As issues (and opportunities) arise, the team discusses them over the dinner table. “We agreed early on that we were going to do consensus,” said Wishkovsky, founder of Simple Health, an online supplier of birth control. “It has to be 100%.”
On one occasion the couple really wanted to visit a farmers market, but received strong pushback from another party in the house. They kept talking about it until they found a way everyone would feel safe: wearing masks, staying 6 feet away and buying only from vendors wearing masks and gloves no matter how good the strawberries looked.
The conversation was intense, but Wishkovsky understood why.
“People are nervous, stakes are high. Going to a farmers market shouldn’t create animosity, but people are scared.”
On Tulalip Reservation, ‘Come give me a hug’
Melody Dumont, 41, lives on the Tulalip Reservation, 30 miles north of Seattle. She has not been tempted to quarancheat, partly because she took some liberties early on.
Dumont has four children under her roof, ages 20, 18, 12 and 9. Her mother and father live next door with her brother and his two children. One house down is her sister, her partner and their six children; a mile away are two nieces with their children and another brother and his son.
For the first five weeks of the pandemic, they were all staying in their individual homes, trying to figure out what to do. That soon turned into yard visits. Before long they had decided to pool their living arrangements so they could help one another stay safe. “It happened kind of informally,” Dumont said. “At one point I saw one of the babies outside, and I couldn’t stand it anymore. I said, ‘Come give me a hug.’”
The large, extended family now gets together for meals, to play in the yard and have movie nights complete with candy. Because they are in one another’s physical space, they also remind one another to stay safe. A few are working, and when they come home, they gently nudge them to change their clothes and wash their hands. They text their mother regularly to say, “mask check.”
But more and more people are seeing little reason to continue as they were.
Jake Littleton, 25, a mechanic in Dickson, Tennessee, went to his beloved Waffle House as soon as it reopened. “I went by myself on my lunch break,” he said. “I always get the sausage and hash brown bowl, ‘all the way,’ which includes cheese, ham bits, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, jalapeños, onions, gravy and chili.” He said he did not wear a mask or feel unsafe, especially because plastic partitions divided the booths. “I decided to take a risk to return to some version of normality.”
Most of his summer plans have already been thwarted. “I don’t think there is anything I won’t do that hasn’t already been canceled,” Littleton said. “I play in a bluegrass band with some older guys, and we were supposed to play at a few events and festivals starting in May and going through the summer.”
Everything else, he figures, is fair game. “Other than that, I will probably live life as usual with continued precautions,” he said. “Unless there is a second wave of cases that results in another period of quarantine.”
As for Coleman, in Massachusetts, she is planning other family trips this summer — but carefully.
“We are nervous,” she said. “I have to take steps that put my mind at ease.”