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Life at a distance — for some, it’s about adapting

Creating new ways to reach people

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Although students’ needs are being met in the Glen Cove City School District during the coronavirus pandemic — learning materials, internet access and even breakfast and lunch — one thing is missing: time with friends.

“It’s interesting,” said Alexis DiMaggio, a Glen Cove mother of two, ages 9 and 10. “They’re adapting to being at home. My 9-year-old wanted to be home-schooled, but now he wants to go back to school.”

That’s why DiMaggio, and a group of other parents, brought their children to Connolly School on Sunday, instead of enjoying a relaxing morning in front of the television wearing pajamas. The purpose was to socialize, but no one got out of a car. The children chatted through open windows and sunroofs. “It was just a nice way to say hi on a Sunday morning,” DiMaggio said.

Waving to friends has become a means of socializing and a new reality. “I feel bad for these kids,” DiMaggio said. “They don’t get it.”

In an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, many policies have been introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that have changed the way New Yorkers live their daily lives, such as the closure of schools and non-essential businesses.

Alexander Papas, of Glen Cove, went to the Connolly meetup. The father of an 8- and 10-year-old, he owns the Glen Cove Printery with his parents and brothers. His wife, Julie, owns ClayNation, an art studio on Forest Avenue.

“We’re really juggling things right now,” Alexander said. “Kids are home, business has slowed. My wife has to figure out how we’re going to keep producing at her shop while the doors have to be closed. The print shop does mailings and some shipping, so theoretically we can stay open, but we have to keep employees safe, and everything has to be done via internet or phone.”

“The kiddos are doing OK, but we’re really trying to keep them in a good state of mind,” Papas added. “Rainy days seem way tougher to deal with. When the sun is shining, you can go outside and get distracted.”

When children are home from school it also affects their parents, said Sea Cliff resident Suzanne Cohen, who runs a weekly mothers’ support group, usually at the village library. The group held its March 19 meeting via webcam and Zoom, Cohen said, with eight women attending.

Although she was hesitant at first, Cohen said the online meeting was a success. It was therapeutic for all involved, although the normal topics were set aside in favor of chatting about virtual quarantines and balancing working from home with child care.

Even so, it was interesting, Cohen said. The mothers spoke about their shared experiences as well as what they have found beneficial during what many said was a difficult time. They were glad to see other moms echo their concerns, which normalized and validated feelings that, before the meeting, they may have feared were only theirs.

“Having to do the group online didn’t really take away from much,” Cohen said. “I think we were still able to get the same benefits that we usually do.”

One of the Zoom conference’s big pluses, she said, was the chance for mothers who can’t normally attend meetings to do so virtually. Some people, Cohen said, don’t have child care, or have other obligations.

“It was definitely a good way to connect, for sure,” she said. “It’s something I would maybe even do when we’re on the other side of this, just because we were able to have other people join that normally aren’t able to.”

Finding useful distraction from the pandemic isn’t easy for Alexander Papas, however. He is an administrator of the Facebook group “Glen Cove Neighbors.” “That’s a job on its own,” he said. “It’s a great resource for the community during a time like this, where the internet is everyone’s way to share news and communicate.”

Kevin Worgul, a clinical psychologist who lives in Glen Cove, also believes that the internet is a positive tool allowing people to connect during challenging times. “I just think that social distancing doesn’t mean emotional distance,” he said, “and people need to do what they can to connect.”

Worgul has been working remotely, holding sessions with clients by phone or Skype. “For people with pre-existing issues, with depression and anxiety,” he said, “obviously the condition of the world right now does nothing to alleviate it.”

Julie Papas said she hoped to help others alleviate stress with art. When ClayNation closed on March 13, she started selling “to-go art kits” that could be ordered online or picked up curbside. “It’s been steady,” she said, “and we feel good about helping people who are isolated or stuck at home with kids to create something together and use art as therapy during this difficult time.”

Papas also planned to stream free and live art lessons for children and adults. “I’m trying to innovate and create new ways to reach people until we can get back to normal,” she explained.

But “normal” and “new” vary from person to person. Much of the average day is the same for Glen Cove resident Alicia Neppl. She still goes to work as a bookkeeper at Penn Toyota in Greenvale, though her exercise routine has been relocated from The Max Challenge of Glen Cove to her own house.

Neppl used to go to the gym’s 5 a.m. classes. But after Gov. Andrew Cuomo closed gyms last week, she started doing virtual classes. Despite missing the people she has met at the gym, she said she’s been enjoying doing three classes at a time.

“You’re getting everything you need from them,” Neppl said of the online classes. “They’re doing their end of the bargain. The only thing is that you’re doing it at home instead of the gym.”

The Max Challenge has been offering four-live streams a day that clients can use whenever it’s convenient. According to Matilde Tysz, a co-owner of the gym, most clients have continued their memberships. “We’ve lost some, but most are staying with us,” Tysz said. “We’ve moved quickly to provide a virtual experience, combining fitness classes, nutritional counseling and, now more than ever, motivation.”

Asked what people can do to stay motivated and productive, Worgul recommended that they try to establish new routines, such as continuing to exercise even when gyms are closed. “The typical routine that helps people cope is no longer available,” he said.

It’s important to do anything that provides normalcy, Worgul added, even if it’s just walking the dog. “I think we’re all evolving,” he said. “Nobody on the planet has ever gone through this before.”

Mike Conn contributed to this story.