Students host a virtual game night in midst of pandemic. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Johnson.
Students host a virtual game night in midst of pandemic. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Johnson.

After a week of just trying to understand the reality of our current situation, I decide to reach out to my friends in Lincoln, Neb. and propose trying to do a virtual game night. Before COVID-19, getting together to play games and drink was our way to let off some steam. 

On Monday, March 23, after having a Zoom conversation with my adviser, I posted on Facebook inquiring as to whether or not my friends, ages 25 to 32, would be interested in having a virtual game night. This idea was met with very enthusiastic responses, and the planning began. 

Initially, I only thought to include the friends I regularly hang out with here in Lincoln, but one of my friends suggested reaching out to a friend Tony who did his undergrad and master’s at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is currently in his second year of his Ph.D. in Toulouse, France. This was a great idea. We moved the game night ahead a little since there is a six-hour time difference between France and Lincoln. I also extended the invite to other UNL grads living in Omaha and Wisconsin. 

Friday, March 27: The plan was to have a Google Hangout and start a virtual game for Cards Against Humanity. Well, like many things, this did not go according to plan. The website I had found for free Cards Against Humanity was crashing (probably due to high usage). Google Hangouts was also not behaving, and we decided to switch to Zoom, which was much better. Who wants to have a conversation with a person whose picture is lagging? It’s weird, you think, “Did I make them laugh or what is going on?” So, after this, Tony opened up a game server he had called The Jackbox Party Pack 2. He shared his screen, and we all used our phones to go to jackbox.tv and enter the code on the shared screen. We played around with some games and came to Quiplash 2, and the hilarity ensued. It was a crazy couple of hours. We were all enjoying a few drinks, comparing where we were ordering food from and cracking out answers that were probably less than appropriate. 

We did discuss the coronavirus a bit, mostly to find out how Tony was doing in France and how France was handling things differently. None of us are taking COVID-19 lightly, and we are sheltering in place though we have not been directed to do so. We actually started using coronavirus as a part of our joking answers, which I think was almost cathartic. It makes things a little less scary if you can joke about them. 

It was a night to relax and let the problems in the world stay outside, even if just for a few hours. Life felt almost normal.

Here’s what each student had to say:

  • Tony Mucia – Ph.D. student from Nebraska studying in Toulouse, France:

How is your life affected? 

All outings considered non-essential are now illegal. All work is now conducted online for me, which is a problem without connection to data servers and the supercomputer that I need to run my experiments. I cannot leave my apartment without a signed and dated document providing a valid reason to go out (food/medicine shopping, doctors visit, and very brief exercise), which in and of itself is stress inducing. 

What’s your home life like now? 

Besides being in my apartment 24/7, the actual life at home is the same. As I live on my own, nothing drastic has changed in terms of relationships or anything. 

What are you grateful for? 

Above all, I am grateful for those people who can’t be locked down and go out every day to do their incredibly important jobs despite the risks. Whether they are doctors, delivery workers, or grocers. Additionally, I am grateful that I am in a very fortunate position to not be immediately impacted financially. 

What did you used to take for granted? 

Going out for a walk without worrying about the maximum allowable distance from my apartment. Not needing to prepare paperwork for the five minute walk to the grocery store. Even just hanging out with friends or coworkers at a bar on a Friday night. Every time I get a pain or think I have a medical problem, I think twice and realize that if something serious is wrong with me, this is just about the worst time to go into a hospital. As it is springtime as well, the beautiful, sunny, 75-degree weather is here often, and I greatly miss just taking a walk and catching some sun. 

How will you be different after this? 

I know this event is huge and will change a lot of the world. Economically, people will be hurting to get by, companies will go under (some have already started) and countries will be left with a debt of helping those affected, potentially cutting other vital programs to make the budget work. Travel may never fully recover. Some countries may force manufacturing back to their soil, which could also change industries. A lot of the “after” depends on the next few months/years, if this virus will stay around, and if a useful vaccine can be developed. Also, I think this event will make countries and lower divisions create more useful and detailed plans for future pandemics. 

Do you think social distancing is important? 

Very important. While I am not in a particularly “at risk” group, I do not want to unknowingly spread it to someone who is or put pressure on the already over-taxed medical system if the dice don’t roll in my favor. I trust the medical experts who have tested this and say it is the best way to flatten the curve. 

How are you feeling about what is happening?

Overall anxious, stressed and wanting this to be over. I have almost all the time in the world to do those projects that I have been putting off, but there is no motivation. Of all the future plans that I have for myself, none take place in quarantine, and very few can even be worked towards in this situation.

Provide some of the challenges of your family being in another country with the world in lockdown.

Obviously this sort of crisis makes me miss my family even more than normal. Just the general support from my parents is a reassuring measure during hard times. We still talk and video chat, and due to this lock-down we are in contact more often than normal. Even still, the communication is less than if I was right with them, and that can induce stress and worry when I don’t know the entirety of the situation. With travel banned or nearly banned between us, all planned trips between us in the next six6 months or so are canceled. And that is a sad thought that I don’t know when I will see them again.

  • Markéta Poděbradská, UNL SNR Ph.D. student from Prague, Czech Republic

How is your life affected?  

I think it is affected in every single aspect I can think of. I cannot do the activities that I normally would. Since I live with a person who is immunocompromised, I have to be extra careful. I made an observation that I don’t move nearly as much as I would during a regular day and that’s affecting both my mental and physical health. I cannot see my friends, co-workers and family. My family lives in Czech Republic where the whole situation is a bit more controlled than in the U.S. The government chose to close the borders for everyone besides citizens actively seeking to return home. However, my life and home are now in Lincoln, NebraskaE. If there was something to happen to my family member there is no way I can return quickly back. Additionally, once I would leave the U.S. I have no way of getting back. The whole situation is very scary and it makes me anxious with a question in my mind: “What if something bad happens and I won’t see them again?” 

What’s your home life like now? 

Our household is self-isolating now for more than two weeks. We only go out to walk our dog and I sometimes go biking. We work from home in an improvised home office. I cook a lot (but I’ve always been) but the dishes get old since we don’t have much fresh food. We are pescatarian, eating mostly vegetarian dishes, so it is fairly difficult with not being able to get fresh food – we don’t go out shopping and couldn’t get online delivery. We play a lot of videogames.

What are you grateful for?  

I’m grateful that we still get to keep our job and that we had enough financial resources to prepare for self-isolation. I’m grateful that we live on the edge of the city and can go out to nature without too much of a contact with other people. I’m grateful for my adviser who understands the situation and for my co-workers who try to check-in every once in a while. I’m grateful for my friends whom I’m in touch with and for my boyfriend and dog who are great companions in the isolation. 

What did you used to take for granted? 

Fresh food, social contact, being able to travel, having access to toilet paper. 

How will you be different after this?  

I’m not sure what effects it’s going to have on me.  

Do you think social distancing is important?  

Yes, especially in a place like Lincoln, Neb. … there is a very limited capacity of hospital beds, and people are not taking the situation seriously at all.   

How are you feeling about what is happening? 

I think I described it in the first question. I feel very insecure and anxious. 

  • Kevin Moser, UNL alumnus, works for a nonprofit in Lincoln

How is your life affected? 

Fortunately, I am still able to work. We just have me and one other in the office, so we are still going in for the time being. If we close the office we will still be able to work from home. My income will not be impacted, however my girlfriend who lives with me is out of work. My salary will be able to cover both our expenses, but it will be tough and we will be cutting any sort of extraneous expenses.

What’s your home life like now? 

We are trying to stay positive and active. We have weights and workout equipment at home and are trying to get off the couch every day. Admittedly, it’s hard sometimes as I think we are both depressed and motivation is low. When we do get active it makes a huge difference I feel.

What are you grateful for? 

I’m most grateful that my work won’t be impacted by this, and I’m still able to bring money in for us. I know my girlfriend feels like she has lost a sense of purpose, and I know that is impacting her negatively.

What did you used to take for granted?

Just being able to go out, have a drink and a bite to eat. We didn’t eat out a bunch, but we usually went every Saturday to a neighborhood cafe to get brunch. You don’t think about the little things like that until they are taken away. I just want to be able to get a drink with my friends again.

How will you be different after this?

I think this has shifted me a little politically more to the left. I’ve always been left of center and have supported social support and social safety nets. Now I agree that it’s urgent we provide basic needs to everyone. I don’t know that this will actually change anything, but I’d like to get more politically active with regards to that.

Do you think social distancing is important?

I think it’s crucial in order to minimize the death toll of this pandemic. I think most people are taking it seriously, however, I’ve seen some flippant attitudes online.

How are you feeling about what is happening? 

It’s a mixture of hopeful and upset. I think there are some issues with how the federal government has approached this and I don’t think the Trump administration is handling things well. I am however hopeful because I think regular Americans and businesses are taking this very seriously and picking up where the federal government has been ineffective.

  • Elliot Wickham, Ph.D., UNL applied climate lecturer

How is your life affected?

My life has been affected in a few ways. First, through practicing social distancing, it has been challenging to not interact with my friends and co-workers on a regular basis. Therefore, we have had to get creative and we have started having weekly calls through Zoom to see each other, make sure everyone is doing okay and still have the best time during these stressful and uncertain times. Second, switching my classes from an in-class format to an online format has been pretty time consuming and stressful, particularly in how to restructure exams to an online format where students will not be able to cheat. Third, I have become very cognizant of what I touch and not touching my face with my hands, leading me to wash my hands and use hand sanitizer much more frequently than I usually did.

What’s your home life like now?

Home life has changed quite a bit. Normally, I tried not to work from home so my home life and work life would be separate. Obviously, that is not really an option now. I find working from home a bit difficult because I’m not as productive working from home as I am in the office. I will say that the house is much cleaner now since my wife and I are spending much more time at home, so we have more time to clean. Also, it’s also more important for us to keep things clean, such as reducing clutter, so we don’t feel as cramped in our new work environment.

What are you grateful for?

I’m grateful for my family and my friends. I think that we are all doing our best to adapt and overcome the impacts of this situation, so having a network of people who want to make sure you’re doing okay and want to hangout (virtually) is nice and reduces the stress and loneliness of social distancing.

What did you used to take for granted?

The obvious answer is going out and doing things with friends and family, such as going out to dinner or grabbing drinks. But honestly, those situations in the past were just a vessel for getting us together. What was important was the time we spent together and being physically surrounded by people who care about you and that you have a good time with. I think that is what I miss the most.

How will you be different after this?

Going off my last answer, I think I’ll try to enjoy the little things more in life. Not so much what you’re doing, but who you are doing it with.

I also think that I’ll be better at being productive while working at home, but I don’t think I’ll ever be as productive at home as I am in the office.

Do you think social distancing is important?

I cannot stress how important social distancing is. I view it as the same as not living in a floodplain. If you don’t live in a floodplain, then your chance of risk or impacts is much lower than those who do live in the floodplain. If you practice social distancing you are greatly reducing your risk to contracting the virus, and it greatly reduces your ability to spread the virus to others. Since we do not have the existing infrastructure to deal with the virus (intubators, hospital beds, etc.), the best way to reduce the gap between less than desired medical supplies and the amount of people infected by the virus is to stop the spread of the virus as much as possible. This is the point of social distancing.

How are you feeling about what is happening?

It’s hard not to feel lonely, stressed, or even depressed during these times. I certainly have these feelings. But I try and focus on the positives and what I do have. I haven’t lost my job, so I am fortunate. I have friends and family that care about me, so I am fortunate. I have not had, nor has any of my family or friends had COVID-19, so I am fortunate. I think the way we phrase things to ourselves is very important. Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, focusing on what we do have is essential for our mental health and how we handle these times of uncertainty.

  • Lindsay Johnson, UNL SNR Ph.D. student, from Aurora, Colo.

How is your life affected? 

In some ways it feels like life hasn’t changed much but in other ways everything is different. I already spend a lot of time working from home and do enjoy my own company. I remember there were weekends that I would enjoy not going out and just staying in. 

For someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression most of their life, this has been a really trying time. That first week was awful. I just wanted to curl up in bed and hibernate. Finally, I broke down and just cried for 20 to 30 minutes and talked with my mom. It was amazing how cathartic that was. Since then I have been trying to figure out how to function, creating my own schedule and being positive. I still get mad and scared but I am constantly reminding myself there are things I can and can’t control and I’m focusing on what I can. 

What’s your home life like now? 

I live alone in my apartment which I normally really like, but in times like this I miss having a roommate for someone to just talk to. But luckily we have technology and the ability to talk with friends face to face. I talk to my mom every day and FaceTime my friends just to say hi. My old college roommate lives on the southeast side of Lincoln and we used to spend Sundays studying together and I would get some puppy therapy from her three dogs and two cats, but she is immunocompromised and has some other underlying conditions so for her safety we now have our study Sundays virtually. I don’t get to play with her dogs but at least we can talk and ‘hang out.’ 

What are you grateful for? 

I am grateful for my somewhat stable life situation. My pay, while low, will continue through all this, as will my health insurance (UNL student insurance). I have worked in the service industry off and on for 10 years, and I really worry about those I know who make their living off tips and service. I’m grateful not to be in that situation. I also have family and friends who are very supportive, and we all try and listen to each other.

What did you used to take for granted?

Just being able to go out without having to weigh the ‘importance’ of why I’m leaving. I also miss being able to get together with friends whenever. I don’t enjoy my office (giant room full of cubicles) but at least I could always get up and see a friend for a quick little break. 

How will you be different after this?

I think like many people, I am much more conscious of my hygiene. Not that it was bad, but just realizing how often we touch our faces and touch everything. Obviously when this is over I wont be washing my hands quite as often, but I will be much more astute in public.

I will also really appreciate being able to interact with people again. We are social animals and we need to be with people. 

Do you think social distancing is important?

Yes. One of the scariest things about this pandemic is the feeling of helplessness. In many ways we are helpless, but the one thing we can do is social distancing. This isn’t just for our benefit, it’s to help the hospitals. People are still going to get sick or need the [emergency room] for non-coronavirus related problems and we don’t want the hospitals so overwhelmed that they are unable to properly do their jobs. Social distancing and washing my hands is what I can do, therefore I am controlling what I can.

How are you feeling about what is happening? 

I’m more angry than I am scared. I’m angry with how our federal government has handled everything. The lack of regard for people’s health and safety, purposefully disseminating misinformation and hindering those who are trying to do the right thing. That’s another thing, we don’t send our soldiers into war without proper equipment. Why are we sending our health workers into this pandemic without proper equipment? I could rant for a long time about the total botched handling of this pandemic but it won’t do any good. There are certain things I can and can’t control.

I am worried about this pandemic, more for my parents than for myself. Both of my parents fall into the at risk category. I also worry about my mom’s work. She works for a global travel company, and while not a travel agent, most workers have been asked to take one unpaid day off a week, essentially going to four 8-hour workdays a week. They also have to take an unpaid week off. There are also going to be layoffs. My mom finds out this week if she’ll have a job. 

Then there’s the fear of what happens when all this is over. The pandemic is the disaster, but the recovery will be just as bad, if not worse. Our economy is in turmoil, though I thought it wasn’t that great before all this. I started college in 2007, right before the recession. Now we are most likely going to be in another recession or even depression. I have never known financial security as an adult. I started a Roth IRA in 2017 and have lost all my gains, though I know I have many years to recoup. But there is still frustration from trying to be responsible and save for my future and having it lost in a matter of weeks. 

Lindsay Johnson is a Ph.D. student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln studying applied climate science.