Leave It in ‘Early Quar’?

As the United States braces for a long Covid winter, many people have been reflecting on the early spring, when the first wave of shutdowns transformed work, leisure and social life overnight.

Millions of Americans, stuck at home from mid-March through the spring, threw themselves into digital distractions and ancient hobbies, intermittently checking social media to see how everyone else was holding up. Today, memories of those first few months inspire a mix of visceral dread and jokey nostalgia for the collective experience of binge-watching “Tiger King” and hoarding cans of beans.

But most people seem to agree that the pastimes popularized back then would be best left in “early quarantine” — an unofficial period in U.S. history that began on March 11, when news broke that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson had been diagnosed with Covid-19; the NBA shut down after a positive test; and the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. Its end date is looser and more subjective: the first day you gathered with friends (or strangers) off Zoom, perhaps, or the week nonessential businesses reopened in your city.

Early quarantine feels like a lifetime ago. Most of its trends faded when restrictions lifted and people ventured outdoors. But with cases rising and temperatures falling, it might be time to break out the puzzles and yeast once again: In California, and perhaps more places soon, lockdowns are back.

But after a while, aching forearms, flour-bombed kitchens and misshapen lumps of half-risen dough gave way to a collective realization: bread making might be best left to the professionals.

People watched TV, of course. Several of the most popular shows of early quar were, fittingly, about captivity: Two Netflix dating shows, “Love Is Blind” and “The Circle,” placed their subjects in hermetic pods and made them flirt remotely. “Tiger King” focused on caged beasts and their master, who seemed to thrive beyond any boundary — the law, good taste, basic tiger safety protocols — before winding up in jail.

Musicians released gimmicky songs about the virus in multiple languages; Charli XCX opted, instead, for heartfelt lockdown mixtapes. Rappers and R&B singers battled on Verzuz. A wild-eyed, rambunctious album from Fiona Apple captured the bouncing-off-the-walls zeitgeist. Swarms of celebrities released Instagram singalongs, to mixed reactions.

Politicians became pandemic talk show hosts: Governor Andrew Cuomo took the midday slot (for which he has been awarded an Emmy), focusing on infection data and practical precautions, while President Donald J. Trump continued to proffer nightly political broadsides and appraisals of dubious treatments.

Social life fully migrated online. Friend groups organized Zoom happy hours. Tinder matches tried out Zoom dating. There were Zoom bar mitzvahs and substance abuse meetings and weddings and orgies and theater recitals and funerals (even fraudulent ones). Families arranged virtual reunions, with members around the country bragging about Costco hauls and griping about lockdown protocols; inevitably, an uncle or grandparent would set their background image to outer space or a tropical island.

Video games like Animal Crossing gave rise to crucial social hubs. There were Instagram DJ sets and strip clubs, Second Life cyber raves and Minecraft music festivals. TikTokers memorized the “Savage” dance. Redditors commiserated over unemployment insurance. Beyoncé rapped about starting an OnlyFans.

Creative productivity itself became a battlefield: You should write a book in quarantine, some urged, just like Shakespeare! Others felt they owed it to themselves to luxuriate in sloth and self-care and sweatpants.

People moved their living room furniture and hurled their sweaty bodies around as advised by Chloe Ting and Adriene Mishler. Spendier exercisers with the space bought new equipment; there were so many Peloton bike orders that deliveries were backlogged.

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