Nine people, one household
Banned from relaxing in front of your own house
March 23, 7 pm. My eight roommates and I are sitting on the couch in our house at the H.W. Mesdagstraat. We’ve put off cooking, because we all want to watch the press conference that’s on television. The coronavirus is inching ever closer, and we’re slowly getting a little nervous. What’s going to happen? Exams have already been cancelled, we’re no longer allowed to shake hands, and in Italy, the situation is getting completely out of hand. What’s next?
Then, prime minister Mark Rutte makes his announcement: we have to stay five feet away from each other at all times and no more than two people can be outside together, unless they’re part of the same household. At the end of the broadcast, we’re all quiet. ‘I guess we have to outside in small groups from now on’, my roommate Hannah eventually says. After all, it would be hard to explain that the nine of us form a single household.
We sit down together at our kitchen table. After some discussion, we decide to limit our groups to three people at a time, since we’re nine people in the house. At this point, we still figure that a household means ‘people living together in a house’. Surely we count. How are we supposed to keep our distance when passing each other in the narrow hallways? What about sharing a bathroom with three people? Our kitchen might be spacious, but that doesn’t mean there’s enough room for us to each prepare our food separately. We’re lucky to be in this house, as in our last one, we were packed like sardines.
There’s not enough room in the kitchen to prepare our food separately
From now on, we will go outside in groups of three. We’ll wait a few minutes after one group has left before the other ones goes outside. We won’t be inviting anybody over: some of our parents are at-risk, which means we had to decide whether to quarantine together, or separately with our parents. We agree that if someone goes home, they stay there for two weeks, and if anyone starts feeling ill, they’re confined to their room.
We’ll have to make do, although I’m secretly enjoying it a little, too. We only just moved into this house together, and it’s a unique opportunity: we can fix up the house together, and it’s a chance for me to really socialise before I graduate from law school in September and move to Amsterdam.
‘Let’s make a list of what we still need to do’, says Elisa after a few days of jigsaw puzzles and sudoku. Good plan. ‘Hang pictures’, we write on the list. ‘Paint the kitchen. Paint the common living room. Clean the cupboards.’
But we’re also becoming aware of everything we’re missing. We can’t go to Oceans, to the Kroeg, or to the Kokomo. I never thought I’d feel this way, but I actually miss the UB! I miss going to class. I want to go to the Aletta Jacobs hall and just sit my exams like normal; the law faculty hasn’t found a solution for this yet.
In an effort to stay sane, we organise things. We work out together in the garden and organise theme parties. In groups of three. ‘We’ll stick to the rules when we need to get supplies’, says roommate Fleur.
Together with Elise and Tessa, I organise a French evening, with a wine-tasting and cheese from the Albert Heijn. We play Une belle histoire. Hannah and Anne set up a scavenger hunt for Elise’s birthday, with activities throughout the house. The final prize is us, in our cute dresses rather than our quarantine jumpers, serving her oysters. There’s also a horse race for her to bet on, although we have to make do with a card game instead of the racetrack. We’re just trying to get through this quarantine without breaking any rules.
You’re less than five feet apart, ladies!
One night, as I’m walking through the Noorderplantsoen with my roommates Anne and Tessa, we’re approached by a police officer. ‘You’re less than five feet apart, ladies’, he says. He sounds like this isn’t the first time tonight he’s had to issue the warning.
Anne tries to placate him. ‘We’re roommates’, she says. ‘We’re a bunch of women living together. That makes us a household, doesn’t it?’
The offices is unimpressed. ‘I’m assuming you don’t sleep in the same bed or are related to each other’, he says. ‘That means that you have to stay five feet away from each other, both inside and outside.’
Oh. We didn’t know that.
We walk on, five feet apart, confused. Have we been doing it wrong all this time? Does this mean we’re not a household after all? Is there a definition somewhere? Because if it’s true, everyone we know has been doing it wrong. Student houses are all organising themed evenings and walking around in groups of three, like us. And let’s be honest: if we’re not a household, what are we supposed to do?
We figure it’s a good idea to call the GGD (public health service) for some clarity. I beep my way through the selection menu and finally talk to a woman who allays my fears. ‘Student houses count as households’, she says firmly. ‘They share a front door, as well as a kitchen and a bathroom most of the time. The rules all apply to student houses.’
She leaves no room for doubt. ‘Student houses can decide for themselves whether they’re a household’, she adds. ‘Just keep in mind that they need to stay together at all times and make no trips to their parents.’
I tell her about the incident with the police officer. ‘No’, she repeats, ‘we want to put out the message that students count as a household.’
All right. I am relieved. We’re okay.
But a few days later, I’m looking at the website for the municipality of Groningen, and they feel entirely differently. Their FAQ page says we should be staying five feet away from each other. Parties are ‘unwise’, even if only roommates attend, since we have to keep that distance. We can’t even sit outside on the sidewalk, because, again, we have to stay five feet away.
Am I supposed to video chat with my roommates?
It’s a conundrum. The GGD says we’re a household, but the municipality says we aren’t. We’re trying so hard to get it right, but this is just frustrating. A friend of mine has six siblings. Should they stay five feet away from each other?
Other cities have apparently fined roommates for standing too close to each other. It’s frustrating when you’re doing your best and the information isn’t even conclusive. Should we start using the kitchen in turns? Each clean a small patch of the garden? Am I supposed to video chat with my roommates?
We’re letting the issue rest for now. We’ve all gone to our parents for Easter, taking extra precautions where necessary, and we don’t have to think about it for a while? But we’ll all be returning this week. What are we supposed to do then?
GGD? Municipality? Can anyone tell us?