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MacKenzie Earl graduated from Liberty High School and now attends George Mason University.

Last Friday, my 23-year-old daughter and I were negotiating a visit. MacKenzie lives in Fairfax and attends George Mason University – which has switched to online-only classes because of concerns about COVID-19.

She and I normally meet up every weekend to have lunch, visit thrift shops and catch up.

“How about if we meet in a park and stay 6 feet apart?” I suggested.

“Mmmm,” she was non-committal.

“We could drive-thru Starbucks,” I offered, sweetening the deal.

“I’m not sure,” she said, unconvinced.

“Why?” I pressed.

“Mom, I don’t trust you not to hug me,” she admitted.

She has reason to be cautious. Although MacKenzie and her friends are young and mostly healthy, one roommate is immunocompromised, and her boyfriend has severe seasonal allergies. She is worried about them. 

She’s also worried about her dad, who has heart issues. She refused a visit from him this week, too. “Mom, what if I had something and gave it to Dad?”

A lot has been made of the young knuckleheads who are partying on beaches during spring break and congregating in close quarters in bars.

But let’s not paint all young people with the same bulletproof mentality.

My daughter and many of her fellow students are turning their worry into action. 

One of the GMU organizations she belongs to held an online organizing meeting with six other student organizations to share ideas and frustrations. They came up with a plan to present to the university – the GMU Community Response Network --  outlining some of the problems they were facing and possible solutions that the university could help with.

Two Mason students also created the “Northern Va. COVID-19 Craziness Supply Exchange,” a Facebook page that serves as a place where students can share concerns and ask for help. Those who are quarantined and have run out of basic supplies can post there. Someone is sure to offer to pick up what they need: “You can Venmo me. I’ll leave the groceries on the front steps at 3 p.m.”

The page for the Mason community is much like the Fauquier Resources Facebook page that serves the same purpose. If an elderly person can’t get out to buy groceries or a mom is looking for a store with diapers in stock, the page provides practical, crowdsourced advice and encouragement. From ideas on what to do with cooped-up kids to the latest on which restaurants offer curbside delivery, the page is a wealth of up-to-date, local information.

MacKenzie and her friends are also addressing another coronavirus-inspired complication: social isolation. The camaraderie college students once enjoyed in classrooms and dorm rooms, at sporting events and coffee shops has been suspended. It’s left a hole.

My daughter drove to several friends’ homes this week and left freshly potted plants on porches for them to find, a green gift to say, “I’m thinking about you.”

She and six of her friends set up a Snapchat group to check in with one another. Then they held a Google Hangout where they shared support and love. “What art projects did you work on today?” “What are you doing to take care of yourself?” they asked.

My daughter showed them the plants she’d repotted. Another young woman pointed her computer’s camera at her family’s pasture to share her horses with her friends. They laughed together and it helped.

“I didn’t realize how much I missed spending time with these amazing, supportive women,” she told me.

Here at the paper, when people call with questions, they stay on the line longer. We hear about their grandchildren and that time they went to Italy.

In spite of all our very social media, people are missing the everyday connection with friends, family and even the incidental contact with strangers.

I’m not the only one missing hugs.

Epilogue: I did go to visit Kenzie Sunday. We met on a street in Fairfax and I took photos of her and her boyfriend – with a long lens. We stayed 6 feet apart, but she did come up from behind me once and hug me. No face to face contact.

I was taking the photos because Kenzie and her boyfriend wanted headshots for their LinkedIn profiles. After all this is over, they’d like to get real jobs.

Reach Robin Earl at

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