NYC in the Time of Coronavirus
Both the city and the state of New York had their first confirmed case of coronavirus on March 1. In the following weeks, NYC rapidly transformed into the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States1.
I thought I’d share a few photos of what it’s been like.
It started with (literal) half-measures, like restaurants being required to operate at no more than 50% capacity on March 12, the same day Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a State of Emergency.
Four days later, on March 16, all public venues, bars, gyms, restaurants (except for delivery/takeout), etc. were ordered to close, as were NYC schools.
Four days later, on March 20, all “nonessential” businesses were ordered to keep 100% of their workforce at home.
Sometimes the parks are empty, but they’re often packed. Governor Cuomo has warned they may be closed if New Yorkers fail to social distance within them.
Grocery stores have started closing (March 25) as employees test positive for coronavirus. Ironically, their new limitations on the number of people who can be inside the store at once have led to packed lines outside their doors.
(Photo taken March 21 outside Trader Joe’s, 20 minutes after open and three days before an employee tested positive)
Grocery delivery apps are backed up for days and out of stock of many basic items; sometimes you learn that in the app itself, sometimes a few days later when it shows up with only half of what you ordered.
During my rare outings (I spend roughly one hour per week outside my apartment), I’ve noticed mask usage in my neighborhood climb from 1 in 10 people to about 1 in 3, as of March 28. I’m now among them, albeit with a homemade mask fashioned from a cotton-shirt2.
It’s quiet during my walk around the neighborhood. The avenues still have light traffic, but the streets are completely barren. They are basically an extension of the sidewalks now, useful for maintaining six feet from others.
The normally bustling Prince St. is entirely empty save for one single food delivery person. Delivery workers make up the majority of people on the streets now.
Even the famous Prince St. Pizza, normally mobbed with a line out the door even in the wee hours of the morning, is moribund.
Virtually all of the storefronts and restaurants are boarded up; many of the restaurants have even stopped doing takeout or delivery. It’s unclear if they’ll be back when this is all over.
I’m used to hearing a myriad of languages when I walk outside. I’m used to pushing past crowds of people, impatiently ambling behind slow walkers, and bumping into gawking tourists who’ve stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. But now I don’t hear anyone, the crowds and slow walkers are gone, and the tourists have fled.
Many of my friends and coworkers have fled the city too, for their hometowns where a house, family, and yard can make the difference between a mental break and a mental breakdown. It’s been three weeks since I’ve seen anyone I know in person.
I’ve personally seen coronavirus end relationships, shutter local businesses, and destroy livelihoods. It’s taken nearly a thousand of us. It’s seized our greatest public space and turned it into an infirmary for its victims. It’s drained the energy from the City That Never Sleeps.
When it’s all done, when the schools and shops reopen, when the quiet recedes into the cacophony of loud neighbors blasting music and angry horns honking and police sirens blaring, and when the last of the dead are buried, we’ll remember how quickly the city could die — and how quickly it came back to life again.
Get well soon, New York.
- A bit of background: Roughly 1 in 4 confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States is here in NYC. That’s partly because we test the most (NY state will soon overtake South Korea in tests per capita), but also the unsurprising result of being America’s densest and most internationally visited city. Similarly, New Jersey has the second most confirmed cases in the country.
- Homemade masks, while not as good as a “real” mask (e.g., surgical or N95 mask), are still significantly better than nothing. Stay home and save the real masks for medical professionals. But if you must go out, wear a homemade mask.