Covid-19 in New York City: My Perspective

I have become very familiar with my ~500 square foot apartment over the last two weeks. Like everyone else in the world, I've been doing my best to stay sane, while doing my part in social distancing to try and get this virus under control and give our healthcare system a fighting chance. Living in what is now the epicenter of the disease, and living alone, I've been blessed with many texts, emails, phone calls and Face Times from family members and friends checking in and trying to get a sense of what the situation is like here. Because of all of the concern and curiousity for what's been happening in New York, I thought I'd provide a little insight into what self-isolation has looked like for me.

How's Work?

I was in Boston for work the week of March 9th, when everything started to escalate in the US. I'm not sure I'll ever forget that Wednesday, sitting in a team room during a very busy time on the project when my coworker announced the travel ban from Europe and that the NBA had been cancelled. By the time I flew back to New York on Friday the 13th, two days later, all major sports were cancelled and there was a national emergency declared.

Since then, I've spent two full weeks working from my apartment. Our company has halted all business travel indefinitely and has closed offices across the nation, forcing people to work from home. I do not like working from home. I miss bantering with co-workers; now I have to banter over instant messaging. I miss walking the halls to grab coffee or water; now my sink is 6 feet away from my computer. I miss closing the laptop and walking back to the hotel, even if that meant working more during the evening it provided a nice break. Now the laptop rarely closes and sits open just feet away from where I'm cooking dinner. Setting boundaries has been difficult, but I am fully on-board with the measures being taken and I realize how serious this disease is, so I'm happy to do my part.

Work really hasn't changed much otherwise. We're structured to work remotely, so the workload for the project I was on didn't change. It was super busy for the first week and a half of isolation, until I wrapped up the project on Wednesday, 3/25, so the last couple days have been more relaxed which has been more than welcomed.

The good thing about having been so busy for the majority of this lock-down is that I literally had no time to even contemplate boredom. I worked nearly every night til 9pm or later, usually had a quick Facetime with family or a friend, then went to bed.

Now I find myself between projects, which is normally fine, but with coronavirus affecting pretty much every company - especially healthcare companies that I work with - some sales and project kick-offs are a bit delayed so I might be waiting a little longer than normal.

What's it like in the city?

Strange. Eerie. Weird. Scary. Take your pick on adjectives, but I don't think anyone's ever seen it like this outside of movies like I am Legend. With nearly 9 million people, New York is the United States' largest city and because of the density and (lack of) cleanliness, I don't think it surprised anyone when it quickly became the epicenter of the disease.

I'm trying to get outside one time per day, either to get groceries, or more commonly, to go for a run and clear my head. Getting some fresh air, and getting outside my four walls has been cruicial for my mental health even if it’s only for 30 minutes. These are the few times I've been able to "see" New York since the shut-down so I don't have the clearest sense about what's going on. However, I did go for a run on Friday after work (March 27th) and it provided some of the most memorable moments I've ever experienced in this city.

It was a beautiful day on Friday, reaching nearly 20 degrees Celsius around 4:30pm. I logged off and went for a run just before 6pm and because it was so lovely out, there were plenty of walkers and joggers on the path by the East River where I normally run. For the most part, people are keeping their distance, but it can be difficult when the path narrows in spots and people arrive at the same time.

I ran the path for a bit, but decided to head towards Central Park. Because it was so gorgeous out, there were lots of people in Central Park riding bikes and running the paths. There was even a good crowd at Sheep's Meadow (a giant lawn at the south end of the park) but people were doing a nice job keeping their distance.

Central Park on a beautiful Friday evening - everyone more than six feet away from their neighbours

During my run back downtown, the hilarious realization hit me that the "safest" and least congested area to run during this crisis is midtown Manhattan. Known for its hustle and bustle, massive skyscrapers, thousands of yellow cabs, log-jam traffic, and sardine-packed sidewalks, it had turned to silence. With corporations telling employees to work from home, Broadway shut down, and restaurants and bars closed, there's no New Yorkers and no tourists to be found. Essentially no cabs, cars, or pedestrians. As if the finance and media centers of the country just packed up and walked away.

I ran by Grand Central Terminal, which on a Friday after work would normally be swarmed with people sprinting towards the station to catch their Metro North train back to the suburbs. There was zero sign of life..

The North side of Grand Central Terminal - zero life.

I ran by Rockefeller Center - the area that's normally flooded with tourists, and skaters, was desolate.

No skating at Rockefeller Plaza - and no tourists snapping photos
Looking south on 6th Avenue - hardly a car or person during rush hour on a Friday

I wouldn't have been so surprised (I know people are ordered to stay home) but because I'm so familiar with what this area normally looks like on Friday afternoons - bumper to bumper traffic with cars honking and people everywhere - this was a true shock.

The icing on the cake came when I ran through Times Square. Normally I would avoid that area like the coronavirus, but this week was different. It was completely eerie and spooky with the larger-than-life bright billboards flashing advertisements to literally nobody. It was easy to run freely with no cars, no people, no tour groups, and no restaurant diners.

Times Square deserted

As weird as it was to see the city that never sleeps basically sleeping on a Friday evening, it was also encouraging that people are following orders, staying indoors, and trying to do their individual part in what requires a nine million person team effort.

One other city inside tip I have comes from my friend in Brooklyn who is a surgeon at one of the hospitals there. She told me how intense, sad, and stressful it is every time she goes into work. They're overrun, now setting up tents outside to treat Covid-19 patients. They're exhausted, they're forced to reuse gowns and masks due to supply, and they're constantly in contact with patients carrying the virus. She also has shared stories of patients and fellow doctors who are in their early 30s who have contracted the disease and are now in the ICU. The idea that this only negatively affects seniors or those with pre-existing conditions is simply false. It was a good reminder to remain isolated, to support healthcare workers anyway we can, and that trivial mishaps at work or feeling stir-crazy are nothing compared to struggles occurring on the front lines.

How am I doing?

First off, I feel great, so everything else is pretty irrelevant given the current circumstances. Getting out for runs has been critical, and having so many people check-in has been amazing. I don't think I've had a day go by where I haven't had at least one FaceTime or Duo, so to everyone who's reached out and made time for a catch-up, thank you! Because of all of these digital hangouts, I really haven't felt like I've been alone during this time at all.

I'm not going stir crazy yet. I've manufactured a standing desk situation which is helping because the work from home setup was not ideal for my old man back. I've since ordered a desk and chair which should arrive in April to create a bit better home office environment.

I've been avoiding the news for the most part, looking for one or two articles or video clips per day to read or watch before I go to bed and I think that has helped in avoiding anxiety. I'm not trying to avoid information, I think it's very important to be well-informed and understand any directives coming from federal, state and local governments, but getting caught up in the media drama isn't exactly calming.

Like I mentioned, work has kept me very busy, and now that it's a bit slower I have more time for phone calls, podcasts, books, writing, and cooking. I haven't been in my apartment for three straight weeks since moving here, so I look forward to using the time to try new recipes and continue to chat with friends and family.

I'll continue to provide updates as I have them or experience them in the city, and please keep texting or calling anytime - I'll be home :)

Thanks for reading, and stay safe.

Mike

PS: if you’d like to understand what the US government SHOULD be doing to fight this virus, give this very well done article a read:

https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-the-hammer-and-the-dance-be9337092b56