I can count the number of times New York City, my hometown, has been shut down in my lifetime on one hand.
After 9/11–New York City schools were closed on September 12th, 2001, and while things did not return to normal (a very new normal) for some time after, the City rebuilt and mended.
After Hurricane Sandy.
After a large snowstorm or two.
And now, this city of 8.6 million people is effectively shut down because of COVID-19. All of these new terms have entered the lexicon–“coronavirus,” “social distancing,” “self-quarantine,” “flatten the curve.” As soon as the virus started spreading around the world, I knew New York would have cases, probably a substantial number of cases. We have large airports, we have an extensive public transit system, and there are a lot of people living in close proximity.
SARS, MERSA, ebola, and swine and bird flu all came and went in the last decade or so, without making a substantial impression on New Yorkers. We had a measles outbreak in Brooklyn and upstate just last year and while that felt closer to home in a lot of ways, it still didn’t involve the lockdown measures this week has seen.
We’re conditioned to get on with things, we’re tough, and although I don’t think about it on a daily basis, we know our city is not the cleanest place in the world. There’s a reason why New Yorkers joke about subway rats and the smell of baking pee in the middle of the Season of Stink we always get in humid, muggy August.
I always carry a little bottle of hand sanitizer with me, a habit I started when I worked in retail and didn’t always have time to run to the restroom to wash my hands. I am washing my hands with soap and water more than usual now and am more conscious of not touching my face. I’ve been a nail biter most of my life; I haven’t bitten a nail in a few weeks now.
Well, COVID-19 is starting to hit post-disaster levels of shut down here. Gatherings of over 500 people have been banned across the state. All Broadway shows are dark for the next month. A lot of museums are also shut for at least the next two weeks. The Metropolitan Opera is closed. Many schools and universities are closed and have transitioned to entirely online courses for anywhere from the next few weeks to the rest of the spring semester, including the City University of New York system, where I am currently a graduate student. The New York Public Library system, which covers three out of five boroughs, announced it was closing until the end of March. Our sports teams aren’t playing. Some stores have announced they are closing for a few weeks as well.
Today, the Archidocese of New York canceled Mass.
New York City public schools are still open, though, as are the Brooklyn and Queens Public Library systems, though all programs, events, and classes are canceled until April.
And then there’s the epic level of panic buying going on in the last week, especially. What is with the toilet paper thing, guys?
I went to see Six with my friends last Sunday; since then, all of these closures and postponements have been announced. The testing has still been sporadic and not good but there has been more testing going on (NYC has 269 confirmed cases of COVID-19, as of this writing; New York State has 613. 2 New Yorkers have died from COVID-19).
I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I’m sure the numbers will go up, as testing improves. I’m sure I will know someone who gets diagnosed. I’m worried about my former retail co-workers, knowing that they come into contact with some truly revolting things a lot and also knowing that that company would stay open if a meteor hit the damn Earth. I’m worried about the immunocompromised people in my life. I don’t want this virus for my own sake, of course, being asthmatic, but I also don’t want it because I don’t want to spread it to my parents, who are in their 60s, or to anyone else in my life.
I have to complete the rest of this semester online and I’m not sure if the library I work in will stay open for the next few weeks or if it will close. Despite that—and despite my usual anxious-ridden nature–I’ve actually been remarkably chill. Like, pat yourself on the back, Michelle. Not even one anxiety dream over this. And I’ve been PMSing this week, so it’s even more awesome that hormones did not have me gnashing my teeth this week.
I don’t know if it’s just that I, a library and information science student, have cracked the code of recognizing misinformation, if I’m less susceptible to Internet-incuded panic because of that. I know to rely on actual facts and good sources for this sort of thing. Or maybe it’s just that most of the people around me aren’t panicking, so I’m not either.
Maybe it’s because hey, I’m an introvert–as long as I have food and an Internet connection, I’m perfectly capable of getting school work done *and* entertaining myself via YouTube, Netflix, this blog, getting actual creative writing down omg!, the group chat with my best friends. I can catch up on reading. I don’t go out that much typically anyway, so social distancing isn’t making a dent in my life that way lol. I take public transit, though, so that’s the only concern point, in terms of possible exposure, though in New York City terms, I live in the middle of nowhere.
I’m sure some of you have seen or heard of the news out of New York and are probably wondering, “What the hell is going on there?” Well, this is what’s going on.
We can only hope that our medical facilities and medical teams are able to care for the critical victims and that we do, in fact, flatten the curve so the peak of the virus will not turn us into the situation Italy is experiencing.
Be safe and healthy, everyone! Please rely on good sources like the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, your state’s Health Department for facts. Don’t panic. Don’t flout isolation rules if there are any where you live; it may seem like an overreaction, but it’s being done for a reason. You don’t want this virus and you don’t want to pass this on to vulnerable people in your lives and in your communities.
Also, this virus may have emerged in China, but Asian people aren’t the cause of the virus nor are they spreading it, so don’t be a racist asshole. Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, and many, many others who aren’t Asian have come down with this disease. At this point, Europe has more cases of coronavirus. Don’t be a racist asshole.
And also: this, too, shall pass.
Oh, hey: updating this on March 15, 2020 to say that:
-NYC schools are closed for the next month. Distance learning will be happening.
Updated March 16th:
-All public libraries are closed temporarily, as are restaurants and bars (if they serve food, it can only be take out or delivery only), movie theaters, gyms, so a lot of stores are closing for two weeks or so out of an abundance of caution
-This week at least, public schools are serving grab-and-go food and they’re figuring out the situation in terms of how many students don’t have Internet access or computer equipment at home
-Drive-through testing is expanding in New York State